Guest Post: Energy Independence - The Big Lie

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform

Energy Independence: The Big Lie


 PRICE OF A BARREL OF OIL 1978 – $14.00

“We are the generation that will win the war on the energy problem and in that process, rebuild the unity and confidence of America.” - President Jimmy Carter, 1979

“We have it in our power to act right here, right now. I propose $6 billion in tax cuts and research and developments to encourage innovation, renewable energy, fuel-efficient cars, and energy-efficient homes.” - President Bill Clinton, 1998

“I think that in ten years, we can reduce our dependence so that we no longer have to import oil from the Middle East or Venezuela. I think that’s about a realistic time frame…That’s why I’ve focused on putting resources into solar, wind, biodiesel, geothermal. These have been priorities of mine since I got to the Senate, and it is absolutely critical that we develop a high fuel efficient car that’s built not in Japan and not in South Korea, but built here in the United States of America.” - President Barack Obama, 2008

“We don’t have to wait on OPEC anymore. We don’t have to let them hold us hostage. America’s got the energy. Let’s have American energy independence.”- Rick Perry, CNN Debate, October 18

“We must become independent from foreign sources of oil. This will mean a combination of efforts related to conservation and efficiency measures, developing alternative sources of energy like biodiesel, ethanol, nuclear, and coal gasification, and finding more domestic sources of oil such as in ANWR or the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).”Mitt Romney  


It is too bad that our 255 million cars can’t run on hot air. American presidents have propagated the Big Lie of energy independence for the last three decades. The Democrats have lied about green energy solutions and the Republicans have lied about domestic sources saving the day. These deceitful politicians put the country at risk as they misinform and mislead the non-thinking American public. They have been declaring our energy independence for 30 years, but we import three times as much oil today as we did in the early 1980’s. The CPI has gone up 350% since 1978, but the price of a barrel of oil has risen 800% over the same time frame. Today, I hear the same mindless fabrications from politicians and pundits about our ability to become energy independent. Any critical thinking analysis of the hard facts reveals that the United States will grow increasingly dependent upon other countries to supply our energy needs from a dwindling and harder to access supply of oil and natural gas. The fantasy world of plug in cars, corn driven vehicles and solar energy running our manufacturing plants is a castle in the sky flight of imagination. The linear thinking academic crowd believes a technological miracle will save us, when it is evident technology fails without infinite quantities of cheap oil.

I know the chart below requires some time to grasp, but I’m sure the average American can take five minutes away from watching Jersey Shore, Dancing with the Stars, or the latest update of the Kardashian saga to understand why the propaganda about energy independence is nothing but falsehoods. You have U.S. energy demand by sector on the right and the energy source by fuel on the left. Total U.S. energy use is nearly 100 quadrillion Btu. In physical energy terms, 1 quad represents 172 million barrels of oil (8 to 9 days of U.S. oil use), 50 million tons of coal (enough to generate about 2% of annual U.S. electricity use), or 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (about 4% of annual U.S. natural gas use).  

Please note that 37% of our energy source is petroleum, which supplies 95% of the energy for our transportation sector. That means your car and the millions of 18 wheelers that deliver your food to your grocery stores and electronic gadgets to your Best Buy. You can’t fill up your SUV with coal, natural gas, nuclear energy or sunshine. Without the 7 billion barrels of oil we use every year, our just in time mall centric suburban sprawl society would come to a grinding halt. There is no substitute for cheap plentiful oil anywhere in sight. The government sponsored ethanol boondoggle has already driven food prices higher, while requiring more energy to produce than it generates. Only a government “solution” could raise food prices, reduce gas mileage, and bankrupt hundreds of companies in an effort to reduce our dependence on oil. Natural gas as a transportation fuel supplies 2% of our needs. The cost to retro-fit 160,000 service stations across the country to supply natural gas as a fuel for the non-existent natural gas automobiles would be a fool’s errand and take at least a decade to implement.   


