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James Stafford

James Stafford

James Stafford is the Editor of Oilprice.com

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Tom Murphy Interview: Resource Depletion is a Bigger Threat than Climate Change

Rising geopolitical tensions and high oil prices are continuing to help renewable energy find favour amongst investors and politicians. Yet how much faith should we place in renewables to make up the shortfall in fossil fuels? Can science really solve our energy problems, and which sectors offers the best hope for our energy future?

To help us get to the bottom of this we spoke with energy specialist Dr. Tom Murphy, an associate professor of physics at the University of California. Tom runs the popular energy blog Do the Math which takes an astrophysicist’s-eye view of societal issues relating to energy production, climate change, and economic growth.

In the interview Tom talks about the following:

Why we shouldn’t get too excited over the shale boom
Why resource depletion is a greater threat than climate change
Why Fukushima should not be seen as a reason to abandon nuclear
Why the Keystone XL pipeline may do little to help US energy security
Why renewables have difficulty mitigating a liquid fuels shortage
Why we shouldn’t rely on science to solve our energy problems
Forget fusion and thorium breeders – artificial photosynthesis would be a bigger game changer

Oilprice.com: Whilst you have proven that no renewable energy source can replace fossil fuels on its own. Which source is the most promising for providing cheap, abundant, clean energy?

Tom Murphy: First let me say that I think "proven" is too strong a word.  But yes, I have certainly indicated as much.  When it comes to cheap, clean, and abundant, I am drawn to solar.  I don't care if it's two or three times the cost of fossil fuel energy - that's still cheap. Abundance is unquestionable, and I don't see manufacturing as being inordinately caustic. The fact that I have panels on my roof feeding batteries in my garage only confirms for me the viability of this source of energy. Wind and next-generation nuclear also deserve mention as potential large-scale sources. Yet none of these help directly with a liquid fuels shortage.

Oilprice.com: Bill Gates has stated that innovation in energy can take 50-60 years to take effect. How then do you believe that that the ARPA-E's short term objectives for projects can be helpful for solving current energy problems?

Tom Murphy: I applaud any effort that takes our energy challenge seriously, and gets boots on the ground chasing all manner of ideas.  If nothing else, it raises awareness about our predicament.  At the same time, I worry about our technofix culture with a tendency to interpret news clips about ARPA-E projects to mean that we have loads of viable solutions in the hopper. Many of the ideas are just batty.  And right - to the extent that implantation of innovation can take decades, we may find ourselves in a squeeze - wondering where all those funky news blurbs went.

Oilprice.com: What do you think is the most exciting energy science or energy technology being researched at the moment?

Tom Murphy: As cautious as I am about techno-giddiness, I do have the giggles for artificial photosynthesis. Combining universally available sunlight (in my own backyard) with a liquid fuel that can support personal and commercial transportation on land, sea, and air with minimal changes to infrastructure is too juicy for me to resist.  More so than thorium breeders or even fusion, this is a real game-changer.  The catch is that our finite periodic table may not avail itself to our wishes.  Groups are now shaking the periodic table by its ankles, hoping that some new and unappreciated catalysts clank to the floor.  I'm rooting for them, but at the same time advocate not relying on its realization.

Oilprice.com: A recent report stated that replacing all coal based power stations with renewable energy, would not affect climate change, and in fact after 100 years the only difference would be a change of 0.2 degrees Celsius. What are your views on climate change?

Tom Murphy: I see climate change as a serious threat to natural services and species survival, perhaps ultimately having a very negative impact on humanity. But resource depletion trumps climate change for me, because I think this has the potential to effect far more people on a far shorter timescale with far greater certainty.  Our economic model is based on growth, setting us on a collision course with nature.  When it becomes clear that growth cannot continue, the ramifications can be sudden and severe.  So my focus is more on averting the chaos of economic/resource/agriculture/distribution collapse, which stands to wipe out much of what we have accomplished in the fossil fuel age.  To the extent that climate change and resource limits are both served by a deliberate and aggressive transition away from fossil fuels, I see a natural alliance.  Will it be enough to avert disaster (in climate or human welfare)?  Who can know - but I vote that we try real hard.

Oilprice.com: Do you think that the shale gas boom will lead/has led to reduced investment in alternative energy, and could therefore limit the advancement of alternative energy and its mainstream implementation?

