Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
April 03, 2005

Future Oil Production. Some Scenarios

As I posted this, I just saw that Billmon had put up a new post on a related topic, so I suggest to discuss both in the same thread:

Billmon: Beyond Our Means

---------------------------------------------

To start with, the rosy one...

Despite their recent warning that oil production was very tight and that it might make sense to engage in measures to reduce energy demand, the International Energy Agency still has a surprisingly optimistic view of future oil production, as shown by this graph (copied from the paper version of Le Monde, sorry if the quality is not great, I could not find a direct link, the source is an IEA publication that you need to buy):

050403_oil0011_3

The left graph represents oil production, in million barrels per day. The various layers are the following, starting from the bottom:

- fields in exploitation;
- known reserves to be put in production;
- optimisation of the extraction of existing fields;
- "unconventional" oil (deep offshore, tar sands, ...);
- exploitation of fields yet to be discovered.

The right graph indicates the proportion of transport in world demand for oil.

Pleasantly enough, oil production keeps on growing regularly, and ends up providing pretty much for what the demand is expected to be in 2030 (around 120 mb/d, as opposed to 80-85 mb/d today).

That's the official position of the international body which was specifically created by Western countries, led by the USA, to manage the 70s oil crisis, coordinate strategic oil reserves and generally encourage better practices to reduce energy demand. They are the people paid by our governments to worry about oil - and they don't.

So, end of story?

Well, as you can guess, probably not.

The problem can be seen in the various following graphs:

050403_reserves_replacement_2

(From The Struggle for Oil, by Bernard Cloutier)

This shows that for every single of the last 20 years, we have found less oil reserves than we have consumed worlwide. (technically, the graph does not show the last 5 years, but this held true then as well, even in 2001 when the discovery of the Kashagan field in the Northern Caspian, one of the five largest ever, was confirmed)

So we are going through the reserves of the past, at an increasingly fast pace.

And guess what, these reserves are not in the best places form our perspective:

050403_oil_spent_vs_available

(From Peak Oil: a lecture at the Technical University of Clausthal by C.J. Campbell, a Britsh geologist, in December 2000)

North America has pretty much used up all its oil reserves, and will depend not just increasingly, but exclusively, on imports from the Persian Gulf. Africa, Latin America and Russia (Eurasia) are already past their peak and will not contribute that much in the long run.

This gets us to a third item, taken from the same Campbell presentation:

050403_reserve_reevaluation

The reserves of many of the OPEC countries are highly suspicious, in that they were arbitrarily reevaluated in the mid 80s, with no objective reasons behind these changes (no new discoveries or methodology to appraise fields). In fact, Venezuela started off that "reserve" war as this was one of the criteria to distribute production quotas. It happened as oil prices had just crashed from 25 to 10$/bbl after Saudi Arabia decided to fllod the market to show its real power. Other countries followed suit to neutralise the early movers, and as you can see, reserve estimates has not changed since them (they have not even been ajusted for actual production in that period). There have been no outside evaluations of the reserves of most of these countries, and we are thus stuck today with 20-year-old politically motivated numbers...

Saudi Arabia's oil production has been stagnant over the past 15 years, and has yet to reach its level of 1980:

050403_sa_oil_prod_8004

There are serious doubts that they can increase their production beyond the current levels: they have basically used up all their spare capacity in 2003 and 2004 to compensate the temporary loss of Iraq's production due to the war and the spur in demand of last year. The recent announcements by OPEC that quotas would be raised did not help to bring oil prices down as the market does not believe anymore that OPEC has the capacity to increase production in the short term).

Campbell suggests that the Persian Gulf producers will be able to increase production levels from current levels:

050403_me_prod_profile

but that this time, in the face of depletion in other regions, this will be barely enough to maintain total production over the coming years. In the face of strong demand growth, the only way to balance the market will be, like in the 70S, but on a larger scale, high enough prices to reduce demand (with the corresponding economic dislocation):

050403_world_oil_peak

And that's not yet the bad news...

The first piece of bad news is that peak oil is going to be followed soon afterwards by peak gas - which means that electricity generation will become an issue not long after transportation has come to the fore front (considering that gas-fired plants have been the technology of choice in the past 10 years all over the world, especially in the US and Western Europe, and that investment lead times are significant):

050403_all_hydrocarbons

(from Campbell)

The second piece of bad news is that we are coming very near the point (or may even have passed it) when the discrepancy between real reserves ("technical reserves") and declared reserves ("political reserves") cannot be hidden anymore, as this graph suggests:

050403_remaining_reserves_lahe

(from Modelling future liquids production from extrapolation of the past and from ultimates (pdf) by Jean Lahererre, presentation on May 23, 2002 in Uppsala - his introduction is interesting if you want to know what "reserves" actually mean, and what liquids are counted)

The third piece of bad news is that, despite the current situation, neither the oil majors nor the national oil companies of the big producing countries are investing much to develop production, despite their record profits or revenues. This is clearly a sign that there is nowhere to invest more than what they are doing, and that it is thus highly unlikely that the production growth scenario of the AEI will come to pass.