The green energy Nazis despise coal and nuclear power, which account for 31% of our energy supply. They want to phase coal out. They aren’t too fond of fracking either, so there goes another 23% of our supply. You might be able to make out that itsy bitsy green circle with the 7% of our supply from renewable energy. And more than half of that energy is supplied by hydro power. Less than 2% of our energy needs are met by solar and wind. For some perspective, we need to use the equivalent of 17 billion barrels of oil per year to run our society and solar and wind supplies the equivalent energy of about 300 million barrels of that total. I think our green energy dreams will come up just a smidgen short of meeting our demands. Nothing can replace oil as the lifeblood of our culture and there is no domestic supply source which will eliminate or even reduce our dependence upon the 10 million barrels per day we import from foreign countries. There are some hard truths that are purposefully ignored by those who want to mislead the public about the grim consequences of peak cheap oil:

  • The earth is finite. The amount of oil within the crust of the earth is finite. As we drain 32 billion barrels of oil from the earth every year, there is less remaining within the earth. We have drained the cheapest and easiest to reach 1.4 trillion barrels from the earth since the mid 1800s. The remaining recoverable 1.4 trillion barrels will be expensive and hard to reach.
  • The United States has about 2% of the world’s proven oil and gas reserves, but consumes 22% of the world’s oil production and 27% of the world’s natural gas production.
  • Demand for oil will continue to rise no matter what the United States does, as the developing world consumption far outstrips U.S. consumption. Oil is fungible and will be sold to the highest bidder.
  • The concept of energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) is beyond the grasp of politicians and drill, drill, drill pundits. EROEI is the ratio of the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy expended to obtain that energy resource. When the EROEI of a resource is less than or equal to one, that energy source becomes an “energy sink”, and can no longer be used as a primary source of energy. Once it requires 1.1 barrels of oil to obtain a barrel of oil, the gig is up.
  • There is a negative feedback loop that revolves around oil supply, oil price and economic growth. As demand continues to rise and supply is more difficult to access, prices will rise. Since oil is an essential ingredient in every aspect of our lives, once the price reaches $120 to $150 a barrel economic growth goes into reverse. Demand crashes and investment in new sources of energy dries up. Rinse and repeat.

Finite World

World oil production peaked in 2005 has been flat since then, despite a continuous stream of promises from Saudi Arabia that they are on the verge of increasing production. The chart below from the U.S. Energy Information Administration propagates the standard fabrications about energy supplies. Even though worldwide oil production has clearly peaked, the oil industry PR whores and government agencies continue to project substantial production growth in the future. The mainstream media trots out Daniel Yergin whenever it wants to calm the masses, despite his track record of being 100% wrong 100% of the time. The brilliance of his July, 2005 Op-Ed shines through:

“Prices around $60 a barrel, driven by high demand growth, are fueling the fear of imminent shortage — that the world is going to begin running out of oil in five or 10 years. This shortage, it is argued, will be amplified by the substantial and growing demand from two giants: China and India. There will be a large, unprecedented buildup of oil supply in the next few years. Between 2004 and 2010, capacity to produce oil (not actual production) could grow by 16 million barrels a day — from 85 million barrels per day to 101 million barrels a day — a 20 percent increase. Such growth over the next few years would relieve the current pressure on supply and demand.”

Oil production capacity has not grown by one barrel since Yergin wrote this propaganda piece. This is despite the fact that prices have almost doubled, which should have spurred production. The current energy independence false storyline – the Bakken Formation – has gone from production of 10,000 barrels per day in 2003 to 400,000 barrels per day now, while the hundreds of millions invested in developing the Canadian tar sands have increased production by 50% since 2005. Despite these substantial increases in output, worldwide production has remained flat as existing wells deplete at the same rate that new production is brought online.


The facts are there is approximately 1.4 trillion barrels of recoverable oil left in the crust of the earth. We currently suck 32 billion barrels per year out of the earth. This means we have 44 years of oil left, at current consumption levels. But we know demand is growing from the developing world. Taking this fact into consideration, we have between 35 and 40 years worth of recoverable oil left on the planet. That is not a long time. Additionally, the last 1.4 trillion barrels will much more difficult and costly to extract than the first 1.4 trillion barrels. The remaining oil is miles under the ocean floor, trapped in shale and tar sands, and in the arctic. Despite these hard facts, governmental agencies and politicians continue to paint a rosy picture about our energy future. I watched in stunned amazement last week as five bozos on the McLaughlin Group news program unanimously proclaimed the U.S. would become a net exporter of oil in the coming decade. Do these supposedly intelligent people not understand the basic economics of supply, demand and price?  