Tom Murphy: I do worry about the sentiment that "our problems are solved" based on a very short history of tapping low-hanging shale-gas fruit.  David Hughes presented a sobering report to put these claims in perspective.  Even though it is clear that shale gas will contribute to our net energy demands in an unanticipated way, I worry that A) extrapolations based on the "gusher" equivalents is risky; B) natural gas is not a direct answer to a liquid fuels shortage; and C) the associated exuberance can stifle the imperative that we have an all-hands-on-deck response to the looming challenges.

Oilprice.com: What are your thoughts on Biofuels? Will they ever be able to compete with fossil fuels? If you were to pick one that you think has the best potential which would it be?

Tom Murphy: The scale of our fossil fuel use prohibits replacement by biofuels at a substantial level.  They certainly can and do play a role, which I anticipate will increase with time - up to a point.  The energy return on energy invested (EROEI) tends to be pretty poor (less than 10:1) even for the best examples like sugar cane.  And it's a heck of a lot of year-in-year-out work to manage harvests - much depending on the increasingly erratic weather.  Of the biofuels, I am most intrigued by algae: mainly because it can be grown and moved about as a liquid medium in sealed tubes.  That said, I worry about gunking up the works with bio-sludge, the algae contracting disease, and the fact that we have not yet found/created a viable hydrocarbon-excreting critter.

Oilprice.com: Following the Fukushima disaster many have been calling for the end of nuclear power. What are your views? Should we abandon nuclear power? Are we in a position to abandon it?

Tom Murphy: I don't think Fukushima should be seen as a reason to abandon nuclear. True, nuclear has its challenges, its risks, its hazardous wastes.  But it's one of the few things we know how to do that can scale.  Of course conventional nuclear again stares right down the barrel of limited resources, which is a déjà-vu we would rather not experience.  So next-generation concepts - particularly thorium - are preferable. Then again, we are not prepared to execute such schemes this moment, so they are not much help in a near-term crisis.  And ultimately, like so many things, nuclear is yet another technique to create electricity.  That's not where the pinch will come.  I think nuclear will remain part of our energy mix in any case, so I don't think Fukushima spells an end.

Oilprice.com: What are your thoughts on the Keystone XL Pipeline? Is it vital for America's energy security?

Tom Murphy: Canada produces something like 1 million barrels per day (Mbpd) of oil from tar sands.  This is about 5% of U.S. demand.  Ambitious plans call for 5 Mbpd production, but even this does not amount to half of our current oil imports.  So could it play a role in America's energy security?  Possibly. Will it guarantee it?  Not likely.  We should remember that Canada is a separate country.  In a global petroleum decline scenario, how much of that oil will Canada sell to the U.S.?  How much will China pay for it?  How much of this precious lifeblood will Canada decide to keep for themselves? I won't say that I'm opposed to the pipeline, but like every other "solution" out there, it's complicated, and not a crystal clear win.

Oilprice.com: I've come across many comments and articles online about human ingenuity and that we shouldn't be too concerned with peak oil and fossil fuel depletion because our scientists are surely close to an energy breakthrough. Although this thinking is dangerously naive i was hoping to get your opinion on which technology you think is closest to providing this possible breakthrough?

Tom Murphy: I worry about the strength and pervasiveness of faith in science and technology to fix our problems.  And I say this as a scientist who is no stranger to high-tech design and development.  We deserve better than blind hope that someone somewhere will pull off a transformative energy miracle. Some things peak.  We should acknowledge that once our inheritance is spent, we may not live like the kings we want to be.  I can hope along with the rest of us that this isn't true.  But I don't feel like gambling: I'm the type to cash out when I'm a bit ahead, rather than keep betting my purse that the next hand will hit paydirt.  More concretely, I can say that most physicists I meet in departments around the country are not aware of peak oil and associated challenges.  Hardly anyone I meet is working on the problem.  No one (i.e., funding) has told us this is a real problem that deserves our full attention.  And I sense that it would be political suicide to do so.  So which technology do I think will save our bacon? Most ideas on the table provide electricity, which does not address our most critical need.  As I said before, artificial photosynthesis hits the sweet spot, and batteries are tremendously important.  But let's also prepare a plan B that may be less about techno-fixes and more about behaviors and attitudes.

Oilprice.com: Giant batteries the size of a football pitch are being constructed in order to store energy from renewable sources and release it during times of low power production, for a more consistent supply. Do you think this is the future for renewable energy, or would we be better served creating a giant grid, linking many different renewable sources together so that they can cover for each other?

