Robert L. Hirsch is the lead author of a seminal report–Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management—written for the US Dept. of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE, NETL) and released in early 2005. He has remained very active with respect to his concerns about peak oil. ASPO-USA’s Steve Andrews tracked him down last week and posed some questions about the report, then and now. Bob will be a presenter at the ASPO-USA conference in Denver next month (October 11-13).

Question: What have been your primary areas of focus during your energy career?

Hirsch: I started out in nuclear power. Then I did fusion research and later managed the government fusion program. I spent a lot of time with renewables over the years, including managing the federal renewables program. From there I went to the oil industry where I managed long range refining research and then synthetic fuels. Later I managed upstream research and development—exploration and production of oil and gas. Still later, I spent time in the electric power industry—all aspects of electric power. And then I got into energy studies and have been doing them for a number of years with Rand, SAIC, and now MISI. That’s it from the work standpoint; from another standpoint I’ve been involved with the National Academies [of Science] in energy studies since 1979 and have been involved in almost every aspect of energy through the Academies, either as a committee participant or as Chairman of their Board on Energy and Environmental Systems.

Question: When did you first learn about the peak oil issue?

Hirsch: I learned about peak oil after I got out of the oil industry, because there was essentially no talk about it when I was involved. In the early 2000s I did a study for the DOE dealing with long range energy R&D planning. One of the six drivers that I came up with was peak oil; I had never really thought about it prior to that. It’s kind of a “tar baby”; once you get your hands into it, you can’t get your hands off of it. When oil production goes into decline, it’s going to be a defining issue for humanity. So I’ve been involved for six or seven years in analyzing oil peaking and its mitigation.

Question: How did the 2005 peak oil study for DOE’s NETL come about?

Hirsch: It was basically my creation. I was working with DOE NETL at the time, and they gave me a great deal of leeway to look into important subjects. I felt that peak oil was extremely important, so I did some study on my own and then proposed to NETL that I do a much larger study, with Roger Bezdek and Bob Wendling, who are extremely capable guys, who I had worked with along the way, and who were very pragmatic about energy and the real world. NETL accepted. I already was under contract, and they added Roger and Bob.
We coordinated closely with NETL as we did the study, so they had input and knew what was coming. But when they saw the final report, it shocked them, even though they could see what was coming. This is nothing negative about people at NETL, but when you’re thinking about other things most of the time, bad news creeping up on you doesn’t necessarily capture your attention immediately.

When the report was done, management at NETL really didn’t know what to do with it because it was so shocking and the implications were so significant. Finally, the director decided that she would sign off on it because she was retiring and couldn’t be hurt, or so I was told. The report didn’t get widely publicized. It somehow was picked up by a high school someplace in California; eventually NETL put it on their website. The problem for people at NETL—and these are really good people—was that they were under a good deal of pressure to not be the bearers of bad news.

Question: Under pressure from whom?

Hirsch: From people in the hierarchy of the DOE. This was true in both Republican and Democrat administrations. There is, I think, ample evidence, and some people in DOE have gone so far as to say it specifically, that people in the hierarchy of DOE, under both administrations, understood that there was a problem and suppressed work in the area. Under President Bush, we were not only able to do the first study but also a follow-on study that looked at mitigation economics. After that, visibility apparently got so high that NETL was told to stop any further work on peak oil.

Yes, that was terrible. And it was strictly politics and political appointees—I have no idea how far up in either administration (the current one and previous one) these issues went or now go. People in the Clinton administration had talked about peak oil, including President Clinton and Vice President Gore, and the same thing is true in the Bush administration, and the same is true, to the best of my knowledge, in the Obama administration.

The peak oil story is definitely a bad news story. There’s just no way to sugar-coat it, other than maybe to do what I’ve done on occasion and that is to say that by 2050 we’ll have it right and we will have come through the peak oil recession—quite probably a very deep recession. At some point we’ll come out of this because we’re human beings, and we just don’t give up. And I have faith in people ultimately. But it’s a bad news story and anybody’s who’s going to stand up and talk about the bad news story and is in a position of responsibility in the government needs to then follow immediately and say “here’s what we’re going to do about it,” and no one seems prepared to do that.

