Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Allyse Heartwell: SF Oil Awareness

SF Oil Awareness
We were able to speak with Allyse Heartwell from The SF Oil Awareness Group about Peak Oil and what San Franciscan's are doing about it. Jay and I have been researching a lot about Bio-diesel and have too realized that there are no magic answers to the peak oil problem. Conservation is the key. Thanks Allyse!


Maurice said...

Great clip!

Having worked in the renewable energy sector for three years, I was immediately a great fan of the "peak oil" concept. Unfortunately, I have since discovered that it is fundamentally flawed. We are not going to run out of oil, simply because there are too many "unconventional" sources of oil (deap sea oil, oil shale, etc) to keep us going for a long time. This creates a great problem, because it means that we can continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for a long time, and continue to worsen an increasingly catastrophic climate change problem.

Allyse couldn't be more right in the fact that we cannot continue to consume energy in the way we are now.

I think biodiesel and bioethanol are important parts of the solution aswell though -- even if we have a long way to go in making sure that our agriculture is environmentally sustainable.

And just to put figures on it, these are the (very approximate) oil prices at which different liquid fuel alternatives become economically viable:

Conventional oil: $20
Tar sands, brazilian cane ethanol, gas-to-liquids, coal-to-liquids: $40
Shale oil: $50
US corn ethanol: $60
Biodiesel: $80

Source: http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=6823506

Anonymous said...

Interesting post...we are certainly going to face a lot of changes in society over the span of our lives. I hope this crises will be an opportunity for people to develop an understanding of our interdependence and enable us to learn to live cooperatively. Human beings are so creative if we just used our creativity in a useful way.

High Power Rocketry said...

: )

Anonymous said...

Maurice highlights one of the fundamental flaws of economics--thinking that energy is somehow created from money. No, non-conventional sources such as shale and tar sands will not seamlessly substitute for conventional oil, simply because they require enormous amounts of energy to produce. You get just one barrel of net oil production from every three barrels produced from tar sands, and Shell's current scheme to produce shale is break-even at best.

The second flaw is thinking there is a price of oil at which these other sources become viable. When 87% of your input is energy (such as ethanol production) or 75% (in the case of tar sands), the cost of that input energy matters enormously. So when the oil price goes up, the breakeven price for alternatives keeps going up, in a rising dance of unequal partners. Most readers wouldn't even remember in 1972 when oil men said that oil couldn't get above $2/barrel since that would unleash all the oil shale production.

Money doesn't create soil fertility either. I think anyone who feels that biofuels have a big future has never planted a garden or has any understanding of how nature actually is sustainable.

Very good clip!

Anonymous said...

After over 100 years the best we can come up with is the internal combustion engine?

We have nuclear power; but all we can think to do with it is make steam?

No easy answers. Good thing we own Iraq.

Anonymous said...

nice edit, thanks ryanne and jay!


as "anonymous" said, the price point at which a thing becomes a viable investment is not an adequate measure of its long term viability. in the case of an alternative liquid fuel's ability to significantly make up the potential shortfall in conventional oil predicted by the theory of near term oil peak, such price points are a clumsy measure indeed. certainly nothing we have now can do it in the long term; as you point out, climate change complicates things immensely. one of the most frustrating things about this particular point in time and its singular nexus of problems, is that climate change constrains our range of response to peak oil while the advent of peak oil may apply pressure precisely in the direction we need to be moving away from, ie towards nonconventional fossil fuels (which have lower energy returns on energy invested and therefore higher total emissions, kind of like "embedded energy" or "embedded emissions" in each unit of energy consumed by the end user). while in the long term it is clear that nonconventional sources are no answer, their value in the short term is questionable as well. certainly they can make up a fraction of the shortfall, but it is also certain that it will be a fraction only. exactly how much depends on such a range of variables that prediction is foolhardy: depletion rates of conventional oil, prices of other fuels necessary for production (most often natural gas), water shortages, geopolitcal factors, hurricanes in the gulf... in short: who the hell knows. but it's very likely that we will feel peak oil both in the long and short term, ie via its effects on climate change mitigation and via the immediate economic effects of a decrease in total available liquid fuels. three things to always keep foremost in mind when evaluating all kinds of energy: scalability, energy return on energy invested (EROEI), and the sheer scale of our current use.

Tagami said...

Great interview!

I have a really big problem with food-based fuels like ethanol.

Feed people or power cars? Seems like an obvious decision to me.

The engines of the future will be retro: Human power. Put the calories in people first!

All of this talk and I am still driving an SUV. I guess I better put up or shut up.

Maurice said...

The comment of anon's that bugs me the most is: "I think anyone who feels that biofuels have a big future has never planted a garden or has any understanding of how nature actually is sustainable."

If you drive as much as an American, and living in a temperate climate, it may be hard to understand. If you drive as little as an African, and live in one of the most fertile (and under-used) areas of the world, then it is alot easier to understand.

Just because people don't farm sustainably now, doesn't mean that it is impossible. Environmentalists, agriculturalists and renewable energy proponents have been working their asses off for decades to get a breakthrough in biofuels. It is now happening--and if done properly will not only help in providing a contribution to our time's worst environmental problem (global climate change), but also in lifting millions of poor farmers out of poverty.

Doing it sustainably (environmentally and socially), is now the next challenge...

Unknown said...

I'm totally impressed by this woman and the fact that you are publishing the story / facts she so clearly defines.

Offcourse she is not telling something we don't already know. But I tend to fool myself in believing that when it hurts a lot (disaster strikes) we as humanity will be strong and flexible enough to address the problem. But that will be at a cost and people will suffer terribly because of it.
At first I thought we as humanity are to naive to do something before disaster strikes. Now I think there is just still to much money to be made to make a change.
For instance: We are able to make cars (and not only cars) last a lifetime and use 100% of the energy efficiently (instead of just 20% now). But this isn't economically interesting on the short term and therefore will never happen.
I could give you load of links to positive inventions that will make us able to live in harmony with the world we share. But those will only be implemented when disaster strikes and not before.
The recent movie "who killed the electric car" (http://www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com) is a great example why.

Anonymous said...

Great interview clips Ryanne.

I agree that there are no technological magic bullets, but it'll have to be some combination of things -- especially a compromise for what we're doing now. So how bad will this issue have to harm us before we start to shift?

Maurice was trying to express this in economic terms, and the anonymous commenter is right in that it can't just thought of in this way -- and I like Maruice's comeback that "scalability, energy return on energy invested (EROEI), and the sheer scale of our current use" and other factors all must be considered for long-term viability.

Jen and I just saw "An Inconvenient Truth" and felt compelled to make a video with our responses in it -- there a lot of overlapping solutions discussed here.

I'm really glad that you made this video.

Anonymous said...

The European Union (EU) has proposed that 5% of the fuel usage in Europe by 2020 should be from bio-fuel. Great! Or...?

Well, the problem is that 5% bio-fuel usage in the EU requires us to convert 25% of the agriculture in Europe to bio-fuel production (at least according to an article in the Swedish morning paper Göteborg Posten, www.gp.se).

The production of food in Europe are already too high, and the farmers get paid to actually burn the crops. So either we burn the food (!?), send the food to poor countries or just convert it to bio-fuel production?

If we want 10-15% of the fuel usage to come from bio-fuel by 2040-2050, I guess we just have to chop down all the rainforests in Indonesia and Brazil and start planting crops we can make fuel of.

Perhaps the only solution to environment-friendly fuel is to make the bio-fuel more effective (i.e. research it more) or start using hydrogen. The good thing about hydrogen is that the only biproduct is water.

Sorry for my English. Just some thoughts from a Swede :)