Geologists and Engineers are Today’s Peak Oil Cowboys

Cowboy


Hello Penelope Trunk readers!  She’s a great consultant!

She “outed me,” though.  I don’t like to talk about my clients, but I do like to work with engineers, geologists, and those in the energy sector. However, I’d never name names.

These are men of action, and they know how to do things.  I have an ‘I-can-do-that’ envy.

Not all of these guys have woken up to the reality of Peak Oil.  The guy at Peak Engineering believes there are six reasons for this:

(1)  Everything still looks normal.

“Just look around you — there are no signs of Peak Oil”.

(2) Supply and Price

Older guys remember that when the price of oil goes through the roof, so do the investment dollars.

“For example, forty years ago the offshore industry in the Gulf of Mexico consisted primarily of small, four leg platforms in shallow water (less than 1000 feet). As production from these platforms declined and oil prices went up, so the industry was able to move into deeper and deeper waters, with considerable success.”

(3)  Technology- évidemment

(4)  Crying Wolf

“I heard this once before, and it all turned out to be exaggerated and misleading. Fool me once: shame on you; fool me twice: shame on me.”

(5)  Imagination

“We don’t serve neutrinos here,” says the bartender.
A neutrino walks into a bar.

(That’s an Internet physics joke)

Look at this great letter I got from a geologist in 2006:

Good Evening Peak Shrink,

I found your website a few weeks ago and have spent several evenings reading the stories and going through the site. After some debate while reading your website, I thought I might add a different perspective from a person that has the means and the past to deal with this issue in his own way.

First of all, I used to literally live in the oil field. I am a Professional Geologist by trade. I used to direct oil rigs drilling for oil. For many years I averaged 30 weeks a year in the field, babysitting drilling rigs. After a few years of gaining experience, I became a wildcatter with a fellow Geologist, started a independent oil company in [MidWest]and eventually found a nice oil field on the [MidWest] line. My partner and I found several other minor oil wells and we were eventually bought out by our rich [Western US] investors. I kept my royalties/working interest and now I find it most ironic, that I am spending my oil money in preparation for Peak Oil. I would add that I have watched my own oilfields hit Peak Oil and start their own decline curves, the same as they all will do worldwide, with time.

I learned about Peak Oil about 15 months ago from a wall street Market Watch article on stock investing, and since then I have dedicated a part of nearly every day in preparation for this event. I have read and own most all of the Peak Oil books. My library of books concerning Solar, Gardening, Root Cellaring, Organic Farming, Alternate Energy, etc., etc. has grown large enough to stock a small book case and I have read every one of them, several of them more than once.

I was divorced 16 years ago and raised my 20 year-old daughter as a single parent. Now that she is in college, I live alone. I have made several moves to prepare for peak oil. At first, I reacted as many of you have when learning and understanding the concept Peak Oil. I was in a daze for several weeks unsure of “what to do”. I overreacted by immediately purchasing a -40 degree sleeping bag, a water purification kit, a solar battery charger, a solar powered radio and a few other small items including a lot of ammunition for the several guns that I own. As I became more convinced that the books and articles were correct, I decided to make several moves that would enhance my country home and make me more self sufficient. I am in the camp of the early peakers. I think we are about there, but not quite. Mexico showed us a few things this year when they made up our lost Prudhoe Bay production (way to go BP). Now we have found what looks to be a major oil field producing from a new horizon in the Gulf. This all will help delay Peak Oil and give us time to get ready.

Fortunately, I live on 20 acres with lots of woods, a lake and a view, located in rural Nebraska. The house I built nine years ago is a very energy efficient home. I built this house to withstand the wind, cold and in general, the worst of Nebraska weather, 2X6 walls, R-50 insulation, triple pane gas filled windows, big garage protecting the house from the North winds, etc. Because I have a great job and with my oilfield money, I have taken some steps that many of your readers have wished they could do and some have. I feel very fortunate. Maybe I am still over-reacting, but these actions should make me more self sufficient and increase the value of the house, when the time comes for my daughter to sell it because I am not around. I try to take a conservative line just in case we are wrong about when Peak Oil will occur. If it’s later than sooner, she can sell this place and deal with Peak Oil in her own way. I have talked to her about it, starting to get her familiar with the concept. She and her boyfriend have been very receptive to the issue as much as 20 year olds can be. She thinks some of the stuff I have done is pretty cool and probably a little weird.

