Peak coal

Similar to the current peak oil theory, a century ago the Victorians were worried about running out of coal. I guess it was sort of the steampunk version of peak oil with brass fixtures and handlebar mustaches.


42 Responses to Peak coal

  1. The top story of the year is that global crude oil production peaked in 2008.

    The media, governments, world leaders, and public should focus on this issue.

    Global crude oil production had been rising briskly until 2004, then plateaued for four years. Because oil producers were extracting at maximum effort to profit from high oil prices, this plateau is a clear indication of Peak Oil.

    Then in July and August of 2008 while oil prices were still very high, global crude oil production fell nearly one million barrels per day, clear evidence of Peak Oil (See Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly,” December 2008, page 1)

    Peak Oil is now.

    Credit for accurate Peak Oil predictions (within a few years) goes to the following (projected year for peak given in parentheses):

    * Association for the Study of Peak Oil (2007)

    * Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly” (2008)

    * Tony Eriksen, Oil stock analyst and Samuel Foucher, oil analyst (2008)

    * Matthew Simmons, Energy investment banker, (2007)

    * T. Boone Pickens, Oil and gas investor (2007)

    * U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2005)

    * Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton professor and retired shell geologist (2005)

    * Sam Sam Bakhtiari, Retired Iranian National Oil Company geologist (2005)

    * Chris Skrebowski, Editor of “Petroleum Review” (2010)

    * Sadad Al Husseini, former head of production and exploration, Saudi Aramco (2008)

    * Energy Watch Group in Germany (2006)

    Oil production will now begin to decline terminally.

    Within a year or two, it is likely that oil prices will skyrocket as supply falls below demand. OPEC cuts could exacerbate the gap between supply and demand and drive prices even higher.

    Independent studies indicate that global crude oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

    Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. There is no plan nor capital for a so-called electric economy. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: “Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:”

    “By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame.”

    With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won’t be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated building systems.

    It is time to focus on Peak Oil preparation and surviving Peak Oil.

    Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D.´s last blog post..Top Story of the Year: Global Oil Production Peaked in 2008

  2. Les Jones says:

    Cliff, the spam filter caught your comment because of the number of links. I’ve approved it. It’s a bit long to be a comment, and is pretty much a straight copy and paste from one of your recent blog posts, but I’m allowing it in the interest of encouraging discussion and other points of view.

  3. tolbert says:

    Peak Oil,

    Soon to be followed by Peak Corn and then Peak Pork.

  4. Les Jones says:

    Or we could soon reach Peak Ethanol if the tax advantages that make it financially sustainable are removed.

  5. Jason Bontrager says:

    I thought the Victorians were worried about Peak Whale Oil…

  6. W.C. Varones says:

    What about peak real estate? They’re not making any more of it, you know.

    W.C. Varones´s last blog post..Greenspan’s Body Count: Mike Upham, stucco businessman

  7. bc says:

    Natural gas can be compressed to 3600 psi at which point it contains more energy per pound than gas or diesel. Even if peak oil occurs, liquid fuels like CNG and LNG will take up the slack. Now try to convince me we’re running out of natural gas.

  8. Freddy Hill says:

    @Tolbert: Peak Pork? I suspect that’s the one we’ll never see.

  9. Romeo Bravo says:

    Folks, let’s think, I mean THINK for a minute. As they say, the stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stones, it was because the bronze age began. And as I recall from history, there were no government subsidies for bronze, it was just a better material (followed by the iron age, the steel age, the sperm oil/whale age, the oil age, etc., etc.)

  10. Romeo Bravo says:

    And when will the stupid politician age end? I sure don’t see any sign of that peak! In fact, I think that age is just reaching its inflection point up!

  11. TBinSTL says:

    Dateling- 3 Jan. 2314

  12. M. Simon says:

    Why aren’t people concerned about peak rocks? Big rocks are being turned into sand.

    On a more serious note we are past peak sunspots and they don’t seem to be coming back.

    M. Simon´s last blog post..Sex And Self Help

  13. What I Think says:

    Sure, we can compress natural gas to 3600 PSI, bc, but is it a good idea? And is it practical?

    Some county bus systems are doing something like that right now, with good results. But for the general public, the answer today is no.

  14. Hendrick says:

    Come on – “Peak oil” is a top in production rate in the face of RISING prices. What we have now is a false “peak”.

  15. Kevin says:

    “Peak stupidity” is nowhere near, unfortunately.

