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Pedal Power solutions to petroleum dependence and polluting vehicles: Arcata Library Bikes, Pedal Power Produce, and more!

CAOE - Committee Against Oil Exploration - stop offshore oil drilling to protect sensitive habitats and cut petroleum dependence.

Culture Change through music! The Depavers eco-rock!

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The Oil Crash and You
Oil shortages soon

by Bruce Thomson,

Editor’s note: mainstream media are not providing the facts on our petroleum dependence. Environmental groups don’t address it much either, and the well funded ones put all stock into renewable energy as an inevitable solution. The worldwide web is perhaps the best source of energy insight, such as

Summary: This document reveals that within ten years:

- Oil extraction from wells will be physically unable to meet global demand (the evidence is from the oil industry itself).

- Alternative energy sources like nuclear and natural gas will fall far short of compensating for expected shortages of oil. There is simply not enough time to convert over to them.

- Massive disruptions to transportation and the economy are expected around 2010 when the final peak of production of all petroleum liquids (globally) is followed by decline.

Most significant effects:

- Gradual, permanent cut-off of fuel for transport and for industrial machinery. Global trade will greatly decline.

- Agriculture (food production) depends heavily on fertilizers and chemicals made from oil.

- Shortages of 500,000 other goods made from oil.

- Therefore, reduction of virtually all business and government activity.

Difficulty of adapting: A major part of the problem is that existing equipment is designed only for oil fuels. For example, the world’s 11,000 airliners cannot run on natural gas, nuclear or coal.

By-products of oil: Cost and decreasing availability of 500,000 known uses of oil: Fertilizers (farms/food supply), medicines, plastics, insulation, computers, asphalt, inks & toners, paints, glues, solvents, antiseptics, golf balls, CDs, trash bags, nail polish, detergents, chewing gum, etc.

Hidden problem: Not only will the oil supply dwindle, but the shortages and climbing prices will obstruct industry as it attempts to convert society to other forms of energy.

Proof of impending shortages: Much uninformed literature says oil is plentiful and that better extraction will maintain adequate supply for decades. However, there is (1) the misleading reporting of oil inventories, by oil extracting countries; (2) a clear, forty-year trend of less and less discovery of oil, and (3) dwindling outputs from the steadily-emptying wells.

Alternative energy sources will not prevent shortages: Alternative fuels have been studied. As replacements for oil they are grossly inadequate both in quantity and versatility of use. There is insufficient time to prevent heavy impacts from oil shortage.

When, and how bad: Year when global oil supply first fails to meet global demand: about 2009. Rate of decline of global oil supply: 3% every year from 2009 onward. Duration of decline: Forever. Oil takes millions of years to form, in very special geological conditions. Barrels consumed globally per year: More than 22 billion in 1999. (About 2 billion barrels per month.) Barrels discovered globally per year: about 6 billion. Discovery of oil fluctuates each year, but peaked in the 1960s, and has declined at an average of about 9 billion barrels per year over the past 40 years. We’ve mostly just been using up huge old oil fields. Pre-1973-discovered oil in use today: More than 70% of present global supply. Ratio of oil consumed to oil discovered each year: Four consumed for every one discovered.

The “invest more to find it” idea: Yet-to-be located oil, globally: After a century of exploration, the earth’s geology and oil resources are generally well known. When the fields are emptying, money only helps to scrape out the hard-to-reach remainder. There are 210 billion barrels left to discover and 1,000 billion barrels left to extract. This is indicated by the 40 year decline in discovery of oil. No amount of money will create oil that simply isn’t there. Number of oil wells already in world/USA: More than 500,000. In USA, 80% of the wells now produce less than three barrels a day. Percentage of oil recovered from a typical oil well: 20% to 60% . It relates primarily to the density of the oil. You get less from a heavy oil than a light one because it sticks in the reservoir.

“Technology will solve it” idea: To compensate for the expected 3% oil decline (at today’s 22 billion barrels a year), society would have to create and install, by year 2009, permanent supplies of portable energy, equivalent to 660 million barrels of oil a year. Then as oil keeps declining forever, increase this new energy it until it replaces 40% of the world’s energy supply (22 billion barrels a year) OR reduce energy demand equivalently as the global population increases by almost a quarter million people every day.

The “better efficiency” idea: Increases in efficiency usually fail to reduce consumption (more m.p.g. just causes people to travel more or buy two cars, or other goods) unless they are personally determined to reduce their consumption.

What about nuclear power? Nuclear is currently being abandoned globally. (International Energy Agency 1999). Its ability to soften the oil crash is very problematic: past accidents, risk of more, and terrorism. Many more reactors would be needed. Tons of radioactive materials to transport at risk to public. Nuclear waste disposal is still the major, unresolved problem, especially breeder reactors producing plutonium (a nuclear weapon/terrorist raw material, half-life contamination is 240,000 years). All abandoned reactors are radioactive for decades or millennia. Nuclear is not directly suitable for aircraft and vehicles. Adapting nuclear to make hydrogen or other fuels would be a huge, and energy-expensive project. Nuclear fusion is still not available, after 40 years’ research and billions of dollars invested.