Peak oil is a bigger issue than health care, than federal budget deficits, and so forth. We’re talking about something that, to take a middle of the road position—not the Armageddon extreme and not the la-la optimism of some people—is going to be extremely damaging to the U.S. and world economies for a very long period of time. There are no quick fixes.

Question: How do you describe your key take-away from your 2005 study?

Hirsch: What we did was to look at a world-wide crash program of mitigation. We were interested in the very best that was humanly possible. That was the limiting case. There are lots of reasons why, under the best of conditions, things can’t and won’t go as fast as we assumed. We knew at the outset that the energy system was enormous and that the amount of oil-product-consuming end-use equipment was enormous. We knew it could not be changed quickly, and that in a number of cases, there was nothing to change it to – no alternative to liquid fuels. We also knew that energy efficiency could make a big difference, but we were surprised to learn that improving vehicle fuel economy would take much longer than we had imagined prior to doing our analysis. We found that because the decline rate in world oil production was going to be in multiple percents per year, it was going to take a very long time for mitigation to catch up to the decline in world oil production. Basically, the best we found was that starting a worldwide crash program 20 years before the problem hits avoid serious problems. If you started 10 years before-hand, you are in a lot of trouble; and if you wait to the last minute until the problem is obvious, then you’re in deep trouble for much longer than a decade. As it turns out, we no longer have the 10 or 20 years that were two of our scenarios.

Question: What was the immediate feedback from people outside of the government?

Hirsch: We briefed it to all kinds of audiences, including people in the hierarchy and at the committee level at the National Academies. We gave talks to technical and lay audiences, and have been doing so for years now. We’ve also published shorter versions in various media. Probably the biggest response we’ve received was disbelief—“this can’t happen.” And then there are number of people who agree, either quickly or after some reflection, that the reasoning is sound, both in terms of world oil production as well as mitigation. There are always some people who reject peak oil out of hand and, in fact, go on the counterattack and argue against it. I suspect that the kinds of reactions that I just described are what many people in the peak oil community have run up against.

Question: What was your impression of the National Academy of Sciences’ October 2005 workshop on peak oil? What do you think that accomplished?

Hirsch: It was useful because we attracted a cross-section of thinking, and there was some open discussion. But the discussions were nowhere near satisfying. People basically stated their positions, and there was no debate as to what was real and not real and what the evidence was and how solid it was. But that’s the character of an Academy’s workshop; they are set up, and for good reason, for people to present positions with the idea of educating and, possibly beyond that, lead to a more detailed Academy study. The Academies don’t take positions without doing detailed analysis and putting the subsequent study through a very careful review process. I think that approach has served the Academies well. But in this particular case, with governments wanting to shush up any open discussion of peak oil, there was no follow-on.

Question: At the time you published your paper, I would characterize you as being intentionally neutral about the timing of peak oil so that readers wouldn’t get stuck on that issue. Since the study was published, how has your view of the timing of peak oil evolved?

Hirsch: To begin with, I knew enough about oil production and the uncertainties and unknowns to feel, when I got into the subject, that I could not make a reasoned judgment early on. So I spent a number of years listening to what other people had to say, studying their analyses, and looking at what was happening in the real world before I came to a conclusion for myself. It wasn’t a matter of politics. It was the fact that this problem is enormously complicated, and there are lots of unknowns. For me, at least, I wasn’t about to take a position on timing without having a lot of evidence that would support my position. And so it wasn’t until about a year-and-a-half or two years ago that I began to home in on the likely timing of the decline of world oil production being sometime within the next five years.
Question: Given where we are today, if you were made energy czar, what policy initiatives would you pursue?

