Reeds eerder schonk ik aandacht aan de gevreesde fossiele brandstoffenpiek, die - naast het klimaat - steevast als argument wordt gebruikt voor een beleid dat erop is gericht om het fossiele energieverbruik terug te dringen en te vervangen door zogenoemde duurzame energie (vooral wind- en zonne-energie). Maar ook dát argument gaat niet op.
In een lang artikel, gepubliceerd in de 'Wallstreet Journal', gaat Daniel Yergin in op de voorgeschiedenis van deze opvatting, die in professionele kringen ook als 'Hubbert's peak' wordt aangeduid.
There Will Be Oil
For decades, advocates of 'peak oil' have been predicting a crisis in energy supplies. They've been wrong at every turn. Those sounding the alarm over oil argue that about half the world's oil resources already have been produced and that the point of decline is nearing.
"It's quite a simple theory and one that any beer-drinker understands," said the geologist Colin Campbell, one of the leaders of the movement. "The glass starts full and ends empty, and the faster you drink it, the quicker it's gone."
This is actually the fifth time in modern history that we've seen widespread fear that the world was running out of oil. The first was in the 1880s, when production was concentrated in Pennsylvania and it was said that no oil would be found west of the Mississippi. Then oil was found in Texas and Oklahoma. Similar fears emerged after the two world wars. And in the 1970s, it was said that the world was going to fall off the "oil mountain." But since 1978, world oil output has increased by 30%.
Just in the years 2007 to 2009, for every barrel of oil produced in the world, 1.6 barrels of new reserves were added. And other developmentsfrom more efficient cars and advances in batteries, to shale gas and wind powerhave provided reasons for greater confidence in our energy resiliency.
Yet the fear of peak oil maintains its powerful grip. The idea owes its inspiration, and indeed its articulation, to a geologist who, though long since passed from the scene, continues to shape the debate, M. King Hubbert. Indeed, his name is inextricably linked to that perspectiveimmortalized in "Hubbert's Peak."
In 1956, he unveiled the theory that would forever be linked to his name. He declared that U.S. oil production would hit its peak somewhere between 1965 and 1970. Hubbert was very pessimistic about future supply. He warned that the era of oil would be only a brief blip in mankind's history. In 1978, he predicted that children born in 1965 would see all of the world's oil used up in their lifetimes. Humanity, he said, was about to embark upon "a period of non-growth."
Hubbert used a statistical approach to project the kind of decline curve that one might encounter in somebut not alloil fields, and he assumed that the U.S. was one giant oil field. His followers have adopted the same approach to assess global supplies. [Zie afbeelding boven.]
Maar Hubbert zag een aantal zaken over het hoofd.
"Hubbert was imaginative and innovative," recalled Peter Rose, who was Hubbert's boss at the U.S. Geological Survey. But he had "no concept of technological change, economics or how new resource plays evolve. It was a very static view of the world."
Hubbert also assumed that there could be an accurate estimate of ultimately recoverable resources, when in fact it is a constantly moving target. Hubbert insisted that price didn't matter. Economicsthe forces of supply and demandwere, he maintained, irrelevant to the finite physical cache of oil in the earth. But why would pricewith all the messages that it sends to people about allocating resources and developing new technologiesapply in so many other realms but not in oil and gas production? Activity goes up when prices go up; activity goes down when prices go down. Higher prices stimulate innovation and encourage people to figure out ingenious new ways to increase supply.
The idea of "proved reserves" of oil isn't just a physical concept, accounting for a fixed amount in the "storehouse." It's also an economic concept: how much can be recovered at prevailing prices. And it's a technological concept, because advances in technology take resources that were not physically accessible and turn them into recoverable reserves. Things don't stand still in the energy industry.
With the passage of time, unconventional sources of oil, in all their variety, become a familiar part of the world's petroleum supply. They help to explain why the plateau continues to recede into the horizonand why, on a global view, Hubbert's Peak is still not in sight.
Lees verder hier.
Kortom, het ziet er naar uit dat fossiele brandstoffen nog tientallen jaren een dominante rol zullen blijven spelen in onze energievoorziening. Recente gigantische gasvondsten in Engeland lijken dat weer eens te bevestigen. Tenzij nieuwe technologische doorbraken de kosten van duurzame energie drastisch omlaag kunnen brengen, zal het aandeel van deze vormen van energie beperkt blijven.
Voor een overzicht van mijn 'postings' zie hier.