President Peeking at Peak Oil


53900178Yesterday, President Obama gave a press conference at the White House on the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf. After weeks of building criticism over the administration’s handling of the crisis, the President was able to give a more robust explanation the administration’s efforts, capabilities, and vision for the future. I will leave the debate about the handling of this crisis to you, the readers, should you wish to engage in it. Please feel free to make your thoughts known in the comments. What struck me was this little gem:

“Now, let me make one broader point, though, about energy. The fact that oil companies now have to go a mile underwater and then drill another three miles below that in order to hit oil tells us something about the direction of the oil industry. Extraction is more expensive and it is going to be inherently more risky.

And so that’s part of the reason you never heard me say, ‘Drill, baby, drill’ — because we can’t drill our way out of the problem. It may be part of the mix as a bridge to a transition to new technologies and new energy sources, but we should be pretty modest in understanding that the easily accessible oil has already been sucked up out of the ground.

And as we are moving forward, the technology gets more complicated, the oil sources are more remote, and that means that there’s probably going to end up being more risk. And we as a society are going to have to make some very serious determinations in terms of what risks are we willing to accept. And that’s part of what the commission I think is going to have to look at.”

And the day before, the President at a Fremont, California facility that manufactures solar panels:

“And the spill in the Gulf, which is just heartbreaking, only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources. We’re not going to transition out of oil next year or 10 years from now. But think about it, part of what’s happening in the Gulf is that oil companies are drilling a mile underwater before they hit ground, and then a mile below that before they hit oil.

With the increased risks, the increased costs, it gives you a sense of where we’re going. We’re not going to be able to sustain this kind of fossil fuel use. This planet can’t sustain it. Think about when China and India — where consumers there are starting to buy cars and use energy the way we are. So we’ve known that we’ve had to shift in a fundamental way, and that’s true for all of us.”

From these remarks, it is clear that the administration is starting to at least take a peek at Peak Oil. Over at the Energy Information Agency, which just put out their annual forecast a couple weeks ago, world supply of liquid fuels will increase through 2035. Though the report hints at Peak Oil through higher real price forecasts and a larger proportions of biofuels or adding other “unconventional sources” to the mix while keeping “conventional” liquids flat. The administration is not yet connecting the peak oil dots, publicly anyway.

And perhaps they shouldn’t. The most important thing to do is to change the mindset of the American people about energy. We have a long way to go on that. The last President to wear a sweater in the White House to conserve energy was the last President to wear a sweater in the White House to conserve energy. That was thirty years and five Presidents ago. The blackened Gulf should become a symbol far more powerful than a presidential sweater to be used in moving us off oil. If tarred beaches don’t get our attention then the next stop is drowned beaches — drowned by the rising sea level caused by anthropogenic global warming caused by indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels.

Full Press Conference transcript.

Full transcript of Solar Plant speech.

Full 2010 Energy Information Agency Annual Energy Outlook Report.


  1. Tom Sullivan says:

    I keep hearing that Obama hasn’t done enough about the oil spill.

    Like when Apollo 13 had that explosion in space, Richard Nixon didn’t sit around the White House. Nixon donned his pressure suit, climbed onto the top of the presidential Saturn 5 rocket and went up there and brought back those three astronauts.

  2. Davyne Dial says:

    If we can put a man on the moon, we can develop a clean, sustanable, renewable source of energy.

  3. Big Ivy says:

    I thought people didn’t want the Federal government to “interfere.” It seems that I also heard it explained that states could take care of their own problems. Oh, yeah, and that point about government regulations holding business down if not outright killing it.

    ? Changing one’s mind in light of additional or new information is reasonable but I’m not sure that changing one’s mind daily makes any sense at all.

  4. Ben says:

    NO WAY..! We put a MAN on the moon! -Lloyd Christmas
    I still can’t believe right after the spill, there were still “drill baby drill” chants….really people? Sustainability is the key word here. Whatever the source of energy used, if we don’t act with the idea of sustaining life on this planet, we are truly an ignorant species.

  5. randallt says:

    The perception that the administration is not doing enough is both the fault of the right wing media and an administration that is a little flat footed in its understanding of perception.

  6. I’m curious about the accuracy of past Energy Information Agency predictions. It’s easy enough to prepare a scholarly-appearing report with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each picture, but it may or may not be of any predictive value.

