Sunday, June 26, 2005

Rusted automobiles

(© 2001-2002 Maggie Sale - All rights reserved)

In all this Peak Oil hullabaloo, what has become clear to me is that the fabric of our particular civilization is woven from fibers that look alarmingly like interstate highways. Anything that inhibits our ability to get from point A to point B in the time and ease to which we have become accustomed, will cause great discomfort. Like it or not, we have crafted a way of life that requires the transportation of ourselves or the items we need for daily living across great distances.

The energy sources for heating and electricity will not be as severely affected by the Peak Oil phenomenon. Most of our electrical energy comes from coal (53%) and we have and plenty of it. From the EIA website, “Total recoverable reserves of coal around the world are estimated at 1,083 billion tons11—enough to last approximately 210 years at current consumption.” I say unfortunately, because when push comes to shove, we will use coal - a dirty, environmentally destructive fuel - as if our lives depended on it. Coal will be made to fill many gaps that petroleum will no longer profitably fill, of that we can be sure. Let us just hope our environmental regulatory agencies are fully functional when that happens.

The Energy Information Administration site has a good breakdown of how the energy pie for the United States is sliced.


For the electric power sector,

  • coal-fired plants accounted for 53% of generation,
  • nuclear 21%,
  • natural gas 15%,
  • hydroelectricity 7%,
  • oil 3%,
  • geothermal and "other" 1%.


The United States consumed an average of about 20.4 million bbl/d of oil during the first ten months of 2004, up from 20.0 million bbl/d in 2003.

Of this,

  • motor gasoline consumption was 9.0 million bbl/d (or 44% of the total),
  • distillate fuel oil consumption was 4.1 million bbl/d (20%),
  • jet fuel consumption was 1.6 million bbl/d (8%),
  • and residual fuel oil consumption was 0.8 million bbl/d (4%)l.

As you can see, 72% of the oil consumed was for transportation, therefore, the transportation sector will be the hardest hit by Peak Oil. I am no economist, but it makes sense that we will experience this as a kind of inflation. The price of everything we buy has its transportation cost embedded in the sticker. If gas prices go up, retail prices follow. If gas goes up dramatically, retail prices will too.

The devil is in the drama. A long gradual increase would give people time to adjust their lifestyles while sudden increases could be devastating. The pressures on the average tight budget household being hit by increased food prices and increased expense of the commute, may be too much for many to bear. The effect on businesses, all of which rely on transportation, particularly non-essential, dispensable income businesses, will be devastating. The lights will be on though.

Despite my dismal prognostications, I am actually feeling optimistic lately. I have been doing some reading on biodiesel. I had been hearing that the amount of biomass needed to produce enough biodiesel fuel to replace petroleum would be enormous – billions of acres - making it seem impractical. However, I came across a great article in the Energy Blog which is making me rethink this; biodiesel from algae. I will be focusing on biodiesel for a while because I want to understand it better and I am tired of thinking about how I will survive TEOTWAWKI. Do not worry though, I will surely have a great article to share soon about how to snare and prepare pigeons for dinner.

[UPDATE I: Armando at the DailyKos poses the question, "Why the hollywood box office slump?" There is a poll and hundreds of comments. Many of the commenters list 'increasing gas prices' as a primary reason for not going out to the movies. Have a look.]

[UPDATE II: Don't forget to take a look at the illustirous Jerome a Paris's segment, "Countdown to $100.00 Oil (3) - industry is beginning to suffer."


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