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on April 3, 2005 at 22:45 UTC | Permalink

Comments

Thank you for posting this material. I have read COLLAPSE. It is a deeply frightening book. Everyone should read it.

I have one question about renewable fuels: years ago I read of an English farmer who succeeded in converting his diesel automobile to 'biodiesel'using methane produced from his own chickens' and pigs' manure to power the car. He even sold a converter that could be placed on an automobile.
His methane cooker looked dangerous and ramshackle, but the engine worked, and was apparently ran more efficiently using this unconventional fuel.

I have been unable to find any articles about this farmer with a date more recent than 1973. Was this a hoax? If not, why should we not consider biodiesel from human and animal wastes, rather than from vegetable sources, as a substitute for gasoline and possibly for natural gas? It is not as if we are going to run out of it any time soon.

Methane from sewage appears to provide the most practical solution to the problem of fuel for heating and transportation. Are there any modern developments? Was the farmer's invention a hoax?

And now there has even been a discovery that certain plastics can be manufactured from orange peel and corn.
Perhaps it is possible to replace oil in many applications, enabling a gradual transition from oil based production to a more varied base.

I doubt if oil companies will shift over while there is still profit to be made from oil. They are making out like bandits from the rising prices.

The biggest waste of resources, particularly oil, is war. I would think that the continuing rise in the consumption of oil and gas is due to the endless wars of the last century.

Posted by: hopping madbunny | Apr 3 2005 23:22 utc | 1

madbunny - Using methane from farm waste and landfills is already done, mostly for electricity generation. However, those sources have the potential to supply only a very small portion of our future energy needs, and supply an even smaller portion of our current needs. Still, that shouldn't prevent people from using them.

I've read enough from APSO and elsewhere that I'm convinced the ME reserve estimates are wildly overstated. I doubt the actual peak will be this year, or next, but it will come sooner than anyone in power or the oil business in the US expects (or will admit to publicly).

I still contend that while the world can meet the technical challenge of the end of cheap oil, cultural inertia may prevent it. So far the US has not done well on the cultural side (an ongoing oil war, no carbon tax), even though technological developments look promising (hybrids, biofuels, improvements in battery technology, improvements in fuel cells, and the restarting of research into GenIV reactors).

Posted by: Tom DC/VA | Apr 4 2005 0:05 utc | 2

This brings up several points that need to be made. In the USA there is plenty of coal and coal gasification will be the next big business with companies like GE and KXx. The next frontier for oil and gas production will be in ultra deep ocean waters. The oil sands in Canada and other oil tars in the US will be further exploited. Alternatives will be pushed in the US soon despite oil barons being in charge (Bush,Cheney).

In agricluture, to save on fertilizer (energy), hydroponics and aquaponics (aquaponics lets you use the brackish water from fish tanks and fish manure to fertilize plants) will need to take the place. In a current hydroponic system it is less fertilizer intensive because nutrient water is recirculated adding just enough fertilizer to bring water condition to optimum growth level. Water is always tested. Unlike field applied fertilizer which is mainly wasted and runs off. The problem is Canada and other countries like the Neatherlands are much farther ahead in these technologies and US Universities are slow to push these systems.

Aquaculture will become very big because fish, crab, lobster and shrimp can be raised in controled climates inside buildings and tanks. Our community has done much study of aquaculture. We were going to put in an aquaculture business for yellow perch. The price needed to keep the business viable was $5.50 per pound for fillets. China is shipping them at $1.75. But, agriculture, fishing and other endeavours must move to controled environments in order to save ours. Energy intensive agriculture and fishing will have to come to an end. The fisheries can then at least recover for pleasure fishing.

A complete change in thinking must take place. Small family farms could make a comback as the US is de-industrialized. Smart farming where less energy is used must be the new thinking.

Have at it.

Posted by: jdp | Apr 4 2005 0:51 utc | 3

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/040305A.shtml>The Cycle of Deficits

Sterling Newberry suggests that the peak oil event or process is likely to consolidate right-wing power in the US and the world:

Clinton's economic program, called "Rubinomics," was driven by the financial wizardry of Bob Rubin, and by the technology policy spearheaded by Albert Gore. It was meant to create a boom in new technology - the "New Economy," which would create private asset wealth that foreigners would buy. Thus instead of selling National Debt and financial leverage, the United States could, instead, sell speculative assets such as internet stocks. This substitution of entrepreneurial paper for government paper was the key part of Clinton's attempt to loosen the American economy from the stranglehold of the paper-for-oil cycle. It was almost genius.

