Sunday, July 06, 2008

The three meanings of peak light sweet oil and praise for rational speculation

I'm sticking with my March declaration that I'd make my call on "peak sweet" August 1st.

It's still too soon for a non-insider to judge. We can only distinguish psychological speculation (a bubble) from concrete speculation (expectation of demand/supply constraint) by how long it lasts.

Still, Peak Oil of one sort or another is an increasingly popular meme. So I thought it might be worth pointing out that, even if we speak only of "sweet crude", that there are three sorts of Peak:

  1. Absolute: someday, even with magical technologies, we will have extracted more than 50% of the "sweet crude" on earth. This is kind of irrelevant, since before then we might be using vacuum energy (joke) rather than oil. Or we might be huddling in caves, and not need much oil. Or we might be extinct. So this is uninteresting.
  2. Market: Demand exceeds supply until prices rise to increase supply and reduce demand.
  3. Market predictive: Rational expectation that #2 will occur within a meaningful timeline (5-10 years).
Speculation about the timing of #2 is the foundation for "market predictive peak sweet". This kind of speculation is the brains of the market; eliminating it would be like using a frontal lobotomy to simplify a difficult decision.

Eliminating the "psychological speculation" (bubble) would be like getting a alcoholic on the wagon. That would be a good thing, but hard to do.

My August call will be about whether we're in the "Market predictive" variety of Peak Sweet Oil.

PS. It always bears repeating that Peak Sweet is a disaster for global climate, since in the absence of a wicked carbon tax we'll burn coal like there's no tomorrow. Which there might not be, at least for our civilization.

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