Friday, July 18, 2008

Climate Cuttings #19

There's the usual roundup of climate humbuggery at Bishop Hill's today; there are just a couple that I'd like to highlight.

The first is the fact that oil is not, apparently, a fossil fuel, something that might leave those gleefully anticipating "peak oil" looking a little foolish.
To recapitulate, Stalin’s team of scientists and engineers found that oil is not a ‘fossil fuel’ but is a natural product of planet earth – the high-temperature, high-pressure continuous reaction between calcium carbonate and iron oxide – two of the most abundant compounds making up the earth’s crust. This continuous reaction occurs at a depth of approximately 100 km at a pressure of approximately 50,000 atmospheres (5 GPa) and a temperature of approximately 1500°C, and will continue more or less until the ‘death’ of planet earth in millions of years’ time. The high pressure, as well as centrifugal acceleration from the earth’s rotation, causes oil to continuously seep up along fissures in the earth’s crust into subterranean caverns, which we call oil fields. Oil is still being produced in great abundance, and is a sustainable resource – by the same definition that makes geothermal energy a sustainable resource. All we have to do is develop better geotechnical science to predict where it is and learn how to drill down deep enough to get to it. So far, the Russians have drilled to more than 13 km and found oil. In contrast, the deepest any Western oil company has drilled is around 4.5 km.

Which is, I think you'll agree, jolly good news—although I do hope that we continue down the path of finding other energy sources. Whilst I find no evidence for the CO2 emissions theory of global warming, aethestically it might be nice if we stopped burning these fuels eventually.

Anyway, do wander over to Bishop Hill's and read the rest—or, indeed, the Climate Cuttings archives—but I'd just like to finish up with a compare and contrast from Dr Keith Briffa, the tree ring maestro.
The Paleoclimate Reconstruction Challenge is firing lots of interest. If reconstructions of past climate are going to be based on sound science in future, it will be a big step forward. A kick-off conference was held (behind closed doors) in Trieste but some of the papers presented have fortunately found their way onto the internet. keith.gifOne, by the CRU's Keith Briffa, was very candid about the problems of verification of tree ring regressions, describing them as "of limited rigour", and that they tell us "virtually nothing about the validity of long-timescale climate estimates". Strangely, while writing the paleoclimate chapter of the IPCC report, he rejected any such criticism out of hand. The IPCC's final report talked of "the general strength of many such calibrated relationships, and their significant verification using independent instrumental data."

That's the joy of climate science...


chris said...

Surely the phrase "Stalin's teams of scientists" should be cause for a little sceptism. Since when did Socialists gain a reputation for scientific rigour? They will have produced whatever answer was politically best to avoid them and their famillies being killed.

John B said...

Chris beat me to it.

Stalin: "find enough oil to make Russia self-sufficient forever, or you'll all be shot".

Scientists: "we've found enough oil to make Russia self-sufficient forever. Hooray!".

There are some (not that many, but some) credible scientists making credible arguments against manmade climate change. But the "crazy Soviet science says that there's infinite oil forever" brigade are gibbering cranks, and linking favourably to them gives the impression you don't know what you're talking about...

Blue Eyes said...

Even if oil if replenished, how do we know that we aren't burning it faster than it is being produced?

Mark Wadsworth said...

13 km deep? Are you sure? More like 11.5 km, I'd have thought.

Hugo said...

First I've heard of it. Won't start believing it just yet.

Unity said...

Sorry, DK, but...

The two theories of abiogenic formation of hydrocarbons, the Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins and Thomas Gold's deep gas theory, have been considered in some detail. Whilst the Russian-Ukrainian theory was portrayed as being scientifically rigorous in contrast to the biogenic theory which was thought to be littered with invalid assumptions, this applies only to the formation of the higher hydrocarbons from methane in the upper mantle. In most other aspects, in particular the influence of the oxidation state of the mantle on the abundance of methane, this rigour is lacking especially when judged against modern criteria as opposed to the level of understanding in the 1950s to 1980s when this theory
was at its peak. Thomas Gold's theory involves degassing of methane from the mantle and the formation of higher hydrocarbons
from methane in the upper layers of the Earth's crust. However, formation of higher hydrocarbons in the upper layers of the Earth's crust occurs only as a result of Fischer-Tropsch-type reactions in the presence of hydrogen gas but is otherwise not possible on thermodynamic grounds. This theory is therefore invalid. Both theories have been overtaken by the
increasingly sophisticated understanding of the modes of formation of hydrocarbon deposits in nature.