Hirsch: If I was involved in the government at a high level, I would argue very strongly to the president that he needs to take national and international leadership on the problem. He should do some homework to be sure that he hears what the issues are — do it quietly — and then stand up and say, “world and country, we’ve got a very serious problem and here is what my administration is going to do about it.” That’s what I would argue for because somebody has to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes. That’s going to be very difficult because people don’t like to hear bad news, and this is terrible news, and as it sinks in, markets will drop and there will be an immediate recessionary reaction, because people will realize that this is such a horrendous problem that having a positive outlook on employment and the economy is just simply unrealistic.

Question: Given where our leadership at the top is today, what should “peak oil concernists”—a phrase I think you coined back at the 2005 NAS workshop—do that they aren’t doing today?

Hirsch: I wish I knew. This is a bad news subject under any circumstances but its “badder news” in the midst of a recession. My approach is to present and argue facts and realities and try to clarify confusion. I don’t think it does any good, and it’s not my style, to argue that the world is coming to an end, to argue Armageddon. But that’s my position. Other people feel that Armageddon is indeed likely. That’s their right. I’m afraid that, no matter what any of us do, we’re not going to get the public’s attention until oil prices jump way back up again and people feel pain. That happened last year; the issue was getting more and more attention as oil prices went up because 1) people were hurting, and 2) people knew something was wrong. People’s focus and attention these days is on recessionary issues, and they don’t want new bad news added to the bad news they’re already dealing with. I wish I could be optimistic and say that there is a magic wand of some sort, but if there is I don’t know what it is.

Question: Any final thought?

Hirsch: I’ve tried to think outside the box in terms of how we get the message out and get people’s attention. I found nothing that I could do that I’m not already doing, except write a book, which we’ve just started. But other people have other thoughts, opportunities, and connections, so I would urge them to conceive of ways to rationally and reasonably get more decision-makers involved in 1) recognizing the problem and 2) helping to elevate it to the highest levels of government, so serious action can begin.

29 thoughts on “Interview with Bob Hirsch – The Stonewalling of Peak Oil”

  1. I saw Dr. Hirsch on CNBC while living in my FEMA formaldehyde saturated trailer after the Corps of Engineers constructed defective levees failed and flooded my home following hurricane Katrina. The speculators had begun to drive up the price of oil in anticipation of the beginning of peak oil induced price spikes. Then, just as a few people were beginning to take the concept of peak oil seriously, the bottom fell out of the world economy and oil prices were cut in half. The same ignorant economists who constantly compare oil to other commodities, soon declared how they were correct that oil was still abundant, and that the price never reflected true scarcity. Yet, over a time span of a year or so, prices generally respond to supply and demand signals, especially for something as necessary for survival as oil. Since worldwide oil demand is down significantly from the peak in 2007, prices should be a lot lower than the current $68 a barrel. Wasn’t oil selling for around $14 in 1998? If oil is so abundant, by now, wouldn’t the price have fallen to $15 or $20 a barrel? So why hasn’t it? Because the people who trade oil are smart enough to know that it will soon start to run out, and that the day of reckoning has only been delayed a few years by the worst recession since the 1930’s. Even they, won’t pay too much for future oil, until they are reasonably sure that another Great Depression has been avoided. If all the banks shut down, a lot less oil might be needed! Once something so dire is off the table in a year or two,(hopefully) look out. The oil price will go right back up.
    Hi, Don. Hope you had a nice Labor Day. Sadly, most people in America today are more concerned about what Britney Spears is (or isn’t) wearing, than about peak oil. If I had to guess, I would say that will change before 2016. I myself, am being distracted from peak oil, as I type this, by listening to the New Orleans Police Department dispatchers(2) over the internet. You can’t do that with a radio scanner anymore, since they went to digitally encrypted police radios($1,200ish each) to thwart all the scanner toting terrorists running around all over the place down here in Louisiana. The peak oil riots might be interesting to listen to. Go to the USGS web site, type ‘subsidence’ into the search box, and read the report dated 20 November 2008. It tells how oil and gas extraction sunk the State and has changed land into open water. My sister told me that it would happen 25 years ago. I laughed. Wrong again. With horizontal shale gas drilling to spread all over the place, earthquakes may be coming to a location near you! I hear that they are quite stimulating. Hollywood is probably already working on the movie, “Shale Quake.” Speaking of CNBC, be sure to catch David Faber’s special, “House of Cards” on CNBC, if you haven’t already seen it. CNBC replays it during the three day weekend National Holidays. Every American should see it. It is a brilliant description of the housing based financial crisis. And people think that the powers that be in Washington will do something about peak oil. Sure they will! Just like they prevented a housing bubble from threatening the entire financial system.

