Last week, I gave a talk called Financial Issues Affecting Energy Security at the Advances in Energy Studies conference in Mumbai, India. The general topic of the conference was, “Energy Security and Development-The Changing Global Context.”
As I look at the situation, it seems to me that many of the crises around the world are connected to oil supply and the cost of this oil supply. If oil supply gets tighter, there is potential for these crises to get worse. In this talk, I will also show the connection of oil supply limits to some of the financial crises we see today, and to energy security. I will also show some slides on the Indian oil and coal situation, and explain some connections to world limits.
World GDP, oil consumption, and energy consumption tend to move in tandem (Slide 2). While the figures shown above are for the world, the same situation tends to exist for smaller groupings as well. Countries with rapid economic growth tend to use a growing amount of energy, especially oil. This is logical, because making goods and services tends to use energy. For example, growing food and transporting it using modern methods uses oil.
Another reason energy consumption and growth in GDP tend to go together is because workers who earn a salary by making goods or services can afford to buy goods and services using oil and other energy products. For example, they may be able to afford to buy a car or to go on a vacation. People who have lost their jobs have much less to spend on goods and services. This is another reason energy (and oil) consumption tends to be higher when more people have jobs–that is during periods of economic growth.
Countries with little economic growth tend to be ones with little growth in oil consumption, and in energy consumption in general.
If we look at world oil supply and price (Slide 3), we see that there have been two big price spikes. The first one came in the 1970s and early 1980s, after the oil production of the United States began to fall in 1971. The United States found itself increasingly dependent on imports, leaving the door open for the Arab Oil Embargo. By the mid-1980s, the world got its oil supply problem under control, partly by drilling for oil in new places (North Sea, Alaska, and Mexico) and partly by finding ways to reduce oil consumption (smaller cars; shifting electricity production to coal or nuclear instead of oil).
In recent years, we are facing a second sharp rise in oil prices. This sharp rise really reflects both a “demand” and a “supply” problem:
(1) Demand. World demand for oil started rising sharply after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. China, India, and other Asian countries began rapid economic growth, leading to a greater need for oil and other energy products. Slide 3 shows world supply did not show any unusual “spurt” to meet this demand. Instead prices began to rise.
(2) Supply. To a significant extent, “The easy oil is gone“. What is left in the ground is oil that is both expensive and slow to extract. Two examples of such oil are “shale oil” and bitumen from the Canadian oil sands. Because of high extraction costs, these types of oil need a high sales price to justify their extraction. In fact, a recent report indicates that costs in the Canadian oil sands are soaring. If growth in oil sands production is to continue at forecast levels, oil prices will need to be higher than has recently been the case.
If we look at a graph of growth in oil supply with fitted trend lines, we can see that the rate of growth has in fact been declining over time. This is precisely the opposite of what is needed to accommodate the energy needs of rapidly growing countries such as India and China, and is part of the reason for current high prices.
If we look at world oil consumption divided among three different parts of the world (Slide 5), we see three very different patterns:
(1) European Union, United States and Japan combined. Consumption has fallen since 2005. These are precisely the countries with serious recessions in the 2007-2009 period, when oil consumption was dropping rapidly.
(2) Former Soviet Union (FSU) – Consumption fell when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and has never recovered.
(3) Remainder (many countries, including China, India, and oil exporters) – Consumption grows rapidly, year after year, even though world supply is not growing by much.
If world oil supply remains relatively flat (as is recently the case on Slide 4), and the growth pattern shown on Slide 5 continues, it is clear that there will soon be a conflict. Either the EU, US, Japan grouping will need to drop their consumption by more, or the “Remainder” group will need to slow down on their consumption, or both. This pattern could mean slower growth for the “Remainder” grouping, or outright recession for the European Union, US and Japan.
In countries where oil prices are not subsidized, such as the European Union, the United States, and Japan, there are several basic issues:
(1) Because oil prices are not subsidized, higher oil prices are passed through to consumers. These higher prices lead consumers to cut back on discretionary expenses because oil is used for some of the necessities of life, including food production and commuting to jobs. As a result, people in discretionary industries, such as vacation travel, and restaurants, tend to be laid off. There may also be debt defaults, if laid-off workers cannot afford to repay loans. The combination of these factors leads to recession.
