Peak of the Devil: 100 Questions (and answers) About Peak Oil by Chip Haynes - Read Online
Peak of the Devil
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Long-overdue foundation to critical global issue that is Peak Oil. With a deceptively light-hearted and witty tone, Haynes reveals how deeply connected oil is to virtually everything we buy and use, how looming scarcity will change how we live, and what we can do to prepare. After all, after Peak Oil there is a good chance that 100 years from now will look like 100 years ago, if we are lucky.

Published: Satya House Publications on
ISBN: 9781935874010
List price: $9.99
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Peak of the Devil - Chip Haynes

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On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, right about the time this book was supposed to go to press, the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, burned and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, fifty miles south of the Louisiana coast. Eleven men lost their lives that day, and in the days that followed, fingers were pointed to the breaking point. Maybe this event will help wake us up to all that is happening around the world, and maybe, just maybe, we will see just how bad our oil addiction is, and all we have done in the name of oil.

When people ask me who I think we should blame for the disaster on that rig and the seemingly bumbling response that followed, I know what they want me to say: People want me to blame the oil company and the government. No one likes it when I tell them there’s enough blame to go around, and let’s start with us. That is, let’s start with you, me, and everyone else right here in town. If we weren’t constantly demanding more oil and oil-like products, there wouldn’t be the temptation for oil companies who are, let’s face it, only in it for the money, to try to drill for oil fifty miles off the coast, in water one mile deep. The well itself was three miles below the sea bed when it found a methane bubble that overwhelmed the rig and blew it to smithereens. Oh, and by the way, it was an exploratory rig. They were there to see if there was any oil down there. As it turns out, there was plenty. Enough oil to have a good shot at totally destroying the entire Gulf of Mexico. Go team.

For a great many years, JoAnn and I agreed that there was nothing funnier than people driving to an Earth Day celebration. Unclear on the concept, we both said. Now we’ve got that beat. Now there’s nothing funnier than people driving to a rally to protest an oil company that was only trying to give them what they wanted in the first place: cheap gasoline, and lots of it. (Hint: If you want to protest oil, try riding a bicycle instead. It looks better.) Never mind that the oil that was to be pumped from that well was going to be sold to the highest bidder (a refinery), mixed with other oils from all over, and the resulting gasoline sold (again to the highest bidder) to a distributor who would then sell it to your local gas station. The oil pumped out of the ground by one oil company does not necessarily remain totally within that company from well head to gas pump. That makes it tough to protest, unless you don’t know that. And most people don’t. So they do.

As it so happens, I do buy my gasoline from a gas station franchised by the company that was running that rig when it blew up. The station is locally owned, and the owner, Charlie, is a really nice guy. He keeps my old truck running like a top and I honestly do look forward to my Saturday morning ritual of stopping by the gas station to top off the tank and chat with the gang. It’s an old-fashioned gas station that still has repair bays instead of a mini-mart, and when my truck needs work, that’s where it goes. The brand name on the sign makes no difference to me. That’s where I buy my gas, and if I have to mow down a row of protestors to get to that gas this Saturday, well, friend, that’s why I drive a truck. I might be kidding.

The underlying tide that has driven this event (long before it was an event) is the idea that we have drilled for oil in all of the easy places, and by now, we have used up all of that easy oil. Most on-shore oil fields are in decline, as are many off-shore fields. That’s why it was worth it for an oil company to contract for an off-shore oil rig that cost close to one billion dollars to build, then spend around a million dollars a day to go looking for oil in deep, deep water. If they could have drilled anywhere else on land, by now they would have done that instead. It would have been cheaper, easier, and given them a higher profit margin. As it is, they’re going to eat this one, and it’s going to be a very expensive dinner.