I have spent the last nine months designing and installing a 1.35 Kilowatt off-the-grid solar power system for the house. I was amused that the last time my daughter came up to visit, she headed directly downstairs to see how I was progressing on the project. She likes to look at the solar electrical equipment hanging on the wall in the laundry room. Not to mention the bright red Rolls Surrette batteries sitting in their enclosure being recharged each day. I have recently brought the system on line and hey, it’s not that hard to live with an all 120 volt solar powered house. My power company actually called me this week to warn me that I may have read the meter wrong because it was 1/4 of what is has been. I had to laugh and explain to her that the reading was right. The 220 volt stuff like the well pump is still on the grid and so is the fridge, the electric oven and the AC/Heating, but every one of those items can be swapped out for propane or wood and they will be soon. The only thing I can’t find a good alternative for is the well pump. My well is 450 deep and it takes a 240 volt pump to bring the water to the surface and pressurize a house. However, advances are being made even for that problem.

This summer I put in a 40 X 50 foot garden, importing the top 22 inches of top soil and removing same from the gardens location. Our soil here is pure clay so I overexcavated the garden area with a track Caterpillar and removed about 150 cubic yards of clay and replaced it with good black dirt. Since then I am growing veggies organically. No synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. The entire garden is surrounded with multiple layers of solar powered electric fence to keep the critters out. It works well and the food is great.

The last project for this year is a high end wood burning stove installation. I am going to install a Vermont Castings wood burning stove. That little project is already underway as I am reinforcing around one attic roof truss that I must cut, to center the stove in the room. Once the truss work is finished, the stove installation will be easy. It will be in by the end of October. I have been cutting, splitting and selling all the wood from my acreage with friends for nine years, no more. The wood is now being stockpiled for me and the stove.

Last winter I purchased a Honda Civic that is currently getting 41.4 MPG, because I drive 97% two lane highway at 60 MPH, 20 miles to get to work. The Honda is not a hybrid. The car replaced my 3/4 ton Chevy pick-up that got 12 MPG.

My lake is stocked with edible fish and is self supporting with bluegills, catfish and bass. Fishing will be my retirement one way or the other. Either for survival or hopefully, for just the sport and an occasional fish supper.

So I have addressed several energy issues and self sufficiency issues the first year, and there will be more to come I would like an “on demand” water heater, a propane powered stove, high efficiency fridge (Sun Frost) and a root cellar. I would also like to add to the solar system to include 240 volt. We’ll work on that the next year. I don’t talk to many people about Peak Oil, when they see what I have done, especially the big solar array that sits beside my house and follows the sun, I just tell them it’s time to address the higher cost of energy and that I believe it will go much higher soon. I think they get the feeling that I am probably right, but little is said. Like the books say, everyone hates bad news. The one person that will talk about the future with me, is my electrician who helped me install the solar system. He thinks that I am doing the right thing and is making some moves himself. I have another friend who is well versed on Peak Oil, but has lived a sustainable life style for many years, way before we ever considered the concept of Peak Oil. He lives in a beautiful straw bale designed house on 20 acres that is heated solely by wood and grows and raises much of his own food. He has a wife and three kids. He is way ahead of me and I envy him. He has bees for honey, chickens for eggs and meat, goats for milk, an organic garden, a large greenhouse and participates in farming partnerships with his neighbors for other food items.