It seems the governmental organizations always paint the future in the most optimistic terms, despite all facts pointing to a contrary outcome. The EIA predicts with a straight face that oil production will rise to 110 million barrels per day, while the price of a barrel of oil remains in the current $100 to $125 per barrel range. Non-OPEC production has been in decline since 2004, but the EIA miraculously predicts a 15% increase in production over the next 25 years. OPEC production has been flat since 2005, but the EIA is confident their 50 year old oil fields will ramp up production by 25% in the next 25 years. Does the EIA consider whether OPEC even wants to increase production? It would appear that constrained supply and higher prices would be quite beneficial to the OPEC countries. And then of course there is the unconventional oil that is supposed to increase from 4 million barrels per day to 13 million barrels per day, a mere 325% increase with no upward impact on prices. These guys would make a BLS government drone blush with the utter ridiculousness of their predictions.


The picture below is an excellent representation of how the easy to access oil and gas of the earth have been tapped. They were close to the surface. The remaining oil and gas is deeper and trapped within shale and sand. The new technology for extracting gas from shale has concerns regarding whether fracking and disposal of waste water can be done safely, especially near highly populated areas. The relationship between fracking and earthquakes could also prove to be problematic. The wells also have rapid decline rates. Add a mile of ocean to the picture below and you have some really expensive to access oil and potential for disaster, as witnessed with the Deep Water Horizon.


The EIA projects natural gas supply to grow by 10% between now and 2035 due to a 300% increase in shale gas supply. It seems the EIA believes the fantasy of 8 Saudi Arabia’s in the Bakken formation of North Dakota and decades of gas within the Marcellus Shale. These fantasies have been peddled by the natural gas industry in order to get support for their fracking efforts. This false storyline is damaging to the long-term planning that should be taking place now to alleviate the energy scarcity that is our future. In 2006 the EIA reported the possibility of 500 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken formation, based on guesswork. The U.S. Geological Survey has since scaled this back ever so slightly to 3.65 billion barrels, which is six months of U.S. consumption. The deceptions peddled regarding Marcellus shale are also colliding with reality. The U.S. Geological Survey recently produced an estimate of Marcellus Shale resources, which will cause the EIA to reduce its estimate of shale gas reserves for the Marcellus Shale by 80%. The price of natural gas is currently $3.54 MMBtu, down from $13 a few years ago. Extracting natural gas from shale has high capital costs of land, drilling and completion. It is not economically feasible below $6 MMBtu.


Based on the known facts and a realistic view of the future, there will be less supply of oil and natural gas as time goes on. We can already see the impact of these facts today. Even though Europe and the U.S. are in recession, the price of oil continues to rise. The developing world continues to demand more oil and the supply is stagnant. Stunts like withdrawing oil from the Strategic Reserve are foolish and politically motivated. Is the world then running out of oil then? No, but any increase in future global oil production will be modestly incremental and production could be thrown off course by any number of possible events, from an Israeli attack on Iran to (another, but successful this time) al Qaida attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil refinery. Any forecast regarding future oil production and prices isn’t worth the paper it is written on unless consideration to wars, revolutions and terrorism are factored into the equation.

We Don’t Matter

Americans like to think we are the center of the universe. Those who propagate the misinformation about U.S. energy independence are clearly math challenged. The total proven oil reserves in the world total 1.4 trillion barrels and the United States has 22 billion barrels of that total, or 1.6% of the world’s oil. The U.S. burns 7 billion barrels per year, so we have enough oil to survive for three whole years. The U.S. consumes 22% of the world’s oil despite having 4.5% of the world’s population and less than 2% of the world’s oil. Do these facts lead you to the conclusion the United States will be exporting oil in the near future?


When you hear the pundits breathtakingly describe our vast natural gas resources you would think we are the dominant player in this market. Not quite. The United States has 4% of the world’s natural gas reserves. Predictably we consume 22% of the world’s natural gas. Russia controls 25% of the world’s natural gas reserves, with the Middle East countries controlling 40% of the world’s reserves. The pundits can hype our “vast” supplies of natural gas, but the facts clearly reveal it is nothing but hype.


The U.S. is consuming less oil than it was in 2005. U.S. consumption is not the crucial factor in determining the price of oil today and our consumption will matter even less in the future. Emerging market countries, led by China and India, will be the driving force in oil demand in the coming decades. According to the IEA, “Non-OECD [emerging markets] account for 90% of population growth, 70% of the increase in economic output and 90% of energy demand growth over the period from 2010 to 2035.”


