Ken Deffeyes in Portland, 24-Feb-2006

Dr Ken Deffeyes spoke last night in the second lecture of the 2006 Illahee Series, on Peak Oil. Deffeyes is an academic geologist, who worked with M. King Hubbert at one point, and has published a couple books on the the peak. Here are a few of my notes from the lecture.

He first displayed a few graphs, and explained some of the methodology behind determining the point of peak oil production. One graph plotted on the y-axis the ratio of a year’s production to the cumulative production to that point, and on the x-axis was cumulative production. This produced a quite closely fitting downward sloping line (for the years since the mid-fifties anyway), pointing to eventual total cumulative production of somewhat over 2 trillion barrels of oil (I think daily production right now is around 80 million barrels). He claimed (and I could not follow the math closely enough to verify) that peak would be at the halfway point of cumulative production. So given those figures, he plots the Peak Oil point at December 16, 2005 (as he says, “I’m no longer a prophet, I’m a historian”).

He noted that both CERA and some USGS study figured on a cumulative production number more like 3 trillion, which moves the peak considerably into the future, but discounted their numbers as unverifiable and incorrect.

On the subject of prices, he said there was a likeness to the math of queueing theory, which states that there is high volatility when the demand on a system is close to system capacity. So he felt that prices could be going up and down based on the combination of events at any point in time. He said “there will be rationing” of some sort.

His recommendations: (1) more local agriculture (which is not the same as organic), (2) better efficiency vehicles, using diesel, and (3) other fuel technologies like dimethyl ether from coal, as well as (4) use of nuclear.

Either we get the ‘hard landing’ with war over resources (and perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of this already), or perhaps we can avoid the worst outcomes. He pointed to a paper by a Stanford prof named Amos Nur on the issues of oil and war, in particular looming conflict with China over resources. Nur concludes: “Compared to the coming oil crisis, global warming is a slowly emerging problem with a time constant of a century or more, yet it is receiving significant attention and funding. The oil consumption issue is emerging ten times faster and has already led to global conflicts. Competition for the remaining oil resource is dangerous, at least in the short term. “

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