Tom Murphy: Batteries work, we know.  I think we absolutely should be gaining experience on the practical issues/economics of giant batteries.  Making large-scale storage more practical resolves the single-biggest technical barrier to widespread solar and wind deployment.  I am sceptical about giant grids especially the global variety based on the simplistic notion that "It's always sunny somewhere."  I am more attracted to resilient local solutions.  Transmission loss today tends to be less than 10% on an old, dumb grid.  High-voltage DC would reduce this loss somewhat, and the science fiction superconducting grid would eliminate loss (until the inevitable cryogenic failure vaporizes the lines; and let's not ignore the considerable energy investment needed to keep the lines at cryogenic temperatures).  On a moderately ambitious scale, a continental grid will reduce the need for storage, but it will not eliminate it.  We still benefit from super-sized batteries.

Oilprice.com: What do you think about the idea that it would be more useful improving the efficiency of current power systems, rather than researching new types of energy production?

Tom Murphy: Efficiency is a lovely thing, and it has always been seen as a lovely thing.  Because of this, efforts to improve efficiencies of the big stuff like power plants have been continuous.  And we have seen improvements at the level of 1% per year.  In rare instances, One can get dramatic leaps via co-generation strategies, but that relies on power plants being situated near demand for waste heat.  So realistically, I think incremental efficiency improvement does not have nearly enough bite to "solve" our problem, and in any case tends to be limited to factor-of-two level changes even in the long term.  We need much more than that, in the end.  I have found behavioural modification to be far more effective, achieving factors of 2, 3, 5, etc. in short order without grossly changing lifestyles.

Oilprice.com: Oilprice.com published an article a few months ago on space-based solar plants. Do you think that constructing space-based power plants could be a valuable option in the future?

Tom Murphy: I have to admit to being somewhat baffled by the concept.  Why make solar power even more expensive with exorbitant launch costs (which only increases as energy costs increase), placing the equipment in an unserviceable, hostile space environment (cosmic rays, debris) while only gaining a factor of five in night/weather avoidance?  The microwave link is no joke either.  The required dishes are huge for both diffraction and ground safety reasons.  I have just made a detailed post on Do the Math on Spaced based Solar.  But let's think about storage, and save ourselves absurd machinations.

Oilprice.com: Despite the rather public failure of Solyndra and other less well known companies investments in green energy are growing. Which sectors would you be willing to invest in and do you feel offer the greatest potential to investors? Wind, solar, wave, geothermal? Or none of the above?

Tom Murphy: I am not myself an investor, but I would surely like to see more funding for battery research and development, and for anything that can synthesize liquid hydrocarbons using a non-fossil input.  Investors want to make money, but I'd rather tackle the important problems.  Sometimes timescales make these two goals incompatible.  Can you make money on wave or geothermal?  Possibly.  I'll leave that for others to determine. But I'm not too excited about niche solutions, which may distract us from the real prizes - to the extent that they exist.

Oilprice.com: What role do you think the smart grid has to play in the future?

Tom Murphy: I'd sooner have smart people than a smart grid, deciding that it's in our collective interest to scale back energy use at a personal level.  Failing that, a smart grid helps distribute demand in such a way that intermittent renewables are more easily accommodated (using energy when it's available). Some things may work well like this, but I don't think this is a realistic way to hide variable energy supply from the consumer.  They may be irked that they lose control over when the laundry decides to start - possibly resulting in clothes smelling of mildew, or that they are not present to fold clothes at 2 AM when the dryer is finished.  Loss of control may not play well.  If, instead, informed people accepted limitations of future energy supplies, and modified their own behaviour accordingly under their own control, we would break the habit of people taking energy for granted: an attitude that the smart grid attempts to preserve.  We want greater personal awareness of energy, not less.

Oilprice.com: Cold Fusion (or LENR) has been deemed impossible for many years, yet Andre Rossi claims to have mastered it.  However he won't let anyone examine his E-Cat machine, and some believe that it may be a fraud. Where do you stand? Do you believe that he has mastered an "impossible" science, or that the claims of fraud have merit?

Tom Murphy: This appears to be outside the domain of known physics, so I'll not comment further.

Oilprice.com: The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring an advanced civilization's level of technological advancement. A Type I civilization has achieved mastery of the resources of its home planet, Type II of its solar system, and Type III of its galaxy. Whilst just a bit of fun, do you think that in the future, whether it be millennia or eons, we will ever reach Type I or Type II, or do you believe it impossible?

