Russian Oil Scare

According to oil-price.net today’s oil price is $132/barrel. However, the head of Russia’s Gazprom says that we will hit $250/barrel within a year and a half. This is reported in several regular newspapers such as the Guardian and Times Online and also in webby-papers such as Buzzle. Surprisingly, the story doesn’t seem to be at the BBC, or The Oil Drum . However, the latter has as usual lots of reliable and excellent stuff – today’s article shows how gas prices have been going up too.

Coming from Gazprom of course the story looks as much like a threat as a prediction – you are hooked, get used to to it. The comment stream in Times Online reflects this worry – its mostly about the blackmail thing. For example “Mary in Atlanta” says

My prediction is in 8 years the US will no longer be using oil as a primary source for energy. The West will rise to the occasion, trust me. The US should no longer allow itself to be held hostage by oil. And the people who discover a cheaper source of energy will be the “new rich”.

Huh. Solar ain’t enough. Uranium as well as oil will run out. Fusion is not “cheap” – yet. Roger Angel reckons we can do it with mirrors in space, but that ain’t eaxctly “cheap” either. We are looking at three options.

  • Change lifestyle, less energy.
  • Spend huge amounts on fusion and crack the sucker.
  • Wait for Malthusian collapse following the struggle for resources – a.k.a. war and famine.
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24 Responses to Russian Oil Scare

  1. Nick Cross says:

    If people are scared about option 3, which is a big concern, then option 1 may also go out of the window. Those most likely to survive a collapse and struggle for resources are those with some resources already – useful goods, services (in whatever society there is then – possibly not astronomers) or weapons or a large group of friends.

    If you just use less energy – do less stuff, then you may end up putting yourself in a worse position for later. Being more energy efficient is better, but those who are more energy efficient don’t always use less energy: they just do more stuff.

    Those who stick to option one will likely lose out themselves or won’t have any offspring to pass on the message to use less energy (having children is a big use of energy). Those
    which do use lots of resources have bigger families, more friends (generosity is energy expensive) and will more easily push aside those who use less energy leading to option 3 more quickly. Having said that, modern life and educational costs has generally been pushing people to smaller families.

    Build more fission power stations now – breeder reactors – they won’t last forever, but they may give us more time to develop fusion. If we don’t, well we will have a much smaller population in a century or two.

  2. KOMbat17 says:

    More nuclear power stations: higher head count, in several senses 🙂

  3. duvet says:

    Depressing stuff indeed! Inflationary pressures are all the talk of the city this week, and the wind is blowing towards an interest rate rise rather than further cuts this year. Soaring inflation, oil crisis, labour government suffering low approval ratings? Where’s Maggie when you need her?

  4. D.Squat says:

    Cleaner coal based energy generation must be the main short term answer since the US, China & India have lots of it? Retro fitting new cleaner coal solutions to current coal fired stations essential since China is bringing new coal fired capacity at rate of all current UK capacity every 8 months. I wonder how much new nuclear can contribute on timescales needed (which is not necessarily to say we shouldn’t do that too)?

  5. Martin E. says:

    Why do you say ‘Solar ain’t enough’? 1.2×10^5 TW not enough for you? (we use 13TW today). OK, so you don’t want to cover 0.1% of the earth with solar panels. But still, solar has big potential.
    Here’s one ref:
    http://ptonline.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_60/iss_3/37_1.shtml
    Meanwhile, there’s plenty of room for greater efficiency, so we can do as much with less.

    Long term, fusion, of course. But my visits to fusion labs did not exactly give me the impression of a gung-ho team charging ahead to save the world. More like boring civil servants plotting their retirement and fiddling on what amuses them in the meantime. Anyone have any counter evidence?

  6. D.Squat says:

    But solar, like wind and waves, is intermittent and the storage technology isn’t yet up to it? So they should be elements of longer term research but the urgent short term need is containing CO2 emissions from ongoing fossil fuel use and in particular cleaning coal fired emissions. China now emits ~half of all developed countries combined and is ramping this up on a weekly basis (mainly using coal). Or we terrafix?! Of course we in developed countries can go much further to contain our energy use also.