(2) Governments are affected, too, because laid-off workers pay less in taxes. Furthermore, laid-off workers often need unemployment benefits and other benefits to mitigate their circumstances. The government may also choose to “stimulate” the economy, or to bail out banks with bad loans. With all of the additional spending and less revenue, recessionary forces get transferred to the governmental sector. This is why so many governments are now troubled with high debt.
(3) In the Euro zone, counties in poor financial condition find it necessary to pay higher interest rates. adding to the country’s financial difficulties. The US has been spared this problem so far, partly because it is viewed as a “safe haven” from Euro problems, and partly because it has the ability to manipulate the level of its currency.
Countries vary in their exposure to high oil prices. Oil importers who get a large share of their total energy from oil (as opposed to other types of fuel) seem to be most at risk. The PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) tend to be countries using large share of oil in their energy mix. A country which can’t regulate its own currency, such as Greece and other Euro countries is at particularly high risk, because of the problem with higher interest rates mentioned earlier (because these countries cannot drop the value of their currency, to make their exports more competitive).
Eventually, it seems likely that high oil prices will affect all economies, even those of oil exporters. Extra funds from oil exports do not “make their way” to all consumers. So while some parts of an economy may be booming, others will collapse from lack of funds.
Greece provides an example of the dip in oil consumption that occurs when a country enters a recession. Greece’s largest industry is tourism. High oil prices affect consumers’ ability to purchase vacations in Greece. Large multinational companies (such as Coca Cola Hellenic) decide to move out, for more stability, further adding to the country’s problems. With less investment, the country has an even greater tendency to spiral downward.
Other European countries requiring bailouts tend to follow a similar pattern to Greece (Slide 9).
So far, we have been talking about countries which don’t subsidize oil prices. How about other countries?
One such country is Egypt (Slide 10). For quite some time, it was an oil exporter. It historically has subsidized both food and oil prices. It has run into problems recently because oil consumption has been rising at the same time that oil production has been falling. Without oil exports to sell, it is very hard to have enough money to fund subsidies of food and oil. Cutbacks in subsidies lead to civil unrest, and the situation starts going downhill quickly. I wrote a post about the Egypt situation earlier, What Lies Behind Egypt’s Problems?
India is not an oil exporter, but it has been subsidizing diesel prices. The graph shown on Slide 11 shows that oil consumption has been rising rapidly, while India’s own oil production has been almost flat. This combination is problematic, because it becomes very expensive to subsidize increasing imports. The growing gap puts pressure on the rupee. It also leads to deficit spending, which in turn leads to a lower sovereign debt rating.
India is now using more coal for generation than it is exporting. Furthermore, the rate of increase in supply and consumption seem to be diverging, with coal production recently becoming much flatter than consumption.
Coal imports cannot be expected to rise indefinitely. China and Europe are both interested in purchasing coal imports, so there is competition for available supply. Also, coal imports tend to be expensive, because of the cost of transport. Coal import costs put pressure on India’s financial condition, just as oil imports do.
Shortages of oil, coal and gas are already taking a toll on India’s economic growth, according to the Wall Street Journal: Grinding Energy Shortage Takes Toll on India’s Growth.
It seems to me that government officials are making plans for the future without really understanding what a limited supply of cheap oil means. What it means, in practical terms, is that governments and citizens will be poorer, rather than richer, in the future. There will be fewer people employed in jobs that require external energy (practically all jobs in Western countries today). Because of energy constraints, wages of most workers will tend to fall in inflation adjusted terms.
Governments will be particularly be affected, because there will be a drop in their tax revenue at the same time that there is more need for governmental services. It will be difficult to keep up pension programs and fuel subsidy programs. The higher cost of fuel (including cooking fuel, where there are subsidies) will mean that consumers will find fuel less affordable. Governments of countries that are particularly affected are likely to be subject to major changes, as citizens become increasingly unhappy with the status quo.