Peak oil will drive people, as individuals and as companies, to do brave and crazy things. Stupid things. Repeatedly. I’ve long said we will drill through our grandmother’s grave before it’s all over if we think there might be a bucket of oil under her. We are already desperate and dangerous, and despite the urgency and magnitude of this most recent oil spill, I have no doubt that we will do it again, over and over, all over the world, as we race to find the last of any oil we might be able to extract and sell to an all-too-willing public addicted to the goo. And we are addicted to the goo. All of us.

The truth: With rain off the coast and lightning on the horizon, the lovely JoAnn drove me to work today. All thirty-seven bicycles are safe in our garage. I am not so committed to an oil-free lifestyle that I would risk being deep-fried for the cause. Contrary to popular opinion, I am not an idiot. I’m (almost) as addicted as the next guy. Well, assuming the next guy has thirty-seven bicycles. But I am the idiot who understands what we are facing in the years ahead, and I know the day may come when both JoAnn and I pedal to work no matter what the weather. That will be the reality of life after peak oil.

And after the oil spill? After the broken well has already unleashed millions of gallons of crude oil on an unsuspecting Gulf? Animals have suffered. People have suffered. Both animals and people have died just so JoAnn could drop me off at work today, safe and dry. I do appreciate that, but I also know we face a decidedly uncertain future. We need to think about that today, and make those plans for tomorrow before it shows up unannounced. And it will. For all of the media coverage this event has generated, and it most certainly has, I never did hear anyone utter the words peak oil on camera. And yet, there’s no doubt that it has been peak oil that gave this event the push it needed to happen. Peak oil drove that oil company to go look for oil far off the coast, in deep water, and risk all that it did in money, men and menacing media coverage, just to find us some more oil. Sadly, the fact that they did find more oil means that they, and others, will try again. And again and again. After all, we’re addicted to the stuff. That’s what addicts do. Anything for a fix.

In 1997, I had just begun to ride a bicycle to work on a daily basis and decided to look for information about car-free communities on the Internet. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Well, you know how it goes on the Internet — you start off looking for one thing and end up someplace totally different. (And if you’re lucky, no one catches you.) I began to see references to peak oil in relation to those car-free communities listings, and after seeing a few of those, I did a little point and click and found a whole new (scary) world out there . . . the world of peak oil. I was intrigued. I was mesmerized. Alright, fine. I was obsessed.

I began to read everything I could about peak oil. After awhile, I began to write about it as well. At the end of the 20th century, peak oil was still what you might politely call a fringe subject. It was not well known, and many who knew about it thought it was wrong. I mean, after all, we’ve got plenty of oil, right? We can’t possibly run out. Can we?

After more than ten years of reading and writing about it, I’ve noticed that the public’s perception of peak oil is changing. What was once an event predicted far in our future is now an event that may have happened several years ago. Peak oil’s funny that way: it can only be seen in history, years after it happens. Attitudes have changed as well. Where so many people once thought peak oil was the mantra of (and I’m being polite here) nut jobs in Army blanket ponchos who haven’t seen a decent shower since the last good rain, we now know that those unwashed nut jobs were right all along. Yes, Virginia, there is a peak oil. It has either passed or here or about to be here, but no matter which, it is something we will all have to face, and maybe quite soon and with little warning. So, consider yourself warned, and welcome to the future. Your future.

After reading all that I have read about peak oil, and writing a few things on the subject myself, I did put off writing this book for years. Why write yet another book on peak oil? There are some very good books out here on the subject, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve read a lot of them. Do we (do you) really need this book? Yeah, you kind of do. This is not an overly happy subject. People who study peak oil are routinely labeled as doomers (I’ve always liked the phrase doomsluts myself, but that’s just me), and the subject can be a real buzz kill. Who wants to read that? No, wait. Don’t put this book down yet! There’s hope. Despite the serious gravity of the subject, there is some hope. Really. Read on and learn about peak oil and what we have to look forward to in the years ahead. Yes, it can be sobering, but if forewarned is forearmed, you can go into it with a bit of knowledge and maybe that will help. A smile can’t hurt either.