Tom Murphy: I think it is fallacious to think that humans will master the energy flow and resources even of Earth.  Successful examples of long-term sustainable living tend to see people living as part of the energy/resource flow, but not as masters of it.  We are only good at mastery in our fertile imaginations.  The real world tends not to care what we can imagine. Titanic hubris.  I would rather see humans try to live in equilibrium with natural services, rather than attempt foolhardy domination. Our attempts thus far are not very impressive: we're failing to hold it all together even now.

Oilprice.com: Popular focus is on the global energy crisis, but an equally important crisis is looming. Rock phosphate is vital for creating fertiliser, which in turn is necessary for producing large quantities of today's food. It is depleting at a rate similar to crude oil, which could soon mean that the world will experience food shortages. How do you believe this problem could be solved? Should more media attention be focussed on the potential food shortage of the future?

Tom Murphy: Sigh.  Another problem we must "solve."  How about this solution: one billion people on Earth would obviate many of our problems. Any takers? Any acceptable path to this state? The original question does remind us that our problems are numerous. It is no surprise that the phenomenal surge in population and living standards/expectations in the last few hundred years - both a direct consequence of exploiting our fossil fuel inheritance - should be exposing fault lines every which way.  Aquifers, soil, forests, fisheries, coral, ice pack, and species counts are in decline.  The very simple answer staring us in the face, yet somehow unthinkable, is to consume far fewer resources and aim to reduce population.  Hopefully we can do this in a more controlled way than nature may enforce if we ignore the myriad warnings.  This "solution" will no doubt offend many, but just because we want to continue growth does not mean we can.  We need to take control of our destiny, and that starts with us as individuals.  Decide to reduce; mentally abandon the growth paradigm.  Let's maximize our chances of preserving our accomplishments by easing off the gas for a bit.

Oilprice.com: Oil companies are mainly driven by the aim of pleasing shareholders, which generally means pursuing large dividends and high share prices. Surely this profit seeking mentality is detrimental to the advancement of green energy technologies, as the companies have little incentive to seriously invest in new types of energy whilst old, cheaper types still exist. What are your views? Is there any way to change this dynamic?

Tom Murphy: I sense that plenty of people are waiting to cash in on green energy, and investment begins to flourish when energy prices soar.  But as soon as high energy prices trigger recession, demand flags, prices crash, and the volatility wipes out many green efforts.  A year or two of high prices is simply not long enough for a transformation, which takes decades to accomplish.  I hope that we can tolerate smoothly and continuously escalating energy prices for conventional sources, but those high prices hurt large segments of the (conventional) economy and self-generate volatility.  In principle, governments could "artificially" keep energy prices high enough to maintain the impetus for developing alternatives, pumping the revenue into a national alternative energy infrastructure.  But governments are bound by voters who simply don't want sustained high energy prices.  I don't know how to evade this dynamic in a functioning democracy, except via education about the challenges we face - including a sober confrontation of the fact that failure is a likely result of our not bucking up to the challenge.

Oilprice.com: How would you best describe the current situation with oil reserves?  Do you believe we have reached Peak oil or are pretty close to it?

Tom Murphy: The simple observation that a peak in global discovery in the 1960's must be followed by a peak in production some decades later is unassailable.  So we know the decline is coming, as most major oil-producing countries have experienced already.  That part is easy, it's the when that is always hard.  The fact that the current petroleum production plateau has hardly budged through factor-of-three price fluctuations is very suggestive that no one has spare capacity at the ready.  If we can maintain high prices without re-experiencing a spike and crash like we did in 2008, we might see sub-prime production come online fast enough to maintain the plateau.  But A) this might not happen, and B) it's not a resumption of production growth.  So I would not at all be surprised if a decline makes itself clear by the end of this decade.  I, would, on the other hand, be surprised to see a 5% increase of conventional petroleum production over recent (plateau) levels.  But in the decline case, volatility, deliberate withholding, recession, unemployment, wars, etc. can stir in enough complexity to hide the physical truth from us for years.  Will it be obvious to the world when we pass into the land of inexorable decline?