We can look at countries such as Greece to get an idea of the more direct financial security impacts that we can expect. In Greece, we find that high solar feed in tariffs are increasingly a problem, and have recently been reduced. Two electricity companies that rely heavily on natural gas have gone bankrupt. The possibility of rotating blackouts has been mentioned, if the country cannot afford to import high-priced natural gas and oil for electricity. As the highest cost-electricity becomes less affordable, an increasing proportion of electricity seems likely to come from the lowest cost fuel, locally produced lignite.
Also in Greece, non-payment of bills, theft of electricity, and theft of copper wire are already being reported as problems.
In Portugal, China recently bought an interest in the company operating Portugal’s electric grid. The sale was necessitated by the poor financial condition of the company.
Civil unrest is increasingly becoming a problem in countries with shortfalls in affordable energy. Greece. Spain, and Egypt all report civil unrest. If nothing else, such unrest could lead to damage to energy structures, such as electric power plants, including nuclear plants.
As there is more competition for limited resources, the world as we have known it is likely to change. Willingness to accept foreigners into one’s country will decline, if there are not enough good-paying jobs to go around. There will be direct conflict over resources, such as China and Japan’s recent oil dispute.
The Euro zone brought together unequal countries, nearly all of which were short on energy supplies. Now, we are hearing increasing reports about the possibility of the Euro zone’s financial disintegration.
Even within countries, there is the possibility of rich areas wanting to be free from areas which are less well off. We see this dynamic playing out as there are growing calls in Catalonia for independence from Spain.
As countries face the need to cutback, rather than grow, world trade can be expected to decline. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently reported, “World Trade Volumes Decline for Third Month.” While it is not certain the current dip will continue, this is a pattern we can expect to see again. Conflict between countries, such as we are seeing between Japan and China, can be expected to lead to a drop in trade. The need for austerity measures in countries with financial problems is also likely to lead to a drop in trade.
While it would be nice to assume “Business as Usual” will continue, and “a rising tide will lift all boats,” these situations look increasingly less likely. What we are instead seeing is that a lowering tide can adversely affect the energy security of many countries at the same time. This is not an easy thought to consider, especially for a country such as India, whose per-capita energy use lags far behind the world average.
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Ha, India unable to import coal, that’s a laugh.
I can assure you, re:less of the “green” intentions of their leaders, the good citizens of Australia and Canada will happily export India all the coal she asks for. Both of those countries are very, very eager to ramp up coal exports.
And the USA, of course. The USA is the Saudi Arabia of coal, we have plenty of it, and a wonderful logistics network of trains, barges and ships, ready and willing to export.
Also, didn’t global trade hit an all time high in 2012? After hitting another in 2011? If so, how does this jibe with “declining global trade”? Is “declining global trade” actually something that we are seeing, or just something you are predicting.
Those ships (of which there are plenty) are actually quite fuel efficient. That’s the joke of the peak-oil, localize nexus — they are protesting the most fuel efficient part of the international economy… large slow ships loaded to the gills.
Increasing American coal exports isn’t a prediction it’s a reality. Check out the second chart! http://www.eia.gov/coal/production/quarterly/ Go go globalization! Export us some coal.
I agree that the US will export coal to India, and perhaps Canada too. But how much this will ramp is a question. I expect more ships to transport coal would be needed.
There is also a question of how much India can afford. It’s financial situation is getting stretched thin.
I agree. “Peak ships”. The global supply of ships is finite. And also require oil.
For cheap coal to replace expensive oil in a way that prevents the GLOBAL economy from falling off the energy cliff – am I correct in thinking that:
– it would have to be CTL at something like 50-60$/bl in the long run (not likely for reasons of EROEI and lack of investment capital)
and / or
– it would have to be coal powered plants for use in electric vehicles (not likely for the cost, scale and duration of the transition required).
That would still leave room for INDIVIDUAL countries or investors to make temporary profit from a coal boom. But over time the economic and financial problems will prevail. Is that correct?
You are right. Besides the issues you mention, there is a timing issue for building the needed CTL plants, and a water needs issue for those plants. So it isn’t likely to happen.
I would look for coal liquification to grow hugely, both around the world and in this country.
The USA uses 5 billion gallons of water each day to water golf courses.
That’s just golf courses mind you, not residential lawn watering. Every single day, 15 gallons of water per person are used just for golf. That’s a sign of how much excess water the USA has, in sum.