"Abiogenic Origin of Hydrocarbons: An Historical Overview", Glasby (2006)

Anonymous said...

Stalin's team of scientists? What, like Lysenko?

This sort of thing makes Al Gore seem credible in comparison. (almost)

peter carter-fuck said...

It would be great fun if Stalin's scientists were right, though probably unwise to operate on that assumption.

However, if oil is a fossil fuel, it has always occurred to me that there must have been one fucking shitload of fossils out there at one time. I mean, we manage to extract 80 million barrels of fossils every day, and there is still enough for another hundred years' extraction. That is a lot of bugs and leaves is all I'm saying.

Katabasis said...

I find it unusual DK that you're asking for slack from environmentalists; to be able to hold sceptical views on AGW without being referred to as a "denier", yet are willing to grasp onto the shakiest scientific foundations to maintain your views on peak oil / gas. I'm sympathetic to the former. However, your position on the latter is confusing.

To quote a friend of mine: "We are at peak oil now. We may just about have another million barrels a day to add from the megaprojects comming online later this year and next year.

We still have not beaten 2005 on anualized oil production. You can throw all the ad hominems about "conspiracy theories" and all that shit you want but until you show production growth sufficient to offset the hypothisised 2%-5% per anum depletion rate in global oil production you are pissing in the wind."

In short - peak oil (and gas) *should* be a concern to you, even if - for the sake of argument - we said that it was produced abiotically and that speculation accounts for a good deal of the current prices. It still remains a fact that demand continues to outpace supply and because of a complete lack of preparedness for this in the UK we are in for a whole lot of pain.

Devil's Kitchen said...


"I find it unusual DK that you're asking for slack from environmentalists..."

I don't ask environmentalists for anything: they are wrong about AGW. I don't need to ask their permission for fuck all frankly.

"... yet are willing to grasp onto the shakiest scientific foundations to maintain your views on peak oil / gas."

I don't have any opinions on peak oil so it might be pretty difficult to maintain anything. I think that the idea that oil is not a fossil fuel is an interesting one, particularly as the current theory makes little sense to me.

However, it is not something that I have studied or have much interest in: as you know, I support finding other methods of energy production (quite apart from the AGW hoax) and if the threat of peak oil helps to facilitate that, then that's great.

"In short - peak oil (and gas) *should* be a concern to you, even if - for the sake of argument - we said that it was produced abiotically and that speculation accounts for a good deal of the current prices. It still remains a fact that demand continues to outpace supply and because of a complete lack of preparedness for this in the UK we are in for a whole lot of pain."

Hmmm, quite possibly. Although I imagine that the massive oil reserves that they have recently found in the US might help a bit.

However, I still think that it is valid to throw up interesting ideas. I find the idea of oil not being a fossil fuel an interesting one. So, I throw it out there...


Oxbridge Prat said...

However, I still think that it is valid to throw up interesting ideas. I find the idea of oil not being a fossil fuel an interesting one.

Oh, it's certainly an interesting idea. Unfortunately it's also complete and utter crap.

Evil Clanger said...

"Unfortunately it's also complete and utter crap."

Like plate techtonics then.

Katabasis said...

My apologies DK for unfairly glossing over your views like that.

I'm, as you may have guessed, someone who - at a fundamental philosophical and political level - throws my lot in with right-libertarians.

I sometimes find myself in a strange position however, as there is often a constellation of viewpoints that many right-libertarians I encounter hold, including scepticism towards both AGW and Peak Oil. I'll probably write an extended blog post on this and get back to you as I think it is really important to get straight on these issues.

Here's my overriding concern however: Whether it is global warming / environmental issues or peak oil/gas we are talking about, there are substantial interests involved who have the resources to effectively propagandise.

With global warming etc we have the environmental lobby, and increasing government orthodoxy on the one 'side' and monopoly energy interests on the other. *Both* sides have produced a huge amount of bullshit and it is *very* difficult to get a clear picture, not without a substantial amount of private study. Something I, and I'm sure most of us, don't have time for.

Take for example the article you linked to above - it claims 175 - 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil. I'll agree that's substantial enough to cause a big ripple, possibly enough to smooth out the transition from the peak for the U.S. assuming it is able to wean itself off of the oil economy.