  16. Oildrilling Lunatic says:

    Sasol, in South Africa, has proven that one can convert coal into gasoline and diesel for under $60/bbl equivalent on a large scale. They’ve been doing it for decades now. Peak oil will only mark the point where substituting coal will become economically feasible in the long term, thus justifying the infrastructure investments to build coal-to-liquids capacity. (And that will incidentally destroy OPEC, since the U.S., China, and India have the most coal, and thus will be able to supply themselves.)

    As a matter of long-term economics, peak oil is accordingly utterly irrelevant. There will by necessity be a short adjustment period while coal-to-liquids plants are brought on line, of course.

  17. wlpeak says:

    Hey Whatever happened to Peak Toothpaste?

  18. JayC says:

    “Oil production will now begin to decline terminally.”

    Doomsayers have been saying this for over a century. Here’s my question: if oil production goes up in 2009, and again in 2010, will the “Peak Oil” lunatics admit their error? Or will they simply adjust their dates to some time in the future?

    Yes, this is a rhetorical question.

  19. JayC says:

    PS I’m not worried any any of these shortages. So long as we never hit “Peak Donuts”

  20. I’ve seen this, or variants of it, written before: “once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply.”

    So oil demand is completely price inelastic? If oil supply declines, there is no upper limit on price that would constitute a market-clearing rate? There is no elasticity of supply such that sources which are uneconomical to extract at a given price are viable at a higher price?

    Unless I’m missing something – and I feel I must be – this sounds like nonsense.

  21. TMLutas says:

    It’s nonsense on stilts to claim that oil demand is inelastic when we are in a period of lowering demand.

    Peak oil, even if it is happening geologically (which I do not believe due to the wide areas where governments bar private drilling and also do not invest very much in exploration), the economics does not play out as the peak oil people claim.

    TMLutas´s last blog post..I’ve had it with my scanner

  22. Mike Puckett says:

    “Then in July and August of 2008 while oil prices were still very high, global crude oil production fell nearly one million barrels per day, clear evidence of Peak Oil (See Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly,” ”

    Gee Sparky, ya think the drop in production may have been an effort to prop up those high prices in the face of crashing demand? DUH!

  23. JorgXMcKie says:

    Well, I suppose you could guarantee Peak Oil by simply not allowing any new sources to be opened. No one would be that stupid, would they? /sarc off

  24. Bryan Frymire says:

    There’s another problem that no one has yet commented on: Peak Anti-Freeze.

    It’s not just my imagination either. I’ve seen it.

  25. Pingback: Last Era’s Lunacy « Tai-Chi Policy

  26. rignerd says:

    Is it just me or do I see a correlation between peak oil price and peak oil production? If I had oil in the ground and the market offered me $140/barrel for it I would sell it in a heart beat. At $30 not so much. Also peak oil assumes that all resources are available and in production. That will never be reached until ANWR, the outer shelf and the equivalent areas of the rest of the world are explored and exploited.

  27. Bill Johnson says:

    Wow, A Ph.D.

    I will accept that oil PRODUCTION hit a relative high this year.

    Please enlighten me as to the DIRECT relationship between Productionand the amount of oil reserves left in the ground.

    Otherwise, nice distraction, but not really meaningful, unless you can get a dissertation out of it.

    After all, I can get production down to zero rather rapidly – would you then state there’s no oil left? Isn’t that the essence of your peak oil arguement, that since production fell, then reserves must also have fallen?

  28. Thomas says:

    Key sentence: There is no plan nor capital for a so-called electric economy.

    Translation: All you peons are, for a little longer, still free to make your own decisions with your own money, and like the troglodytes you are, you dispose of those dollars in ways your betters do not approve of.

    On planet Cliff there is no independent self-interested decision-making, no individual initiative, and no corporate will outside government. Absent top-down, third-party (read: government) decision-making, all undesirable trends continue to their natural end point or until disaster strikes (which is usually one and the same, see above) and the system cannot continue. It must be a terrifying place.

    Cliff, allow me to recommend the following:

  29. Troll Feeder says:


    I don’t care how much energy per pound 3600 psi CNG has vs diesel. I care how much energy per gallon CNG has vs diesel.

    Methane has to be compressed to ~14,000 psi to have the same energy per gallon as diesel. Thus, it must be compressed to ~14,000 psi to give the same driving distance per storage volume.

    I’ll skip all the inefficiency arguments and cut to the chase: I have no intention of driving around on a bomb. Not a 14,000 psi bomb, and not a 3600 psi bomb. CNG as a general transportation fuel is a bad idea.

    For the record, CNG is not a liquid, and it hits energy per mass parity with diesel at ~12,000 psi, not 3600.