Of course, they will need to insure the water can be delivered when they locate the coal liquification plants, but water is cheap and not difficult to move.
Something tells me they’ll find the water for making gasoline at $3 per gallon.
Pretending that gasoline will be unavailable in a country with abundant water, coal and natural gas is just silly. When you factor in CO2 sequestration via enhanced oil recovery (which almost pays for itself) then the green opposition will be impotent. Obama will probably brag about the increase in CO2 sequestration, actually.
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Its pretty obvious that most people think you use money to create energy ie by buying it in whatever form is applicable
this is the world scale classic mistake.
the reverse is true, the current world economy has been created by digging energy out of the ground and giving it a monetary value. You turn energy into money—you cannot turn money into energy
that works only so long as you can keep on digging up more energy at a profitable rate
Not even Nobel (economics) prizewinners understand that.
to quote Paul Krugman: “My spending pays my neighbours wages, his spending pays my wages”
with that level of economic genius an our financial helm, is it any wonder that we’ve hit the fiscal iceberg?
The Brits have to bare the blame on all this mess anyway (especially “economics” stupidities 🙂
It is a rare ascetic, who, when presented with a chance of warmth, comfort and even modest wealth, doesn’t grab at it.
it’s called survival instinct and there’s very little we can do about it,
The brits, along with the rest of the European rag tag army of expats, grafted their philosophy onto America, and proceeded to loot that country of its resources.
It is hard to understand how economists have gained as much respect as they have. Part of it seems to be their models which are too difficult for most to understand. If the models have some small predictive value in a BAU scenario, that seems to be good enough to “sell” the worth of the discipline.
Yes, and what is strange about the “economics” discourse is the lack of historical (and physical) sense. For instance reading Krugman’s blog, he sometimes write things like “we know how these crisis behave, the knowledge is there, so let’s apply it”, somehow avoiding the true singularity or peculiar aspect of our time, rendering comparison to other crisis totally meaningless. But in fact current economics is itself concomittent to the industrial revolution period, so that its “growth or not” as a main criteria totally falls flat out of this period. I’m reading a bit the “physiocrats” these days, sometimes considered as the first economists theorists, and interestingly they were viewing agriculture as the only real wealth creation : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physiocrats
(but then agriculture can also be seen as already having broken the “ecological steady state”, if even that makes sense at all)
Just discovered your blog while reading one of the articles on TOD. I am a German, and over here we have strange silence about most of the things discussed on this site, especially not the relation with the economy. Probably we still believe too much in our success story to care. Therefore I’m now reading all past articles on this blog, including the comments which I also like.
On the other hand, we now have in Germany this huge and idealistic program with renewables replacing all nuclear energy, and the small people complaining (uselessly) about sharply rising electricity bills, while big companies are exempt from the special taxes that are supposed to fund the program.
Keep on the good work!
Glad you found the site. I am also glad that Germany volunteered to be the “Guinea Pig” for testing whether it is possible to scale renewable energy. It is a lot easier to tell people this is not going to work when there is a country that has tried it and found out that intermittency is a huge problem, and that costs are higher than most people have expected.
Spain has been a smaller test case. I understand Pedro Prieto and Charles Hall are working on a book explaining the problems there.
And even if it somehow works in one country, wouldn’t prove it can work on a global basis. Currently Germany is importing nuclear and other energy from our neighbours during the “transition” period, meaning even if we succeed we are doing so using external “old energy” structures for an extended time.
Again, wonderful blog, actually the first one I see with a kind of complete answer. People in the comment section very polite and thoughtful – also a rare phenomenon today. Keep it on!
Do you have any book written? Are there more audio interviews?
Unfortunately, I don’t have any books written, although I keep thinking about it, and I have been discussing the idea with others. Putting together what get to be depressing ideas into a book seems to have a problem. The story can be taken in small doses, but I am not so certain about large ones. The people who write books all want to “sell” their version of a happy ending. There is also the issue of the cost of a book with colored graphs. Unless I am willing to make black and white graphs, a book I would write would be out of the price range for most readers.
There aren’t too much in the way of audio interviews around, either. I really do better in a written context, rather than an interview situation. If nothing else, an interview situation doesn’t lend itself to showing graphs, and a picture is worth a thousand words. If I am making a presentation, then I can show the graphs.