This demand is being driven by the growth in vehicles in emerging markets. The U.S. market has reached a saturation point, but China, India and the rest of the world are just beginning their love affairs with the automobile. The accumulation of facts regarding both supply and demand should even convince the most brainless CNBC talking head that the price of oil will continue to rise. The 2008 peak price of $145 per barrel will not hold. The tried and true American method of ignoring problems until they reach crisis proportions will bite us in the ass once again.


Slippery Road Ahead

The concept of EROI is incomprehensible to the peak oil deniers. When Larry Kudlow or one of the other drill, drill, drill morons proclaims the vast amount of oil in North Dakota shale and in Alberta, Canada tar sands, they completely ignore the concept of EROI. Some estimates conclude there are 5 trillion barrels of oil left in the earth. But, only 1.4 trillion barrels are considered recoverable. This is because the other 3.6 trillion barrels would require the expenditure of more energy to retrieve than they can deliver. Therefore, it is not practical to extract. When oil was originally discovered, it took on average one barrel of oil to find, extract, and process about 100 barrels of oil. That ratio has declined steadily over the last century to about three barrels gained for one barrel used up in the U.S. and about ten for one in Saudi Arabia.

The chart below clearly shows the sources of energy which have the highest energy return for energy invested. I don’t think I’ve heard Obama or the Republican candidates calling for a national investment in hydro-power even though it is hugely efficient. The dreams of the green energy crowd are shattered by the fact that biodiesel, ethanol and solar require as much energy to create as they produce. Tar sands and shale oil aren’t much more energy efficient. It’s too bad Obama and his minions hate dirty coal, because has the best return on energy invested among all the practical sources.   

 File:EROI - Ratio of Energy Returned on Energy Invested - USA.svg

Worse than the peak oil deniers are those who pretend that oil isn’t really that important to our society. They declare that technology will save the day, when in reality technology can’t function without oil. Without plentiful cheap oil our technologically driven civilization crashes. We are addicted to oil. Americans consume petroleum products at a rate of three-and-a-half gallons of oil and more than 250 cubic feet of natural gas per day each.  You might be interested in a partial list of products that require petroleum to be produced.

Solvents Diesel fuel Motor Oil Bearing Grease
Ink Floor Wax Ballpoint Pens Football Cleats
Upholstery Sweaters Boats Insecticides
Bicycle Tires Sports Car Bodies Nail Polish Fishing lures
Dresses Tires Golf Bags Perfumes
Cassettes Dishwasher parts Tool Boxes Shoe Polish
Motorcycle Helmet Caulking Petroleum Jelly Transparent Tape
CD Player Faucet Washers Antiseptics Clothesline
Curtains Food Preservatives Basketballs Soap
Vitamin Capsules Antihistamines Purses Shoes
Dashboards Cortisone Deodorant Footballs
Putty Dyes Panty Hose Refrigerant
Percolators Life Jackets Rubbing Alcohol Linings
Skis TV Cabinets Shag Rugs Electrician’s Tape
Tool Racks Car Battery Cases Epoxy Paint
Mops Slacks Insect Repellent Oil Filters
Umbrellas Yarn Fertilizers Hair Coloring
Roofing Toilet Seats Fishing Rods Lipstick
Denture Adhesive Linoleum Ice Cube Trays Synthetic Rubber
Speakers Plastic Wood Electric Blankets Glycerin
Tennis Rackets Rubber Cement Fishing Boots Dice
Nylon Rope Candles Trash Bags House Paint
Water Pipes Hand Lotion Roller Skates Surf Boards
Shampoo Wheels Paint Rollers Shower Curtains
Guitar Strings Luggage Aspirin Safety Glasses
Antifreeze Football Helmets Awnings Eyeglasses
Clothes Toothbrushes Ice Chests Footballs
Combs CD’s & DVD’s Paint Brushes Detergents
Vaporizers Balloons Sun Glasses Tents
Heart Valves Crayons Parachutes Telephones
Enamel Pillows Dishes Cameras
Anesthetics Artificial Turf Artificial limbs Bandages
Dentures Model Cars Folding Doors Hair Curlers
Cold cream Movie film Soft Contact lenses Drinking Cups
Fan Belts Car Enamel Shaving Cream Ammonia
Refrigerators Golf Balls Toothpaste Gasoline