  7. onlooker says:

    Andy scaremongering again.

    There is enough uranium for all electricity needs for over a hundred years. By that time truly clean coal will last another 200 years.

    Are you saying that in 300 years time we will have the same kinds of power supply we have now? Just think back to 1708. Should they have given up, just because they could see that their then power sources – forests and coal – would run out within 300 years?

    So, mass production of nuclear power stations – with, of course, appropriate non-proliferation controls.

    A glorious future awaits us, comrades!

  8. andyxl says:

    Martin E – I will explain properly later (briefly skipped out of meeting). Onlooker – its not just energy, the world economy is based explicitly on oil.

  9. Stephen says:

    It almost sounds like the Russians are playing “on upmanship”. A few years ago, my dad had a heart attack, treated with a 6 way bypass. The next month, his neighbor reported having a 7 way. I mean, it’s really funny.

    My car gets 44 MPG. On current, well establish tech, it could get 70. Today. And, the upgrades would pay for themselves, unlike hybrids i’ve checked.

    My house gets zero MPG. Well, it doesn’t go anywhere does it? It could be improved dramatically. My neighbor had 18″ of insulation added to his attic. The gas company (gas heat) came out and replaced his meter. Company policy is it’s unbelievable.

    A factor of ten percent makes a big difference. A factor of two would be astronomical.

  10. andyxl says:

    Martin – back to solar energy. I will just repeat the numbers I gave in a post yonks ago. If you assume current rates of population growth, and assume that developing nations catch up with us in consumption, but also allow for some improvements in energy efficiency, then by 2100 world consumption will be 50TW. (That number is from “The End of Oil” by Paul Roberts.) The total solar energy falling on the earth is 1.7 x 10**17 Watts – all wavelengths, Allowing for reflection, and assuming we just might plausibly cover 1% of the earth with photocells at 10% efficiency, or 10% of the earth with biofuel crops at 1% efficiency, then we might if we are lucky get 100TW. (Remember 10% of the earth is 30% of the land surface…) So you might say “well thats just enough !” but given what extreme assumptions we put in, and the great uncertainty in final consumption, I would say that ain’t enough.

    On the other hand, its close enough that solar energy can do it if we slow down population growth, and rein back on per capita consumption by say a factor of two or three. If we all consume at Spanish levels as opposed to US levels, it could be ok

  11. Martin E. says:

    Quite right, Andy. I just did some homework, and found this pretty serious looking article that takes efficiency into account, and points out the humungous storage requirements (spot on D.squat!). check it out:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V2W-4JCCM4T
    1&_user=4046392&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000061186&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=4046392&md5=b3f628ee2aa9c8d9c7e949c63fb1fc0b#sec5
    Not so easy peasy.
    Nukes everyone?

  12. Hotblack Desiato says:

    What you really need then are some bigger numbers to play with – starting out at 10^17 just isn’t enough. So… can anyone think of a way to harness the gravitational energy of planet Earth? (yes, this is just plain silly). Move the Earth just 1 m closer to the sun and I reckon you get something like 10^22 J released (I don’t have a calculator on me). Virial… so things speed up. So, a (slightly) shorter working week too! Long term drawbacks of course, as any Disaster Area fan would tell you.

  13. Francis says:

    JET and the other tokamaks at Culham are doing excellent work, and effort linked to ITER is ramping up at a great rate. So the fusion work is making great strides, but its still many many years from commercial energy generation.

  14. John Peacock says:

    Hotblack: I don’t know about extracting the Earth’s gravitational energy, but its radioactive internal heat energy is sufficient: there’s enough stored heat to supply current power demands for around a billion years. The problem is getting it out: standard geothermal doesn’t work beyond a certain power level, because you rely on diffusion to re-heat the rock you’re pumping cold water into – i.e. the crust is too good an insulator. But heat can be more efficiently transported by convection. In other words, what we need is a tame volcano. Given how complex and messy fusion is (and that even this is limited by available supplies of lithium), I’d rather see the resources going into trying to get magma up through the crust in a controlled way.