It almost worked.

What it was, and why it failed, are a topic for another day. But answering that question will clarify why the New Economy and technology became a way, not to escape the paper-for-oil trap, but to exacerbate it, and why Peak Oil is very likely to lead, not to a more progressive future, but, on the contrary, to one in which reactionary forces will consolidate power, rather than lose power.

somebody, please tell me why he's wrong.

whole article worth a read -- he contends that resource crunch, financial crunch, and regressive putsch are all structurally related.

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 4 2005 1:18 utc | 4

Sounds like a conspiracy theory to me: is his suggesting Al Gore invented the Internet, by any chance.

I've scanned his article, and it feels that there is too much conscious co-ordination involved. The West had to lower taxes on the wealthy so that the Ay-rabs wouldn't buy up all of America? It's a different justification, certainly, but nonsense surely?

Posted by: Colman | Apr 4 2005 8:16 utc | 5

Oh my, US troops in oil rich parts of Africa. How nice. Now my head hurts.

Posted by: Colman | Apr 4 2005 8:45 utc | 6

Hi, Jerome. Very good post, as usual. I linked to it with my comment, which is that DeAnanader and Newberry have the right questions. Peak oil is happening or it's happened. The question is in the politics -- how do we keep this crisis from turning us into Austria, 1932? (Maybe getting out and talking more would be a good start....)

So far as the oil majors' decisions about how much to invest in E&P: ChevronTexaco, for one, claims it's ramping up slowly because it got burned in the last boom by overinvesting in E&P and then being left with lots of unrecoverable reserves when prices dropped again. They don't see this as a permanent price spike -- yet.

Posted by: oily messter | Apr 4 2005 8:56 utc | 7

Tom DC/VA: I am aware that sewage is being used to fuel some power plants. What I want to know is: why can't it be used to fuel public transport or private? Was the English farmer a joke or not?
Has anyone ever bought or used one of his converters on a diesel car?

My sister lives in a state where animal manures from commercial farms foul the water. I don't think that there are too many places using methane from this source, and it sounds like people are literally throwing money down the drain. According to the English chicken farmer, he was producing good fuel for 3 cents a gallon.

Posted by: hopping madbunny | Apr 4 2005 9:56 utc | 8

http://www.theautochannel.com/F/news/2005/03/19/016456.html

Looks like I have just answered my own question. Volvo has been selling methane-burning cars for years, and Sweden makes methane out of sewage.

Oh, for a world passport. Or at least a Euro passport...Germany and Austria and Italy have three new methane-fuel stations opening per week.

I want to know why American car and fuel vendors are not investing in this 'obvious' renewal technology. Methane fuel is apparently sixty percent cheaper than oil and gas, and the cars run 'clean'. Perhaps I have once again answered my own question.

Posted by: hopping madbunny | Apr 4 2005 10:45 utc | 9

I disagreed with Billmon on Pope, but here he totally nails it. The first time I read a bit of Diamond about Rapa Nui, the comparison with Earth was obvious, so that I'm amazed when I see people saying things like "well, it was a small island, they didn't have much to begin with. And Technology will save us. And we're smarter and do research." *sigh*

Concerning oil, as I said in the Kos-crossposted thread, Campbell's 3rd item shows that the Gulf area overestimated by 300bio barrels their reserves. If you take them away and compare with Campbell 2nd graph, you'll see that the Gulf area is peaking now. This is slightly worrying, I think.

Methane: This crap is far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, so if biodiesel just uses methane that would otherwise directly go into the atmosphere without producing any more, then fine with me. But if it turns trapped methane or non-really-methane into full greenhouse-effect methane, then it's a pretty bad idea, imho.
Though the real trick with all the biodiesel is that we would have to turn the whole planet into biodiesel-producing farmlands to run our cars. Widely used biodiesel would soon go into a collision course with the starving masses of humans who still need to be fed with genuine food, which comes from the same fields that would be used to make most of the biodiesel. Though it would be fine if we could just have a limited share of the cars running on sewage stuff, without creating the need for more sewage - which would inevitably occur if we turned every single car into a trashcan-consumer.

