If you happen to be interested in the topic of “peak oil”, you almost certainly know the name M. King Hubbert. While you may know that Hubbert is widely credited with accurately predicting the peak of U.S. oil production, you may not know the full context of his predictions — which are legendary in peak oil circles.
The history of the scientific study of peak oil dates to the 1950s, when Hubbert, a Shell geophysicist, reported on studies he had undertaken regarding the production rates of oil and gas fields. In a 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels, Hubbert suggested that oil production in a particular region would approximate a bell curve, increasing exponentially during the early stages of production before eventually slowing, reaching a peak when approximately half of a field had been extracted, and then going into terminal production decline.
A peak in oil production, that is the maximum rate of production after which a field, country, or the world as a whole begins to decline is at the core of the peak oil issue. A country is said to have peaked, or reached peak oil after it becomes apparent that oil production in the region is steadily declining year after year. CONTINUE»
In last month’s Short Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected that it now expects record U.S. gasoline consumption this year:
Motor gasoline consumption is forecast to increase by 130,000 b/d (1.5%) to 9.29 million b/d in 2016, which would make it the highest annual average gasoline consumption on record, beating the previous record set in 2007 by 0.1%. The increase in gasoline consumption reflects a forecast 2.5% increase in highway travel (because of employment growth and lower retail gasoline prices) that is partially offset by increases in vehicle fleet fuel economy.
This projected increase follows several years of lower gasoline demand that resulted from persistently rising gasoline prices over the past decade. From 2002 to 2012 the average retail price of gasoline rose nearly every year, from an annual average of $1.39/gal in 2002 to $3.68/gal in 2012. Consumers responded to these higher prices in multiple ways, which cumulatively led to falling gasoline demand. Some even suggested that U.S. gasoline demand had permanently peaked, as a result of more fuel efficient vehicles and increasing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). We can now say those predictions were premature. CONTINUE»
Before you start furiously typing out a retort, hear me out. First, I want to make it clear what I am not skeptical about. I am not skeptical about electric vehicles (EVs) continuing to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future. Indeed, I believe that will happen — although growth has slowed in the U.S. in recent years.
I am also not skeptical over the fact that EVs make sense for many people. Indeed, I would buy one myself if I could justify it economically. I have only put about 5,000 miles on my car in the past 2 years, so it’s hard to justify any sort of premium that could be paid off by fuel savings.
I am also not skeptical that EVs will get cheaper, and that improvements in batteries will extend their range. I believe tomorrow’s EV will be much better than today’s.
So far, so good. On these three points, I am on the same page with the most rabid EV enthusiast. But I am extremely skeptical about one thing. CONTINUE»
In January of this year, as I do every year, I made several energy predictions for the upcoming year. (See My 2016 Energy Predictions). Now that half the year is in the books, I thought it might be a good idea to check in and see how these predictions are tracking.
As a reminder, I strive to make predictions that are specific, measurable, and preferably actionable. If forecasts are broad and vague, one can almost always declare victory. I would also remind readers that my predictions are based on what I believe will happen, which isn’t the same thing as predicting what I want to happen. My desire for a particular outcome has absolutely no bearing on a prediction. I am simply trying to accurately gauge the most likely outcome.
Here are the predictions, along with an update through the first half of the year. CONTINUE»
Each year in June two very important reports are released that provide a comprehensive view of the global energy markets. The highlight of the recently-released Renewables 2016 Global Status Report (GSR) was that the world’s renewable energy production has never been higher. But the biggest takeaway from this year’s newly-released BP Statistical Review may be that the world’s fossil fuel consumption has also never been higher.
Demand for crude oil set a new all time-high in 2015. Despite all the hype about electric vehicles and peak oil demand, the world’s oil demand continues to grow unabated — growing a robust 1.9 million barrels per day (bpd) from 2014 (+1.9% year-over-year).
The recently-released Renewables 2016 Global Status Report shows that renewables had a record year in 2015, but it wasn’t enough to make a dent in global fossil fuel consumption, which also set new records for consumption.
Several years ago, when I was working on my book Power Plays, I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of energy. One thing I concluded was that solar power would become one of the world’s most important sources of energy – if not eventually the most important source of energy. I also discussed this in the 2007 column “The Future Is Solar.”
There are a couple of reasons I still believe this. But first, I should make it clear that it will be a long time before solar power rivals the consumption of oil in the global energy market.
While solar power is growing rapidly, we still use about 100 times as much energy in the form of oil (and about 90 times as much in the form of coal). Further, even though solar power is growing at a fast rate, the absolute growth in oil consumption from 2013 to 2014 was about 3 times the growth in solar power consumption. In other words, even though solar consumption grew at a 38% rate and oil consumption grew at about a 0.7% rate, this amounted to an increase in solar consumption of 11.6 million metric tons of oil equivalent versus an increase in oil consumption of 32 million metric tons. CONTINUE»
I spent a lot of time in 2015 warning that at year-end we would see a huge decline in crude oil reserves. As I have explained in the past, the reason I expected this is because of the relationship between proved oil reserves and oil prices. This relationship is important for understanding oil reserves. Some articles that recently began making the rounds made certain conclusions from this paper — A global energy assessment — in which some subtleties about oil reserves have been lost. So let’s review.
An oil resource refers to the total amount of oil in place in particular area. Generally, most of a resource can’t be technically recovered, but the resource refers to the amount that could potentially be recovered. These estimates can go up and down, but the resource is what could be recovered at 100% recovery based on current estimates.
As an example, it is estimated that the Bakken Shale centered under North Dakota contains several hundred billion barrels (bbl) of oil (the resource). However, what is technically and economically recoverable in the Bakken has been estimated at less than 10 billion barrels (<10% of the resource). CONTINUE»
A few people have asked if I can reproduce more of my Forbes columns here, because they don’t like wading through the ads there to get to the content. This week I wrote an update on the progress toward cellulosic ethanol commercialization, and given my previous coverage on the topic (especially Why I Don’t Ride a Unicorn to Work) this seems like an appropriate subject to discuss here.
Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that during the first quarter of 2016, just over 1 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol were produced. In fact, production for the month of March jumped 64% from the previous month to 446,000 gallons produced, the highest levels of the modern era. Production this year is well ahead of the pace in 2015, when 2.2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol were produced for the entire year.
So, have we finally reached the long-promised realization of commercial cellulosic ethanol? CONTINUE»
Coal Goes Bust
Today, as had been expected, Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU) — the largest coal producer in the United States — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Following the announcement I immediately began to receive press releases from various environmental organizations crediting the rise of renewable energy and/or the campaigns to divest investments from fossil fuels for the decline in the U.S. coal industry.
A press release from 350.org declared Peabody’s bankruptcy “A harbinger of the end of the fossil fuel era.” While I applaud a transition away from coal, these organizations are falling all over themselves to give credit to everything except the primary culprit behind the demise of the U.S. coal industry, which is natural gas (as I demonstrate below). In fact, many of these organizations have circulated stories — usually from those with clear vested interests — intended to discredit the indisputable role that natural gas has played. So let’s take a closer look. CONTINUE»