Fossil fuels

The Impending Peak and Decline of Petroleum Production: an Underestimated Challenge for Conservation of Ecological Integrity

Publication date:
2010-04-20
First published in:
Conservation Biology
Authors:
B. Czucz et al
Abstract:

In the last few decades petroleum has been consumed at a much faster pace than new reserves have been discovered. The point at which global oil extraction will attain a peak ("peak oil") and begin a period of unavoidable decline is approaching. This eventuality will drive fundamental changes in the quantity and nature of energy flows through the human economic system, which probably will be accompanied by economic turmoil, political conflicts, and a high level of social tension. Besides being a geological and economic issue, peak oil is also a fundamental concern as it pertains to ecological systems and conservation because economics is a subsystem of the global ecosystem and changes in human energy-related behaviors can lead to a broad range of effects on natural ecosystems, ranging from overuse to abandonment. As it becomes more difficult to meet energy demands, environmental considerations may be easily superseded. Given the vital importance of ecosystems and ecosystem services in a postpetroleum era, it is crucially important to wisely manage our ecosystems during the transition period to an economy based on little or no use of fossil fuels. Good policies can be formulated through awareness and understanding gained from scenario-based assessments. Presently, most widely used global scenarios of environmental change do not incorporate resource limitation, including those of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Considering the potential magnitude of the effects of peak oil on society and nature, the development of resource-constrained scenarios should be addressed immediately. Ecologists and conservation biologists are in an important position to analyze the situation and provide guidance, yet the topic is noticeably absent from ecological discussions. We urge politicians, corporate chief executives, thought leaders, and citizens to consider this problem seriously because it is likely to develop into one of the key environmental issues of the 21st century.

Published in: Conservation Biology, article in press
Available from: Interscience

A Depletion Protocol for Non-Renewable Natural Resources: Australia as an Example

Publication date:
2006-09-01
First published in:
Natural Resources Research
Authors:
A.A. Bartlett
Abstract:

This paper examines the implications of statements by Australia’s Minister of… Resources that Australia’s exports of coal are growing rapidly and that Australia’s coal will last “110 years at current rates of production.” If one assumes that coal production P(t), follows a Gaussian curve (similar to a Hubbert curve) one can construct a family of Gaussian curves showing possible future paths of P(t) which are consistent with the cited “110 years.” Each curve reaches a maximum after which P(t) declines toward zero. Knowledge of the present value of dP/dt allows one member of the family to be identified as the most probable future path of P(t). Families of curves and tabular data are presented for resource quantities that would last 50, 100 and 200 years “at current rates of production.” If, instead, Australia’s P(t) follows a declining exponential curve (exp(−kt)) with k = (1/110) per year, the stated quantity of coal will allow production to continue forever, with P(t) declining with a half life of 76 y. This and more rapidly declining exponential paths are the only paths that can be said to be sustainable. The envelope of the family of Gaussian curves divides the (P, t) plane into “allowed” and “forbidden” areas. The declining exponential curve divides the “allowed” area into an upper area that is “terminal” and a lower area that is “sustainable.” These facts, coupled with Australia’s expectations of rapid growth of its population, suggest that Australia’s present resource policies are “anti-sustainable” and that the people of Australia need to rethink their present policy of rapidly exporting their fossil fuels.

Published in: Natural Resources Research, Volume 15, Number 3, Pages 151-164
Available from: SpringerLink

What energy levels can the Earth sustain?

Publication date:
2009-03-03
First published in:
Energy Policy
Authors:
P. Moriarty, D. Honnery
Abstract:

Several official reports on future global primary energy production and use develop scenarios which suggest that the high energy growth rates of the 20th century will continue unabated until 2050 and even beyond. In this paper we examine whether any combination of fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy sources can deliver such levels of primary energy—around 1000 EJ in 2050. We find that too much emphasis has been placed on whether or not reserves in the case of fossil and nuclear energy, or technical potential in the case of renewable energy, can support the levels of energy use forecast. In contrast, our analysis stresses the crucial importance of the interaction of technical potentials for annual production with environmental factors, social, political, and economic concerns and limited time frames for implementation, in heavily constraining the real energy options for the future. Together, these constraints suggest that future energy consumption will be significantly lower than the present level.

Published in: Energy Policy, Volume 37, Issue 7, July 2009, Pages 2469-2474
Available from: ScienceDirect

Energy Resources

Publication date:
1969-07-03
First published in:
Geothermal Energy
Authors:
M. King Hubbert
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