  2. Convinced in the early ‘70’s of oil depletion and that we were soon to forever face declining oil supply I have suffered decades of great frustration trying to get the word out. I was considered a Henney Penny.

    I can’t blame the public because they were not told – and they are incredibly ignorant about such matters.

    I do blame three groups. 1) Academics in engineering, geology, and other hard science who surely should have understood the problem. Alas, they didn’t want to jeopardize their comfy grants. How venal. How very venal.

    2) Politicians who almost to a man would not even consider the problem, not even listen. Bad news does not get votes.( Who can deny: Above all, get elected and then work on getting re-elected because you can’t do good work for the people if you lose.) Letters were politely answered. I never once got a response that indicated concern or the least understanding of the scope of the problem.

    3) Sadly, I seriously condemn the media. Only after thirty-some years do we finally see the media realizing there is an energy problem and in particular an oil supply problem. I have had letters to newspapers rejected for such reasons that I did not site a credible source for writing 85% of US energy is from fossil fuels. (Yet they accept for publication what a politician says, or those citing the Bible, without a credible source.)

  3. I think it’s amazing people in the oil industry weren’t talking about Peak Oil these many years. Incredible!

  4. Politicians learned the lesson of Carter. Tell the unvarnished painful truth and you won’t get re-elected. Carter was an engineer. He didn’t sugar coat.

    The next election was won by a has-been actor who told everyone that they could have everything without limit.

    So what we have had since Carter is a lack of political will on both sides. Clearly, this won’t change any time soon.

  5. What do you think the best target for action would be?

    I suppose the best possible scenario would be if every citizen of the world was aware of the problem and committed to avoiding it. How could we achieve that? If we can’t achieve that, what could we achieve? If people either can’t fully understand the problem, or choose not to, can we at least motivate them into moving in the direction they should move to mitigate the potential damage?

    The problem, as I see it, is not that oil is going to start to decline but that we don’t have a way to maintain our current standard of living when it does. That means people are mis-investing their resources, and when everyone finally becomes aware of the peak there will be a massive devaluation. That destruction of wealth, and the resulting fear, will not encourage anyone to play nice. Is there a way to get people to at least move in a direction that will make that shock less fantastic?

    Should we pump our resources into innovation (alternate energy generation, transport and storage)? Or should we pump resources into efficiency (LEDs, mass transport, distributed production)? Or maybe pump resources into getting a stranglehold on the remaining sources of oil?

  6. The father of the nuclear submarine, Hyman Richover(sp?) warned that oil should be conserved to the greatest extent possible way back in the 1950’s. Brilliant people saw what is about to happen to us a long time ago. It was in one of the peak oil books that I read. Representative Roscoe Bartlett (sp?) gives a peak oil warning speech at the end of the Congressional session when everyone has gone home for the day. I saw him twice on C-SPAN. He is some kind of scientist and holds a bunch of patents. My governor, Bobby Jindal, presided over one of them, so he can’t deny knowing about peak oil when he runs for Prersident in 2012 or 2016. I’ll bet he doesn’t say one word about peak oil. Right now he is flying all over Louisiana every Sunday building ties with the pastors. He will try to follow the Bush faith based plan to get the Republican nomination. We’re paying for his helicopter trips. He no longer takes phone calls from the talk radio media people, like he did when he was just a Congressman. Go figure.