Our Finite World has nearly all of my posts for the last couple of years. Before that, I wrote more on The Oil Drum, and they still copy some of my posts. They would like to keep their focus to non-finacial oil-related matters, so don’t have a lot of the recent ones. I do have a tab listing links to some of my Oil Drum posts.
I might also mention that there is an academic article I wrote in the journal Energy, that is normally behind a paywall: Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis. There is a way that you can legally get around the paywall though. With some luck, this link will work. If not, you can find this link in this post that may work. Of e-mail me at GailTverberg at comcast dot net.
The second free link still works!
You are right, the issue with the graphs makes sense. And I understand your reason for hesitating to write a doomer’s book. Even if not in the happy ending category, at least people want to be offered individual advice (like buying gold or prepping). But as I understand your context, “solutions” are 1)difficult to predict because complex interconnectedness and uncertain global outcomes of all the trends involved, and 2)probably not easy and promising ones, just less of everything.
If just the TIMING wouldn’t be so difficult – as an individual you may take the right decisions, but at the wrong time.
I am afraid the timing is very soon–brought on by financial implications of high oil prices in Europe, US, and Japan. The situation in Europe is obvious. The US’s problems are hidden behind the fiscal cliff. All of the funny things being done to the financial system are not sustainable. News out of Japan today is that its GDP dropped in the third quarter, as the temporary effect of the additional government spending after the earthquake wears off.
This makes all of the stories about what might happen 10 or 15 years from now meaningless. Our financial system is so tied in with everything, that a severe problem with it would mess up possibilities for extraction around the world, likely bringing on “peak oil”.
Good summary, see you’ve changed your stance a bit regarding the first oil shock, as to the embargo, a quick summary could probably be :
– The declaration of the “embargo” had a very clear effect on the barrel price, in an already bull market (from intrisic aspects following US peak and OPEC/majors wish to raise the barrel price, as well as $ devaluation following dropring of Bretton Woods)
– In terms of actual number of barrels on the market, almost no effect, and this in an overall growing market in number of barrels (and this apart from KSA “cheating” the “embargo” towards the US as described by James Akins)
It is hard to explain in a few words that it wasn’t really the embargo that was the problem–it was the underlying condition that was the problem. Pulling out of the Bretton Woods Accord in 1971 also helped set the stage.
Gail, thank you for another very clear presentation of the world’s most pressing problem. When will the politicians and general populace wake up to this? What could they do if they did, though? I understand the “every little helps” philosophy, but changing your light bulbs will not cure the lack of resources. The only answer I can see is to downsize everything, from lifestyles to populations.
I was indeed “born at the right time”, I only hope that my meagre pension lasts me out. I find it hard to be hopeful.
I am doubtful politicians and the general populace will wake up to this.
I expect that we will walk into a financial collapse not too far down the road. Most people will not connect it to oil and energy problems–all they will connect it to is poor financial practices. The financial collapse will likely lead to major political changes as well, and things will generally spiral downhill. But I am doubtful many people will make the connection.
Thanks for another very interesting read, Gail.
I’d just like to get your opinion on something very closely related to the issue of energy security. Which countries do you consider to be the best places to live in the coming decades? Also, how would you prioritize the criteria for rating these countries (e.g. 1. Energy security, 2. Fiscal situation, 3. Climate change etc.).
Personally, I’ve put my money on Norway (where I now live) because of it’s oil and hydropower riches and its large sovereign wealth fund. What would be your top three countries to live in?
I’ve often thought about a ‘safe place to live’ too, the problem with that, as I see it, is that throughout history whenever one nation runs out of resources, they tend to steal it from somewhere else.
WW2 was essentially a dash for resources. the British Empire was an expansionist program to sustain home industry with raw materials and create markets for exports, The Americas expanded over 4 centuries to absorb the excess of Europe
I’m really not sure where would be the best places to live. It depends on the path downward.
You are right in that having good oil production capability in Norway is helpful–also hydroelectric. I am guessing that the sovereign wealth fund will be worth less than folks expect it will be.
