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Past Peak Oil - 2012, the year of the downslope

Past Peak Oil - Why Time Is Now Short
May 27, 2011, by cmartenson

The Next Oil Shock

The only thing that could prevent another oil shock from happening before the end of 2012 would be another major economic contraction. The emerging oil data continues to tell a tale of ever-tightening supplies that will soon be exceeded by rising global demand. This time, we will not be able to blame speculators for the steep prices we experience; instead, we will have nothing to blame but geology.

Back in 2009, I wrote a pair of reports in which I calculated that we’d see another price spike in oil by 2010 or 2011, based on some assumptions about global GDP growth rates, rates of decline in existing oil fields, and new projects set to come online. Given the recent price spike in oil (Brent crude over $126, now at $115) and recent oil supply data, those predictions turned out to be quite solid (for reference, oil was trading in the low $60s at the time).

One part I whiffed on was in my prediction that the world community would have embraced the idea of Peak Oil by now and begun adjusting accordingly, but that’s not really true except in a few cases (e.g. Sweden). Perhaps things are being differently and more seriously considered behind closed doors, but out in public the dominant story line concerns reinvigorating consumer demand, not a looming liquid fuel crisis.

How the major economies can continue proceeding with a business-as-usual mindset given the oil data is really quite a mystery to me, but that’s just how things happen to be at the moment.

At any rate, with Brent crude oil having lofted over $100/bbl at the beginning of February and remained above that big, round number for four months now, we are already in the middle of a price shock. It may not be a perfect repeat of the circumstances of the 2008 oil shock, but it's close enough that the risk of an economic contraction, at least for the weaker economies, is not unthinkable here. Japan, now in recession and 100% dependent on oil imports, comes to mind.

Looking at the new data and reading even minimally between the lines of recent International Energy Agency (IEA) statements, I am now ready to move my ‘Peak Oil is a statistically unavoidable fact’ event to sometime in 2012, which tightens my prediction from the prior range of 2012-2013.

Upon this recognition, the next shock will drive oil to new heights that are currently unimaginable for most. First, $200/bbl will be breached, then $300, and then more. And these are in current dollar terms; any additional dollar weakness will simply be additive to the actual quoted price. By this I mean that if oil were to trade at $200 but the dollar lost one half of its value along the way, then oil would be priced at $400.

How To Position For The Next Oil Shock

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How To Position For The Next Oil Shock
Friday, May 27, 2011

Executive Summary

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's (KSA) reserve capacity is a myth
World oil demand is increasingly overwhelming supply
Why exports matter more than total world production
What the next oil shock will do to stock, bonds, commodities, precious metals, and real estate
What you should do to prepare

Part II: How To Position For The Next Oil Shock
Putting It All Together
Let’s review the situation in the KSA:

Despite assurances of 12.5 mbd of total capacity, the KSA has not yet produced more than 9 mbd on a sustained basis in 2011.
The IEA is begging the KSA to pump more.
The KSA has turned to outside companies to help it begin to unlock heavy oil reserves that will take a lot of time, energy, and money to prosecute.
The KSA has a vastly expanded rig count as they expand drilling operations to produce more oil (odd behavior for a nation with an alleged 3.5 mbd of spare capacity?).
The simplest and therefore most likely explanation for all of this is that the KSA does not actually have 12.5 mbd of total capacity, it is already at peak, and it's now struggling to maintain even 9 mbd of total output on a limited basis.

Of course, there are other possibilities, but since those will not shake the world to its bones if they happen to be true, the safe course of action here is to go with the ‘KSA is at peak’ story. Sooner or later it will be true, so there’s not a lot of harm in being early to it, while being late could be costly.

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