So in my first year I have enhanced the value of my home and my lifestyle. I feel nothing is wrong with that, and it gives me something to do during my free time. Are these things the right things to do? I think so but who knows really, Peak Oil has never happened before, and what will actually happen is anyone’s guess. But I do know the wolf is truly at the door and our Government as well as most people are doing nothing about this issue, and don’t have a clue that something bad is coming. Our railroads are in miserable shape and our government still protects the American auto manufacturer, so we continue to use oil for transportation at a ridiculous rate. Mother earth has had just about enough and soon we all will have to deal with reality, one way or another. The global economy is about to come to an end and as a guy with a degree in science, (geology) it will be most interesting to watch for as long as I can.

I am enjoying this evening writing this note with my computer running on today’s sun and it’s a great feeling. Makes me think that if the population as a whole will start to make some basic changes like I have, and many of you have, then we will be fine. We have just got to get started and that’s the hardest part.

Good luck to you all out there. I have enjoyed your articles. It’s interesting hearing from the folks across the rest of the country on this issue and what you are doing about it. Keep up the good work.

Former Wildcatter Eating Bass

 

He’s writing on his solar powered computer!

Or this engineer who wrote me privately;

“Keep in mind I am living in two worlds: in my professional life in a huge, conservative, fossil fuel extraction corporation, and in my private life in a small, liberal, renewable energy supporting community. My professional life is extremely lucrative and quite frankly boring, but it supports my personal life. Last year, I worked professionally on multimillion dollar work in coal mining and Canadian oilsands mining; but I also converted a car from diesel to waste vegetable oil which I drive regularly; installed a small wind turbine; installed a micro hydro plant and; took a course in photovoltaics.

Here is the thing: each world perceives the other world as a threat, so I am a threat to both, but the hard reality is that neither one can achieve their agenda without the other, and they are both in denial about that. I am sort of a bridge between both – I’m groping with what kind of bridge, but I guess one day I will figure it out.

 

This same guy cured his own severe diabetes through diet change, while traveling half the year on business trips.

These are the real tough “cowboys” in today’s world.  And these are men who’d like to think  that talking to a psychologist is in the same light as having their palms read, or signing up to compete in a high school popularity contest…but they know better.  Eating bass alone gets, well, lonely. They don’t like is to have to talk about their feelings or their fears. They prefer to fix and build stuff.  They like to solve problems, but maintaining a satisfying marriage is one of those things that they try to fix, but it just doesn’t stay fixed.  So being practical people, they look for someone who knows that we’ve got big problems AND can talk about the feelings stuff and specializes in fixing marriages.

And then they are shocked when I tell them I have to speak to their wives.

“Why the fudge do you have to do that?”

But I insist, and they are stunned that their wives are delighted to talk to anybody about how to get through to their husbands.  Even some psychologist who calls herself a “Peak Shrink.”  And if their husbands are willing to talk to a psychologist, they want to know how I did it.

How do you get him to talk to  you?

But that is secondary.  I tell her that that’s not the important part.  The important part is my teaching her how to talk to him. And visa verse.

I think part of the trick for why this all works, and they start really talking and cooperating with each other is that… I’m a groupie .

I admire the modern day energy cowboys.  I see them offering us hope for a better future.

 

About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your letter. Your efforts give me hope. Every person who does something-anything helps to mitigate the downslope from peak when we hit it. I get depressed sometimes because so many people talk about peak oil, and so few seem to DO anything. Haven’t you heard or read it:”I’m planning to move out of my apartment in downtown (Los Angeles, Detroit, NYC) in three years and have bought some non-hybrid seeds so I can plant a garden and grow all my own food then” !!! Aaargh.

    As each person like you changes their lives in concrete ways, both incrementally and in major ways, it affects a few other people who do the same.

    The .gov is NOT going to save us. We, the people, are going to change our lives and the changes in this country will be from the roots up.

