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A World without Oil

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rosstaylor posted on Sun, Aug 21 2011 2:00 PM

From my research, this might be coming fairly soon. I believe that there will be oil for people but at extremely high prices ($100+/galloon).

My question is, how do you see a world without oil? What will power our cars, etc? Is that a currently example of a society without oil?

Please help,

- Ross


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oil, like any economic good, has substitutes... Obviously, we would have to adapt with a world without oil but i do not believe it would be chaotic. Oil isnt just going to be out overnight, i think people as a whole would look for the substitute good of oil far before oil is eiter gone or is too much... Current societies without oil...amish communities maybe..

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What Can We Do about Gasoline Prices? | Mark Brandly


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It is possible that all professional energy commodity speculators are wrong about the future price of oil. In this case, you should buy every futures contract you can afford and wait for doomsday so you can become filthy, fabulously rich.

I'm not being glib. Your argument is not with Republicans or Big Oil or Texas oil magnates, your argument is with every person on the planet who is willing and able to trade energy futures and has thought about future oil supplies and decided that they are not in such dire straits as to make buying oil contracts at current prices a profitable move. If the Michael Mooreites are right, they don't need to keep making movies and funding money-losing ventures like AirAmerica... just quietly buy up every available energy futures contract and then wait for the lies of the evil Republicans and Big Oil corporations to be exposed in the market... they will own the whole world at that point and can centrally plan every detail of everyone's lives to their big hearts' content.

I'm skeptical of the oil = decomposed dinosaurs theory of the origin of oil. It's certainly the case that some oil deposits are formed in this manner. But while the abiotic theory of oil has a lot of problems, it's not impossible. Either way, it only matters that oil is composted dinosaurs if it is a true predictor of how much oil is left. I don't think anyone claims to know how much oil can be economically extracted, on any theory of its origins.

It is my view that opposition to the use of oil has a much more mundane political motivation. Oil is an abundant and valuable commodity. Buying oil is a way to escape inflation without fleeing to gold, much of which is controlled by the political Elites (they can manipulate the price). Oil is bourgeois. It is a ladder on which many families of "commoners" have climbed to the wealth and status of nobility - the single most notable being the Rockefellers. But it is also an escape hatch for middle-class wealth to escape the paper-versus-gold racket which the European elites have been running for centuries. I think that has a lot more to do with why we're talking about oil running out, a hole in the ozone layer, or the earth warming, and so on, than the actual scientific reasons to think these things. Hal Lewis called it the "money flood" in his resignation letter from the American Physical Society. The money flood is at least influencing - if not dominating - scientific investigation.

Now let me answer your longer-term question. Let's say, a thousand years from now, the Earth has been sucked dry of every last drop of oil. Will we be back to pack-mules and Spanish galleons? The answer is no, of course not. Oil isn't the key idea in modern locomotion - the key idea is the heat engine. With heat engines, we can convert energy from a wide variety of sources into work. And with available, useful mechanical work, we can move things: locomotion. Oil is just one source of energy - stored solar energy. All energy that humans use comes from just two sources: the Earth or the Sun (ok, the Moon too since the tides can be used as an energy source, but this is negligible). We use an infinitesimal fraction of the available energy from these two sources. There are many other media by which the energy in the Earth and from the Sun can be harvested and converted to work through the use of heat engines.

So, what is the next 'best' energy medium after oil? I'm no expert, but I would guess probably natural gas and coal. What about after those two? I'm even less sure here but there is a broad spectrum of "pretty good" energy sources - nuclear energy, geothermal energy, tidal energy, hydrodynamic energy (we have a lot of this in the Northwest US where I live). It is not clear to me how to most efficiently harvest energy directly from the Sun - solar panels have horrible efficiency and are prohibitively expensive, some of the reflector arrays are better but still not great. Another idea being researched is to use dedicated microbes that take in solar energy and exhaust some sort of immediately useful energy medium (biotic oil, hydrogen, etc.) Since living things have been efficiently harvesting the Sun's energy for billions of years, my bets are on them to win the race in harvesting Solar energy.

In closing: stop freaking out. The political Elites have been fear-mongering about oil for at least 4 decades. It's just fear-mongering. Life will go on no matter what happens to the oil supply.

Clayton -
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Sieben replied on Sun, Aug 21 2011 4:38 PM

Just a quick note from me (petroleum engineer) - reserves estimation is not what you think it is. It is the amount of oil you can get out of the ground ECONOMICALLY. So as the price of oil increases, oil "reserves" increase simply because they can produce the field longer, among other things.

If you talk about total physically recoverable oil, then we have oil for the next hundred years. If you talk about total physically recoverable hydrocarbons (i.e. oil + gas), then we have energy for the next ten thousand years.

It's just a question of economics, and no one in the industry is really expecting there to be significant long term economic barriers to production. As Clayton says, they could be wrong, but its unlikely.


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... My question is, how do you see a world without oil?

When most people say "oil," they refer to the fuels refined from crude.  If you look around your home, there is almost nothing that is not either made directly from petroleum, or that does not use petroleum in its manufacture.  Were it not for cartels and the governments that support them, gasoline could be less than $1/gallon (yes even in today's dollars) because as a nation, the U.S. is able to be totally self-sufficient in petroleum production.

Societies without oil, on the other hand, include those countries where most people still live in mud huts and die in their early thirties.  Without the ability to trade for what has become the foundation of almost all technology, they already live in the perfect "green" society!

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