Monday, 1 June 2009

Hirsh Report Liquid Fuels Shortage Debunked

More on the "no substitutes" bit.
So let's imagine for a second that oil production starts falling off a cliff next Wednesday.
The typical gleeful response of the dieoff crowd would be: "there are no substitutes to oil" and thus the transportation network will collapse and then the lights will go off etc etc and WE WILL ALL DIE.

The Hirsch Report, which is a little more reasonable than the sackcloth and ashes crowd over at, says "if we do not mitigate there will be a liquid fuels shortage especially in transportation after we peak".

Unfortunately for this premise, however, is one little fact: We have an ENORMOUS GLUT of shale gas and gas is a good substitute for oil, especially in transportation.
Estimates are that shale gas reserves are up to five times the "conventional" reserve which did in fact peak and start declining in North America about 8 years ago and now Europe.

Now what about those pesky substitutes? Can we run our transportation fleet off of natural gas? Is there infrastructure in place to do so? Will all our delivery vehicles stop running because we're "out of oil" since the party is over?

Well seems to me that the local gas utility runs their maintenance fleet of vans and trucks off of Nat Gas. Also seems to me that every second gas station is ALREADY SELLING Nat Gas.

I've also seen a ton of taxi cabs running off of natural gas.

So how much does it cost, exactly, to convert your car to run on natural gas?
All of about four grand.

Now I personally like electric transportation and conservation as the long term solution to peak oil induced transportation bottlenecks, but you can hardly argue with a massive glut of natural gas and such low conversion costs.

Oh yeah. There's also gas to liquids. Such as gas to aviation fuel. I wonder if now is a good time to buy airline stocks.

Now where does that leave us?
Well if we try to peak into the crystal ball of "life after depletion" it seems that we have at least three sustitutes with which to mitigate so while the steepness of the conventional curve cannot be flattened, we can substitute out the end-uses.
Conservation "take the damn bus".
Electrification "take the damn electric bus" and "look at me go fast in my new Tesla".
Conversions to run your car on nat gas "Oh look, it's only a buck twenty for a gallon of nat gas".
Gas-To-Liquids "Kunstler says we can't run the interstate truck fleet without diesel. Maybe not, but there's no reason we can't run our interstate fleet on gasoline trucks converted to nat-gas".

So yet another dieoff myth debunked. Not only do we have substitutes, but they are relatively cheap compared to the other substitutes like electric vehicles which currently carry a price premium.
Doom? Maybe, but if so, not yet and not because of peak oil.

For more on the natural gas glut see


Anonymous said...

hey,just followed your link from JD's two cents as a truck driver..
@ Gas-To-Liquids "Kunstler says we can't run the interstate truck fleet without diesel. Maybe not, but there's no reason we can't run our interstate fleet on gasoline trucks converted to nat-gas".

maybe so, but there are some reasons why 18-wheelers are currently diesel powered.
mainly TORQUE, very important when trying to move 80'000 lbs+ not something I'd want to try with a gas motor.
next COMPRESSION; diesels have very high compression ratios compared to gas motors because in diesels the heat of compression ignites the fuel/air mixture as opposed to a spark plug in gas motors. this is beneficial for "JAKE BRAKES" aka engine brakes, where a solenoid opens the exhaust valve on the compression stroke so that the fuel/air mixture does not ignite creating a 'dead cylinder'.
TRUCK diesels are 6-cylinder so with a 1,2,or3 cylinder "jake" setting you can rob like up to half of an engines 400+ horsepower turning it into braking power. Jake brakes have dramatically improved safety, reduce brake wear, are damn nice going down a hill & don't work on gas motors.
Also diesels get great mpg compared to gas, especially pulling heavy loads...

DB said...

Thanks for the comment.
Your position may be correct in that diesel is a BETTER fuel than nat gas. In a shortage situation, however, nat gas is better than nothing. We have a lot of it and if diesel really is so much better then instead of converting our big rig fleet to nat gas (the trucks are already on the market) then we could convert some of the nat gas to diesel via gas-to-liquids.
In any case, we have nat gas as a reasonable (even if it's not perfect) substitute.
That alone debunks Kunstler's idea that the interstates will stop delivering goods to stores.