Newberry is quite corrct that Gore was more instrumental than usually acknowledged in helping the US economic and technological boom of the 90s. And that this helps having foreigners pouring their money into the US economy through markets (and was have been partly devised toward this goal).
The paper-to-oil stranglehold is worth mentioning repeteadly. In case people don't notice; by having huge trade deficits with oil-producing Middle-East and cheap goodies-producing China, the US is going the way of the late Roman Empire who wasted hard-earned (mostly looted) money to buy Chinese luxury goods like silk.

Posted by: Clueless Joe | Apr 4 2005 11:18 utc | 10

Volvo has been selling methane-burning cars for years, and Sweden makes methane out of sewage.

We do? Oh yeah, that ought to be the biogas buses. Never really thought of were the bio fitted into that equation, but it makes sense now.

I think it is the citys waste disposal company that makes the gas for the citys bus company so I think demand and supply are fairly stable and equally matched. I do not however think that all buses in my town runs on biogas, so there might be pretty limited amounts from the waste disposal station.

If this means that public transportation will replace cars more and more as oil gets scarce, well that is just dandy.

Found a report in english about biogas buses in Linkoping in Sweden. It says Linkoping will soon have around 100 buses running on biogas (but it does not mention what percentage of buses running on biogas). Linkoping has about 135 000 inhabitants. If anyone has any clue as to how many buses/inhabitants a city needs, feel free to infor because I have no idea.

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Apr 4 2005 17:19 utc | 11

@Clueless Joe Methane: This crap is far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, so if biodiesel just uses methane that would otherwise directly go into the atmosphere without producing any more, then fine with me. But if it turns trapped methane or non-really-methane into full greenhouse-effect methane, then it's a pretty bad idea, imho.

The small hydrocarbons, methane ethane propane butane, are gaseous fuels and in fact methane in the primary constituent of natural gas (ca. 75%). Larger hydrocarbons containing roughly 7 to 10 carbons are the primary constituents of gasoline. Even larger hydrocarbons (greater than 12 carbons) are used in diesel fuels. Hydrocarbons can burn completely to give carbon dioxide and water. This reaction is very exothermic. Burning 1 mole of methane generates about 200 kcal per mole of heat, that is a lot!
Organic Chemistry in "Real Life"

So burning methan gives CO2 but is less dirty than burning longer chains of hydrocarbons.

Here is something on biofuels which is not the same than Methan from burping cows or old covered wastedumps.

No joke - both exists. In a large cow stable you can catch the methan the cows burp during their digestion process under the roof and use it to heat a house. (I know one farmer doing this) and a metal shop build on top of an old waste dump did just stick long tubes into the dump and catched the escaping gas for heating next to my old hometown.

Posted by: b | Apr 4 2005 17:38 utc | 12

On the general theme - future oil production:
Saudi Forces Kill 7 in Gun Battles

RIYADH, April 4 -- Saudi troops killed seven gunmen in a protracted siege in the northern town of Al-Ras, where gunbattles raged for a second day with suspected Islamic militants, the Interior Ministry said on Monday.

A ministry statement said an eighth militant was critically wounded and a number of members of the security forces were injured, though most had been released from hospital.

Security sources earlier said eight militants were killed.

"Security forces are continuing mop-up (operations) at the site," it said about one of the longest and bloodiest battles in Saudi Arabia's two-year confrontation with al Qaeda supporters.

Hospital official said 51 security personnel had been treated by midday (0900 GMT) on Monday.

It could well be that we will see NO production from Saudi Arabia within a few month.

Posted by: b | Apr 4 2005 18:37 utc | 13

The Chinese have done a lot with village-scale and farm-scale biogas digesters. Somewhere in the mess I call my book collection, I have a rather good small book on how to build a Chinese-style biogas digester. IIRC they ran theirs on human, hog, and chicken wastes.

OTOH, this diverts those valuable biotic products from being composted (with various cellulose and mineral admixtures) and turned into rich topsoil. It seems that we have to choose, increasingly, between heating/fuel and food production.

One time I and some online friends tried to do the math on biofuels from primary vegetable sources, i.e. canola or soya diesel. I will try to find the relevant discussion and repost it here -- we came to the conclusion that there was not enough arable land in the US to power the US vehicle fleet at its current mileage and pathetic fuel efficiency. Basically, a car eats more than a person -- that was our conclusion. I'd be interested to see our back-of-envelope numbers challenged and revised.

I notice that over at Kos (I did slog through the entire comments as they stood a couple of days ago) one person was asserting that there were x hundreds of thousands of sq miles in the SW US, and therefore it was nonsense to say that we didn't have enough land to grow biofuels.