A book, any book, is always sort of a place marker. A time stamp. It reflects, realistically and philosophically, a point in time. This book is all about where we are in the summer of 2010, as more and more people are willing to admit that peak oil is something that probably happened several years ago. As of right now, Clearwater Beach is clean and white and shiny. May it always remain so. May Col. Edwin Drake, the first person to drill for oil in the United States, have mercy on our souls.

Now, what would you like to know about peak oil? Ask away.

Chip Haynes

Clearwater, Florida

August 2010

1. What’s this peak oil thing you keep jabbering on about?

Peak oil defined

Peak oil is the phrase used to describe the point where the world’s oil supply, well, peaks. A fairly easy concept there. It’s the best we can do, and the best we will ever do, when it comes to pumping conventional crude oil out of the ground. After peak oil, it’s all downhill, production-wise. Too many people think that peak oil means the oil is going to run out, and that’s not quite right. The oil will not run out. Not ever. It will, over time, get increasingly rare and probably expensive (before it’s worthless), but there will always be at least a little bit of oil for us to use. Well, for someone to use. Probably not you and me, unless I sell a whole ship load of books. No pressure.

It’s all about the classic economic issues of supply and demand. If supply exceeds demand, as oil did for many years, there’s plenty to go around, the price stays low and everybody’s happy. Good times. If the item in question (like oil) gets a little scarce, or the demand for oil rises faster than the oil can be supplied, then the price of oil goes up. With oil, right now, we’re seeing a little of both; that is, the oil is getting scarce as the demand continues to rise. A double whammy. Lucky us.

So peak oil is an event. A point in time. True, it’s an unseen event we won’t be able to figure out until long after it happens (much like our own maturity), but it will happen. Maybe it already did. It’s tough to tell because people don’t like to talk about it. Yes, we’re back to talking about peak oil here. The thing is, once we pass that peak, we’re going to slide though a period of Interesting Times. Yes, eventually things will settle down, but until they do, we’re going to be in for a great many changes, and not all of them will be what you might call good. But they will be interesting. You have my word on that.

Some years ago, peak oil was something that was going to happen far, far in our distant future. No need to worry. Just keep driving. Everything’s fine. When I began reading about peak oil in the late 1990s, it was going to happen around 2035. That was a long ways away. Then a funny thing happened: the more I read about peak oil, the closer it got. That is, the predictions for when global peak oil would occur moved back in time faster than we were moving forward. That prediction for peak oil in 2035 became 2030, then 2025, and then 2020. After just a few years, I was reading about peak oil by 2015, then 2010 and then. . . .

And then, after about 2005, I started to read about how maybe peak oil had already happened. Huh? What? Hey, what happened to 2035? How did this event slip backwards thirty years? As it turns out, we were using up more oil, and finding less oil, than anyone could have predicted. Whoopsie. Our bad.

2. Well, whose fault is that?

The Blame Game

Mine. Yours. Theirs. Ours. There’s plenty of blame to go around. With almost seven billion people on Planet Earth, each one-seven-billionth of the human population of Planet Earth doesn’t have to use a whole lot of oil for all of us to use a whole lot of oil. As a result, we do. Lately, we’ve been (literally) burning through about eighty million barrels of oil a day. That’s about 3.36 billion gallons of oil. (There’s forty-two gallons of oil to a barrel, in case you were wondering.) For you metric types, that’s over 12.7 billion liters of oil. A day. Every day. Weekends and holidays included. That’s a lot of oil. We use it in a million different ways, for a million different things, day and night. And even if you, personally, don’t think you used any oil today, rest assured that oil was used on your behalf. There’s virtually no way, in this modern world, for you to use no oil at all. C’est la vie. (That’s French for Deal with it, Little Buckaroo.)

We each use oil to travel, in our homes, and where we work and play. In addition, oil is used to grow and deliver the food we eat, the clothes we wear and virtually