Monday, October 15, 2007

Why $86 Oil?

Ans: Commodities Bubble. [Bubble Claire in the new naming convention ala hurricanes and "Turmoils"]

Seriously, there all kinds of excuses floating around. There's the peak oil myth that gains traction after any supply event. There's the Chindia demand issue. There's the lagging infrastructure concerns. And certainly the impending dollar/petro divorce deserves mention. The new international investment vizier of Qatar had the gaul to state that the correct price of oil is $125 but that the OPEC nations were suffering the shortfall in the interests of their friends in the West. Look, oil has an energy investment alternative ceiling of about $100. Any suggestion that oil will get to and stay above that price for any time kicks in any number of alternatives; solar roofs, shale oil, nuclear, even the whacky ones like hydrates and hydrogen. The point being the oil suppliers are playing a dangerous game of chicken. They think that anytime an alternative threatens they can merely collapse prices to whatever point is necessary to crush any potential competition. The mature and developing nations are not going to let that happen.

Oil is $86/bbl because there are speculators who are doing exactly with oil what until recently speculators were doing with houses. There still remains some core worth to houses as housing and oil as raw material but those values are lost deep inside the frenzy of speculation surrounding them. Heck, I just bought a package of 4 tulip bulbs at the 99¢ store.


Property Flopper said...


Peripheral Visionary said...

Oil is $86/barrel because of pent-up demand for oil to be used in oil paintings of tulips? :P

The alternative energies argument is a sound one, but for one caveat--if the rise in oil prices is really tied to the drop in the dollar, the prices of alternative energy investments will rise even as the cost of oil rises. Oil alternatives will require land, energy, heavy equipment, infrastructure . . . hmm, wonder which direction the prices on those have been going over the last couple of years.

Rob Dawg said...

Yes, the $100 energy equivilant is a static measure. Heck, I fully expect one, perhaps two of the following; battery storage, photovoltic efficiency, catylatic disassociation of H2O, amphorous production, hydrogen storage, pocket geothremal and about two dozen so strange I'm reluctant to mention them. Really. Just a 50% increase in PV efficiency or battery storage either alone crushes oil. Wierdly, the battery storage efficiency bit means using coal and oil and natgas plants but load balancing.

My favorite? nRTSC. Near room temperature superconductivity. We are only about 50 degrees Kelvin away from some truly amazing world altering implementations.

Peripheral Visionary said...

Interesting thoughts. Room-temperature superconductivity, like break-even nuclear fusion, remains just out of reach, however. I suspect that fusion, superconductivity, and even battery storage are at the stage where there are only marginal gains left in improving the existing technology; we will need big technological breakthroughs to move them up in order of magnitude. Alternative energy is, sadly, not the semiconductor sector where increases in efficiency and power are exponential.

As tempting a technology as fusion is (and it is tempting), I think that the real untapped power source is geothermal. Solar and wind have been around for a long time, but let's face it folks, they're only marginal energy producers which require expensive equipment and take up a lot of land. The cost for the energy produced isn't there, and won't be for a long time. And then there's the NIMBY factor to take into account . . . did someone say Cape Cod? I love the idea of orbital solar, but yeah . . . the cost efficiency for that won't be there for a LONG time. :(

Pleather Murse said...

Antimatter, dude. Near 100% efficiency. Just keep it in gaseous form suspended in a magnetic toroid to avoid accidental contact with matter. Use magnets to direct a tiny stream of the stuff into a combustion chamber where it can interact with an equal amount of matter from another container. Voila. A thimble full could power an SUV for a hundred years. 'Course you'll need batteries to power the magnetic containment fields but that's small stuff compared to the upside.

Akubi said...

Hey guyz,
It is really quite simple. All you need is a "a cold-fusion type of battery-thingy that basically never runs out of energy."

Akubi said...

Thus spoke Casey Serin on peak oil.

Northern Renter said...

Geez, Akubi, I click on your link thinking I'm going to see some interesting thingies (nudge nudge wink wink) and what do I get? The scientific theories of Snowflake. Unlike the infinite varieties of snowflakes, said theories always employ little work and infinite reward.

But before I go, I remember a quote from a television philosopher. "Why is it that bra is singular and panties are plural?"


PS On a more serious note, I agree with PV about geothermal. Can anyone tell me what the drawbacks are to this type of system? There must be some, else I think everybody and his brother ought to have them up here in Canada where the winter heating is such a significant factor.

Rob Dawg said...

Orbital power. Ummm, anything that can be aimed will be aimed. If I have a tinfoil bone in my body this is it. The economics of orbital power are such that it would be a national effort and no one nation would allow any other to have one. Think about it. If China announced their effort to produce a 70Tw power station in geosync how long would it be before the missles flew?

Rob Dawg said...

Imagine you click on an Akubi link expecting ivory skin and dark panties only to be accosted by the immortal words of the fliptard. P0rnhacking gone bad.