Proportion of global energy provided by natural gas: 20% of global energy supply (1997). As a replacement for oil: Gas itself will start running out from 2020 on. Demand for natural gas in North America is already outstripping supply, especially as power utilities take the remaining gas to generate electricity. Gas is not suited for existing jet aircraft, ships, vehicles, and equipment for agriculture and other products. Conversion consumes large amounts of energy as well as money. Natural gas also does not provide the huge array of chemical by-products that we depend on oil for.

Hydro-electric present use: 2.3% of global energy supply (1997). As a replacement for oil: Very small compared with 40% energy provided at present by oil. Unsuitable for aircraft and cannot supply the present 800 million existing vehicles.

Coal current global use: 24% of global energy supply. As a replacement for oil: Is 50% to 200% heavier than oil per energy unit. Bulky and dirty. Would require expansion of coal mining, leading to land ruin and increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Hard to fine-control the rate of burn (oil/gas is easy), therefore is used in power stations to make electricity, wasting half of its energy content. A single coal-fired station can produce a million tons of solid waste each year. Present coal-mining machinery and transportation runs not on coal, but on oil-based fuels. Burning coal in homes pollutes air with acrid smog containing acid gases and particles. Large pollution & environmental problems: (Smog, greenhouse gases, and acid rain). Liquid fuels from coal: Major pollution, very inefficient, and huge amounts of water required.

Global solar use: Solar provides about 0.006% of global energy supply. Energy varies constantly with weather or day/night. Not storable or portable energy like oil or natural gas, so, unsuited for present vehicles and industry. Batteries bulky, expensive, wear out in 5-10 years. Photovoltaic solar equipment (US$4/watt) is about 15% efficient, giving about 100 watts of the 1 kW per square meter exposed to bright sunshine (enough for one light bulb). A typical solar water panel array can deliver 50% to 85% of a home’s hot water though. Using some of our precious remaining crude oil as fuel for manufacturing solar & wind equipment may be wise.

Wind global use: Global wind power use: 0.07% of 1990 global energy supply. As with solar, wind energy varies greatly with weather, and is not portable or storable like oil and gas. Each wind turbine from Denmark produces an average of 698 kW averaged over a year.

Current global hydrogen use: US (only) 1998 consumption is 0.01% of global energy. As a replacement for oil: Hydrogen is currently manufactured from methane gas. It takes more energy to create it than the hydrogen actually provides. It is therefore an energy “carrier” not a source. Liquid hydrogen occupies four to eleven times the bulk of equivalent gasoline or diesel. Existing vehicles and aircraft and existing distribution systems are not suited to it. Solar hydrogen might be an option in some of the hot countries.

Other sources of energy: Shale, tar sand, coalbed methane, ethanol, biomass (from vegetation), etc. Effectiveness as replacements for oil: Huge investment in research and infrastructure to exploit them, plus large amounts of now-expiring oil supply. 6% of US gas is from non-conventional generation. The major problem is that they cannot be exploited before the oil shocks cripple attempts to bring them on line, and the rate of extraction is far too slow to meet the huge global energy demand. [Some alcohol fuels use as much energy in their creation as they provide. -ed.]

How it will affect us—grain production: Food production & delivery depends on oil. Food grains now contain between 4 and 10 calories of fossil fuel for every 1 calorie of solar energy input. Four percent of US energy budget is used to grow food, while 10 to 13 percent is needed to put it onto our plates. The worsening oil shortages will make production increasingly expensive. Putting food production closer to cities will be vital, feeding animals questionable. Percentage of US grain used to feed cattle: 70%. Efficiency: The meat feeds 1/5 as many people as the grain could. Number of cats & dogs in USA: 131 million. American pet food business is $30 billion/yr, and is growing. “Future food” being consumed by using gasoline in vehicles: Gasoline consumed ‘now’ will deprive future agriculture of energy for producing food. Below are examples of how much “future food” a 30 mile-per-gallon vehicle is “eating” now. Also shown is the heavy physical labor humans will have to do in future when gasoline is unavailable for farm/industrial/office/home machinery: Bread, 1 kg loaf = 6 miles= one slice per 422 yards. That 1/5 gallon=human heavy farm labor for 23 hrs. Beef, 1 kg = consumed by driving 76.2 miles. That 2.5 gallon=human heavy farm labor 300 hrs. Canned corn 1 kg= consumed by driving 5.4 miles. Again, 1/5 gallon=human heavy farm labor 20 hrs.

Oil for global automobile transportation: 800 million Automobiles, USA: 132 million. Trucks (all types, in USA): 1.5 million. Buses: (all types, in USA): more than 654,000. Locomotives: (USA) 26,000. World aircraft fleet: 11,000 aircraft, more than 100 passengers. All 11,000 designed for oil-based fuel. World shipping: 85,000 ships in world. Decked fishing boats in the world: 1.2 million. Globalization: Will end. (Fuel costs & scarcity).

