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Monday, September 10, 2012

Peak Oil - Part III: What Else Can Peak?




     Here at the Paracord Project we have looked at Peak Oil. Its coming, and we know it, and it is something everyone should be prepared for. Unlike many other disasters out there, this one has a 100% chance of happening. However Peak Oil has an even scarier side to it, and that is when you apply the concept of peak oil to other resources.

     The theory of peak oil is based on a resource that has a finite amount and is nonrenewable. This is because when you have a resource like that you can get some very specific numbers to easily predict. Oil is the big resource that Hubbard's peak has been applied to, however it is not the only resource that it can be used for. Hubbard's peak can be applied to other energy resources such as natural gas and coal, all the way to metals and water.

Peak Gas
     Having been talking about oil it only makes sense to first take a look at our other energy resources. The first of these is natural gas. Almost one quarter of the energy created in the world comes from natural gas, and the demand for natural gas is going to continue to increase in the next twenty years.

     However, similar to oil, discovery of natural gas peaked in the 1960's and it has been declining ever since. The most recent predictions for peak oil for the United States have placed it somewhere around 2013. In 2002 there was a prediction that a global decline for natural gas would start around 2020. However the US Energy Information Administration predicts that world gas production will continue to increase through 2030.

Peak Coal
     Production for coal in the United States is considered to have peaked in the 1920's. However having looked at oil and natural gas, you'd think that by that fact, we would be out of coal right now. The reality is that coal peaked in the 1920's not because we had reached the maximum amount we could use, but because we stopped using as much coal. We moved to oil instead.

     Hubbard calculated a separate peak for coal, and his math had coal peaking around 2150. More recent estimates however put coal much closer to natural gas and oil, with the possibility of it peaking possibly taking place in as little as fifteen year. With the imminent peaks of oil and natural gas coming very soon it is likely that coal production is likely to increase. Increased use of coal means that the date for peak coal will be pushed forward, because we will be using more of it.

Peak Uranium
     With the peaks of oil and natural gas coming, followed a little while later by coal, we will be looking for other energy resources. Some people will turn towards nuclear energy. However, that will not necessarily help us. According to Roscoe Bartlett, our current use of this resource will use up our reserves of low cost uranium in about 20 years. Caltech professor David Goodstein states that if we replaced all our power currently created with fossil fuels we would go through all the known reserves of uranium world wide in 10 to 20 years.

     There doesn't seem to be a lot of information on peak uranium but what predictions and research there are seems to indicate that if we're going to replace our fossil fuel energy with some other kind of energy, nuclear energy is not going to be the way to go.

Peak Helium
     Yes, helium. That funny gas that can make your voice go squeaky when you inhale it, and that we use to blow up balloons. Helium is the second lightest element in the Universe and is so light that the Earth's gravity is not strong enough to trap helium and it slowly dissipates into space.

     The world's largest helium rich natural gas fields are found in the United States, and as these natural gas areas experience decline so too will the helium.

Peak Metals
     There has been talk of Peak Copper and Peak Gold. With copper there has been a continuing and growing demand as China and India have entered the market for copper and the things it can be used for, and this has stretched the supply chain, making prices increase. However, because copper can easily be reused, there have been no real predictions for a Peak Copper. However, theoretically, because it is not renewable, we could use this resource to such an extent that we could run out.

     Gold however might be a different story. Production is considered to have peaked around 2000 and since then has gone into decline as it becomes increasingly difficult to find ore. That might be a point in favor of those that say that people should by gold now. Not only could it be a way to prepare for economic depression or collapse, but with gold being a limited resource that may have already peaked, the time to get it would be now as it will only get more scarce and more expensive.

Renewable Resources
     Hubbert's Peak did not originally apply to renewable resources. The point of Hubbard's peak is that it looks at resources that can't be replaced and it tries to determine how much is left, and when half is gone, and how long it will take to go through the rest. Renewable resources are different, because by being renewable they shouldn't run out.

     When we over-exploit our resources to the point that they can't replenish themselves as fast as we're using them, and suddenly a modified Hubbert's curve can be applied to these resources. There are two resources that this can be applied to, fisheries and water.

     It is a fairly well known fact that the world is over-exploiting the ocean fisheries. There have been predictions of a collapse of the global fisheries by 2035 if they continue to be fished at the rate they are. Hubbert's curve has been applied to the whaling industry, caviar as well as cod in the North Sea. All of these applications have shown a depletion in these resources that closely follow the same curve that nonrenewable resources such as oil have followed.

     Even more scary though than the depletion of global fisheries is the depletion of global water resources. Many of the world's great aquifers are being drained at a rate that far exceeds their replenishment, and that turns water into a finite resource. With global warming having a direct effect on water resources, many places are just starting to feel the effects of water shortages that are sure to get worse as time passes.

 


     39 U.S. states are predicted to have water shortages next year. By 2025 2.7 billion people will face severe water shortages if consumption continues at its current rate. With populations growing, it could be even sooner than that. The kinds of water crisis's will only continue to get worse if we continue to use water the way we do and that can lead to everything from health problems, to famine, to war. We've already had wars over oil, but the next wars may end up being over water.

     Oil is not the only resource that we are using up, and much of it is all going to start coming to head at the same time or soon after one another. Human's are using up the world's resources at an alarming rate, and we're just starting to feel the consequences of not only Peak Oil but many other peaks as well. Much of our focus is just starting to turn to Peak Oil, but there are many more peaks coming and many of them will cause other problems that when all put together will create a great deal of change in our society.

     Stay tuned here at the Paracord Project for more information on the changes that could be coming our way, and the things we can do to be prepared for the ones we can predict as well as the disasters that we can't.

~Sara

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