  30. jon says:

    There isn’t much oil being found to offset the depletion in known reserves. Mexico (one of our largest sources for oil, and just one example) is likely to go from a net exporter to a net importer within a few short years, provided they can afford to import any. The North Sea is getting less out of its reserves as well, causing difficulties in Britain and Norway.

    As for natural gas, I don’t see any more reason to hope there’s another series of stores just waiting around to be tapped than I do for oil. We pretty much have searched far and wide to find it, and are still stuck with the same old scenario for the future: not enough.

    We can drill everything and everywhere we know or suspect there’s oil, gas, coal, methane, and whatever else might provide power, but the numbers I see say there’s just not enough.

    What does it tell you all that the United States Navy’s next generation of ships is pretty much all nuclear? It tells me that nuclear is a damn good source, but it also makes me wonder if the United States Navy isn’t sure it will have enough diesel fuel.

    And nuclear, solar, wind, water, and the rest can help, but there’s still a huge need for oil in our world. So much depends on oil: agriculture, fertilizer, transportation, aviation, distribution, and just about everything plastic. I see hard times ahead, no matter how much I want to believe some technology will make everything non-reliant on oil. I don’t want to sound glum, but I am.

    Here’s what I see: energy too expensive, economies too wrecked to buy it, worldwide instability, and loads and loads of death and destruction. I hope I’m wrong, we can ride out the worst of it, and that wondersource comes on line pronto. But I am a pessimist, and I’m not alone.

  31. MereMortal says:

    “Because oil producers were extracting at maximum effort to profit from high oil prices, this plateau is a clear indication of Peak Oil.”

    What an idiotic statement. I can’t take anyone seriously who would write such a thing. The writer needs to take a course in logic, as well as look into the fact that much of the world’s known reserves are not in production, but could be if not for political constraints.

    Peak oil production will be achieved someday. It won’t matter, but it will happen.

  32. EscutcheonBlot says:

    One Oil Shock does not a Peak Oil make. Several major oil producers (Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, the US(due to political restrictions) are far under-producing from their potential peak.

    And coyote…we did kinda hit peak whale…thank god for petroleum…otherwise the whales would have been completely wiped out.

  33. presbypoet says:

    A few words:
    Oil Shale. Oil Sands. These two sources in North America contain as much oil as the rest of the world. This amounts to several trillion barrels. To burn through one trillion barrels of oil, at 30 million a day, takes 100 years. Canada is ramping up production in its oil sands to 10,000,000 barrels per day. If we want energy independence, this is one of the main ways. Others are nukes, solar power satellites, a 10% tariff on foreign oil, $1.00 a gallon tax on gas, subsides to replace gas guzzlers, (a buy and crush program) , and make all mass transit free. If we were serious about the problem, (which isn’t a shortage of energy, but the money that now goes to some very nasty people), we could start the tax, tariff, subsidies and free mass transit almost immediately, and cut the red tape on constructing nukes, and developing oil shale, so they go on line as soon as possible.

  34. jon says:

    Oil shale and oil sands are not profitable right now, we’re not sure we can make it work as much as we need it to, and might not be easy enough to get out of the rock at a profit or even at a break even point. And that’s not to mention the incredible amount of water and energy that’s needed at the extraction sites (places where the grid is underdeveloped and the water is scarce.) Yes, it’s certainly worth looking into, but the doubling of the world’s reserves idea isn’t exactly comparing apples to apples. Light sweet crude it certainly ain’t.

    But no, I’m not against trying.

  35. D says:

    “Oil shale and oil sands are not profitable right now, we’re not sure we can make it work as much as we need it to, and might not be easy enough to get out of the rock at a profit or even at a break even point.”

    I can’t comment on Oil Shale, but this is a pretty ridiculous statement for Alberta Oil Sands. Go to and look up the ticker for Suncor Energy (SU on the NYSE). Looks pretty profitable to me. $12b in gross profit in 2007, in business for over 40 years in the Oil Sands. Their operating break-even from current facilities today is about $25/bbl. And if oil gets to $25/bbl and stays there for a while, then “Peak Oil” will be demonstrated as Peak BS.

    “And that’s not to mention the incredible amount of water and energy that’s needed at the extraction sites (places where the grid is underdeveloped and the water is scarce.)”

    Energy use is always an issue, but that is not insurmountable (nuclear anyone?). That issue is more regulatory than anything else. As the technology improves water demand is also reduced. As an example, Suncor will be increasing production from 350k to 550k Barrels per Day by 2013, but will use no more water than currently.

