Wall Street Journal: Oil exporters cannot keep up with demand

May 29, 2008

The original article is buried behind the paywall… but here’s a link to the story.

Fresh data from the U.S. Department of Energy show the amount of petroleum products shipped by the world’s top oil exporters fell 2.5% last year, despite a 57% increase in prices, a trend that appears to be holding true this year as well.

There are several reasons behind the net-export decline. Soaring profits from high-price crude have fueled a boom in oil demand in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East, leaving less oil for export. At the same time, aging fields and sluggish investments have caused exports to drop significantly in Mexico, Norway and, most recently, Russia. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries also cut production early last year and didn’t move to boost supplies again until last fall.

The WSJ isn’t quite coming out and stating that we’ve hit the ceiling for how much oil we can produce at any given moment, but this is probably about as close as they will come to doing so until it’s blatantly obvious to all.

I believe we are close to reaching a tipping point here, folks.   How close is hard to say, and I won’t embarrass myself by making a wild-ass prediction as to the date of when we start downhill.  There are too many variables in play, and in the end it doesn’t make that much of a difference if we start to decline now or in five years’ time.  The important lesson here is that demand is at an all-time high and oil exports are dropping.   No one else is stepping up to profit by putting more oil on the market, and if prices get too high it will hurt the global economy and slash world demand accordingly.

The time to sell your SUV or your exurban McMansion was several years ago.   We have friends who live in the outer twin cities that are upside down on their mortgage now.  I don’t know that they will ever get out from underneath it except through hyperinflation or foreclosure/bankruptcy.   They will not be alone, as more & more Americans figure out they built too much, too far from work, and borrowed too much to do it.   Those that made better choices can laugh at them if they like, but they should do so knowing that those over-extended Americans could easily bring down the house of cards known as the US economy.  Their pain will eventually affect us all.

HT: The Oil Drum

“Storms on the Horizon”

May 29, 2008

Not more hyperbole from me… this is the title of a speech given yesterday at the Commonwealth Club of California by Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank.  There have been a number of doom-mongers out there in recent years warning of trouble, along with Comptroller David Walker, who’s been ranting on this subject for a few years now.  When one of the big-wigs at the Fed pipes up, you’d hope more of the sheep raise their heads and listen.

Tonight, I want to talk about a different matter. In keeping with Bill Martin’s advice, I have been scanning the horizon for danger signals even as we continue working to recover from the recent turmoil. In the distance, I see a frightful storm brewing in the form of untethered government debt. I choose the words—“frightful storm”—deliberately to avoid hyperbole. Unless we take steps to deal with it, the long-term fiscal situation of the federal government will be unimaginably more devastating to our economic prosperity than the subprime debacle and the recent debauching of credit markets that we are now working so hard to correct.

The whole speech is worth your time, and when you next debate someone about the relative health of the economy, pass this link on.   It’s hard to write off someone as a Chicken Little whack-job when he’s helping run the monetary policy of the United States.

This speech probably won’t make much of a dent in the mainstream media, which is sad, since as Mr. Fisher points out, bad debt management on the part of the US could very easily wipe our economy out.  Keep your eyes open, and stay vigilant.

Question for the cycling geeks out there…

May 29, 2008

It’s been a busy spring, so my bike has been sitting in the garage since winter. I finally dug it out last night and was filling the tires when a question popped up in my mind that I don’t know the answer to. I’ve got an old Schwinn Searcher that I picked up from the good folks at the Sibley Bike Depot a few years back, and the tires on it (700 x 38c) are rated at between 50 and 85 psi. I punted and filled them up to about 65-68, since I wasn’t sure what the effects of low-end or high-end pressure would be. I’m assuming that lower pressure equals a squishier, possibly slower ride whereas higher pressure means the opposite. I’m a larger fellow ( 6’2″/250) so I’m guessing that higher pressure would be a better choice for me.

Any opinons?  Enquiring minds want to know…

Indonesia leaves OPEC

May 28, 2008

Apparently you have to actually export oil to belong to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries…

The fact that Indonesia no longer qualifies should concern all of us, since there will be just 12 members left after Indonesia exits at the end of the year. The article mentions production declining while domestic consumption is rising… a perfect example of Jeffrey Brown’s Export Land Model in action. I first saw mention of Indonesia’s problems a few years ago… and now that prediction has come true.

(click on the picture to see the whole thing)

On the same business page, CNN is mentioning that oil prices keep rising even though demand is slackening… while I’ll admit that speculation has helped drive prices to where they are today, I also think it’s getting harder to ignore the fact that something else is going on here as well.