I think this person must never have visited this area of the US :-) it is mostly desert. It can be rendered arable only by the importation of vast amts of water (using fossil fuel to dig wells, pump, build aquifers, etc) and mostly-artificial soil enrichment (more fossil fuels). The surface area of a continent is not equal to the arable area -- this is why arable land is so valuable, and historically its ownership so bloodily contested. This is why it was worth eons of peasant labour to terrace, painstakingly, every damn hillside in populous SE Asia to create more arable land area. So the idea that we can just dump bushel after bushel of canola or soya seed all over the SW and miraculously produce several bn barrels of veggie oil is, to say the least, naif...

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 4 2005 18:49 utc | 14

When people find and latch onto a source of miraculous easy profit, they will not let go easily.

They will defend their turf, up or down prices, and knock out the competition in whatever way they can. They will also hold on, persevere, because that is the business they know, and minor losses in the end will compensate for profits along the way (as no alternative for making new profits presents itself). When the profits are in the multi trillions, and dependency can be created by buying politicians, the poor tax payer will naturally shell out to maintain his beloved leaders in a stellar position, and defend what he or she believes (is told) are rights to a certain lifestyle. To, surprise, surprise! the detriment of other people elsewhere. When these powerful lobbies - in the US, corporate and media interests - can command a Gvmt. it is a done deal.

Things are not that simple. Oil companies are not evil, they are directed by hard headed business men, a tough business it is too, they are beholden to their shareholders; the Bush Dynasty is not just a subsidiary of (ex) Standard Oil; Chirac is not just an ex-Saddam-lover; all are acting in a conventional landscape.

The West runs on Black Gold, by opressing the Third World and controling the ME. No-one wants to give the black gold up; those who understand the scene know it cannot be done, and that there is still a very good ride ahead (true).

Alternative energies will remain conforting frills (or Gvmt. subisdised scams, depending on on pov), leaving just a little room for people to imagine that new technology, or all out exploitation of know technology, common sense, a rational approach, fair sharing, may dig us out of the hole - that there is nothing really to worry about.

Slow though - nothing startling will happen very soon. (See Iraq war, accepted.)

Posted by: Blackie | Apr 4 2005 20:11 utc | 15

"Most blessed of sons be Asher. Let him be favoured by his brothers and let him dip his foot in oil."

Deuteronomy 33:24.


Oil baron seeks gusher from God in Israel

Posted by: Deus ex machina | Apr 4 2005 21:10 utc | 16

A lifecycle-biologist told me that biofuels are a waste because we use more fossile energy to grow plants then the plants yield in energy as fuel. If we go back to using horses instead of machines we get a positive energy yield from the fields. Which we could use to run a car. But if you think about it a minute you would probably prefer to work a little bit less on the fields (with the horse) and walk, ride, sail or bike wherever you are going.

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Apr 4 2005 21:29 utc | 17

"Basically, a car eats more than a person"
You don't need any calculation for that. I mean, it's obvious. Anyone who can't understand this is beyond hope. Arguably, sailing and biking are the only ways of moving that eat up less energy than walking - but that's without taking into account the grey energy used to build bikes and ships. Coincidentally, studies show that bike is the best way to move the biggest amount of people in a given time over a given road with a fixed width (then comes foot, and cars are quite useless, as expected).
SW America, yep, that used to be a good place for farming. 1.000 years ago. (though by now there have been enough references to good old professor J.D. here, in Kos and even by Billmon for people to guess where to read what happened) The really damning fact nowadays, for US farming, is that the total surface of agricultural lands is decreasing seriously every year, thanks to erosion of topsoil and to increased salinity of the soil. Intensive agriculture is killing some areas. To put it bluntly, the current amount of production of US agriculture should be limited and reduced to ensure sustainability of production in the long run - otherwise, it's Easter Island / Vikings in Greenland / Roman Empire / Mayas /Sumer all over again - the correlate, which bears repeating, being that the total consumption of goods by US people should also be limited and reduced, both in per capita and in absolute figures (of course, same goes for Europe and Japan to another extent).

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Apr 5 2005 0:16 utc | 18

You don't need any calculation for that. I mean, it's obvious. Anyone who can't understand this is beyond hope.

that's an awful lot of people CJ :-)

most people have no clue. and why should they really -- energy literacy is not taught in school until you get to elementary physics -- a high school subject in the US and not even a requirement in most school systems. energy economics are deliberately (imho) obfuscated.

which gets me back to my pet peeve -- energy illiteracy. people who think we will "just run our cars on peanut butter." cargo cultists of the fossil age. the resistance to changing the paradigm is very, very stiff: all kinds of miracles and snake oil will be touted and grasped at before we come to grips with the reality of the Two Laws.

it's kinda like the folks who think factory farmed fish will "save the oceans", w/o wondering what we feed the factory farmed fish. we feed them ocean fish. at a losing ratio of, iirc, 4 or 5 to 1 -- 4 or 5 lbs of ocean fish to feed one pound of saleable factory fish, plus the fossil fuel required to run the fish farm and the trawler that catches ("mines" would be the better word actually) the ocean fish. this is only considered "profit" because we persist in dogmatic Cornucopianism, believing that the planetary commons is infinitely lootable for free.

it is interesting that laissez-faire industrial capitalism is built on, of all things, a committed faith in the idea of an infinite free lunch.

