1. How many years are we from peak oil or are we indeed past it?
2. Are there feasible energy alternatives and if so, how close are they to coming online?
3. What can we as individuals do the alleviate the situation?
4. What will life in a post-oil society be like?
5. What can we as individuals do to prepare for living in a post-oil society?
Ideally I would like to answer all of these questions in a series of posts through my reading for my own
The first question, which I would like to deal with in this post, addresses a comment that mmmonyka left for me yesterday essentially asking if she was the only one who thinks our oil reserves are underestimated. So I thought I would start with that.
The question of how much economically viable oil remains is a difficult one to answer mostly because any given country's oil reserves are essentially considered a state secret of that country. There are published oil reserves from the major oil producing countries however one must bear in mind that there is heavy incentive to exaggerate one's reserves because greater oil reserves = greater power for the country. Saudi Arabia, which is by far the most important oil producing country in the world with approximately 1/4 of readily extractable reserves, has not published any data on their reserves since 1982. This, of course, has raised concerns that their wells are past peak. I cannot think of any incentive for them to hide the fact that they have far MORE oil than the global community thinks they do. A study done by an energy investment banking firm concluded that Saudi Arabia's production likely peaked in in 2004. In addition, there have been no major discoveries of giants fields in that country since the 1970s. Those three facts together i.e. that Saudi Arabia has 1/4 of the world's proven oil reserves, that they likely peaked 6 years ago and have had no new discoveries in 40 years are enough to convince me that no... the world's oil reserves are not underestimated, quite the opposite.
Here is a widely cited figure which I swiped along with the analysis from here that is disturbing on a few levels:
As you can see there is a step increase in reported oil reserves in all the countries around the mid-eighties. This happened despite there being NO major discoveries during this time. In addition, the reserves plateau after 1988 or increase... despite the fact that the world is drinking up 85 million barrels per day - nowhere on these graphs is any depletion shown! How can we trust data that does not reflect the depletion of oil caused by consumption in the absence of new oil discoveries?? These numbers are largely based on figures from oil companies and oil producing countries both of whom have strong incentives to bloat their figures. Again, no, I don't think the world's oil supply is underestimated.
So that is my reading on the proven, economically viable reserves of traditional reserves. There are tons of peak oil debunkers who optimistically allude to various rosy scenarios such as abiotic oil (oil that originates from reactions in the earth's crust, not from organic decay) and the Bakken formation in the western US with its 3 trillion barrels of untapped oil (more than the rest of the world combined). Unfortunately these are essentially bedtime fairy tales being told to reassure the human psyche which is programmed to reject bad news. The Bakken formation is far from the dream solution that people want to believe in. The very best case scenario is that if it can be fully exploited, it would reduce US imports of oil for one year (source). As for abiotic oil, this seems to be complete and utter nonsense though I have to admit I have not read on this topic yet.
In a sense it is a little ridiculous to talk about how much we have left. For one thing, it is not the amount left that impacts our life as much as the timing of peak production, as I stated last time, once production peaks prices go up, economic downturn and all its accompanying hardships results on some time course yet to be determined. For another thing, we know that we have finite oil left, 5 years worth, 10 years worth, 50 years worth... yes it makes a difference from the selfish perspective, essentially is this going to be a problem in our particular lifetimes or not. But it is going to be a problem for some people sometime in the not too distant future. Yes, if we have more time rather than less it gives us time to conserve and adjust and find new solutions. I guess I am just not optimistic about people's abilities to make changes especially to solve a problem of which most people are ignorant or deluded. I am especially not optimistic about the abilities of politicians to legislate to address an issue that may occur outside of the time frame of their term in office. I am just not optimistic. Not about this.