  7. Good job, Mr. Hirsch. And best of luck. Thank you.
    Bob, I agree with what you say regarding the three groups. How true.

    A while back, on The Oil Drum, someone referred to the actual understanding of peak oil and limits to growth as a “gestalt”. I believe they really hit the nail on the head.

    The personality prerequisites required in order for an individual to experience this gestalt are vast. To name a few:

    1. A relentless, passionate, incorrigible curiosity towards the workings of life and the natural world.
    2. Determined truth-seeking.
    3. A desire to perceive, feel, and understand complex systems in their entirety, and also perceive, feel, and understand the greater systems of which they are a part, with all their subtleties and permutations.
    4. A healthy skepticism towards conventional wisdom and a healthy distrust of the status quo.
    5. Intelligence.
    6. Confidence and self esteem.

    In addition, there are experiential prerequisites. To name a few:

    1. Basic, well balanced education. (Whether self-educated or otherwise.)
    2. Frequent, direct access to the natural world and opportunities for inquiry as a child and young adult.
    3. Family, friends, and mentors who support independent and critical thinking.
    4. Access to data.

    What percentage of our population meets all of the above prerequisites? One percent? One half of one percent? A quarter of one percent?

    Out of those that do meet the prerequisites, and experience the gestalt, how many have the strength and desire to keep on facing the worst and scariest piece of news in the history of the human species instead of allowing themselves to slip into denial?

    So what have we got now… one out of every ten thousand people?

    I’m not trying to be elitist, but I am trying to be a realist.

    Again, thank you for your efforts Mr. Hirsch, on behalf of my (as of yet) unborn child. It takes guts to do what you are doing. I hope you read this. Personally, I’ve given up hope on top-down solutions, both for the reasons you state in your article and the reasons I stated above. I’ve done what I can to relocate my family to what I consider to be a more favorable place, where the deer and wild bears roam, and I will do what I can to foster community resilience on a local level. Best of luck with your efforts closer to the top.

  8. Bill, thanks for giving credit to Roscoe Bartlett, R. MD. Too bad he is 1 out of the 532 in congress. Unfortunately most people would have to assume he is the nut not the other 531. Let no good deed go unpunished.

    John, I did consider adding a fourth group to those that I condemned in my comments on the 7th – as you suggest:the oil companies. King Hubbert himself was a Shell Oil man. while he wasn’t (successfully?) muzzled his own company never endorsed his theory. For decades it had been US policy to strictly limit importation of $2 oil in order to promote use and development of US oil. The USGA (United states Geological Survey)a federal agency loaded with career Phd’s had the oil situation wrong almost to the present day. During decades there was not a peep out of all those who knew the USGA was wrong. Not a peep. But I was a victim of sorts. I was an engineer in the oil industry when I was fired in early 1976 after making some statements that some in the industry apparently took exception to in late 1975.

  9. It is very telling that the global refinery capacity is almost exactly (actually slightly below) the 85 million barrels per day which is now the consensus peak daily production (all liquids). If the oil majors really did think output was going to increase from this figure, the refinery capacity would already be in place or planned. As far as I know it is not. Thus it appears that the oil industry economists have correctly identified the global peak output. Well done to them!

  10. Well as someone who has been unemployed for over a year after working at GE (which despite all its flaws at least promoted green trains and green technology – albeit too little too late) and struggling to survive with dwindling benefits, I can attest to the difficulty of focusing on the peak oil problem.

    Pardon if I am being too broad but one of many ways to address this is to get rid of the GDP as one of the measures of economic power/health. It tends to aggravate a problem Sitting Bull pointed out when he was shown all the new inventions at one of the late 19th century World Fair’s in the US. He said upon seeing all these devices: “You know how to produce but you do not know how to distribute”.