Thank you Tom for taking the time to speak to us. For those who wish to see more of Tom’s work please take a moment to visit his blog: Do the Math

James Stafford, Editor Oilprice.com

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  • Jeremy on March 23 2012 said:
    More scaremongering nonsense. As a physicist I cringe to read such speculation. Solar power is simply not economically viable today. There is no shortage of fossil fuels for the forseable future so please stop scaring our kids and stop encouraging economically disasterous "renewable" policies.
  • fireofenergy on March 23 2012 said:
    I believe that liquid fuels will be hard to come by for our children because of increased demand by China and Asia today.
    Eventually, liquid fuels will be reserved for only the wealthy and rationed for food production and to keep the infrastructure and water running...

    The techno fix can be in going "back" to the trolley days. Use them to charge LiFePO4 batteries (or better) for off trolley line routes, as electricity can be generated in so many different much cleaner ways.
    Also, graphine (for advanced lightweight building material) and GaAs, the ultimate solar cell material...Can they be combined?

    Our kids will say "why didn't you prepare in the face of melting ice caps!".
  • Dave on March 23 2012 said:
    'As a physicist I cringe to read such speculation'

    Well, Jeremy, I see this is merely an argument from authority. But you offer no figures to counter the arguments set out in the interview.

    I could respond in kind: As a psychologist, I see a lot of denial in discussions of this issue, and a lot of fear (perhaps you, as well as you kids?)

    I'm certainly scared. It is true that there are enormous amounts of hydrocarbons left in the earth's crust, but we have used most of those that are easy/cheap to extract. So, the price is set to increase because the EROEI is bound to increase. You will have to swap more of your labour for the same amount of fuel. You won't be able to do as much. Your lifestyle will change. Your children will not be able to 'spend' as much energy as you did.

    The fracked gas you are now enjoying is (obviously) the easiest/cheapest to extract, and that is why the price has dropped. My prediction is that it is a 'blip' What is your prediction?

    I'm sorry you think it's scaremongering.
  • Sam Penny on March 23 2012 said:
    I, too, am a physicist; have been for the past 55 years. I have been a long-time follower of Tom Murphy and have enjoyed his discussions in his Do the Math blog about the various means for converting, capturing and using energy. This interview is a fine summary of much of his work from a much higher level to help people compare various possibilities open to the human race.

    My most recent studies have been on scenarios of the interaction between resource depletion, climate change, and over-population. I have tried to explain in story form what the world can expect if they continue the current trends. Tom's works have been most helpful in my research, along with the words of a myriad of other doomers, optimists, and denialists.

    Near the end of the interview Tom skirts around the basic problem we have as a species: there are too many of us and we are using our stores of energy so fast we will run out before we find a replacement. I learned in physics that the flow of energy is what controls the rate of reaction, and when you exhaust your supply of power, something has to stop.

    Jeremy's concluding plea, "please stop scaring our kids and stop encouraging economically disasterous "renewable" policies," is sad. My generation failed to consider the unintended consequences of over-indulgence, and my kids are continuing those habits for the most part. My grandkids are the ones who will suffer from this trend. I feel it is necessary to try to scare everyone out there to get the trend line moving in a more sustainable way so that at least some of the human race can survive in the coming years.

    Sam Penny, author "Was a Time When"
  • Killian on March 23 2012 said:
    Commentary such as Tom's is a call to inaction, a call to self-division and self-defeat.

    First, the claim in the headline is flatly illogical. No matter how quickly or disruptively energy descent were to occur, it will not and cannot lead to the extinction of humans. Could many die off from the lack of resources, wars for them, and simple system disruption creating otherwise unnecessary shortages? Yup. Sure. But extinction? Nowhere near it.

    Second, the false dichotomy of climate vs. energy is just bizarre. They are completely and utterly linked and cannot be de-linked. It's just crazy talk to imply otherwise. Worse, in terms of policy, by bifurcating the discussion this way, you are guaranteeing inaction because these two groups will be advocating against each other instead of working together. It freaks my poor mind out to watch otherwise intelligent people commit sui-genocide like this.

    Third, continuing to add 2 - 3 ppm of CO2 into the atmosphere will lead to a level of warming that will disrupt the planet on every level. Why such people think that a completely destroyed ecology is less of a problem than not enough energy for 9 billion people is beyond me. The argument is always that energy descent will end the fossil fuel problem. This is dangerously uninformed.

    The problem is momentum. The poles and ice sheets are already melting, and even if we end ALL emissions today, the planet will continue to warm to 2C, period, as heat in the oceans balances with heat in the atmosphere. But the energy already in the system has a high percentage chance of being enough to melt the ice completely. And that leads to massive amounts of methane emissions from the Arctic permafrost and subs-sea clathrates. There are something on the order of 4x, or more, as much carbon in the permafrost and clathrates as currently in the atmosphere. Just 1 or 2% is enough to lead to uncontrolled methane emissions that would overcome any reductions from human sources.