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 5 2005 0:31 utc | 19

De,

You are talking about salmon grew in ocean cages. That is not controled industrial farming as in enclosed buildings with controled environments. Non carnivor fish can be gain weight one to one.

Posted by: jdp | Apr 5 2005 1:23 utc | 20

@jdp are we talking catfish farming here? I have heard that tank farming of catfish can be fairly efficient and can be integrated into a broader water/waste management system. also crawdads?

but when most people think about "saving the oceans by fish farming" they are thinking of what we might call conspecific substitutability, i.e. farmed versions of the prestigious carnivore species that we like to eat -- salmon, swordfish and the like. "farmed salmon" is often offered as an ostensible replacement for ocean caught fish. [heavy irony there]

imho catfish and crawdaddies are "poor people food" in the cultural hierarchy of our times, and hence there will be resistance to any admission that they are the more practical fish species for us to eat. of course we are already eating fish that our grandparents considered good only for bait or moggie... (sigh)

http://www.alternet.org/envirohealth/21588/>Stan Cox does a quick survey of the betting on peak oil over at alternet. the comments are mildly interesting. a couple of them are even quantitative.

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 5 2005 1:34 utc | 21

http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2005/Apr-02-Sat-2005/news/26204008.html>I think the Yucca Mtn project may really be toast

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 5 2005 1:41 utc | 22

(wandering slightly OT) I sure hope those tank fish are less pathological/morbid than http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/health/thehealthnews.html?in_article_id=343593&in_page_id=1797&in_a_source=>factory chickens. I wonder how much swimming space they get...

on another random note regarding false efficiencies and weird side effects of factory ag; on my great-uncle's farm a milk cow had a productive lifetime of about 20 yrs, give or take. last time I was in PA hanging out with farming friends, the buzz was all about how the price of heifers had gone up so high, it was getting damn-near impossible for the family farmer to start a dairy herd any more.

why? the factory dairy business was buying them all up in lots -- the entire output of the breeders. why? because the abuse (I cannot in conscience call it anything else) inflicted on factory-milk cows means that they are "burnt out" (the industry uses this term) at 3 or 4 years. the hormones and other drugs, the insanitary and immobilised conditions, the bizarre diet -- the cow is good only for slaughter by age 3 or 4.

again I say that this is not efficiency. this is the application of vast amts of fossil fuel to stripmine a resource at 5 or 6 times the customary speed, and damn the cost -- in cruelty, in waste, in the suppression of the small scale farmer. by this "efficiency" we have produced dairy surpluses so excessive that at times the fed has paid US farmers to pour the stuff down the drain. what an accomplishment eh!

the peak oil sitch looks grim. but the present day realities of the oil-glutted economy have their grimmer side also. it is not all ragtop convertibles driving into the sunset and pretty young people cavorting in steaming swimming pools -- cheap oil has done some damned ugly things to us. perhaps putting down the crack pipe may have its positive aspects...?

jaysus, am I sounding less than dogmatically Kassandrian? what's come over me?

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 5 2005 1:56 utc | 23

De,

Tilapia is the best fish to farm enclosed. They are desease resistent, survive in a more brackish water, grow fast and are plant eaters.

Other species also can be grown without much trouble. I refered to yellow persh above. Those are a little trickier to grow.

As you say, the uppers feel they need salmon, but that is just going to have to be off the table soon. The growers out west growing salmon in ocean cages or farms are doing great environmental damage.

On the feed side, if carnivor fish are grown, the waste after cutting fillets can be pelletized for the protein content. Further, the waste is also real good farn fertilizer.

We are trying to create an eco-park in our community. We are going to run a hot water line into a 40 acre ag renaisance zone from the local wood fired power plant. The plant produces 18 megawatts. It can provide 70 degree hot water in winter to nearly 100 degree water in summer for heating and cooling. We have grants for all the infrastructure. Construction should be this summer.

Posted by: jdp | Apr 5 2005 2:10 utc | 24

@jdp is there any info online about this community of yours? very interested to know where it is, what the organisational structure is, how decision are made, etc. photos would also be really nifty...

I find tilapia pretty tasty, myself.