The propaganda blared at the impressionable willfully ignorant American public has worked wonders. The vast majority of Americans have no clue they have entered a world of energy scarcity, a world where the average person is poorer and barely able to afford the basic necessities of life. This is borne out in the vehicles sales statistics reported every month. There have been 10.5 million passenger vehicles sold through the first 10 months of 2011. In addition to the fact they are “purchased” using 95% debt and financed over seven years, the vast majority are low mileage vehicles getting less than 20 mpg. Only 1.8 small energy efficient vehicles have been sold versus 6.1 million SUVs, pickup trucks and large luxury automobiles. Americans have the freedom to buy any vehicle they choose. They also have the freedom to not think and ignore the facts about the certainty of higher prices at the pump. By choosing a 20 mpg vehicle over a 40 mpg vehicle, they’ve sealed their fate. How could the average soccer mom get by without a Yukon or Excursion to shuttle Biff and Buffy to their games? Have you ever tried to navigate a soccer field parking lot in a hybrid? The horror!

The American public has been lulled back into a sense of security as gas prices have receded from $4.00 a gallon back to $3.40 a gallon. This lull will be short lived. Oil prices have surged by 15% in the last two months, even as the world economy heads into recession. The link between high oil prices and economic growth are undeniable, even though the deceitful pundits on CNBC will tell you otherwise. Ten out of eleven recessions since World War II were associated with oil price spikes. Gail Tverberg sums up the dilemma of energy scarcity for the average American:

“High-priced oil tends to choke economies because high oil prices are associated with high food prices (because oil products are used in food growing and transport), and people’s salaries do not rise to offset this rise in food and oil prices. People have to eat and to commute to their jobs, so they cut back on other expenditures. This leads to recession. Recession leads to lower oil consumption, since people without jobs can’t buy very much of anything, oil products included. In some sense, the reduction in oil extraction is due to reduced demand, because citizens cannot afford the high-priced oil that is available.”

But don’t worry. The rising oil and food prices will only impact the 99% in the U.S. and the poorest dregs across the globe that spend 70% of their income on food. The 1% will be just fine as they will bet on higher oil prices, therefore further enriching themselves while the peasants starve. The market for caviar, champagne, NYC penthouses, and summer mansions in the Hamptons will remain robust.

There is no escape from the ravages of higher priced oil. There is plenty of oil left in the ground. But, the remaining oil is difficult, slow and expensive to extract. Oil prices will rise because they have to. Without higher prices, who would make the huge capital investment required to extract the remaining oil? Once oil prices reach the $120 to $150 per barrel range our economy chokes and heads into recession. We are trapped in an endless feedback loop of doom. The false storyline of renewable energy saving the day is put to rest by Gail Tverberg:

“Renewables such as wind, solar PV, cellulosic ethanol, and biogas could more accurately be called “fossil fuel extenders” because they cannot exist apart from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are required to make wind turbines and other devices, to transport the equipment, to make needed repairs, and to maintain the transport and electrical systems used by these fuels (such as maintaining transmission lines, running-back up power plants, and paving roads). If we lose fossil fuels, we can expect to lose the use of renewables, with a few exceptions, such as trees cut down locally, and burned for heat, and solar thermal used to heat hot water in containers on roofs.”

Predictably, the politicians and intellectual elite do the exact opposite of what needs to be done. We need to prepare our society to become more local. Without cheap plentiful oil our transportation system breaks down. Our 3.9 million miles of road networks will become a monument to stupidity as Obama and Congress want to spend hundreds of billions on road infrastructure that will slowly become obsolete. The crumbling infrastructure is already the result of government failure, as the money that should have been spent maintaining our roads, bridges and water systems was spent on train museums, turtle crossings, teaching South African men how to wash their genitalia, studies on the mating habits of ferrets, and thousands of other worthless Keynesian pork programs. If our society acted in a far sighted manner, we would be creating communities that could sustain themselves with local produce, local merchants, bike paths, walkable destinations, local light rail commuting, and local energy sources. The most logical energy source for the U.S. in an oil scarce scenario is electricity, since we have a substantial supply of coal and natural gas for the foreseeable future and the ability to build small nuclear power plants. The Fukushima disaster is likely to kill nuclear as an option until it is too late. The electrical grid should be the number one priority of our leaders, as it would be our only hope in an oil scarce world. Instead, our leaders will plow borrowed money into ethanol, solar, and shale oil drilling, guaranteeing a disastrous scenario for our country.

