Friday, December 3, 2010

EROEI Adjusted Hubbert's Peak

As we again are coming up against the problems of peaking oil production, which may be coming off the end-of-the-world hold of two years ago, we should be studying the works of M. King Hubbert. Hubbert, a geophysicist, used empirical math to quantify the actual behavior of oil fields as opposed to all the geophysical theory that was his industry standard. His predictions differed from the industry, and this earned him the undying derision of his colleagues and indifference from the rest of the world. But his projections have been transpiring in history very close to his time-tables.

What his global model for conventional crude production did not account for was the radical decline in net energy as peak is passing and what happens after that. Net energy was not a concern back in the 1950s, when he did his work. But knowing what we know now about EROEI (which isn't near enough) we could perhaps take the liberty of estimating a net energy adjustment to his basic global curve. It would look something like this: (click on graph to enlarge)

The first chart is the basic effect of net energy on the peaking curve. As you can see, it is a nonissue for the many, many years coming up to the peak. But as peak is passed, it fast becomes a really big deal. That's what we, particularly in America, are going to be gradually waking up to in the coming years. And I'm afraid it will be a little too late. We may be dealing with chronic 3 digit oil pricing before we learn to deal with EROEI.

As the time frames above show, we could be going into a net energy collapse (to the Z* point on the graph) long before actual oil production declines very much.

This makes the net energy numbers on all our nonconventional crude additions that we are tossing on top of the total liquids curve very critical. It will decide where the narrow blue curve in the graph above runs, either with low EROEI and close to the red dashed line, or with high EROEI and close to the fat blue line of the total liquids production. The science of EROEI has come on to the stage and it will either be the villain or the hero. Our Congress is doing all they can do make it be the villain.

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