Demand for and dependency on oil – solutions

Written by  //  April 7, 2009  //  Oil & gas  //  No comments

Oil Companies Loath to Follow Obama’s Green Lead Surprise!
The Obama administration wants to reduce oil consumption, increase renewable energy supplies and cut carbon dioxide emissions in the most ambitious transformation of energy policy in a generation. But the world’s oil giants are not convinced that it will work. Even as Washington goes into a frenzy over energy, many of the oil companies are staying on the sidelines, balking at investing in new technologies favored by the president, or even straying from commitments they had already made.
10 February
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories: Biofuels can provide viable, sustainable solution to reducing petroleum dependence
LIVERMORE, Calif. — An in-depth study by Sandia National Laboratories and General Motors Corp. has found that plant and forestry waste and dedicated energy crops could sustainably replace nearly a third of gasoline use by the year 2030.
The goal of the “90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study” was to assess whether and how a large volume of cellulosic biofuel could be sustainably produced, assuming technical and scientific progress continues at expected rates. The study was conducted over a period of nine months.
28 January 2009
Concordia leads academic team for national Cellulosic Biofuels Network
19 December
Output cut fails to spur oil price
(Al Jazeera) The price of a barrel of light, sweet crude continued to hover around $40 as trading began in Asia on Thursday, the day after Opec ministers met in the Algerian city of Oran.
Chekib Khelil, the president of Opec, said on Wednesday that he hoped the dramatic cut had “surprised” the markets.
16 December
Big Oil Projects Put in Jeopardy by Fall in Prices
The precipitous drop in oil prices since the summer, coming on the heels of a dizzying seven-year rise, was a reminder that the oil business, like those of most commodities, is cyclical. When demand drops and prices fall, companies curb their investments, leading to lower supplies. When demand recovers, prices rise again and companies start to invest in new production, starting another cycle.
The list of projects delayed is growing by the week. Wells are being shut down across the United States; new refineries have been postponed in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and India; and ambitious plans for drilling off the coast of Africa are being reconsidered.
Investment in alternative energy sources like biofuels that had flourished in recent years could dry up if prices stay low for the next few years, analysts said. Banks have become reluctant lenders, especially to renewable energy projects that may prove unprofitable in an era of low oil and gas prices.
29 October
(FP Morning Brief) The world’s oilfields are declining faster than expected, according to a landmark IEA study leaked to the Financial Times.
24 October
(FP Morning Brief) OPEC, meeting today in Vienna, agreed to cut oil production by at least 1.5 million barrels per day in the hopes of arresting a downward trend that has seen oil prices plunge toward $60 a barrel.
But as the Financial Times reported this morning, investors were already betting that any production cuts would not be enough to overcome the global slowdown in demand.
The likely reason? Panic is again gripping financial markets around the world, spurred on by lousy third-quarter earnings reports and grim new macroeconomic data. Japan’s Nikkei index slid another 9.6 percent Friday, while European markets fell by between 7 and 10 percent. U.S. stock futures, which fell to their lowest allowable levels, indicate a big selloff in New York today. “Something sinister is brewing,” warned one market strategist.

