What Can the Triangle Do About the Coming Oil Peak?

As Triangle gasoline prices again top $2.50/gallon, NC Powerdown and the Duke Greening Initiative will sponsor the Triangle Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions on Saturday, March 25th, from 1 to 6 PM at Duke University's Love Auditorium.

Peak Oil is the time period in which the maximum production of oil (in millions of barrels per day) ever extracted from the earth occurs. Peak Oil may last for weeks, months, or even a few years. We are unlikely to know we have experienced Peak Oil until we are passed the peak. After the earth passes peak production, the gap between demand and supply will inexorably drive the price of petroleum-based products higher and higher. With 95% of America's transportation energy coming from oil products and much of our food being grown with petroleum-based fertilizers, the peaking of world oil supply has dramatic implications for the nation and the sprawling, mostly auto-dependent Triangle region.

U.S. Representatives Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) have recently formed a Peak Oil Caucus. They are concerned about increasing evidence for a near term peak and permanent decline of world conventional oil production. After peak oil, there will be less energy from oil available for transportation, food production and other critical economic activities.

Chevron Corporation has even been running ads claiming that more oil has been produced than discovered for the last 20 years (see the will you join us? campaign).

Topics to be explored at the conference include Energy, Transportation, Food Production, and Intentional Communities. At the Triangle Conference on Peak Oil, participants will be discussing:

What are our likely sources of transportation and eletrical energy in the future?
What does Peak Oil mean for our economy? For transportation? For growing food?
How much time do we have to begin working on mitigating the impacts of Peak Oil?
How can we take proactive steps to prepare the Triangle, and North Carolina- for this future?

Come to the conference, share your thoughts here, or both!



Unfortunately, I have little faith in humans in general to plan ahead. Nothing much will be done until the oil prices really start affecting the economy (which might be soon). Then someone will figure out how to burn all the coal the US and China are sitting on. Soybeans and Corn won't save us.. see: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5184874 It takes a lot of fossil fuel to make ethanol from corn and soybean diesel is a bit better, but deisel engines pollute a lot more. The practical answer is efficiency, but there is no incentive to conserve. 2.50/gal is dirt cheap still.. for the amount of energy you get out of it. It still doesn't pay to buy a hybrid. 7 cents kilowatt..? why would anyone turn off a light for economic reasons? Development laws favor sprawl.. Without significant government standards for energy efficiency or large taxes on energy.. the average person (or company will not conserve).. And how can they, when they're forced to live 30+ miles from their work in order to afford a place to live.. and local officials are hostile to public transit..

I am a lot less worried about peak oil then the unknown effects of climate change on the ecosystems that support and feed us. You can't eat crude.. If the climate change significantly affects our ability to grow crops, trees, feed livestock.. etc then what will we do?

I didn't get to see 60mins last night, but I heard that gives us a window on how climate policy is going..

I hope the conference can do some good.. really!

sorry for the rant.. I guess I have a bad case of the mondays..

Perhaps a jolt and a floodlight of media on the entire Republican War on Science may help. Our neighbor, Rep. Brad Miller is pushing for such hearings

All issues regarding science and technology will get a better hearing and better use if the overall GOP divorce from reality gets exposed. It worked for NASA a couple of weeks ago. It can work for other areas as well.

Ethanol works. It is just that U.S. politicians are cowards. And so are Americans. Brazil will be energy independent this year with many cars running on 100% ethanol. Oil would have to fall to $35 a barrel to compete with ethanol in Brazil.

And as this article points out:

"Yet countries wanting to follow Brazil's example may be leery about following its methods. Military and civilian leaders laid the groundwork by mandating ethanol use and dictating production levels. They bankrolled technology projects costing billions of dollars, despite criticism they were wasting money. Brazil ended most government support for its sugar industry in the late 1990s, forcing sugar producers to become more efficient and helping lower the cost of ethanol's raw material. That's something Western countries are loath to do, preferring to support domestic farmers."

I beleive it is too late to do anything that will help us financially as we pass the peak.

And don't lay all this on the GOP. All politicians are cowards regarding this issue.

Transit does not save fuel.

Let sunshine prevail


Your rant is right on in many respects, particularly about how laws incentivize people to engage in home-buying and commuing practices that are ultimately unsustainable in a low-energy future.

One of the likely outcomes of Peak Oil is that rising gasoline prices will begin to counteract many of the incentives inherent in zoning, real estate finance, and transportation planning that currently lead to ever-increasing sprawl at the urban fringe.

When this happens, there is the potential for serious economic hardship in areas that have not made policy decisions beforehand to mitigate the impact of very expensive motoring on household budgets.

I think part of the conference's value is that we will talk about some of the potential policy actions that would improve our tax/incentive/subsidy/market forces picture for the post-Peak era.

i'm willing to bet that we don't have a low energy future.

Chris, you're not the only one. John Tierney, the conservative columnist from the New York Times, made a well-publicized bet of $5,000 last year that we will have abundant and cheaper energy in the future.

Tierney made the bet with Matt Simmons, a Republican energy banker from Houston who has sat on the Board of Harvard Business School. Simmons is a 30-year oil industry veteran and the author of Twilight in the Desert, a book written about the decline of Saudi oil.

Tierney made the bet based on his faith in the laws of free markets providing what is needed. Matt Simmons made his bet on the laws of thermodynamics.

Many more Triangle workers are making a bet bigger than Tierney by moving to homes in Clayton, Selma, and Burlington and taking up 30-50 mile one-way commutes.

Simmons' book is available at Davis Library- if you're really interested, pick it up and leaf through it, and then let me know if your optimism stands. Or, come to the conference!

Dark Man:
Sugarcane and Corn are VERY different plants.

From your article: "But U.S. ethanol, which is made from corn, costs at least 30% more than Brazil's product, in part because the starch in corn must be first turned into sugar before being distilled into alcohol. "

It takes a lot more energy to make ethanol from corn than from sugarcane. There aren't very many places in the US you can grow sugarcane.

You are right that the GOP are not the only ones to be cowards on these issues. Everyone has a stake in how energy is used or wasted.

Chris: Even if you don't believe that we have a low energy future.. what is the sense in wasting energy now? Any way you look at it, humans are changing the composition of the atmosphere (http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/graphics/sio-mlgr.gif) and basic physics tells us that will probably change the relatively stable environment we've enjoyed for the past several thousand years.


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