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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today's Scariest Graph ever


Click to enlarge

This is Nate Hagen's graph of the future of net energy returned to us from oil production. The whole volume is the oil we'll get...but the green part is the stuff we actually get to keep after subtracting the energy we used to get it. Sort of like deciding to stop looking at gross sales as an indicator of how well your business is doing, and instead looking at net profits. And discovering your net profits will fall off a cliff in 10 years, and be zero in 14 years.

But that's not net profits. That's our energy supply. The same energy supply we're planning to use to run almost everything we do and ALSO use to build a new, alternative energy supply. Eventually. Except, 14 years from now (or a bit sooner? a bit later?), we won't have much left to do it with.

Read this post and tell me why this net energy curve isn't the number one topic of discussion for anyone who likes Civilization As We Know It. I can't figure it out.

ADDENDUM: A response from Nate Hagens:

People in [the] science community don't like conclusions or speculation not based on data. These are interpretations, based on firm principles but no data. The fact that we cannot afford the price that natural gas drillers need to procure supply in future and that drilling rigs have dropped more than 50% and counting IS concerning people a great deal, but they are more concerned about their own jobs and own companies' prospects. Electricity/diaper shortages in 2014 are so far in the future [as] to not be on folks' front burner.

And most in [the] energy/policy community look at resource - theoildrum and ASPO and others have at least forced the dialogue to go beyond that to flow rates (resource per unit time), but net vs gross is still an esoteric discussion - primarily because it's complicated and has no swift incorporation into a decision. There is still a (rather large?) camp that believes technology is NOT losing [the] battle with depletion and that EROI could increase again in future (certainly for coal). Current break even prices for main 3 fossil fuels would suggest it a great deal sooner than even I originally thought.

The reality is that nat gas and oil will probably have 'fat tails' meaning there will be a sharp drop in production followed by long period of leveling off - EROI will not be too meaningful in this environment because the majority of costs for this oil will have been spent, just lifting and transport remaining. But on NEW oil and gas is where the problem lies. I could write pages and pages on the issues involved, but in a sentence - yes it's scary. Because these decline curves don't occur in a vacuum - real human reactions will accelerate (or hopefully slow) them.


NOTE: Nate & Charlie Hall are continuing work on this issue. Charlie supplies global EROI figures, which are declining over time. See also Charlie's article on the minimum EROI needed to maintain civilization in the HTBAF Essential Articles section.

BONUS: A reply from Charlie to Nate's inquiry about how it's going on coming up with new global EROI figures:

World EROI for oil and gas is calculated but not yet published. It was (roughly) 36:1 in the 1990s dropping to 19:1 in 2006. We have the first draft of our North American gas paper with Murphy/Friese done. I have papers on these things and things related to it in press in BioScience and American Scientist.

The problem with what you say Nate H for gas is that new wells tail off so enormously in first 1 or 2 years.

God protected us by making oil hard to extract. But not gas. So evidence for existence of God from petroleum sector is mixed.



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