Energy Slopes and Peaks

[Update: Kevin answers with a crushing blow via Prudhoe Bay…]

I’ve been following Kevin Drum’s excellent series on ‘peak oil’ with a lot of interest; I think that Kevin’s interest in the strategic issues around energy policy is appropriate and significant.

But I’m less certain that his point – that we’re at or near an absolute level of peak oil production, and that an absolute decline in oil produced matched with increasing demand from an industrializing Asia risks severe economic dislocation – stands up.

I’m not an oil economist, but my guess is that as technology improves and prices rise, supplies do move upward. And we don’t eat oil. Economic efficiency – the unit of productivity per BTU – just keeps moving up.This weekend, I noticed a casual side note in an article about a local oil company, Occidental Petroleum:

Although the U.S. fields are mature, Occidental is known for using cutting-edge technologies to find more oil and pull it from the ground. It’s a key reason why its reserves keep growing faster than its production.

Take Elk Hills. When Occidental bought the field seven years ago from the U.S. government, its proven reserves were the equivalent of 425 million barrels of oil. Since then, the company has produced about 235 million equivalent barrels, yet its proven reserves now total 462 million barrels.

Occidental credits an aggressive program that included using 3D seismic surveys to find oil, drilling 1,200 new wells on the property and injecting water, carbon dioxide and acid into wells to stimulate output.

This doesn’t put paid to the concept of peak oil, nor to the very real issues our over-reliance on oil and particularly imported oil presents to our economy, environment, and security.

But my guess is that the notion of commodity catastrophe – one that has been raised since the 18th century – is one that takes place gradually, not in the short time span that leads to social collapse.

In a simple form, the auto dealership row near our home is a good example of that gradual change. All the SUV’s have promotional pricing on them. Good riddance.

Nepotism, Civility and Pain au Chocolat

If you’ve read my stuff for a while, or participated in one of my discussion threads, you’ll know that to me, one of the core values I promote is civility; we may disagree – even violently – but we acknowledge each other as human and worthwhile, and accept that we’re “in this together” – we’re all part of a civitas, or as defined from Latin (a) a community of citizens, a body-politic, a state, and (b) the condition of a citizen, citizenship, membership in the community. We’re all members of this political and social community, and we need to remember that.

That’s an important political value for me, and this morning I just had my face rubbed in why it’s an important social and intellectual one as well.

I may have grown a little bit today, and that’s my good news.I’m in New York for some family business, and this morning had breakfast with Adam Bellow…yes, that Adam Bellow. Through Roger, he’s come up with some genius ideas for Pajamas and the intersection of blogging and publishing. TG and I met him this morning to discuss them, which is a post for another day.

Today, as we wrapped up our discussion, I felt I had to apologize for the tone of my posts. When we’d arranged to meet, I’d suggested to the friends we’re staying with that I hoped he hadn’t actually read what I’d written about him. But after such a positive meeting, I felt I couldn’t avoid responsibility for what I’d written, and apologized for the tone of it.

Adam laughed, reached into his briefcase and pulled out a copy of the book he’d obviously meant to give me as a parting gift.

TG insisted that he sign it, which he did.

He suggested that the Atlantic article and oped which I’d lambasted didn’t fairly represent his premise, and suggested that I read the whole thing and see what I thought.

And lest you think I’m a whore for free books (why yes, I am) the real point to make is this:

When you disagree with people, it’s dangerous to do so in terms that – while seductively self-confident – really move to end debate, rather than encourage it. I don’t like it when people do that in discussions, I don’t like it when people do it on televisions or in opeds, and – in retrospect – I particularly don’t like it when I do it.

I may or may not change my views on nepotism when I’ve read the whole book. I have changed my views on what tone is acceptable to take in debating the issue, and I hope that my small reconciliation is something that leads all of you to think about your style of argument as well.