    I will say one thing which is in keeping with some of Jim’s own thoughts on how we can cut consumption and change our lives to overcome this problem: When you do not have an office to go to where the electricity, office supplies and coffee/soda/water is provided and the costs hidden, you end up using much less of your own electricity, food and office supplies. Now I am not saying if only the whole world worked from home all our troubles would be over, but as has been said many times – people have to feel the cost of oil in order to conserve.

    In sum, as Jim does on this site, we have to feel the reality of dwindling oil to address this problem. For the long term, America’s political and philosophical tenets need to be overhauled (taking into account Sitting Bull’s wise observation). Right now we still live in a country that encourages venality, unfair competition, and wasteful consumption.

  11. I read the Hirsch Report during the summer of 2005 and have been a fan of Congressman Roscoe Bartlett after watching his Peak Oil Presentation to The House on C-SPAN. We have a very interesting situation here in the Philadelphia suburbs. Our regional commuter rail company SEPTA is attempting to build large garages and transit centers while reducing regional commuter rail services at, or phasing out, the smaller stations. This policy of accomodation to the McMansion crowd with their SUVs has been met with great resistance from the residents of the inner suburbs that are the target of the mega-garages and transit centers. The homeowners that understood the importance and value of buying a home in the near suburbs and within walking distance of a train station are fighting to preserve their property values by asking SEPTA to improve and extend their commuter rail service to the far suburbs. So far SEPTA will hear none of it.

  12. Good discussion, Bob Hirsch. Although he hardly could have anticipated the peak oil dilemma, 18th century French author Voltaire showed some prescience when he stated, “Men argue…nature acts”.

  13. Alex, No new (grass-roots) refinery has been built in the US since 1975. At that time there were over 300 operating refineries in the US, most of them small – many as small as 10,000 B/D. I don’t know the exact number today but it is about 130, none of them small. Most small refineries could not comply with increasingly expensive environmental regulations and merely stopped operating. Some states that consume great quantities of oil, such as Florida, have never allowed oil refineries. NIMBY.
    Historically the refining end of the oil business has been the least profitable. I spent years starting up refineries or new units in existing refineries all over the world. The best US margin I can remember was the Commonwealth Refinery near Ponce Porto Rico. They had somehow received an allotment to import Venezuelan crude and sell products at US Gulf Coast prices. This meant they could sell the products from a barrel of crude at one dollar over the cost of a barrel of crude. For refiners in the states proper they sold most of their products at less than US crude prices, only gasoline at about 10-11 cents a gallon ex-refinery made refining barely viable. Federal taxes, state taxes, transportation, delivery, retailing, etc. as I remember put the pump price up to about 25 cents.

    It is no great surprise that there have been no new US refineries since 1975. In fact in 1976 I asked at a big meeting (of contractors, oil companies and process licensors), “Why would anyone want to build a new refinery in the United States.” A great silent chill came over the meeting.

    Any new refinery capacity will likely be in oil exporting countries.

  14. I’m listening to a trucker calling in to 50,000 watt WWL 870 am radio in New Orleans at night from Arizona, which reminded me of a recent interview that I saw with T. Boone Pickens on CNBC a day or two ago. Boone said that he was expecting Congress to pass a bill soon that would encourage the creation of a nationwide system of cryogenic liquified natural gas refueling stations for 18 wheelers. He said that the bill would provide a $65,000 per truck grant for the purchase of a new LNG fueled truck. He claimed that doing this will greatly reduce oil imports. I’m no expert on flammable cryogenic gases, but it seems that the puncture of such a fuel tank might spread flames quite a distance along the ground should the liquid flow while burning. What would happen if the liquid spilled, but didn’t ignite right away? Is cold methane heavier than air so that a large explosion might eventually occur? I hope someone tested that, as a cryogenic liquid might behave differently than a presurized gas like propane. Being so cold, it might hug the ground while vaporizing and burning on top. I hope you can see the flame in bright sunlight. Running into a fire is bad! No doubt, the Feds tested all that. We shall find out. I’ll sure stay away from them. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m only 1,000 feet from I-12. First defective Katrina levees, now rolling bombs right down the road. Man, sometimes you can’t catch a break. I’m glad that the Norfork Southern RR track is over a mile away. Trains could tow whole cars of LNG behind the engines to fuel them. It would be like living in Southern California. Maby I can get an LNG blast bunker stimulus construction grant.

