[P]eak oil naysayers hardly have reason to gloat. The supply of oil may be rising, but the nature of the fuel mix is changing quickly, adding greater uncertainty to the long-term outlook for the world's largest energy source.
Pockets of cheap, easy-to-produce oil -- called conventional crude -- are gradually drying up after more than a century of exploration. Exxon Mobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas company, said it expects output from developed conventional oil fields to decline through 2040. Conventional crude output actually peaked in 2006, at 70 million barrels a day, and has since plateaued, the International Energy Agency said in its 2010 World Energy Outlook report.
Different year. Same problem. Different context.
Amid all the chaos and challenges and burdens which already suck up most of our attention, the problems associated with the challenges of future oil production call upon us to harness a vision for the future that is not just incrementally better than this one. Reliance upon the same resources, methods, beliefs, and strategies which have carried us into the 21st Century will not be the same ones carrying us forward.
Aside from not offering any guarantees whatsoever, we're still dealing with two key challenges [among others]: the conventional crude oil rate of production has already peaked, for one. Given that it is still a finite resource, drawing down from the existing resource base is only going to leave us with less and less in the days ahead. That's elementary school math.
The less-than-adequate substitutes [primarily tight oil from the shale formations here in the U.S., and the tar sands of Canada] are finite resources themselves, subject to the same laws governing finite resources everywhere. Getting to them is an issue, paying for exploration and extraction another. All of the production-related challenges fracking creates [water usage; rapid decline rates; the chemicals injected below ground; infrastructure damage, etc.] aren't helping.
The convergence of those issues will soon enough start to create serious problems for us personally and for our societies. We still have the option of waiting to do something/anything until we've received absolute, 100% guaranteed certainty that we'll never, ever produce more oil--conventional and unconventional combined--whenever that last day occurs. The scramble once peak oil's realities settle in should be an interesting display of panic and lots of shouting about "Why Didn't Anyone Tell Us About This Before?'s."
Or, appreciating what the peak in fossil fuel production means for all of us beyond today's bottom line, we could begin discussions and arrange for appropriate planning sessions while we still have a decent amount of supply available to us, and actually start that process now. It's going to take a lot longer than anyone can reasonably or unreasonably expect to wean ourselves, our industries, and our societies from our fossil fuel-dependent existence.
A few moments to consider how much we need, how much and how many of us also need that same resource, and how many more want to have a piece of that same pie should be enough to convince most of us that pretending this is not an issue now is not our wisest choice.
Good that we still have those choices, of course. A lot better if we take advantage of them.
Adapted from a blog post of mine