  7. I found one short answer to my question. This from the agency’s Annual Energy Outlook 2000:

    “Although global demand for oil is expected to rise from 75 million barrels per day in 1998 to 112 million barrels per day in 2020, the potential for increased production in a number of countries moderates price increases in the long term. The world average per-barrel price for crude oil is expected to reach $22.04 in 2020 (all prices are in inflation-adjusted 1998 dollars). Led by continued growth in transportation, U.S. demand for petroleum is projected to grow 1.3 percent per year. Domestic production continues to decline, by 0.8 percent per year, and the share of total consumption met by net imports reaches 64 percent in 2020. “

  8. The first Annual Energy Outlook report was filed in 1998, and is quite similar (no surprise) to the 2000 report. It predicted that natural gas prices would rise to $2.54/kcf by 2020. The new report projects something over $6, but then has an appendix listing all kinds of variables that could wobble the estimates. It also points out, without comment, that natural gas spiked at $9 around 2007.

    All an elaborate guessing game, seems to me.

  9. shadmarsh says:

    This is an EMERGENCY- just about the biggest emergency we could have. Our lives will never be the same.

    been saying that for years, and I surely ain’t the only one. Yet all I ever heard in response was “drill baby drill.”

  10. Barry Summers says:

    When talking about alternative energy v. oil, I don’t hear enough people talking about the true cost of petroleum. If we factor in all the costs of relying on oil, including the massive portions of the defense (wars over oil, portion of the navy budget really dedicated to protecting tanker routes, etc.), intelligence (British Petroleum only exists today thanks to the CIA-funded coup in Iran), & foreign aid (funding for ‘friendly’ governments who guarantee our access to oil) budgets, plus the costs of national infrastructure (pipelines, environmental clean-ups, etc.), health care, etc., that are directly related to accessing, controlling, extracting, transporting, refining, and burning petroleum, you would see how freakishly expensive it really is. If you looked at the pump & saw that you were actually paying $10 – $20 a gallon for gas, people would be scrambling for any viable alternative.

  11. Big Ivy says:

    I know that this current oil spill is a horribile problem. However, I keep thinking that we haven’t seen anything yet… wait until we move forward with more nuclear power plants! The GOP says the Feds have over-regulated nuclear power until is not do-able and I think Obama gave the nod to additional nuclear plants when I agreed that off-shore drilling was o.k. Think about that for awhile.

  12. Deacon says:

    “I doubt very much that you guys would be so forgiving if this President were someone in whom you weren’t so personally invested.”

    Exactly right Suetwo.

  13. Barry Summers says:

    @ SueTwo

    Yes, by all means, let’s find a way to damage Obama over this.

    Maybe y’all will catch a break, and you’ll get audio of him saying that somebody connected to the spill response is doing “a heckuva job”.

  14. Kai Schwandes says:

    What’s amazing to me is that this is a repeat from the 70’s as Rachel Maddow was kind enough to point out and the solutions they are trying now did not work back then either, many more month of spillage to look forward to.

  15. Tom Buckner says:

    Completely off-topic, but the Lawrence Welk Show is on. On UNC-TV. Public TV. I’d wager the GOPers who now run public TV put that on there just to shove a pineapple up our arses. Kill it with fire!11!1!!!1!

  16. Davyne Dial says:

    ” wager the GOPers who now run public TV put that on there just to shove a pineapple up our arses. Kill it with fire!11!1!!!1!”

    Nah…that show has been running for decades. There are actually old fogies who love it.

  17. Meh, the BP oil spill isn’t that big of a deal. It isn’t even on the top ten list.

    Nature will clean up the oil spill far better than we ever could.

  18. Jim Reeves says:

    Lindsey Williams was a chaplain on the Alaska pipeline construction project when he claimed Arco (I think) discovered an estimated 200 year supply of oil under Gull Island which was drilled and capped with no publicity in the 70’s. He even wrote a book about it (back then) called the energy non crisis. Lately he predicted $50 per barrel oil, while oil was near record prices, 3 months before it happened (exactly as predicted) as oil co. insiders revealed to him the plan to reduce the affluence of, and resulting influence of OPEC in world affairs.

  19. Tom Buckner says:

    A 200 year supply of oil for whom? The US? The whole world? Let’s say production holds for 200 years at 50 million barrels a day worldwide and that Gull Island gives us a fifth of that (every other place in the world getting tapped out. Wolfram Alpha tells me the volume of a barrel of oil is 0.159 cubic meters. I calculate 116 billion cubic meters of oil under Gull Island according to that alleged Arco estimate, or 116.1 cubic kilometers. A solid pocket of oil 5 km on a side? It would have to be twice the size of the Ghawar field.