  15. andyxl says:

    Dear Hotblack – what we are already using is the rotational energy of planet earth, as this is what drives the tides. (Tidal energy and geothermal are the only “renewable” sources that aren’t just solar energy in some form). The rotational energy of the earth is approx 1e29 Joules, so we could power 1e14 Watts for 1e15 seconds. In other words, IF we can a find a way to tap it, it would do us for a hundred million years. (Think I got that right)

  16. andyxl says:

    John – v.interesting. Doing astro-style order of mag calculations, the earth must be radiating of the order 1e17 Watts. (V similar to the solar constant, which is not a coincidence of course). However this is at a low temperature and so very hard to use efficiently.

    The stored thermal energy is something else. The Earth must contain approx 1e51 atoms. Most of the Earth is at a temperature of around 6000 degrees. So the stored energy is of the order 1e32 J, a thousand times more than the rotational energy. So John do you have a guess of what fraction we can get out ?

    The orbital energy is the same as the gravitational energy, and thats of order 1e35 J. Hotblack, you are obviously an HHG2U fan, but how do we get any of that out ?

  17. Hotblack Desiato says:

    And there was I thinking today would be devoted to the latest gems coming from Seriously Testing Financial Competance Inc.

    Anyway, John – nice idea. But I can only imagine the furore over SM (Seismically Modified) energy sources. “Boffins Medle with Volcano”… “End of Days is tomorrow, about 3pm”.

    Andy… releasing the binding energy. Hmm. Two thoughts. One would be creating a friction source to allow collapse/spin up/heating. I guess the moon blasted in to powder isn’t enough really. And I always liked the moon so I’d rather not vape it. So then the second thought has to be… place a bridging platform at the Lagrange point on the axis towards the sun (a la A C Clark). Hoisting mass to there costs some energy, but from there onwards one can let it fall all the way in to the Sun. You have a string (a strong one) connected to the mass and have that string wrapped round a dynamo. The amount of energy released would surely be more than it cost to get it to the Lagrange point. I think the Earth (what’s left of it… this is NOT a renewable energy source) would move further away from the sun a little. So, over to the engineers.

    ps. can anyone explain why MINOS went back up the ranking again??? And who thinks SuperNEMO has more physics potential than Cobra?

  18. Vedaland says:

    Enegry crises ends when the mind crises ends.
    Sustainable mind is followed by sustainable market.
    Not the other way around.
    Here is how to do it: http://4veda.wordpress.com/

  19. andrew cooke says:

    hi andy – don’t normally read here but paulina mentioned you + astrogrid. sorry to hear about that – it was always surreal seeing how good the uk stuff was with so little money.

    anyway, i didn’t see a link above to this – http://www.withouthotair.com/ – which is pretty good reading.

    cheers, andrew

  20. andyxl says:

    Andrew – welcome on board ! David McKay’s “Without Hot Air” is indeed really good, and in fact I wrote a post about him some weeks back after he gave a seminar here.

  21. grot says:

    Thank you very much. This was a great help.

  22. onlooker says:

    Update on Oct 8: Oil now at $85/barrel.

    Andy’s fear in June 11 when oil was $132/barrel perhaps no longer operative?

  23. onlooker says:

    Yes, I know that. But oil is now only about twice the ‘normal’ price, and even if it falls no further then it is no longer the end of the world.

    BTW, this is another instance of the media getting its coverage all wrong. Lots of articles on ‘bad news’ as the oil price goes up, not so much on ‘good news’ as it comes down. Similarly they got the house price changes over the last fifteen years wrong. Lots of articles spinning the bad news of houses getting more expensive as ‘good news’, and now they are spinning the good news of them getting cheaper as ‘bad news’.

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