Oil for industry—construction industry example: Energy to build an energy-efficient home is equivalent to 6,500 gallons of gasoline.

Number of by-products of oil: Over 500,000 including fertilizers (they are the most vital), medicines, lubricants, plastics (computers, phones, shower curtains, disposables, toys, etc.), asphalt (roading and roofs), insulation, glues/paints/ caulking, “rubber” tires and boots, carpets, synthetic fabrics/clothing, stockings, insect repellent.

Government services: City drinking water, along with over 55,000 services to consider. Petroleum required for water supply pumping, sewage disposal, garbage disposal, street/park maintenance, hospitals & health systems, police, fire services. National defense (land, sea, air). Possibility of wars over remaining oil.

International oil import costs affecting economy and employment : Sharp rises (increasing global competition for dwindling oil available from five Middle-Eastern countries and former Soviet Union.). International tensions. Military also obstructed by oil shortages. National debt, inflation: Money goes out of country to oil producers. Money gets scarce. Interest/mortgage rise up. Government prints more money to pay overseas energy bills. Money devalues. Prices rise. Poverty: Public, and businesses become poorer paying higher energy costs. Less spending, less sales. Layoffs. Welfare payments, taxes: Taxes up. Pensions for aging/disabled population reduced or discontinued.

Other serious quality-of-life aspects—heating and cooling: In cold regions oil heats buildings (burned as fuel in homes or in oil-fired electric power stations). In hot areas oil power provides air conditioning. As natural gas is substituted for oil, the gas price is rising fast. Smog: Energy price and shortages will increase wood and coal burning in homes, increasing city smog and global warming.

Why public warning is so late with misleading reports of actual stocks of oil: (a): By firstly understating discoveries, and then later overstating discoveries, oil companies have given the false, but pleasing impression of an increasing discovery trend. Investors respond accordingly, and finance more exploration. (b): The seven major oil-extracting countries have for years reported unchanged reserves (even though they were extracting and selling billions of barrels of oil, and that the reserves would therefore be less each year). See table of “spurious reserve revisions” at and /campbell/images/com12.gif. (c): In 1988 five of those countries claimed they each had about twice as much reserve oil as in 1987. http://(d): The most important fact to focus on is that, in the confusion, the public perceives an increasing discovery trend while the discovery rate has drastically declined.

OPEC countries depend on income from exports: OPEC countries need to earn as much oil revenue as possible to support rapidly growing populations where the public health care, education and other services are provided free, from oil revenues, not by taxes. See table of reserves:

Personal preparations—what you can do: Reduce energy dependence of family, home, lifestyle. The less fuels and goods you consume, the less the impacts will be. Workplace: Same. Work on it with friends: Workmates, neighborhood, city, governments. The ideal use for remaining oil and mineral reserves is into industries that create alternative energy equipment like windmills, solar water heaters, biomass (vegetation that creates fuels), etc. Share your feeling with others. Try to stay positive and active rather than ignore it or blame people for it. Where there’s life there’s hope, especially if we collaborate and are creative. Humans have always faced hardships, and many among us do so constantly now. Learn from them. Possible emergency measures to consider: Alert the entire public so people will accept preparations for the oil shortages, participate in implementing solutions. Relocate food production nearer to cities. Relocate workplaces nearer to homes or homes nearer to workplaces. Prepare for conserving and rationing of dwindling oil/other resources that are created using oil. Population control to prevent children being born into extremely harsh conditions that seem likely, and to conserve soon-scarce resources for those already alive. Re-localize, to reverse globalization. Alert national leaders to cooperate against this major threat that faces us all. Note: “The USA has the exceptional position as the largest and a growing importer. US imports deny somebody else access to oil. For example, starving Africans result. Tax on gasoline is lower in the USA than in other countries by a large factor. So the US could easily curb its excess. In fact it has no option. The worst thing the US can do is press OPEC to increase production, which will simply make the peak higher and the decline steeper. It is just digging itself into a bigger hole, morality apart.” - Colin Campbell, in private email, June 2000.

More information and documented evidence: This sheet, and all references and authorities for this information are available for download by temporarily joining the RunningOnEmpty internet forum mentioned below. In MyGroups page, click the Files section. It is among the first files.

Web sites: This leaflet is also displayed in full on the Web at The oil die-off is explained in up-to-date detail at www., and Both sites are keyword-searchable, with scientific and oil industry literature about this topic. It is heavily annotated with authoritative references.

Discussion forum—technical/scientific: Discussion forum-Implications, action:

Author of this sheet: Bruce Thomson, moderator of RunningOnEmpty forum at and helped by members of those groups. COPY THIS ITEM FREELY TO OTHERS.


Articles of interest:
Measuring and controlling the actions of governments 

Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results. 
WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius 

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.


Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California. Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit torganization.