And yet consider this piece, which is essentially a sales pitch for investing in the Bakken oil. It claims 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Quite a drop I think you'll agree.

I'm using this to highlight the fact that we often can't even get straight figures to use and rationalise a position from. That goes for GW and PO.

The most reliable measure we have with regard to PO is production and supply/demand figures and until I see these figures - at a minimum - stabilise and start dropping month on month, I'm afraid I don't have much time for positions that dismiss PO out of hand.

Jones said...

Historically speaking, if you have a look at various news archives, we have been 'running out of oil' since the 1850's. Yet new finds in Alaska, Dakota and Saskatchewan have been estimated to contain 70% (200 Billion barrels) of the Saudi reserves.

As for the Abiogenic theory of oil production, by the look of things the prevailing Abiotic theory has some unexplained elements in it. I think the jury might still be out on this one

Kay Tie said...

Peak Oil doesn't mean "ran out of oil", it means "can't pump it any faster". It's the top speed of the car. We're still travelling, we just can't do it any faster. Discovering more reserves is not the same as being able to pump it even faster than today.

We are about to reach the limits in the rate at which we can pump oil. As the emerging markets start to consume oil at ever faster rates, we are going to have to pay more to outbid them, or we have to slacken our demand to match the falling production rates.

Katabasis said...

"Yet new finds in Alaska, Dakota and Saskatchewan have been estimated to contain 70% (200 Billion barrels) of the Saudi reserves."

Not quite. See the link I posted in my last comment.

Can you show me solid evidence in terms of production and supply/demand? Until then, as far as I'm concerned, we are in a great deal of trouble.

whateva said...

Hi DK,

you should read 'The Prize' by Daniel Yergin as it charts the history of the oil industry from its origins in Pennsylvania in the 1870s (or 90s?) to the first gulf war, through Rockerfella, WW1, WW2, the oil shocks in the 70s and so on.

The main conclusion that I drew from it is that oil price falls to be very low (as it was a few years ago, $9/barrel), investment and refinery capacity drops as a result and so an artificial price hike ensues as supply falls back.

Peak oil has been discussed many times throughout the price fluctuations, and it will be shown to be wrong again as more oil is recovered in more locations using technologies which are only commercially viable at high prices, yet when they come on stream depress the price in the long run.

If you take an objective look at the oil industry and the economics surrounding it, it is clear that the current high prices are a result of a few factors which will apply in the short term but not in the long run. You can also question if the price really is high:

First, the major established oil producing nations are all severely lacking in modern infrastructure. Take Iraq, which has been offline since 2004 (1991 if you include oil-for-food). There has been almost no investment in pipelines, drilling technology, refineries, ports etc. Russia is similar. Iran is operating under strict economic sanctions preventing major investment. The UK with its windfall taxes and difficult political environment means that oil companies asses political risk here as greater than in Nigeria. These are political issues, and thus do not reflect the underlying economics of the situation.

There are also new areas of exploration, production and development such as Kazakhstan, Sudan, Canada (tar sands) and so on that will come on line when negotiations and fuckups are finished (so maybe 5 years).

Transportation costs are high (you do not buy oil at the point of production but at the point of delivery) so the lack of secure pipelines is a key driver of price. [It is alleged that the invasion of Afghanistan was partly to do with the desire to build a pipeline avoiding Russia, however this is speculation and can be dismissed as conspiracy, but start
if you are interested in the foreign policy of pipelines]

China is a factor, as they seek to secure their demand for oil, they will pay two to three times the rate in order to secure concessions and supply. This pushes the price up, but again does not represent anything except for their purchasing power.

Also take note of inflation of the dollar. The US borrowed and printed ~ $1 trillon to pay for the Iraq war, meaning that a dollar is worth about 67% of its 2002 value. See
(especially the spreadsheet). Whoever doubts the inflationary effect of the Iraq war has forgotten how the inflation and recession of the 1970s came straight after that other expensive and prolonged conflict in Vietnam which was also paid for by printing dollars.

Also remember that Saddam wanted to price his oil in euros, and Iran and Venezuala want to do the same to protect their revenue streams. Put simply, the world is saturated with dollars.

And of course there is speculation and reaction to geopolitical events such as terrorism, will we wont we declare war on Iran.

There are more factors, but this is a blog post and i have to go to work now. Just remember that there are infinate factors playing into the current situation and if u know your history then you will have seen it all before...