  15. You Dr. Hirsch are a true leader. You stand up and tell the truth, and you keep doing it, even in the face of denial, criticism, maligning, and a host of other political maneuvers. This is distinct from those who I call statesmen (or stateswomen), those who change their tune based on public opinion, based on current fashions, based on what’s in the news or not in the news, based on which way the wind blows. There are far too many statesmen in government today, and we need more true leaders to be in positions of responsibility.

  16. Rail is far more energy efficient than trucks no matter how they are fuelled. Methane gas is far lighter than air, by the ratio of 16 vs 29.

  17. Thanks to both of you for this important conversation.

    It’s especially interesting to hear about the downward pressure from elected adminstrations on (presumably) career persons – (?)- within the DOE. It’s so sad to think that a decision which is fundamentally one of values and integrity – (i.e., to publish the report or not, to continue the work or not, to broadcast the concern or not) – carries so much risk to one’s career, and thus to the well being of oneself and one’s family.

    And also, it’s sobering and ironic to think that such a decision-fork, so hidden from public discourse, becomes a personal one for each individual involved, despite the fact that obscuring the truth has such consequences for the entire world, really.

    Is there a way we can find to support each other in a real sense, rather than be part of this funneling of pressure?

    When Bob brings up two positions, such as a general one called “Armaggeddon” and his own desire to present “facts and realities,” this strikes me as an inadvertent tumble into a similar existential spot.

    The response to “peak” that involves increasing violence and use of force -(i.e., my take on “Armaggeddon” is that it means war and/or use of weapons)- may be likely, even more than likely, but it is still a matter of choice, and this choice is one involving, logically, the future. (If we can put aside the invasion of Iraq, and all other current military deployments that have to do with oil extraction and delivery. My “putting aside” is not to minimize these, but to make a logical point.)

    A look at the “facts and realities” of our global dependence on oil, combined with what the numbers show, yields some inescapable impacts – barring massive change and radical re-organization.

    Use of force and weapons may or may not be part of this response to the impacts shortfall in oil supplies, shortages, etc. and yet, the impacts can also be characterized as “catastrophic”, even so. In fact, this word fits.

    So, the “sugar-coat” may be exactly the message that comes across if one leaves off an explication of the catastrophic implications of the facts. It’s not necessary to have Armaggeddon (war, use of nuclear weapons, etc.) to see some dire consequences. Many dire consequences.

    Therefore, my suggestion is to clarify what is optional in the sense of possible response on the part of societal actors (leaders, dictators, militaries) and what is inevitable when oil becomes scarce as we enter and continue down the decline.

    The inescapable facts have to do with the machines and systems that require oil to function.

    I encourage everyone with Bob’s level of expertise to clearly elucidate the impacts, if no preventative and risk management options are taken. Doing so does not imply one subscribes to Armaggeddon, in fact, quite the opposite.

    Along with this facing of reality (and spelling out of the consequences) comes the opportunity to take seriously the contribution of those with ideas (including arrangements that have been shown to work on a small scale) for what positive actions might be taken.

    As Bob says, there is no “magic wand” fix for the disjoint between the decline of oil and the explosion (in numbers and patterns of consumption) of the human species to fit the energy base we have had until now.

    We can open the range of options to new arrangements. This requires a loyalty to the courage displayed thus far on the part of Bob and others who look at the facts. A direct conversation about the impacts of peak oil is the first step. (An example, not, of course, the last word, may be found here:

    Also, I’d say that there a lot of solid work has been done in thinking about sustainability, in all it’s “hard” and “soft” (and perhaps even more consequential) aspects. We need a closer look at those with a view towards what we want to do with the time and material available to us.