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 5 2005 2:52 utc | 25

asides-

Tilapia are good to make blackened fish. Trout are not. fwiw. At least in my experience.

-----
My b-i-law has been in the oil biz in TX for many, many years as an engineer. Has regularly gone offshore. Has been to Russia and the Ukraine and Myamar regarding oil biz stuff over the years. I mentioned peak oil to him last year. He had never heard of it.

when I explained Hubbert's predictions, my b-i-law said, "well, the market will deal with the problem."

I said....nothing.

..but I wanted to ask why the market hadn't yet dealt with the problem, as in, shouldn't entrepreneurs have recognized a need and begun to meet it..unless "the market dealing with the problem" is the reason Halliburton is in Iraq...or, maybe the market isn't free, but is captive to the oil industry...and entrepreneurs face internal "trade barriers."

with Germany's quota to meet 30% of its energy needs via renewable alternatives over the next few years...and with Jerome's reports on windmill investments in Spain...

I really have to wonder why the U.S. programs of this sort either don't exist, or are ignored by media. As far as I know, they don't exist, not on the scale that is occuring elsewhere. Certainly not as a part of a long-term feasible policy to implement. Not as a goal that is not tied into untenable ideas that, oh surprise, are also oil-based (like they hydrogen cars).

Issues like this, including the invasion of Iraq, give me the sense that America is part of the past, not the future. I never felt that way until Bush was selected. Bush America seems like a dry well.

---
Have any of you read Defying Hitler, by Sebastian Haffner? It's an amazing book, written in 1939, but was not published until after his death, by his son, in 2000. Back in 1939 he was skeptical that a communist had started the Reichstag fire, and noted the advantage of such an act was with the Nazis. Like police work, look first at who would most benefit from a crime. But he also notes that most Germans accepted, without a doubt, that it was the work of the communists.

He also reams the politicians who failed the 56% who did not vote for Hitler, who passed the enabling act, who smiled and sang along to the "Horst Wessel Song" in the month before Hitler dissolved the parliament where they supposedly represented those who voted for them.

...how the more moderate conservatives, the nationalists and Catholics, were necessary to give the Nazis their power...but even the social democrats went along. Of course, this was also after the Nazis had gone into places and killed entire neighborhoods full of social democrats when one of them dared to defy unwarranted arrest...so, Rule by psychological (as well as physical terror). It takes a lot of courage and psychological strength to resist such tactics.

but here's the part I find most interesting: Haffner talks about ordinary citizens who were against the nazis..some joined to avoid being the object of Nazi violence, others rationalized the nazis must be doing something right because they were able to maintain power, they were successful. But finally there were those who were embittered and surrendered "to suffering and unrelieved pessimism." They spent their time moaning about atrocities until the despair seemed "almost cozy."

the final response, the one that Haffner said he experienced, was an attempt to avoid the above, to avoid the moral corruption of complicity, or of hate and suffering in spite of daily confrontations with their causes. This one, he said, leads to a form of madness: the loss of a sense of reality.

I think I waver between pessimism and the loss of the sense of reality.

Posted by: fauxreal | Apr 5 2005 6:22 utc | 26

fauxreal: don't.

Posted by: teuton | Apr 5 2005 23:06 utc | 27

Louse-Ridden Fish Farms Link

Posted by: biklett | Apr 6 2005 0:08 utc | 28

Not surprising biklett. The concentration and immobilisation of livestock has always promoted the spread of diseases and parasites [cf the ubiquitous prof JD's previous book, especially the "Germs" part].

Most captive animal husbandry today is done in the minimum footprint possible (to be "efficient" in the use of land and human labour); this means animals are crowded/packed as closely as feasible, which in turn places various stresses on their health and vastly increases the odds on infection, infestation, and epidemic.

We generally compensate for these stresses using technologies like disinfectants, antibiotics, pressure washers, plumbing, filtration, etc. -- basically keeping the livestock as close to terminal morbidity as we can w/out actually killing them and losing the investment. (The parallel with slave labour conditions is too obvious, I think, to require any elucidation: the same economic reasoning applies.)

But no one compensates for these insults to the adjacent wild flora and fauna. Without the "heroic measures" we take to enable domesticated livestock to survive the appalling conditions of their captivity, the feral commons are terribly vulnerable to our "farmed pathologies."

For example, when we flush the waste from our hog farms into lagoons just far enough from the hogs to prevent massive morbidity and mortality among these (valuable) livestock -- the stench, hypernutrient and toxic contamination, etc. are merely displaced onto the commons ("non-owned" space like the air, "non-owned" organisms like soil or creek/river biota).

Louse-infested coastal or river fish farms are imho just another example of agribiz-as-usual. The factory model of farming is inherently pathogenic -- we deal with it essentially by substituting fossil energy and fossil-based chemicals for human labour and open space.