On geoterm, there's only one problem; scale. Little tiny holes sucking the nice warm blood of Gia are nothing worse than mosquito bites but I suspect major player megaprojects will be the thrust.

Akubi said...

For ivory skin updates check out Iris Mein Irisch Kind. New fishnets here.

Sac RE Agent said...

Rob, I felt the same way when I clicked on Akubi's link.

Northern Renter said...

Yes, I was talking about SFH. As far as I know, one of these systems is about $35 K for installation in your average ouse. It cools in summer and warms in winter. I'm not at all concerned about removing too much heat from Gaia... we have to keep a sense of perspective on this board, eh?

As for Akubi's lovely contribution... nicht klein aber nicht mein.


Rob Dawg said...

Akubi I think you are ummmmm.... market researching the EN audience. And ummmm.... doing a damn good job. ;-)

I'm not worried long term about finding the energy to keep our "lifestyles" going. Honestly, the only reason we are so far behind in solutions is the problem that all the good answers don't make the inventor/owners as much money as the bad answers.

JRip said...

Why is Peak Oil a myth?

Which hydrocarbons are you including in your definition of petroleum/crude-oil?

Rob Dawg said...

Peak oil is a myth. Hubbert for but one example said in 1975 the US had no more than 27 years left domestically. Using his figures we have extracted more than he said was available and still have something like 25 years left.

"Peak Oil" searched in ths blog explains more.

FlyingMonkeyWarrior said...

The next bubble, the energy sector.

Akubi said...

Damn, I have more Iris Mein Irisch Kind but Vista is eating my f-ing OS again!
BTW, peak oil is about a much of a myth as Sisyphus.
I need a new laptop.

ratlab said...

Tulip bulbs should at least be $500 per bulb Rob. I think you should buy out the entire inventory and flip them.

wagga said...

OK, I've decoded it. Tulips are a flower from a bulb & so is an Iris. Now what?


Three factors that limit geothermal are scale, corrosion & geological uncertainty. Mother Earth farts & you are blown to hell - belches & your plant goes cold. Capital investment is over decades. Shift happens.

Santa Flipper Clause said...

Ho Ho Ho - It's Santa Flipper Clause

Sorry to change the subject, but I have posted Tibet and Cho Oyu pictures (as some of you requested) on Flickr at

Please tell me if the link does not work.

Santa F. Clause

Akubi said...

Science happens, shift happens, Sian happens, bulbs bloom, koi swim, shit floats to the top.

Beautiful photos Santa F. Clause. The air looks so clean. I need a vacation.

Link works.

Lou Minatti said...

Peak oil is a myth. Hubbert for but one example said in 1975 the US had no more than 27 years left domestically. Using his figures we have extracted more than he said was available and still have something like 25 years left.

Yep. It's just like 1978. Iranian nutbags are angry at us, we have a useless president sitting in the Oval Office, the Peak Oil crowd is proclaiming doom.

There is an incredibly amount of speculation going on in the energy markets right now. Too many people forget that things can and will swing in the opposite direction. That is what happens when we have bubbles. (I also think many of the "crises" are ginned up quietly by oil-rich states in order to keep prices up, but that's a different subject.)

The good thing? So far the morons in DC haven't tried price controls. I'd rather have high gas prices than no gas.

The energy bust is coming, fairly soon I think. Personally, I want to see what it does to EADS. Half of their A380 customers are in Dubai. Once the credit bubble busts in the ME and oil takes a dive, Emirates will cancel their orders.

Gypsy Pete said...

Dawg - I'm not a reservoir specialist but I do currently work in the O&G sector. The MAJOR issue we have here predicting reserves (which is part of the peak/no peak calculation) is that the larger sources of oil we now believe are lying about how much they have left in the ground. Some estimates are that they Saudi's have half the capacity left that they say they have. Perhaps the market is actually factoring this in? Why would they lie about this? Damned if I know.

JohnDiddler said...

Peak oil can be a flawed theory and we can still have a sensitive and tight extracting, refining, and consuming cycle where small changes can contributes to price volatility. for a price drop, we need either increasing sources (at good extraction prices), or substantial demand drops. economists know that efficiency innovations cause more consumption in the long run, so even if we deploy hybrids on Dawg's new and coveted freeway expansion projects, the globe still sucks more oil each day than the day before. saudis would lie about their reserves because their political power was built on having enough reserves and capacity to control prices for America. that ship has sailed. nobody has that kind of power anymore. i'm thinking of buying Exxon tomorrow morning. wish i bought it yesterday morning.

Brian said...

My friends, it is the dollar that is the problem, not the price of oil.

Here in Europe the price has been within a 5 Eurocent gap for the last 2 years, and is selling for about 3.80 Euros/Gallon of Diesel (95/Litre).

Inflating dollars to finance war is something done throughout history.

Just say thanks to the neocons and their Israel first backers.

Lou Minatti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitchell said...