Which reminds me… I need to get a set of grocery bag panniers for my old Schwinn… no point in burning gas for a quick trip to the store anymore.

Canadian student isolates microbe that breaks down plastic bags

May 26, 2008

Someone line this young man up with a gold star and a full ride to the university of his choice:

Getting ordinary plastic bags to rot away like banana peels would be an environmental dream come true.

After all, we produce 500 billion a year worldwide and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. They take up space in landfills, litter our streets and parks, pollute the oceans and kill the animals that eat them.

Now a Waterloo teenager has found a way to make plastic bags degrade faster — in three months, he figures.


HT: Cryptogon

Kunstler in the Washington Post

May 26, 2008

Another good article from Mr. Kunstler.   Based on the webpage, it appears to have been published in the religion section instead of op-ed, which would be a shame.

‘A Malthusian-inspired “Heads Up” for humanity’

May 26, 2008

I think I found this via The Oil Drum… I can’t remember right now. Anyway, if you need a reminder of what we are going to be facing in coming years, or perhaps you have a friend or family member that needs some convincing, here’s a site that will give them a decent intro to peak oil, with links to follow for more research.

Evolutionary Psychology and peak oil: A Malthusian inspired “heads up” for humanity.

One of my favorite parts of Professor Mills’ presentation is his discussion of the race between Malthus and Kurzweil. The idea of two exponential trends in a race to decide the future of humanity is an interesting one, especially considering that regardless of which of these trends wins, we all could end up in one type of hell on earth or another.

The tie-in of evolutionary psychology would make Jay Hanson smile. More proof that the dominant response to a negative sum game like the one we’re starting to play now will likely not be one that involves a lot of sharing and a community effort.

At the Food Bank

May 25, 2008

My son spent last night at my mother’s home. Earlier on Saturday, I brought him to my mom at her church in south Minneapolis, where she volunteers at a local food bank distribution site on Saturday mornings. She’s brought my son there several times in the past when she keeps him overnight. He’s 5, so while he’s picked up on the concept that they are giving food away for free, it hasn’t dawned on him why these folks are doing so. There’ll be plenty of time for that in the future…

Anyway, I spent a few minutes conversing with my mom and some of her friends about the project. The size of the crowd waxes & wanes from week to week, but usual attendance ranges from 150-200. Over the last few months the number of attendees has been growing. This week there was at least 260 folks that took part. As has been reported on the local news recently, the tanking economy has both increased the number of people needed to use food banks while at the same time reducing the number of people who donate to those same food banks.

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This just in

May 23, 2008

This caught my eye this morning while ingesting the first dose of caffeine for the day.

“Vacations are a nonnegotiable part of contemporary life, even in challenging economic times,” said travel industry spokesman Peter Yesawich.

In a similar vein, a spokesman for the Association of US Mortgage Lenders stated that massive mortgages and cyclical refinancing are a nonnegotiable part of contemporary life, and when economic times get tough, subprime mortgages and negative-amortization ARM’s are there to help.

Yet another indication of how invested our society is in the easy motoring culture we have built for ourselves.  The interesting part is that a lot of people will agree with the statement made by the travel industry shill and will indeed continue to go on vacations even while the bills start racking up.


Cracks in the Dam

May 22, 2008

I’ve been aware of the peak oil theory for a number of years now, and I have been convinced that this theory is slowly but surely turning into a fact. A decline in the availability of oil and the connected rise in pricing will mean the end of the current ‘modern, (post-)industrial lifestyle’ that many people around the globe either are enjoying or aspire to do so.

The end of this culture will probably result in a series of shocks to global society that are unpredictable at best. One of the end results of the reduction of available energy supplies will be the disruption of the fiat money system, which relies on expansion (both economic and fiscal) to operate. Entities who have major amount of their assets tied up this system stand to lose those assets through depreciation or default. So those people who are in a position to profit from the continuation of the American Dream have done what they could to censor the story, or failing that, ridicule peak oil proponents as nuts, cranks or conspiracy theorists.

Well, times are changing, and it’s pretty damn obvious even to the most clueless American that something is going on. Gas prices are rising fast, as are food prices. Pricing for everything else will be heading north as well as producers and transporters will be forced to pass on higher costs to the customer. People are waking up to the fact that the salad days of retail therapy and gorging on cheap, disposable crap are coming to an end for most of us. We’ll be more worried about getting to work and putting food on the table rather than pondering which Carribean Island we’ll be vacationing at this winter. Hell, a ‘big family trip’ might now be a road trip to a regional location, if there is a trip to be taken at all.

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