The only non-pathogenic way to raise livestock (that I know of) is at lower density with a closer approximation of natural conditions -- ducks and freshwater fish as symbionts in rice paddy cultivation, for example; free-range grass-fed beeves; pond fish in low enough densities to avoid toxic buildup and maintain a nutrient cycle modeled on naturally-occuring wetlands. No "externalising" should be permitted; any waste product must be a useful input to a downstream process. For example, hog wastes can be consumed happily by Hermetia larvae, whose own wastes are harmless and a good fertiliser; the larvae breed like crazy and will very conveniently crawl out of their feeding bins when near pupation, at which point they can be collected, washed, and fed to chickens... you get the picture.

Closed-cycle (i.e. sane, non-fantastical) non-factory farming implies a lower per-annum per-capita output of animal protein, but of a higher quality, without the "added extra" of devastating the commons. It also implies diversified agriculture, a wider knowledge base (especially about the "lower orders" of insects and other invertebrates and bacteria, fungi, etc.) and less narrow specialisation on the part of the agronomist/farmer -- and of course various other challenges to the Taylorist model of monocrop, technocratic management, and dumbed-down labour... topics on which I know I am a bit of a bore, so will stop here :-)

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 6 2005 1:12 utc | 29

All this gloom and doom over factory farming is premature. My wife and I had a leg of genetically modified salmon at a charming little bistro near where we live and it was delicious.

Posted by: Epicure | Apr 6 2005 1:29 utc | 30

@Epicure -- how many toes?

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 6 2005 1:31 utc | 31

Not sure De, I imbibed a little too much of the grape juice to recall. I seem to remember the kids had fish fingers though.

Posted by: Epicure | Apr 6 2005 1:37 utc | 32

DeA - just for you:

Learn to breed pigs

btw - Did you get my e-mail (2 or 3 days back?)

Posted by: Jérôme | Apr 6 2005 8:26 utc | 33

De,

While your doubts concerning lrage livestock are well founded, actaully, contrary to whatever examples are given about enclosed fish farming, fish, like a in a pond can live in very close environments disease free. In fact they are cleaner and healtheir than wild. Most wild fish such as bass, blue gill etc. are grubby by mid summer, and I wouldn't eat one if paid.

The only fish I would eat in the middle of summer is Brook Trout. And believe me, I do know how to fish brook trout.

You can come up with all the excuses possible, but hydro-ponic and aquaculture are the future. Are their going to be problems? Tes, what human endeavour doesn't have problems.

I do agree with you on the cattle, and hogs. Close quarter livestock is abusive.

Posted by: jdp | Apr 6 2005 11:57 utc | 34

I'll defer to you jdp on freshwater tank farming, as (being coastal and ocean oriented) I only know (a little) about coastal cage farming -- vastly destructive practise in every way. Can you recommend a good basic intro book on freshwater tank aquaculture? I'd be interested to learn about the energy inputs etc.

I dunno about hydroponics -- I've studied it a little bit (to see if a small 'ponic system was manageable in the very limited space of a modest cruising sailboat). After reading a book, a couple of articles and two catalogues of equipment and tools, I came to the conclusion that it was energy-intensive -- all that pumping -- and consumed too much fresh water. Probably better off learning to identify edible seaweeds :-)

On a larger scale, perhaps in concert with a large fixed PV array or wind power, maybe it is more practical -- but isn't the freshwater consumption an issue given the depletion/salination issues with almost all of our aquifers? in rain-rich bioregions rain harvesting might yield a sufficient supply of freshwater... anyway, bristle not at me, please, I am not "making excuses" so much as trying to explore and understand options.

Your town seems like a very likely/hopeful TAZ in the event of a Tainterian collapse. Good show!

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 7 2005 4:05 utc | 35

Thanks for a useful article...

While it is still debated when peak poil will occur ( most folks seem to agree it will towards the middle of this century), I think it is best we start preparing for a world without oil. Many alternatives are being tried out, though at this stage ethanol/biodiesel combination appears to be the most feasible.

However, we have a long way to go even in biodiesel. To give a comparison, the world needs about 5.5 billion tonnes of biodiesel a year to completely replace petro fuels, and guess what is the total amount of vegetable oils (the feedstock for biodiesel) produced worldwide? Just 0.06 billion tonnes, per year, just about one hundredth of what is required, even assuming they are not required for anything else. The world has a long way to go in biodiesel as well, but let's hope there's enough time before that can be achieved

Vic, BPO

Posted by: Vic Verghese | Apr 23 2006 18:05 utc | 36

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