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Pedal Power solutions to petroleum dependence and polluting vehicles: Arcata Library Bikes, Pedal Power Produce, and more!

CAOE - Committee Against Oil Exploration - stop offshore oil drilling to protect sensitive habitats and cut petroleum dependence.

Culture Change through music! The Depavers eco-rock!

Take our Pledge for Climate Protection and learn about the Global Warming Crisis Council.

SEI hometown action!
Arcata city council's proclamation against war on Iraq and Kyoto Protocol proclamation.

Overpopulation has become a reality.  Overpopulation Resources and News Tidbits

Sail Transport Network

Fact Sheets
Press Releases

Long Distance

The fall of petroleum civilization - natural gas 

Natural gas has become the fastest growing of all fossil fuels, representing an increasing share of global energy use-nearly 24 percent of the world’s energy consumption, according to the Worldwatch Institute.

With less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for a large share of the world’s fossil fuel burden, accounting for 26 percent of global oil use, 25 percent of coal consumption, and 27 percent of natural gas use.  (Worldwatch Institute)

Rising amounts of pollutants in natural gas supplies is a recent phenomenon.  Find out why by reading
Natural gas quality raises concerns

Also, a new book: High Noon for Natural Gas, by Julian Darley of the Post Carbon Institute.

Eating Fossil Fuels, by Dale Allen Pfeiffer (From The Wilderness Publications) looks into fertilizers from natural gas.  The author points out that the U.S. food system uses 10 times as much energy as it offers in terms of the food calories.  He learned much from The Fertilizer Institute, and passes his alarming findings at the bottom of this page.

See what Alan Greenspan's Congressional testimony on natural gas liquids was about.

The North American natural gas "cliff"

More than 275 North American gas-fired electrical generation plants are planned to begin operations through 2006, up from 158 a year ago, which would increase gas consumption by more than 8.5 tcf!

Unlike oil, natural gas cannot easily be shipped by sea. It must be liquefied prior to shipment, and then shipped in specially designed refrigerated ships destined for specially equipped ports, and then re-gasified for distribution -- at an estimated 15 to 30 percent energy loss. Moreover, natural gas cannot be easily stored like oil or coal.

Campbell says that gas production is better described as a "plateau" followed by a "cliff" due to the high mobility and recovery of gas. Under declining pressure, oil declines slowly as it moves through the porespace of the rocks, but the decline of gas is a cliff -- not a slope. The gas market gives no warning of the cliff because it is no more expensive to produce the last cubic foot than the first. North American production is at or near (< 10 years) its "cliff" now:

"North American natural gas has no excess capacity. It disappeared several years ago. What we do have is extremely aggressive decline rates in almost every key production basin making it harder each season to keep current production flat.

"The electricity business has also run out of almost all existing generating capacity, whether this capacity is a coal-fired plant, a nuclear plant or a dam. The electricity business has already responded to this shortage. Orders for a massive number of natural gas-fired plants have already been placed. But these new gas plants require an unbelievable amount of natural gas. [The] supply is simply not there." [ ENERGY IN THE NEW ECONOMY: The Limits to Growth, Matt Simmons;

When Canada signed NAFTA, it ceded total control of its oil and gas reserves. Canada currently makes up about 13% of the USA gas supply. Canada is running out of gas too:
"Outwardly the production projections of the NEB, EUB and GESI are confusing and even contradictory. But they really carry the same message: the limits of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) are being recognized. We could gradually increase consumption of the basin's reserves over the next decade and accept sharply falling supply thereafter (the NEB result). We can rapidly increase consumption through drilling quick, short lived deliverability wells and live with an early rapid supply decline (the EUB result). Or, we could redirect more activity to larger reserve plays that require greater lead times and thereby accept an earlier, but gradual supply decline (the GESI result)."

Mexican gas production reached a plateau in 1998 and has had a downward slope of around 2% ever since.

"Energy Information Administration figures showed that volumes coming to the US from Mexico fell from a total of more than 54 bcf in 1999 to just 4.71 bcf for the first 4 months of 2000 and then to nothing. Mexican domestic demand for gas no longer allowed for exports"

Campbell says it is not practical to make up the North American shortfall in gas by shipping it in from the Middle East (shortage of LNG facilities, tankers, and energy loss). However, the construction of a new gas line to Alaska and the Canadian arctic where there probably are large untapped deposits could temporarily mitigate the North American gas cliff.