    And we need a sense of “us” – a way to support each other, as per above example.

  18. “Any new refinery capacity will likely be in oil exporting countries.”

    Another reason for no new refineries in the US: There is no reason to believe there will necessarily be feedstock for them.

    Foreign oil producers want to glean as much as possible of the economic value of their oil for themselves. Thus, they will increasingly want to do their own refining and sell refined products rather than raw oil.

    Really the only reliable oil supply for US refineries is US oil production. Needless to say, that means we will need LESS US refineries in the future, not more.

  19. “If the oil majors really did think output was going to increase from this figure, the refinery capacity would already be in place or planned”

    Not necessarily. Even if the oil companies believe oil production will increase in the future, that doesn’t imply they necessarily believe that oil will be avaliable to THEM.

    I think the oil companies know full well that REGARDLESS of the size of the oil industry in the future, their role will be decreasing. Even today they only control something like 15% of global oil production, and that number will be going down.

    A decade or so from now the private oil companies will only have one main role in the oil industry- retailing.

  20. Some time ago I wrote Dr. Hirsch regarding looking at the railway component in Peak Oil “Plan B”. In steadily constricting motor fuel era, it would be famine hedge to rehab the agricultural rail branchlines. In Northern CA, dormant rail lines to Calaveras, Isleton, Knights Landing, Placerville & Rumsey, are examples for study in all the US lower 48.

    US Rail Map Atlas Maps can be obtained from if local sources (historic archives, County Planning Bureaus, utilities , etc. are not in possession legacy rail maps of your respective locale. Period (1925-1965) Thomas Bros City & County Maps are good for urban area rail footprint and helpful in seeing how the downtown rail/trucking warehouse interface way laid out.

    The program to prioritize and commence rehab of the dormant rail lines can be facilitated with re-commissioned Army/Guard Railroad Operating And Maintenance Battalions. See Van Fleet’s 1956 Rail Logistics manual from AAR librarian (202-639-2100). Updated look at localization of power generation and rail to local interface, see Christopher C. Swan’s “ELECTRIC WATER” (New Society Press, 2007).

    Gerneric discussion for policymakers can be seen at ( Newsletter 42, article 374, and Newsletter 89, article 1037, respectively. Railway is not a panacea, simply a basic, durable and robust essential part of the Peak Oil Solution Set.

  21. Maybe old age and a decent memory have some benefits. I learned of Peak Oil back in 1966, working with a geologist who was quite wide-read in many different facets of geology. Then came books such as “The Seven Sisters”, which spoke to politics of the world of oil and of the behavior of the Big Oil folks. I lived through the oil embargo of 1973 which led me to my own version of, “What does it mean?” More importantly, “What does it mean TO ME?”

    Suffice that Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency” gets little argument from me, insofar as his views on energy availability and the effects of the inescapable decline in availability. He’s done an excellent job of articulating what I’ve been figuring on for some thirty or forty years, now. Hey, all that’s really been necessary has been a wee tad of watching politicans.

    Digressing: Bill from Slidell mentioned subsidence. Hey, with 3,000 feet to bedrock, and on clay, pumping oil and water allows compaction which makes for subsidence. Same-o, same-o for the area around Houston. Back in the CB radiddio daze, folks referred to Baytown as the “sinking city in the sand.” The sidewalk around the reflecting pool of the San Jacinto monument was waist-deep in baywater in 1976.

    As is said in commencement speeches, the future lies ahead. At age 75, I don’t have a bunch of “ahead” left. Best to all of you…


  22. Maybe old age and a decent memory have some benefits. I learned of Peak Oil back in 1966, working with a geologist who was quite wide-read in many different facets of geology. Then came books such as “The Seven Sisters”, which spoke to politics of the world of oil and of the behavior of the Big Oil folks. I lived through the oil embargo of 1973 which led me to my own version of, “What does it mean?” More importantly, “What does it mean TO ME?”

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