    Does Tom not understand the Precautionary Principal, or does he merely dismiss the science? Thermokarst lakes in Siberia increased 3x in well under ten years during the last decade. The largest sea bed emissions noted two years ago were tens of meters across. This summer and fall an emergency science mission found areas of 6/10ths of a mile or more!

    Tom has gotten this wrong before, and is still doing so. You may as well be a climate denialist, Tom, for your badly flawed analysis has the same effect of delay and inaction.

    Climate and energy policies must be closely and intimately linked to achieve the changes we need in the time frames required.
  • Grace on March 23 2012 said:
    I'm a farmer. I think we need to prepare ourselves for financial collapse, societal collapse, energy collapse, food collapse, and a dramatically shortened lifespan for most of us, similar to the collapse of the Roman Empire. TEOTWAWKI. All empires collapse, no exception, zero, nada. How to cope? We need to live in the moment, abandon our expectation of a long life, and make the most of today while we try to help our little corner of the world. The few of us who survive the coming chaos, crime, famine and disease will probably have to live an Amish-like (electricity-free/auto-free) lifestyle for several generations, perhaps a century or more. But since I live near Amish, I can tell you, it's not a bad life at all.... and in many ways, much better than our lonely, disjointed, depressing, high-tech way of life.
  • JavelinaTex on March 24 2012 said:
    Excellent, practical overall analysis of the situation.

    Obvious from comments that not everyone is receptive to Prof. Murphy's analysis.
  • SIMON on March 24 2012 said:
    Why are so few people thinking of whole systems?

    Is the 'evolution of thinking' something we need to address in education?

    Why are established facts these days seen to be optional or subject to polarising interpretation?

    Grasping a few ideas or ideologies and excluding others can lead to a partial or distorted truth at best. Making decisions based on partial truth is foolish at best.

    Let's establish the bottom line : the value of the individual, the oneness of humanity.

    Let's respect all forms of life and the integrity of ecosystems.

    Let's not be hypocrits:
    Let's withdraw tolerance and financial support from governments and corporations engaged in lying, stealing, sickening and killing to serve their own interests, whether these are wealthy elites, ratial, national or corporate special self-interest groups - there are many of these.

    And have we forgotten: the value of human life is spiritual awakening and the realisation of love and wisdom.

    How about building world-wide concensus on human values and the issues that are critical to our world as the foundation for the authority of a planetary representative government: a super-national sovereignty that carries the mandate for the welfare of our world.
  • Tom on March 27 2012 said:
    I agree with him but the whole problem is more complex and it's not just about oil or coal. The truth is that it also concerns other natural resources we are gradually running out of and little attention has been paid to it thus far. I was surprised when I read about these resources which are not so well known but whose depletion would pose a serious problem for some industry sectors especially for the world of information technology. I am really concerned about whether the scientists will be able to find an effective solution to this problem other than the devastation of one of Earth's most valuable natural resources – the ocean as suggested in the article.
  • Nimigje on March 27 2012 said:
    The discussion or the question-answer here shows a lot for peoples that want to know what the importance of the energy is and at what stage the world is actually on liquid energy, the crude oil. The associate professor, Dr. Tom Murphy clearly answered “...that a peak in global discovery in the 1960's must be followed by a peak in production some decades later is unassailable”.
    Everybody can see on his sentence two parts, part one that the peak oil discovery is seen in the 1960, and part two that “... a peak in production some decades later is unassailable”. Both these parts on my opinion are true. The future oil discoveries will continue but the discoveries will be scarce and cannot complete the demand always on increase.
    I will accept and the second part of his expression that the peak oil production (conventional) has arrived, but on other side I will add that the oil production can increase moderately 5-10% more than the existing production, if the investments will be done in time and at the level required.
    Discusing the oil resources that are discovered and are on depletion actually, or shortly, on a time when we know that these resources are estimated 9.5-15 trillion barrel oil and that we have produced only around 1 trillion and another 1 trillion will be produced within 3 coming decades, the math shows us that the known technologies will live in the tiny pores of the rocks, about 7.5-13 trillion barrel oil. This oil burred thousands of feet underneath our feet, is and will be the resource that the world must invest efforts, R&D and money, to solve the energy problems on transition from non-renewable fossil fuels to renewable clean energies.
    My believe is and I can prove before the world, that 10-25% of the oil buried on the tiny pores, and be produced with rates we require and fuel the economy for other 2-3 decades. The 10-25% more, by doing the math will be 1.3 to 3.2 trillion barrel oil. To bring this oil on production we need reasonable investments than can be afforded, and the crude oil price will be produced with profit for investors and with affordable prices for end users. What I added here, do not exclude the peak oil but this is giving possibility to gradual transition to other renewable energies, and this transition time is estimated 5-6 decades. Hopefully what I write will have some interest for future cooperation.
  • Nimigje on March 27 2012 said:
    The world has produced around 1 trillion barrels and it is estimated that the known technologies can produce other 1 trillion barrels oil from conventional oil reservoirs only. The world does not consider the bitumen or tar sands on this trillion. The new technologies can produce around 165 billion crude oil from tar sands, bitumen and heavy oils only on Canada, and this estimate is only about 15 % of the resources. These reserves are not disputed on these moments, because the Canadians are producing more than 1 mm bbld commercial crude oil from theirs unconventional reservoirs. This oil reserves can fuel the world for about 5 years more if the crude oil will be produced with 90 mm bbld, that the world is actually consuming. What if
    You say that “Without increasing energy sources, we cannot increase economic activity”. I do not want to debate on this point, and what you say is acceptable on certain degree. To grow the world economy with the required rates, the world need to support the economy with te required energy and the required energy will be function of the demand, which is strongly related with the energy efficiency. When we increase the effic
  • Nimigje on March 27 2012 said:
    The world is awash with oil resources. No panic pressure.