    Will Oil Sands alone solve all oil demand? No. Will this be easy or cheap to do? No. But there are a bunch of things that can be done (such as ditching bogus CO2 abatement requirements), this is achievable.

    Peak Oilers like Cliffy make the argument that if cheap oil is gone, and if the world runs on cheap oil, then civilization collapses (and no other alternatives should be considered because they “won’t work”).

    I’d rather focus on the solutions than on preparing to build a bunker somewhere.

  36. Oildrilling Lunatic says:

    EscutcheonBlot –

    Sure, we hit peak whale. And then we substituted something. Sasol has already proven that you can effectively replace oil with coal as feedstock for liquid fuels at a reasonable price. (Not as cheap as 1990s oil, but reasonable.) Which means peak oil is as much an economic threat as peak whale.

    It’s not an environmental irrelevancy; converting coal to liquid fuel is higher-impact than petroleum-to-fuel. But peak oil warnings are not generally phrased as “soon the environmental impact of driving cars will be marginally worse!”

  37. Steve D says:

    We’re all doomed – – – peak oil – global warming – war in the middle east – it’s the end times *****

    or maybe not. Happy New Year!!!

  38. theBuckWheat says:

    In a free market, we can never run out of oil. NEVER. This is because as the inexpensive oil is pumped out and consumed, the market price of oil will rise, and consumers will respond to the higher price by altering their behavior, investing in more efficient equipment and seeking alternatives.

    Over 100 years ago, a common fuel for home lights was whale oil. We transitioned from “peak whale” when the price of that oil could no longer compete against lamp oil made from coal. Later, in the lifetime of my grandparents, we made a decades-long transition to lamp oil from petroleum.

    Humans in a free market produce and consume essential products according to the natural laws of supply and demand, not by consulting some table of supply statistics. The only thing that we need to know about the supply of crude oil is the price of the fuel product at the pump.

    When oil rises in price above the projected break-even cost of suitable substitutes, investors will rush to supply the market from this new source. The US has seveal centuries worth of coal that can be converted into liquid fuels at costs below what we have recently experienced. The recent oil price bubble has helped to move many converstion projects.

    Indeed, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in a presentation on the future fuel supplies for the US military, has compiled maps and charts that document the US has over twice the convertable hydrocarbons than Arab OPEC has in the form of crude oil.

    Putting, coal, oil shale, crude oil and natural gas deposits aside, our modern society is awash in hydrocarbons that can be converted into liquid fuels at costs no higher than we already have lived through. These souces include municipal waste, sewage sludge and wastes from processing agriculture products.

    Right now, for example, a company in Carthage, Missouri is converting the wastes from processing Butterball turkeys into a form of diesel fuel.

    “Peak Oil” is no more about the price of fuel at the pump than “Global Warming” is about the ever-changing climate. Both are for more about justifying political and social change that destroys personal liberty and reduces our prosperity.

  39. fmw says:

    It’s a big world. There may well be large stores of oil that have yet to be discovered. But even if there aren’t all that “Peak Oil” would mean is the end of really cheap light crude. There are plenty of other fossil fuels that can be substituted for oil at a price lower than the price of oil was 6 months ago, with current technology. And if we do start running out of the easily pumped stuff the technology will get better, and extraction will become less expensive. We might never have the equivalent of $15.00/barrel oil again, but we can live with substitutes that are the equivalent of $40.00/barrel oil.

  40. Stu says:

    You people that deny peak oil or see it as merely a trigger for transition are totally ill informed. Now, pay attention to this. Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil field, Gharwar, is in decline, so are other major oil fields in Saudi Arabia. Mexico’s Cantrell field is in very steep decline. Saudi Arabia’s overall production is in decline, and I’m not talking about their recent cuts, I’m talking about pumping as fast as they possibly can with all the pressure from other countries and the incentive of $147 per barrel, and failing to raise production anyway. The overall rate of decline from existing oil fields world wide is 3.7%, thats taking into account massive declines in some fields, and rising production in some other new fields. We are totally dependent now on finding new fields to offset production from declining old fields. We need to find, and bring online, and refine an additional 3.7% of worldwide production, just to stand still. Rising demand over the years still makes us go backwards even then. Add even 5% increase demand between now and say 2012, then take away 10% from declines over that time, that means we have to find an additional 15%. 15% of 87 million barrels a day equals 13.05 million barrels. So we have to find production greater then Saudi Arabias highest ever production just to stand still, in three years. Do you think there are any more Saudi Arabia’s out there, and even if you do, do you think we can find them, and ramp up production from them to 13.05mbd in 3 years. If you do, you don’t live in the real world.

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