Katabasis said...

I absolutely agree that there are various factors affecting the price of oil, not least the weakness of the dollar.


"it is clear that the current high prices are a result of a few factors which will apply in the short term but not in the long run"

So, running out of (economically) recoverable oil is not a long term factor? The 'technology will increase recoverable amounts' argument doesn't wash because a) improvements in technology are not enough to offset the negative differential between supply and demand and b) you do realise there is a ceiling for the price of oil yes? A ceiling price beyond which there will be no other choice, economically speaking, than to use other energy sources.

p.s. what is the typical EROI for tar sands?

Assisting our fucktard governments to continue burying their head in the sand regarding the scale of the problem isn't going to help anyone.

El Draque said...

It doesn't matter how much oil is 20 kms below the earth's surface if we depend on natural processes for it to seep to the surface. Yes, the Soviets found oil deep down in unexpected places, but only an oily sludge - not economic quantities.
The significant thin is the rate we can extract the oil - as mentioned in other comments.
But there are still huge quantities of oil - the deep sea, oil shale, tar sands. We can keep going for decades. By that time, there'll be viable solar power or cheap fusion. Probably the latter. Or in the short term the pebble-bed nuclear reactor, if the Chinese can make it work.

Katabasis said...

"Energy Tsunami coming, ex policy makers warn"

Katabasis said...

"The heads of some of the world's biggest oil companies today countered Opec claims that speculators were driving high oil prices, instead blaming a dearth of new supplies."


"BP boss Tony Hayward said the argument that financial investors buying oil futures were behind a four-year rally that pushed oil prices to new records above $143 per barrel today was a "myth".

He said the problem was a failure of supply growth to match demand growth."

(My emphasis)

Trio smackdown Opec price claim


You are fucking desperate. I love watching you get more & more so.

Martin Meenagh said...

I started thinking about the peak oil idea around two years ago, and came across the abiogenic idea of oil. The reasons why it is difficult to maintain that oil is not a fossil fuel are that it rotates polarised light, contains organic compounds, and has odd numbers of carbon atoms, all of which point to biological origin. The idea that all these things were somehow acquired when pushing through organic detritus or in some unknown fashion is, I am told by chemists who know about these things, the sort of almost baroque and unnecessary explanation that Occam's razor was invented for.

Wish it were true; but we are on a long term path towards the end of oil's availability at rates viable for the economy, and have probably passed peak flow. We need loads of the devil's favoured polywell fusion reactors NOW! And bioreactors, and trains everywhere. If there weren't a world shortage of helium, I'd be going on about airships too....

Budgie said...

Katabasis said ... "many right-libertarians I encounter [are sceptical] towards both AGW and Peak Oil.

PO has been discussed in other comments.

The philosophical problem with AGW is that there is no concrete definition of it. This makes it difficult to debate because often the differences between positions comes down to different definitions.

Those many politicians who "believe" in AGW appear to define it thus: there is global warming; global warming is only caused by increases in CO2; all increases in CO2 are caused by Man; Man is therefore responsible for GW (hence AGW).

The solution that our political leaders impose is to force the proles to cut "carbon emissions" for their own good by inducing guilt, heavy taxation and dystopian regulations.

The climate on the Earth is a massively complex "system" that we do not properly understand. To home in on one aspect - man made CO2 - and elevate it to such total and simplistic control of global temperatures, neglecting the sun (which drives the whole thing) and even other man made pollutants, is both primitive and hubristic.

The recent prediction of further global cooling de-thrones the simplistic view of AGW held by these politicians.

It is this absolutist political view of AGW that I oppose, not the possibility that man made CO2 has a minor influence on our global climate.

Roger Thornhill said...

Thanks for the link MarkW.

If the US has 500BB recoverable in the soon to be Black Drills of Dakota and that the US uses 14MB a day, that to me means prox 100 years consumption at present rates.

From this one field alone the US could basically tell the ME to go hang.

Katabasis said...

If the US has 500BB recoverable in the soon to be Black Drills of Dakota and that the US uses 14MB a day, that to me means prox 100 years consumption at present rates.

Or not


Devil,what is wrong with geo-thermal power?At its simplest,deep bore hole,water,boiling,steam,generator,electricity,is it such a ludicrous idea?every time i mention it on the web,it seems people would rather talk about the weather.surely it is the "greenest"power going,what exactly are the pros and cons?