Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Beyond Oil", by Kenneth S. Deffeyes

This sounds like a book very much worth reading. See the following review from

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak (Paperback) by Kenneth S. Deffeyes (Author) (36 customer reviews)
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A fine introduction to fossil fuels and the consequences of their depletion., September 27, 2006
Donald Wulfinghoff "author, Energy Efficiency... (Wheaton, MD USA) - See all my reviews For everyone who wants a quick and credible answer to the question, "Are we really running out of fossil fuels?", this is the book. Kenneth Deffeyes explains why your life and the lives of your children may soon become unimaginably different from what our comfortable generation expects. His book will make you a better citizen and a cocktail party expert, while providing you with a few evenings of top quality entertainment.

For most of the book, Deffeyes talks about what he knows best, which is predicting the availability of fossil fuels. He covers all of them: oil, gas, and coal, including their strange variations and hopeful new sources. Included is the history and technique of fossil fuels - especially oil - and its astounding political effects. A petroleum geologist who began his career working with M. King Hubbert, Deffeyes provides the easiest interpretation of Hubbert's method of predicting the depletion of resources. Deffeyes doesn't explain Hubbert's underlying rationale, which was murky, but he clarifies the "Hubbert curve" in a wonderful way. This analysis, along with its limitations, should be understood by every educated citizen.

The big question is whether Hubbert's analysis could be wrong or irrelevant, so that we may be saved by new sources of hydrocarbon energy. Deffeyes covers the known and conjectured alternatives. A few proven alternatives are not big enough to make much difference. One huge resource, methane hydrates, is tentatively estimated to contain many times more energy than all fossil fuels combined. The trouble is, nobody knows how to extract it. Tar sands, another huge resource, consume precious natural gas to extract the oil, and they are an environmental horror. Oil shale ("neither oil nor shale") is a vast store of organic material that has defied attempts to extract it with a significant energy profit.

Deffeyes deals briefly with Thomas Gold's conjecture of deep supplies of primordial methane, and he is unconvinced. He then gives a brief gloss on uranium, perhaps the most important alternative to fossil fuels. His main contribution is to clarify how much uranium is actually available. Deffeyes himself played a role in making this information public. The last of his topics is a genuflection to the "hydrogen economy." While suggesting a variety of applications for this less-than-zero-sum game, his telling adds little hope that hydrogen will help much in the long run.

He ends with a few pages of musing on the future, where unfortunately he steps outside his expertise. Like most experts on the supply side of energy, he seriously underestimates the potential and necessity of energy efficiency. This common error doesn't seriously tarnish an otherwise exemplary exposition. As the author of a book on energy efficiency that is eight times longer than Deffeyes', I envy his ability to cover so much in a book that can be read over a weekend.

While sharing the lecture circuit with Deffeyes, I saw him as a Falstaffian figure with a jolly sense of humor about a grim subject. Retired as a Princeton professor, he is proud of having spent most of his career working with roustabouts. His personality shines through in his writing style, which is a hoot. The one major flaw is a misleading title. This book says essentially nothing about the period "beyond oil," when civilization must be fully converted to new energy sources and extreme efficiency. Its main focus is the present declining period of fossil fuels, when we may still be able to make the transition successfully. As Deffeyes makes clear, that transition must be made quickly.

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