    I respect your thoughts and the calculations. And your calculations are correct, because the calculations take on account many facts proved until now.
    I will accept the conclusion that the IEA chief economist Fatih Birol gives to us is true and based on deep studies. He said: “We think that the crude oil production has already peaked, in 2006”, and I will add that he speaks only for conventional oil reservoirs.
    I will accept that the decline of oil reservoirs on decline is high, and it can be 5 % that you suggest on your website, or it can be 4.5-6.5 % or quite different but around all these values.
    The oil reservoirs, all have the buildup production time history, the peak and the plateau production, and the decline production history. Altogether, all the reservoirs in a certain area, or on a continent even in the world, will have analogue production history, and I will accept that the production history has a peak, and after can come a plateau time and later the decline time, like the famous geologist K. Hubbert curve, and his correct prediction for peak oil in USA.
    You discourse the net energy are the so called EIER coefficients, and that the energy input related with the energy return coefficient in crude oil production history has decreased from 100:1 to 3:1 on the case of producing oil from tar sands and you call this ratio as pathetic. You does not hurt anybody with this, but I will consider this ratio, as a ratio that express efforts to produce crude oil today and match the demand with supply.
    I will consider the crude oil production from tar sands, as a big achievement, an achievement that opens the way for producing the heavy oil and bitumen all over the world and theirs amount arrive trillions of barrels in the porous rocks, and billions of oil that can be produced with the known technologies, if the world will need that oil. I say that it will be produced and the world will need those billions of oil. If it will happens, that overnight will be discovered other energy resources, a renewable clear and competitive on prices with the crude oil produced from tar sands, then the world will not require the production. This does not forget, will benefit you and me, and will benefit to all mankind.
    I understand that the crude oil production from tar sands with output-input energy ratio 3:1, is exceeding the limits that Mr. Charles Hall, at the State University of New York, has calculated that “it is not possible to run our complex civilization on a net-energy about 6:1”.
    The crude oil production from Canadian tar sands needs a lot of energy to be produced and the cost of production is high. The quality of the crude from these resources is not the same with the low viscosity oils, or conventional oil which are easier to be produced, require less expense, but their price is much higher. The market has rules, and the byres do not pay more when the quality is lower. However, the long efforts and the high technology developed from Canadian oil industry, and with high crude prices, have done that tar sands are economic at present time.
    You suspects most of the industry cheerleaders talking about “giant discoveries” and “energy gluts” when you mention the energy output-input ratio, and express a doubt if they know this! I will not defend them on any direction, but I will appreciate every discovery they do and I will join them that the world is awash with oil resources.
    Taking on account the conventional oil reservoirs and unconventional oil reservoirs, the heavy oil and bitumen, the world has discovered 9.5-15 trillion barrel oil resources. I will not consider the Kerogen the world has on oil shale because the Kerogen is organic un-matured residue within shale, and it is not oil.
  • David on March 29 2012 said:
    I agree with the analysis of the situation that Mr. Murphy presents.

