Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mewin Kampf:Struggles of an energy analyst

I thought this might be a good time to post about the difficulties of analyzing the state and trajectory of world energy, specifically with regard to the world's primary energy sources.
Early on in my education I discovered  an exasperating inconsistency  of units from different authors and different databases rendering meaningful conclusions exceedingly difficult.
In my research on fossil energy I decided early on to try to understand it in terms of WORK.  Work has many meanings so stay with me on this and I will try to stay with myself because it is confusing. I consider energy and work to be the key to understanding how the world functions, how civilizations and populations rise and fall and from the point and emphasis of this blog, how wealth is generated fostering the rise of the world's industrial civilization.
       Before the rise of the industrial age plenty of work got done but the bulk of it was in a world made by hand as J. Kunstler notes and by our draft animals. Wind energy came in helping to pump water and grind grains but the world had to wait until the coal mines opened up in Newcastle England. As the mines deepened, getting water out became a real problem and the steam engine was invented burning coal to run water pumps. Oops, better get back on track........ Energy is defined via work. It takes energy to do work. Work is performed when energy acts upon an object moving it a certain distance or an object is displaced as physicists say. The unit of energy  which I want to hoist up and emphasize is the JOULE. It is the most easy to understand unit of energy and by far the most versatile because it relates easily  to all the various sorts of energy. The joule is equal to the energy done by applying a force of 1 NEWTON for one metre. A newton is 1 kg moved 1 meter/sec squared. Usefully the joule is also defined as the power exerted by one watt for one second. It can also be defined in terms of electricity by the amount of heat dissipated with an electrical current one one amp passing through a 1 ohm resistance. I'll stop now but the joule can be defined many more  ways but I prefer the 1 watt/sec definition because it serve the needs of my blog best from an energy standpoint since oil energy and electricity are the dominant ways we get work done in our industrial society. The Joule is a small unit of energy but its versatility can be enhanced by various prefixes using scientific notation. Prefixes such as kilo-, mega, giga- etc can be stuck on to the lowly joule to render it more palatable.
Now we get to the system of units and it's the various systems of units that kicks off the confusion. You have the British Imperial/US system and the International(SI) system. The Joule belongs to the SI system. The British/ US system is of course quantities like the pound, the foot, the gallon, the mile etc. The International(SI) system is metric system based. I try in my blogs to stay with the SI system but when it is not used by prominent authors and energy and governmental organizations chaos and confusion reigns. So get used to it. I try to convert units to Joules wherever I can to simplify understanding. The joule was first proposed by  the Englishman James Prescott Joule(1818-1889).
James brewed beer and practiced physics and is intimately tied to the first and second laws of thermodynamics which I have discussed in past posts as laws which might be far better at predicting oil field depletion than the more economic and geological methodologies. The first and second laws are fundamental to understanding the energy of fossil fuels, the efficiency with which they are consumed and the work available to be done by those fuels after the energy from those fuels is fed back into society.
When I consult the various databases dealing with fossil fuels trying to tease out clues on resource and reserve levels, annual discoveries, cumulative consumption, I run head on into reckless use of units of energy making apples to apples comparisons exceedingly difficult. For example I have been trying for many days to find out how much oil has been discovered annually since the turn of this century and how the new discoveries have added to world reserves. I have tried to convert this oil to a reserve I would like to invent. Let's call it world energy reserves. The IEA and EIA, the 2 well known energy organizations express these quantities in a variety of ways. They are fond of  awful units such as MTOE(metric tons of oil equivalent), TOE(tons of oil equivalent) and of course barrels, a volume measurement. Worse, they also lump together all the hydrocarbons coming out of the ground with the term "all liquids.".  And of course they use a whole variety of other terms familiar to readers of energy blogs, like conventional oil and unconventional oil. These organizations and the international oil companies and some governments and independent analysts also issue databases using a mishmash of units and it is hard to escape the conclusion that in many cases their use of units serves the biases and desires of their masters. Obfuscation may be necessary because the truth might be unsettling. For example, when you include the "all liquids" as the metric for world oil supply, it gives the appearance of increasing abundance of crude oil while formerly 20 years ago oil statistics were just conventional crude oil. The reason this distinction is important is that crude oil used for transportation comes almost exclusively from a crude of certain purity and viscosity and energy content and it is this crude, conventional crude API 30-45 viscosity, which is refined into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel most economically and efficiently. This variety of crude constitutes presently only about 40% of world crude output and it as a fraction is declining. Light Sweet Texas oil, Brent oil are two names for these varieties. These are premium grades and set the world price. All the other varieties are less valuable, less useful as transport fuels and lower cost. As I have stated in previous blogs these other hydrocarbons  have some utility but not as primary transportation substrates and they have far lower energy content.  One of the categories, "Refinery gains" is sheer deception. And guess what. If you take out these bogus varieties the world hit PEAK OIL in 2006 and output of conventional crude has been "undulating" around 70-72 mbpd despite massive exploratory efforts by the major oil companies for the past 15 years. By definition that is PEAK OIL. One of the problems with that term is that you only know it was PEAK in retrospect. You have to see it in the rear view mirror. It is only years later when you can see that indeed that is when you hit a production peak and haven't exceeded it since. The government and economists  in the media would like you to keep living in your american dream world of sprawl and waste and happy motoring and energy independence so you don't notice that we hit peak world oil over 10 years ago as was predicted my Marion King Hubbert  at an oil conference in San Antonio in 1956. The fact is that despite oil prices near $100 in the first and second decade of this century very little in the way of new oil was found, far below world annual consumption and $100 oil let  expensive fracking technology produce a thin volatile almost explosive oil and cheap natural gas melt the tar in Alberta's sands. The oil industry was making pitifully little money and using a whale of a lot of energy to get these inferior grades of oil. If you can't find oil you can't add it to your proved reserves and if your reserves don't grow you can't produce oil in the future. It is like a bank account. If you have fixed money in savings you can only draw on it so long. If you don't add to your savings(from new discoveries!) by injecting more cash or investing  wisely to augment your capital, a day of reckoning will eventually arrive and the money will be gone. As I have stated in previous blogs it is taking more money and more energy and more oil to produce our oil and the point is not far off where all the oil's energy will be feeding into the petroleum producing system leaving less and less energy and less and less oil to do work every year for us in society. Bradford Hill and his team of mining engineers at the Hills Group think that day will arrive in the next decade.
I have stated in past blogs that energy use per capita is one of the best correlations to societal growth and prosperity and it has been  for the past 150 years. That metric has been falling steadily for decades. Oil is just one of the primary energy sources that is included in that statistic but arguably it is the most important. Oil energy has allowed increased efficiency and productivity gains all across the workforce leveraging the work done by people using tools and technology running on energy, relying on energy. Energy per capita increasing correlates well with GDP increasing since WW2. Wages  increased as well  as a percent of GDP............until about 1970. Oil production increased steadily as well.............until about 1970. That is why this graph showing wages as percent of GDP posted by Charles Hugh Smith in his blog caught my eye:
   Ok, correlation is not causation but a graph like this has to give you pause.

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