Some estimates are that they Saudi's have half the capacity left that they say they have... Why would they lie about this?

Via The Oil Drum:

"The Saudi oil company Aramco was taken over by Saudi Arabia in 1980. Shortly thereafter, the amount of oil reserves was doubled, without finding any more oil. Other OPEC countries soon followed suit, since higher reserves meant higher oil production targets under OPEC rules. Current OPEC reserves appear to be seriously overstated, but they are repeated endlessly as fact, in news media and textbooks."

Here's the graph.

Adam said...

As best I can tell King Hubbert predicted 150-200 billion barrels of lower 48 production (Alaska was not included in his 1956 paper) which would produce a peak in the 1970s at about 3bn barrels/yr.
See figure 21 here:
Here's the US annual production chart:
It follows the 200 bn barrel curve pretty closer than any other predictions (the ASPO estimates today that the lower 48 will produce approx 195 billion barrels). I'm not seeing how we've out produced his guess by very much over the last 50 years, but am open to hear more.

Rob Dawg said...

Hubbert's predictions and actual US lower 48 production trends are a coincidence. I know that sounds like the worst form of rationalization but it is the best explanation. It is also unfortunate because it has misled generations of peakenese, my pet term for peak oil believers. King just never had allowances for technology increasing the proven reserves of existing discoveries, or any idea of the comming environmental controls or any number of other fundamental changes to the world he was modelling.

Adam said...

Interesting conclusion. Personally the lone model on extraction I've bought into fully is Hotelling's model. Essentailly it reaches the logical conclusion that a resource will be extracted until the price is equal to the best alternative, shocking I know, and that producers marginal cost should include a factor for not being able to sell a unit extracted in the future (basically that extraction quantity will not extract when the cash costs of extraction equal the market price).

I thought Hubbert's big breakthrough (relative to other contemporary models) was that he did include increases to the the proven reserves. I'm not fully bought into the peak oil theory (nor am I convinced that crossing the peak leads to instantanous doom!) but to have someone get that close 50 years early earns a whole lot of credibility with me.

HARM said...

King just never had allowances for technology increasing the proven reserves of existing discoveries

I only occasionally peruse material about peak oil (vs. TOD regulars who eat, drink, and breathe the stuff), but even I can spot a couple of fallacies here.

Firstly, Hubbert did factor in an assumption of new discoveries adding to the world's proven reserves (as bluto pointed out), but also assumed that new discoveries would peak in frequency and magnitude by the end of the 1960s (which proved to be correct), then gradually taper off in a rough bell curve pattern (again, correct).

Secondly, barring biodiesel (not yet scalable), improved technology doesn't actually "increase proven reserves". What is does is to increase our speed and efficiency at extracting oil, and (critically) our ability to recover a larger % of what's already there. The former merely depletes world reserves at a faster rate, while the latter gives us "more" oil, yes, but does not create any additional "proven reserves" that weren't already there to begin with.

Even if new technology somehow magically enables us to hit 100% recovery (and never mind EROEI for really tough-to-extract deposits), we're still not creating more oil.

I am not a doom'n'gloomer on the energy Big Picture (plenty of uranium & thorium deposits to last us hundreds, if not thousands, of years even with current technology, thank you). But dismissing the obvious (oil is a finite resource and we will eventually run out of the EROEI-positive stuff or switch to something else) smacks of magical thinking.

Sorry, Dawg, I love you like a brother, but you're barking at the moon on this one.

Rob Dawg said...

Mutual admiration society right back at you.

"Proven Reserves" is a technical term of art in the oil industry.

Yes, Hubbert predicted adding to reserves but had capped them at a theoretical "there's more more oil in the ground than this" level. He was wrong by a factor of several.

Who's to say we aren't making more oil all the time? Oil flows where there are deep cracks in the mantle. Long depleted fields "recharge." Prof Gold may be correct after all. Let's see we need carbon and disolved gases and heat in a pressurized and oxygen poor environment. Sounds like about 99.8% of the volume of the planet to me. ;-)

HARM said...

By "recharge" and Prof. Gold, I'm assuming you mean Thomas Gold and his theory of abiotic petroleum deep-crust formation (

Again, I'm no expert on the subject, but the evidence in favor of Gold's theory seems scant, and his support among scientists (outside of Russia anyway) appears thin at best. Even if we assume he's 100% right and there are limitless abiotic reserves deep inside the crust just waiting to be found, there are two more problems:

(1) The technology does not yet exist to reach these alleged deep-crust reserves (much less extract on an EROEI-positive basis), and

(2) You stil have the fundamental problem of extracting and consuming the oil at a rate faster than it can be replenished. Whether or not oil is created abiogenically or biogenically, we're talking about geological timescales here --eons on a human scale.

Either way, I get the distinct impression we should be aggressively pursuing alternative sources of scalable energy while oil & gas are still abundant: nuclear (fission & fusion), coal, wind, solar, wave, biodiesel, geothermal, etc.