    Doubtful! Very, very doubtful. They wouldn’t still be keeping it a secret, I think.

  20. shadmarsh says:

    people will believe anything– as long as it validates their own world view.

  21. Big Ivy says:

    Re: Big Ivy #12
    Seems I was suffering an acute episode of dyslexia when I did that post! Obviously, I was taking a swipe at President Obama for HIS recent nod of approval for both off-shore drilling and an increased number of nuclear power plants.

    I am bemused and entertained that the GOP talking points are moving things around so that Obama is personally responsible for the disaster itself and the failure to effectively stop the spill. Do you think they really believe that???

    As for the folks who state that if we had a Republican president, most of us would be blaming him/her… Not true at all. I blame the backward looking, “we’ve always done it this way before” thinking that insists oil is the only possible way to address our energy needs. I don’t hear Republicans entertaining any solutions other than coal, oil, and nuclear energy. The Democrats are not much better but they make a pretense of giving thought to alternatives.

  22. Barry Summers says:

    BTW, we have today officially passed the $1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) mark for the wars. That’s what they admit to – caring for the wounded for the rest of their lives and replacing the expended military gear (to prepare for the next oil wars) will drive the financial cost well over two trillion, and that’s if they pull out today. What could we accomplish as a nation for $2 trillion?

    Tomorrow, we’ll all piously thank the 6000 (and counting) Americans who were sent into the foreign sands by the oil executives to die for their profits…

  23. Dixiegirlz says:

    That huge number (to big to copy on my iPad) would sure be useful to update infrastructure, fiber optic cable, health care…etc. But, noooooo, let’s keep the war mongers / profiteers happy.

  24. John says:

    “I doubt very much that you guys would be so forgiving if this President were someone in whom you weren’t so personally invested.”

    Sad, but true.

  25. Gordon Smith says:

    “I doubt very much that you guys would be so forgiving if this President were someone in whom you weren’t so personally invested.”

    For me it’s not forgiving. It’s waiting.

    I certainly wouldn’t be so patient if this President were someone in whom I weren’t so personally invested.

    It’s a fair observation, and we’ll see what happens.

  26. Tom Buckner says:

    The flip side is this: if you’re invested in someone, and in the end you become convinced that he was using you in bad faith, your outrage will be multiplied. Pilate, after all, is not considered as much the villain as Judas. Clinton, like Obama, got elected by sounding progressive, but according to Bob Woodward he reamed out his advisers soon afterward, saying “‘We’re all Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market.” Clinton gave us DADT, hordes of poor thrown off the welfare rolls, weakened regulations in finance and elsewhere, the NAFTA shafta…

    I often think of Clinton as a clever general who delighted in humiliating the foe in one minor skirmish after another while blithely letting them set up big guns on strategic high ground, treating anyone who objected as a naive, “unserious” amateur. So it was that the Bush crime family were able to steal the election right out from under the nose of a successor who should have won in a walk, and undid almost every decent thing he may have accomplished in the meantime.

    Mr. Obama shows every sign of making all Clinton’s mistakes, except the one with the dress. And I suppose there’s plenty of time for that too. (I know, that’s harsh. But he should really do some of that boot-on-BP’s-throat stuff he’s accused of. He can send you or me to Bagram if he wants, and make us go away without a trial. So why can’t he put the Fear O’ God into the ruling class? Issue an executive order revoking a corporate charter or two, for instance? Oh, because they’re the ruling class. Got it.)

  27. Tom Buckner says:

    I just realized I linked George Will in that last comment. What were I thinkinging?

    For balance, here’s a completely different piece using the same anecdote, written after the SOTU speech at the beginning of February. Note this prophetic bit about Obama’s speech:

    “Did you ever hear a “socialist” Democrat talk so much about openness to good GOP “ideas” (such as?), cutting taxes, corporate health, tax credits, reduced capital gains, discretionary freezes and that ultimate, if forgotten conservative talking point – pay-as-you-go legislation (ah, the joy of balanced budgets)? Like McCain, the president castigates earmarks and rogue lobbyists, apologizes for imposing TARP, soft-pedals immigration reform, and won’t ever cut Pentagon spending. What, even if we win a war? Plus, scratch “Bolshevik” radicalism on energy independence for industry favorites: offshore drilling, “clean coal,” bio-fuels and nuclear generation.

    What’s next, Drill, Baby, Drill?”

    Gag me with a topkill!