The United States is a country built upon the four C’s: Crude, Cars, Credit, and Consumption. They are intertwined and can’t exist without crude as the crucial ingredient. As the amount of crude available declines and the price rises, the other three C’s will breakdown. Our warped consumer driven economy collapses without the input of cheap plentiful oil. Those at the top levels of government realize this fact. It is not a coincidence that the War on Terror is the current cover story to keep our troops in the Middle East. It is not a coincidence the uncooperative rulers (Hussein, Gaddafi) of the countries with the 5th and 9th largest oil reserves on the planet have been dispatched. It is not a coincidence the saber rattling grows louder regarding the Iranian regime, as they sit atop 155 billion barrels of oil, the 4th largest reserves in the world. It should also be noted the troops leaving Iraq immediately began occupying Kuwait, owner of the 6th largest oil reserves on the planet. Oil under the South China Sea and in the arctic is being hotly pursued by the major world players. China and Russia are supporting Iran in their showdown with Israel and the U.S. As the world depletes the remaining oil, conflict and war are inevitable. The term Energy Independence will carry a different meaning than the one spouted by mindless politicians as the oil runs low.

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention

Nothing but Flowers – The Talking Heads

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CrashisOptimistic's picture

50% is absurdly optimistic.

blu's picture

Well yeah, but if I said 80% they'd all start in calling me Malthusian again.

After a long day I get tired of that shit. Know what I mean?

tmosley's picture

How much nitrogen goes into landfills?  Sewers?

If it becomes rare, it becomes expensive.  If it becomes expensive, previously untapped resources will come online.

Peak Oilers don't seem to understand this.  They see suburban sprawl, and think we can't live any other way (oil gets expensive enough, we will reurbanize as we are forced to move closer and closer to our places of work).

They see a nation where everyone owns a car, and think that there can be no mass transit.  They see a world where vehicles are fueled by gasoline, and can't imagine any other soltions, even if one already exists and is shown to them (  They see petroleum used as a chemical feedstock, and fail to realize that chemical feedstocks need not be energy positive.  They see a plastic world, and don't realize that plastic is used because it is cheaper, and that things will be built out of more resilient materials if or when petroleum becomes too expensive.

LawsofPhysics's picture

All a question of flux and trolls on some blog who can't do math and cite non-peer reviewed websites that are hardly reliable sources.

I agree that we should let the free markets work, but again, how much flux is require to keep the population growing exponentially (which is what is required by the current economic system)?

Sorry, having worked in agriculture for 20+ years I know what it takes energetically to deliver on a large scale.

I am sitting on physical, just waiting for the collapse.  This is the ONLY way new solutions will see the light of day.  I'll keep my folks employed as long as I can until we simply form a local farming Co-op, but again, you are delusional of you think there is enough arable land, or good soil, fresh water and available nitrogen, available phosphate, and available sulfur all in the right oxidation state (which is being degraded by bacteria in those landfills to forms that plants CAN't use) to support the kind of urban centers we have now.  Good luck.


Dr. Acula's picture

>keep the population growing exponentially (which is what is required by the current economic system)

No worries. The Ponzi schemes and frauds will collapse. The warlike socialists governments will collapse. The fiat currencies will collapse.

This happens again and again throughout history.


LawsofPhysics's picture

Well then we can agree on one thing.  Crash the fucking system already and let's find out what the real value of everyone's labor really is.

tmosley's picture

Just because something IS doesn't mean it is "required", no more than bacteria require infinite resources to grow just because their numbers increase exponentially during their exponential growth phase.  Exponential growth is no more vital to humans or human economies than it is to bacteria.  The excessive energy input that drives such growth phases also fuels capital growth with both species.  Bacteria form biofilms, humans build cities.  It is the same concept.  The only difference is that humans are smart, and capable of adapting at rates that bacteria could only dream of (lets see bacteria go from earthbound to capable of space travel in two hundred years).

Large scale farming requires large scale energy inputs.  Small scale farming does not.  If food becomes too expensive, more investment moves toward development of capital intensive farming that has less or no marginal energy input.  This is how economics works.  Just because something exists in its current form does not mean it can not change.  If the fuel required to transport food from giant factory farms becomes too expensive, local farmers will switch from their current specialization to provide more of the now profitable food products.

LawsofPhysics's picture

regarding the nitrogen going into sewers - it gets converted to nitrite and then N2O or peroxynitrite and eventually nitrogen gas ALL of which plants CAN NOT USE.  You have to use MORE ENERGY to reduce that nitrogen gas back to ammonia (that is why it is called a CYCLE).