    I also agree that climate change is something which will take effect decades from now(in a serious way) - if it even gets to that point - while the energy crisis will get going in a serious manner this decade(if it hasn't already and the continued global slowdown is masking this to some extent).

    Mr. Murphy calls for population reduction and conservation. Neither are realistic.

    How will population reduction be done voluntarily? When China instituted it's one-child policy it still took many decades before it's population peaked(and it hasn't peaked quite yet). And China is a country of strict laws. Good luck with the same in India, Africa or other parts of the world.

    And what's the alternative? Selected genocide? Simply impossible to carry through and even if it was possible it would be immoral.

    Energy conservation follows the same routes. The West has some slack yet to cut, or at least North America and to some extent Australia. But how much? And much of that slack would have to be cut under recessionary conditions. Permanent recession tends to be breed revoultionary atmosphere.

    And even if this was done, China and India will consume so much oil that it will nullify this and even add more consumption. And to this mix you have not only stagnating oil production but even faster declining oil exports from the oil producing countries.

    So the path cannot be to go back, because we can't. Mr. Murphy decries what he dismissively calls "technofixes". It needn't be that dark.

    One thing human beings have a very hard time understanding is exponential change. We think in linear terms.

    What will solve the energy crisis won't probably be another energy resource(at least first) but rather efficiency in our daily life. For instance, you have artificial meat grown in labs on a functional basis. You could get up a quite large production of this within 10 years. This would free up a lot of fossil fuel usage.

    You have the advent of nanotechnology which could be even more dramatic. We are not 40 years away from that. If you follow the field of genetics as closely as I do, you know that we are talking enormous innovations within a timespan of 5-8 years from now. Perhaps not the science fiction narratives but changes so great that they will redefine what people talk about being human.

    The final chapter on this is far from written. But I do think that by 2025, or even 2020 we will be able to estimate if we face the challenges of the singularity or of imminent decline. I think many would be surprised.
  • John Weber on March 29 2012 said:
    Mr. Murphy does not seem to want to hear that all so called "renewables" are supported/developed from an infrastructure of fossil fuels, huge mining operations, toxic chemicals and environmental degradation. I have emailed him this various times.
    As an aside, I had my first photovoltaic panels in 1983 when I lived off the grid.Presently at my new home we have a 3kWh grid tie system.
    My point of view changed when I looked at the total system.
    See: http://sunweber.blogspot.com/2011/12/machines-making-machines-making.html

  • pjc on March 30 2012 said:
    Please. Natty gas is $2 mbtu and we have to hear from some Doomer about how ***all the energy is going to run out****.

    The most exciting energy tech this guys heard of recently is " artificial photosynthesis". Really?

    He's excited about " artificial photosynthesis" and skeptical about shale energy?

    The latter is a half-a-trillion (at minimum) industry employing hundreds of thousands of people and providing dirt cheap industrial energy to the largest economy on the planet. The former is some esoteric way of capturing solar power that might provide 0.1% of the energy mix in 20 years time.

    Cmon oil price! Don't go all wobbly on us. Let's get back to where the real energy is - oil, coal and gas.

    " artificial photosynthesis" over shale gas, gimme break already.
  • Vern Cornell on April 13 2012 said:
    Tom Murphy presents a very knowledgeable story...amazing.!
    I would very much like to see more on his photosynthesis story and
    wether added CO2 in the atmosphere helps. But there are two places
    he needs more information...
    1... He likes nuclear but doesn't mention Gen4. It is here that automotive
    hydrogen get get an "easy" start and a strong finish. It solves his liquid
    fuels problem, which he mentions several times. (See my proposal.)
    2...Nearly all the world has reached below 2.1 children per woman.
    Africa is the big " holdout.". With what's happening, we'll stabilize at, say,
    eight billion, and then decline. It is THAT number we should sustain at
    Increasing living standards. There's just enough space on Earth for this.
    See stuff by the Idsos in AZ....for a start.
  • jimmy on May 11 2012 said:
    Whats wrong with real photosynthesis?

    If earth is getting hotter then we can grow more plants and mushrooms

    Artifical meat? Whats wrong with the oyster mushroom? Grown in glass jars or plastic bags!

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