Energy analyst Stephen B Andrews recently wrote:
"According to the Oil & Gas Journal (8/21/00), there were 114 existing LNG tankers on January 2000. Only 8 vessels were available for spot-market trade...that is, weren't locked in to long-term trading agreements.
"The 28 LNG tankers now on order and being built will increase the LNG fleet's capacity by close to 1/3. An additional 52 vessels would be required between 2005 and 2010. Combined, the total increase would be an 87% rise in LNG shipping capacity. Most of those on order today are locked into long-term trading contracts.
"Today, the world trade in LNG is apparently about 125 billion cubic meters -- which would make it around 5% of world natural gas consumption (using BP's Statistical Review of World Energy for the total sum). LNG trade is forecast to increase by 35% by 2005. If all of that increase were directed to North America, it wouldn't come close to covering our projected increased consumption.
"As luck would have it, Asia has already spoken for that upcoming increase in new LNG. 'The potential for LNG imports in India and China is enormous,' wrote O&GJ.
"In the face of projected rapidly growing demand for natural gas in the electricity generation sector, plus relatively flat production in recent times and on the near-term horizon, I wouldn't count on LNG saving North America's bacon."

On October 17, 2000 (Reuters), a top BP Amoco official admitted that there was a "dire need" for gas from both Alaska and northern Canada. Forecasts show gas demand could outstrip supplies from traditional sources by as much as 4 billion cubic feet a day within a decade! --


Study says Canadian gas additions will come from smaller fields

By the OGJ Online

HOUSTON, Sept. 12 -- Canada had 233 tcf of nominally marketable conventional natural gas resources as of the end of 1998 -- a 40-year supply at that year's rate of production.
However, those resources will never be fully tapped, said the Canadian Gas Potential Committee in a 4-year study...
While Canadians have long looked to the North and to Canada's offshore basins for large new supplies, our study indicates that Canada's frontiers will simply supplement the nation's core production from Western Canada...

by Dale Allen Pfeiffer 


October 3 , 2003  -- Some months ago, concerned by a Paris statement made by Professor Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton regarding his concern about the impact of Peak Oil and Gas on fertilizer production, I tasked For The Wilderness's Contributing Editor for Energy, Dale Allen Pfeiffer to start looking into what natural gas shortages would do to fertilizer production costs. His investigation led him to look at the totality of food production in the US. 
    Because the US and Canada feed much of the world, the answers have global implications. What follows is most certainly the single most frightening article I have ever read and certainly the most alarming piece that FTW has ever published. Even as we have seen CNN, Britain's Independent and Jane's Defence Weekly acknowledge the reality of Peak Oil and Gas within the last week, acknowledging that world oil and gas reserves are as much as 80% less than predicted, we are also seeing how little real thinking has been devoted to the host of crises certain to follow; at least in terms of publicly accessible thinking. 
    This article is so serious in its implications that I have taken the unusual step of underlining 26 of its key findings. I did that with the intent that the reader treat each underlined passage as a separate and incredibly important fact. Each one of these facts should be read and digested separately to assimilate its importance. I found myself reading one fact and then getting up and walking away until I could come back and (un)comfortably read to the next. 
    All told, Dale Allen Pfeiffer's research and reporting confirms the worst of FTW's suspicions about the consequences of Peak Oil and it poses serious questions about what to do next. Not the least of these is why, in a presidential election year, none of the candidates has even acknowledged the problem. Thus far, it is clear that solutions for these questions, perhaps the most important ones facing mankind, will by necessity be found by private individuals and communities, independently of outside or governmental help. Whether the real search for answers comes now, or as the crisis becomes unavoidable, depends solely on us. 
    It is also abundantly clear that fresh water, its acquisition and delivery, is a crisis that is upon us now as certainly as is Peak Oil and Gas. Here are just of few of the report's key findings: 
1. In the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended annually to feed each American (as of data provided in 1994).7 Agricultural energy consumption is broken down as follows: · 31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertilizer (excluding feedstock) · 19% for the operation of field machinery · 16% for transportation · 13% for irrigation · 08% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed) · 05% for crop drying · 05% for pesticide production · 08% miscellaneous. 
2. To give the reader an idea of the energy intensiveness of modern agriculture, production of one kilogram of nitrogen for fertilizer requires the energy equivalent of from 1.4 to 1.8 liters of diesel fuel. This is not considering the natural gas feedstock.  According to The Fertilizer Institute (, in the year from June 30, 2001 until June 30, 2002 the United States used 12,009,300 short tons of nitrogen fertilizer. Using the low figure of 1.4 liters diesel equivalent per kilogram of nitrogen, this equates to the energy content of 15.3 billion liters of diesel fuel, or 96.2 million barrels. 
3. Between 1945 and 1994, energy input to agriculture increased 4-fold while crop yields only increased 3-fold. Since then, energy input has continued to increase without a corresponding increase in crop yield. We have reached the point of marginal returns. Yet, due to soil degradation, increased demands of pest management and increasing energy costs for irrigation (all of which is examined below), modern agriculture must continue increasing its energy expenditures simply to maintain current crop yields. 
4. The U.S. food system consumes ten times more energy than it produces in food energy. This disparity is made possible by nonrenewable fossil fuel stocks. 
5. Unfortunately, if you remove fossil fuels from the equation, the daily diet will require 111 hours of endosomatic labor per capita; that is, the current U.S. daily diet would require nearly three weeks of labor per capita to produce. 
Michael C. Ruppert 
October 3, 2003 

