Oil

Jon Flanders jonathan.flanders at verizon.net
Mon Aug 11 06:36:01 MDT 2003


> I'm not at all surprised by your withdrawal from the discussion over this
> point, because it is the essential point that distinguishes Marxist analysis
> from Malthusean scarcity gibberish.
>
> best,
> dms
>

David,

  I don't see the point of carrying on a long discussion with you
because you are one of those "marxists" who think that repeating
formulas lifted from the classics answer every question. You have the
philosopher's stone, and the rest of us should just shut up and watch
you juggle it.

  For the benefit of those new to the list, here is how the late Mark
Jones answered David a while back. Yes, he did not regard oil as a
typical commodity. It is a finite resource. That makes it a bit
different than a bushel of corn.

Jon Flanders

David Schanoes wrote:
>
>
> 1,125, 625,000,000 barrels.  Let's say 1 trillion.

There doesn't seem to be much purpose in discussing the geophysics of
natural resources with someone who seems to argue that how much oil is
in the ground depends on capitalists' mood swings. Only Bishop Berkeley
could do justice to that kind of thinking. But once again, David's
misunderstanding of the issues involved usefully encapsulates many
common errors and is therefore worth another comment, perhaps.

First of all, the US EIA is a government department and its statistics
should not be taken at face value. Other estimates which appear to be
well grounded suggest that the amount of recoverable conventional oil is
substantially less than a trillion barrels. But that is not really the
point.

The point is this.

An oil well--any oil well--has a definite productive life. I don't think
even David disputes this. When production begins, all the reserve is
still under the ground, and produced oil is still zero. The rate of
production increases exponentially until it finally reaches a peak. This
is true of all oil wells ever exploited; there are no exceptions.
Maximum output is never achieved immediately; there is always an
ascending curve of output until finally production plateaus. Then, after
peak output is reached, output inexorably begins to decline, and the
decline is exponential in the same way as the original increase of
output was exponential.

Thus, a graph showing the output of an oil well always resembles a bell
curve. Production rises from zero to a peak, and then declines again to
zero, at which point all the originally recoverable reserve has been
extracted.

Now, it is empirically true and also theoretically predicted, that one
output peaks, half the recoverable reserve has been extracted. When
output then falls by 25%, around 75% of the original reserve has been
extracted. When output falls to zero, 100% of the original reserve has
been extracted.

This is all determined by the laws of physics and not by the whims of
capitalists. This means, for example, that you cannot produce at the
maximum until all the oil is extracted. Production does not fall off a
cliff at the end of an oilwell's life, it declines in a curve.

Now, consider the entire world as a single oilfield. Production began
from zero in about 1865. At that time the original endowment of oil was
between 1750-2200 billion barrels. By the end of last year almost 900
billion barrels had been extracted. Common sense is enough to show that
world oil production has therefore either already peaked or is about to.
Therefore, and nothing can alter this fact, from now on production must
begin to decline. In 40 years (or more likely, 15-20 years), world oil

production will have fallen close to zero. Meanwhile, the human
population of the planet will have increased to around 9 billion.
According to the EIA and other agencies, demand for oil will increase
from around the present 80m bbls/day to 110m bbls/day within this
decade. The Chinese vehicle park alone, for example, is doubling every
3.6 years.

Obviously, there will be insufficient oil to meet this new demand. There
will even be insufficient oil to meet existing demand. Much the same
calculations also apply to natural gas.

Since there are no alternatives to petroleum and natural gas for most
applications (as primary energy, feedstock, transport fuel etc) it is
clear that this combination of circumstances is ominous. Not onyl will
economc growth of the kind we have grown to expect, become impossible;
there will be no way of preventing sharp declines in available energy.
This will impact all areas of social life. Since petroleum is also a key
feedstock in agriculture, industry, pharmaceuticals and indeed every
walk of life, and since there are no meaningful alternatives capable of
substituting for most of these uses, it is not simple a matter of energy
either.

Mark




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