  2. Seraphima,

    It is so easy to feel overwhelmed, especially as a person begins to take action. There are so many mind-numbing opportunities, like the television (my father called the ‘Boob Tube’) to shift your priorities away from the anxieties of moving toward greater self-sufficiency and focus instead on the latest fashions or lives of Hollywood celebs. We all want to believe we HAVE those three or five or ten years before “anything” will happen, as if $3.00 gas is “nothing.” We want to believe it is a matter of a few seed packets and a small house in the ex-urbs with a solar panel or two. The first glance down the rabbit hole leaves many wanting to retreat to the world where the important decisions are confined to betting on who wins Monday night football. With Peak Oil awareness, suddenly I’M the Bolivian citizen who’s water has been privatized by the World Bank and IMF. Suddenly, I see that I am equally vulnerable to what’s happening all over the world, and it no longer seems ‘very far away,’ but instead becomes something I want to learn about because those are the same tricks that are going to come back to haunt my community very soon. Suddenly, those ‘poor subsistence farmers’ without the ‘benefits of modern machinery,’ leaves me thinking of that biblical passage “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

    It is tough to keep in mind, but well worth repeating what C.A. Fitts has said repeatedly: The .gov is not going to save us because there IS no government. There are just corporate interests and as Paul Simon wrote:

    “Staccato signals of constant information
    A loose affiliation of millionaires
    And billionaires and…”

    …Federal Reserve and IMF and World Bank and if you doubt that, take a look at the Forbes 2000 list and notice that the banking sector dominates the list of the world’s largest public companies, then look into your own wallets or your monthly mortgage bill (if you have one) and ask who you work for, and give your money to.

    http://www.forbes.com/lists/2006/18/Industry_1.html

    Then, of course, the energy companies are number two…

    If you aren’t giving a large portion of your income to one of those two groups, you are rare, indeed. Follow the money…

  3. I was quite surprised to see my Peak Engineering post quoted here. I wrote that series of posts some months ago and had largely forgotten about it.

    Let me make three points regarding Peak Oil and engineers, particularly engineers in the energy business.

    First, engineers are problem solvers – that’s their mind set. This is neither good nor bad; it just is. Therefore Peak Oil (although that’s a phrase that they would rarely use) constitutes an exciting challenge. We are now working at ocean depths of over a mile, compared to just a few hundred feet twenty years ago. (Incidentally, I have a problem with the term “modern day energy cowboys”. The word cowboy suggests a recklessness and lack of understanding that is totally out of line with modern offshore technology, and probably with real cowboy work. For example, in the year that NASA launched their Mars probe the Shell Oil company commissioned their own Mars platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Many feel that that the level of technology on the platform was considerably greater than that in the space probe). And Greer’s distinction between a problem and a predicament is a little too abstract.

    My second point is to do with simple economics. With oil north of $100 the energy business is moving right along (almost to the point of booming). Most companies are struggling to find qualified people. And the housing market in Houston, which never really did go down all that much, is strong and getting stronger.

    My third and final point is to do boom and bust. Experienced energy workers have seen the cycle so many times (after the last bust but one a popular bumper sticker was, “God, please give us just one more boom – this time we promise not to screw it up”). They see “Peak Oil” as just another boom in that cycle.

    I hope that these comments help explain the indifference that most engineers in the energy business feel about Peak Oil.

  4. Hey Chemeng,

    Thanks for chiming in.

    I wasn’t using “cowboy” in a pejorative sense.

    The cowboys you’re referring to are on Wall Street.

    As Kevin Connolly wrote: “the cowboy embodies many of the characteristics which Americans see as part of their identity – the tough, self-reliant figure riding alone who tamed the unconquerable wilderness from which America drew its wealth.” I think your description fits that bill.

    And you’re right that the modern day cowboy is really more like the engineer, who has about 200+- days to get a steer to put on at least three times its own body weight before taking it to market.

    Two cowboys became so adept at guessing the size of these animals, they could tell within a pound or so how much an animal weighs and we’re talking about a 1300 pound beast. It is apparently “a mathematical and precision-engineered operation,” that requires weighing the calves when they arrive, and calculating their average daily gain.

    And I just love your line: “And Greer’s distinction between a problem and a predicament is a little too abstract.” Spoken like a true engineer.

    Your post was helpful in explaining to many readers why Peak Oil might not be on the lips of every oil geologist and energy engineer.

    Thanks for writing it.

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