I personally would look at arable land relative to population. Also water resources. Without enough food and water, it really doesn’t matter what you have–although if trade remains intact, and countries have food to sell, a country with oil exports should be able to buy it.
With respect to arable land relative to population, some countries that come to mind are Australia, Canada, Argentina, and the United States. There are probably quite a few other South American and Central American countries as well–Guyana, Paraguay, Uruguay, Nicaragua, and Brazil, for example. If I believe the Nationmaster’s list of arable land by country, there are a number of places in Eastern Europe and Africa as well (including Russia and the Ukraine). Finland and Denmark seem to rank well on this metric, but at some point, short growing season is a problem. So are close by high population areas.
There is an advantage to “not being too developed”, because it would seem like there would be a greater body of knowledge on how to go backward, and what crops will reasonably grow there. There is also an advantage to not having too adverse a climate, since it takes energy to mitigate this.
Anywhere in the northern hemisphere is not particularly safe. A nuclear exchange (limited or total) will occur almost exclusively in the northen hemisphere. It takes some time for the air masses of the northern and southern hemispheres to mix. There is a shear boundary at the equator which limits mixing. Both major nuclear and major conventional conflicts will occur almost exclusively in the northern hemisphere.
The safest place in the world is probably the state of Tasmania, Australia, as it is farthest from all possible conflict zones. Tasmania is also geologically stable, unlike New Zealand for example. However, if Lake Taupo, New Zealand, re-erupts as a super volcano then the betting all changes. The southern hemisphere would be pretty much destroyed for all macro life and the northern hemisphere would fare somewhat better.
Life’s a lottery on the 3rd rock from the sun.
There were about 543 above ground nuclear tests following WWII yet population and US life expectancy continued to increase. Except for the obvious local effects, I would not be overly concerned about limited nuclear exchanges
Generally, the Americas are superior to Europe and Asia due to lower population densities and better water sources. A list of the Top 10 North American Bugout Locations can be found at
That is my view as well. Even though it has been hundreds of years since Europeans started populating the “New World,” we still haven’t caught up to the Old World in population density.
Thanks for your opinions, guys. I guess it is as Gail said; it all depends on the path downwards.
I really wish the future was a little less impossible to predict, but I still believe that the path downwards, albeit uncomfortable, will not be catastrophic. I think that economic factors will gradually force developed world citizens to cut their consumption in half and there will be a few painful economic collapses, but I still hope that the lights will stay on, the supermarkets will remain stocked and the nuclear missiles will stay in their silos. In this situation, Norway is probably one of the best bets.
But yes, in these times of unprecedented uncertainty almost any choice is a gamble…
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Maybe you are not aware of India’s naxilite Maoist insurgency going on. According to a Indian admiral I know, they control 40% of the country running a parallel government. Lack of development (which will never come) in the countryside must be to blame.
I had heard that tourists are not allowed in some areas because of insurgencies. Until I looked up the name, I hadn’t put a specific name to it.This is a link I found.
India is still less united than a person might expect. According to Wikipedia, 30 languages are spoken by more than 1,000,000 people, and 122 languages are spoken by more than 10,000 people. In contrast, China has a single written language, with many different spoken languages using the same written language.
This is overstating the linguistic unity of China. Different dialects of Chinese may use the same script (or traditional characters, as in Taiwan), but Tibetan, Uyghur, and many languages of southwest China are not written in Chinese.The point about India is valid. Thanks for a very clear article.
THanks for the info on the linguistic unity of China. Sometimes people try to make the unity sound like more than it really is.
India does have Hindi as its official language, and educated people tend to know English. So there is reasonable language unity among the educated classes.
From what I can research, the Naxalites are active in 40% of the states of India. This is not the same as controlling 40% of the country. In fact, depending on the reality on the ground it might equate to controlling about 1% to 2% of India at best. That is my guess. Nevertheless, the Naxalites are a significant problem for India and the future is not predictable. If India suffers from increasing energy shortages and associated economic and social problems then the influence of the Naxalites could grow.
If the US media is like the Australian media then it focuses on domestic politics, then world power politics (US, China, Russia, EU) and then Middle Easterm politics. India is neglected and few outside India will be aware of the Naxalite insurgency. It would not surprise me if China was clandestinely aiding the Naxalite-Maoists.