With world oil production about to peak and inexorably head toward steep decline, what fuels are available to meet rising global energy demands? That question, once thought to address a fairly remote contingency, has become ever more urgent, as a spate of books has drawn increased public attention to the imminent exhaustion of the economically vital world oil reserves. Deffeyes, a geologist who was among the first to warn of the coming oil crisis, now takes the next logical step and turns his attention to the earth's supply of potential replacement fuels. In Beyond Oil, he traces out their likely production futures, with special reference to that of oil, utilizing the same analytic tools developed by his former colleague, the pioneering petroleum-supply authority M. King Hubbert.
The book includes chapters on natural gas, coal, tar sands and heavy oils, oil shale, uranium, and (although not strictly an energy resource itself) hydrogen. A concluding chapter on the overall energy picture covers the likely mix of energy sources the world can rely on for the near-term future, and the special roles that will need to be played by conservation, high-mileage diesel automobiles, nuclear power plants, and wind-generated electricity.
An acknowledged expert in the field, Deffeyes brings a deeply informed, yet optimistic approach to bear on the growing debate. His main concern is not our long-term adaptation to a world beyond oil but our immediate future: "Through our inattention, we have wasted the years that we might have used to prepare for lessened oil supplies. The next ten years are critical."
For those who wonder why certain countries insist on developing nuclear power, geologist Deffeyes has a possible answer: "World oil production has ceased growing." In this sobering, instructive and somewhat apocalyptic book, Deffeyes (Hubbert's Peak) paints a bleak picture of the future of fossil fuels and of what will happen to the world without them. Deffeyes bases his book on the work of M. King Hubbert, who mathematically determined that the world's oil supply would peak in 2000 and then drop steadily thereafter. Deffeyes tackles the mathematics of Hubbert's method and offers his own prediction (that the peak will occur at the end of 2005), but there is plenty here for those who aren't enamored with numbers, including a crash course in the slow evolution of oil. Oil and its related petroleum byproducts, Deffeyes points out, have changed the world economically, technologically and socially, and its absence could have a similarly massive, though negative, effect. Deffeyes predicts that famine, war and death will result from the shortages, but he does more than just sound the alarm: a large portion of the book is devoted to surveying the pros and cons of alternative resources like coal and hydrogen. Though Deffeyes offers only a few practical suggestions for the reader, most of which are obvious (i.e., get on a waitlist for a hybrid car), this is an earnestly written cautionary tale and a great resource for anyone looking to become energy literate. B&W illustrations and diagrams.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Hill and Wang
June 11, 2006
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Excerpt from Beyond Oil by Kenneth S. Deffeyes
We are facing an unprecedented problem. World oil production has stopped growing; declines in production are about to begin. For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the geological supply of an essential resource will not meet the demand.
There has been plenty of warning. In 1969, M. King Hubbert, an American geologist, published predictions of future world oil production. Hubbert predicted that annual oil production would follow a bell-shaped curve; the curve became known as "Hubbert's peak." The more optimistic of his two estimates in 1969 placed the world's total oil endowment at 2.1 trillion barrels and peak production in the year 2000. My best current estimate (detailed at the end of Chapter 3) puts the total oil at 2.013 trillion barrels, peaking in 2005. Whichever of us is correct, or even if we are both wrong, we are not very wrong. Wherever the peak, the view is not good.
My own interest in the oil supply problem began in 1958, when I started work at the Shell research lab in Houston. Hubbert enjoyed superstar status at the Shell lab, for many reasons in addition to his oil predictions. I enjoyed working at the lab, and I enjoyed getting to know Hubbert. By 1963 it was clear that the oil business (in Houston, it's the "awl bidness") would change enormously by the year 2000, when I was supposed to retire. My own analysis of Hubbert's numbers caused me to leave the petroleum industry prematurely.
Emotionally, it was not easy to leave. I grew up in the oil patch; my father was a first-generation petroleum engineer. I was born in Oklahoma, am part Chickasaw, and can remember the Dust Bowl. When I was about ten years old, I decided to become a petroleum geologist. While I was in high school, a nice piece of help came along: Two geologists, Jack Fanshawe and Paul Walton, took the time to help me learn mineralogy. My undergraduate education (Colorado School of Mines) and graduate education (Princeton) were focused on methods useful in oil exploration and production. I held a sequence of summer jobs that taught me the dirty-fingernail side of the oil industry. For a while, I had a bumper sticker that said, "Oilfield trash, and proud of it."
After I left Shell, I taught for a couple of years each at Minnesota and Oregon State, and then joined the faculty at Princeton. Teaching and research were rewarding, and I could continue consulting part time on oil and mining. My course titled "Sedimentology" was a camouflaged course in petroleum geology.
This book is about the fuels that come from the earth. A lot of questions about public policy naturally follow. However, my expertise ends where the geology stops. Any opinions I have about the wisdom of increased gasoline taxes or a U.S. oil import tax have the same standing as the opinions of J. Random Citizen. In this book, I try to explain the advantages and constraints on the various fuels from the earth. Deciding on policy is a task for all of us as citizens.
Chapters 1 and 2 are brief statements of the oil supply problem. Chapter 3 is the result of a happy accident: I found an alternative to Hubbert's complicated mathematics. Hubbert's analysis requires pages of differential equations to go from A to B. Going from B to A reaches the same results but requires only three lines of high-school algebra. Chapters 4 through 8 cover natural gas, coal, tar sand, oil shale, and uranium. Chapter 9 is an oddity: Hydrogen is not a fuel that comes from the earth, but there is so much misinformation floating around about hydrogen that I felt compelled to explain further about it. Chapter 10 is an essay about seeing the world through a geologist's eyes; it is what William Safire calls a "thumbsucker."