Scientific American Magazine –  September 22, 2008
Why the Oil Crisis Will Persist
[Extended Version]
With global demand for cars accelerating, the best approach is to redesign cars and transport systems
By Jeffrey D. Sachs
According to recent statistics, U.S. motorists have responded to record-high prices at the pump by driving less. Any hope that this cutback will significantly restrain global oil prices is misplaced, however: fundamental factors of supply and demand in the world economy will keep oil costly for years to come. The hope that a cutback in driving by U.S. motorists will significantly restrain global oil prices is misplaced. Although U.S. drivers are a major force in the world oil market—they account for around 14 million barrels per day (mbd) out of 85 mbd of worldwide demand—the growth in driving in China, India and other developing countries will easily outstrip any cutback in U.S. demand. Drilling in protected areas would provide little relief, and at horrendous environmental risks. Only a concerted move to new transport and energy technologies will relieve the pressures.
The greatest irony about the Bush Administration is that it correctly focused on energy needs at the start of its first term, but then got everything wrong in the strategy. Viewing the world through the eyes of Texas oilmen, it focused on gaining concessions to Iraqi oil fields and opening U.S. protected areas to drilling, while scorning fuel economy standards, renewable energy sources, and climate change mitigation. But the simple arithmetic of oil and carbon was always against the strategy.
World demand for conventional oil is outstripping world supply. Crude oil production in the Persian Gulf has been nearly flat at just over 20 mbd since the early 1970s. The growth in world supply since that time has come from oil fields outside of the Middle East, but many of them have reached their production limits and important ones are in decline. There are few prospects for mega-discoveries that could keep up with fast-growing world demand.
The 15 billion barrels or so that is supposedly economically accessible in protected U.S. offshore sites would slake around 6 months of global demand (32 billion barrels per year, equal to 82 mbd times 365 days per year) in 2008, and of course a much smaller share by the time they reached the market in 10 to 15 years. And these small gains would come at enormous environmental risks, which helps to explain why California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a thumbs down to the proposal for offshore California oil.
The boom in global driving is likely to be relentless. Today, China has around 50 million cars, trucks and buses (roughly 40 per 1,000 people), compared with around 240 million in the U.S (roughly 800 per 1,000 people). If China attains just half of the U.S. per capita ownership of passenger vehicles, it would have some 500 million of them, roughly twice as many as the U.S. And that prospect is not a silly scenario. Vehicle production in China has already tripled, from fewer than three million vehicles in 2000 to around nine million vehicles in 2007, which already makes China the world’s second largest market for vehicle sales, just behind the U.S. It is likely to overtake the U.S. market in a few years. Not only does China have a booming economy, putting hundreds of millions of households within the financial reach of a car, but it also has an insatiable demand for cars reminiscent of the U.S. With around 100 cities of a million people or more (compared to around 40 in the U.S.), and massive house building on the spreading periphery of city centers, China seems intent on reproducing America’s metropolitan sprawl and commuter-based society. A similar, though still less dramatic trend, is getting underway in India. Engineering advances in automobile production will dramatically accelerate the trend. Low-cost cars such as the Tata Nano, India’s newly unveiled $2,500 compact sedan, will bring auto ownership within reach of hundreds of millions of newly middle-class households worldwide in the coming decades. There are currently around 650 million cars, trucks and buses worldwide. China and India alone could add another 25 million vehicles per year in a decade; they could easily add another 500 million within 30 years. Conventional oil has little prospect of keeping up with this soaring demand.
What then will give? Of course a grave economic crisis—war, global depression, economic collapse of one or more major economies—would cut oil demand the hard way. There are two much better alternatives. The first is a redesigned, far more energy-efficient automobile that uses low-carbon-emitting energy carriers such as electricity or hydrogen. Several variants of plug-in-hybrid and all-battery cars have been promised by major auto producers as early as 2010, and several demonstration hydrogen fuel-cell cars are also expected around then. Many oil-using industrial processes as well could be similarly reconfigured to use other energy carriers.
Many unresolved problems of cost, performance and infrastructure face these technologies, of course. Public funding for technological research, development and demonstration, and for supporting infrastructure, should certainly be deployed to ensure a timely changeover to new energy efficient (and low-carbon-dioxide emitting) vehicles. Any electric or hydrogen option will require large-scale deployment of new low-emission electricity generation, such as solar, wind, nuclear, and coal plants that capture and sequester carbon dioxide.
The second alternative, equally important, is a gradual reconfiguration of city life, to reduce our dependence on automobiles and raise our reliance on walking, cycling and public transport. We’ve learned that sprawl is not good for energy dependence, air quality, biodiversity, human health or quality of life, including commuting time. We’ve also learned that despite free-market ideological presumptions, urban sprawl is at least as much a function of zoning and the provision of public infrastructure (for example, roads versus light rail) as it is of individual lifestyle choices.
The current energy crisis will most likely worsen before it gets better. It threatens to create a prolonged period of stagflation, increased oil skirmishes and even oil wars, and further marginalization of the poor, who will find themselves priced out of transport and perhaps even out of food if the U.S. keeps up its dangerous policy of converting corn to ethanol fuel. Yet it could also be the critical spur to action, prompting vital changes in technologies and lifestyles. It’s not too late to take the more productive path, but time is running out.

Note: This article was originally published with the title, “Coping with a Persistent Oil Crisis”.

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