Natural gas quality raises concerns
Levels of impurities leave federal regulators questioning safety
April 30, 2004
It used to be that natural gas producers would strip out traces of propane and butane before piping the desired fuel — primarily methane — to power plants and utilities. The impurities were actually worth more than the natural gas itself, so collecting them gave producers a nice side business.

But today, with gas supplies tight and valued at twice their historical average, many producers want to pump as much as they can — impurities included. The result is a fuel cocktail that many power plants and home appliances weren’t designed to handle, presenting a number of safety, environmental and reliability concerns.

Industry officials frustrated by the increasingly inconsistent quality of natural gas have warned federal regulators about potentially dangerous levels of carbon monoxide emissions in homes, increased pollution from power plants and needless wear and tear on gas turbines and home appliances.

With as much as a third of the natural gas from the lower 48 states no longer processed to remove propane, butane and other liquid hydrocarbons, “it can lead to a number of consequences — all of which are bad,” according to Keith Barnett, vice president of fundamental analysis at American Electric Power Inc., one of the largest producers of electricity.

In New York, the utility KeySpan Energy was forced to shut down a plant several times in 2003 after receiving unprocessed fuel that differed significantly from “what the plant was originally designed to handle,” according to a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Several industry officials said it is too soon to know just how widespread and severe the problems may be. However, around the country power producers and utilities are facing higher maintenance costs and have, at times, been forced to cut off service to clean equipment.

Yet other industry officials were more cautious in their analysis, stressing the need for more research into the potential safety and reliability risks.

While the problems associated with inconsistent fuel quality have been known for decades, they are more relevant now as the industry tries to keep up with rising natural gas demand.

In the past, suppliers had an economic incentive to strip out most impurities from the methane, creating a relatively uniform product from year to year. But in recent years, it has made more financial sense for suppliers to leave them mixed in the gas stream, boosting overall volume and revenue by about 5 percent, as well as eliminating the need for expensive processing plants.

Trouble is, a natural gas stream with a heavier concentration of liquid hydrocarbons can damage equipment that isn’t properly calibrated ahead of time.

Without these adjustments, the “wet” unprocessed gas, which burns hotter, could also cause power plants to unintentionally spew more pollutants than they are allowed to under laws set by the Environmental Protection Agency, Barnett said.

Another trend drawing attention to the chemical characteristics of the nation’s natural gas supply is the increase of liquid natural gas being imported to make up for declining domestic production. Much of that fuel, shipped to the United States in refrigerated tankers from as far away as Qatar and Nigeria, burns hotter, just like the “wet” gas, and thus has the potential to cause similar problems. 

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back to Fall of Petroleum Civilization webpage


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Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)

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