These landfills are more productive at methane production.  By I digress and agree the the market manipulation needs to STOP.  No real solutions will come forward until then.

buyingsterling's picture

Your disaster scenarios assume a dramatic fall off in production that happens quickly, and maintenance of the status quo. Part of the status quo includes armies of people who add nothing real to productivity. Perhaps tight energy will expose their uselessness. How about the federal government spending 25% of our GDP? That can change as well.


LawsofPhysics's picture

perhaps, but with over 30% of the energy we use currently going into simply feeding the country, it won't take much of a supply line disruption to make things get ugly quick.   You really think the federal government is going to have more to spend in the future after the GOP crushes any sense of real tax reform?  Can I have some of what you are smoking?

As a simple experiment it might be fun just to see what happens when the SNAP checks stop going out.

buyingsterling's picture

We'll have a retrenchment because our current level of government is unsustainable. Pressure from energy prices will shrink it faster as everyone willl be squeezed. We don't want more government spending, or more taxes. Less  of both will increase our productivity. Taxes aimed at consumption rather than savings and investment would help. It's not as hopeless as you think (we're royally screwed for other reasons, but that's another matter). How would ending the fed change things? You get the idea. If peak oil is going to expose the value of everyone's labor, that sounds like the market at work.

tmosley's picture

This is very true, and a good argument.  The point is the source of the problem.

Peak Oil, even if it were occuring right this minute, would not be a problem without government intervention in the market covering up the problem, and providing artificially low energy prices.  Higher prices encourage the transition.  But if governments succeed in covering up the problem, whether via financial trickery, money printing, or direct subsidy, to the point that the oil is used and used until it can no longer meet demand, and supply falls off sharply, then you have a problem (understatement of the century, perhaps).

The solution is free markets.  But peak oilers, on the whole, don't believe in markets, and seemingly (in some cases explicitly) want more government power leading up to mass murder and genocide.  They really and truly want death for the vast majority of people, and to that ends deny any and all possible means of continued production, even if it is laid out right in front of their faces.

flattrader's picture

LawsofPhysics is a guy who can't figure out how to convert fish poo to usable nitrogen...but, he has a PhD in "nitrogen".

Fortunately some x-jock from Milwaukee can figure out how to do it with a simple system and won a McArthur Foundation Genius PhD required...just some basic chemisty and horse sense needed.

Flakmeister's picture

Yeah... but how scalable is it?

Can you produce tons per day? Read up on TNH and UAN to see what modest fertilizer plants produce... Then check about how much fish shit you would need.... Sorta like those asshats that claim we can run things on used fryer grease...

tmosley's picture

There is a facility to the south of my town that produces ungodly thousands of tons of fertilizer from chicken poop.  Human poop is no different.

Not sure why you think that capture of human waste streams prior to degredation would yeild the products of degradation.

LawsofPhysics's picture

We use goat, chicken, and horse poop already, we also use a chemical nitrification inhibitor so that the viable nitrogen is not lost to the atmosphere making the fertilizer stick around a lot longer.

flattrader's picture

I think it is highly scalable.  Basically, what is happening at is a smart, sustainable variant of aquaponics...and he does produce tons of food.  (This guy has even grown food on parking lots without pulling up the pavement.)

As tmosley points out capturing the human waste stream would provide more "fertilizer".

Fish pee/poo...Human pee/ can all be converted to usable nitrogen in the right system with the right beneficial bacteria.

LawsofPhysics's picture

So long as you can slow down nitrification and denitrification by the microbes.  This is orders of magnitude away from meeting demand and I still think that there is more that can be done from the light side of the equation.  The question of replacing the right sulfur and phosphorus compounds will be a problem as well as water.  Scalability is the issue and I simply don't see how this gets scales without incorporating some phototrophic organisms that can also fix nitrogen and recycle sulfur and phosphate compounds.  Essential metals will be less of a concern as will carbon dioxide.

flattrader's picture

>>>I simply don't see how this gets scale<<<

Yeah, you don't get it.  That's obvious.

And yet this system succeeds, he's expanded it and it's been replicated other places.

I think part of your problem is that you have zero experience with fish/aquaponics and your PhD is getting in the way.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Impress us, feed even one city.

NotApplicable's picture

Very good points.

Of course, it makes the upcoming wars that much more obvious.

flattrader's picture

Speaking of the nitrogen cycle...

And for all the problems you identified, this elegantly simple system for food/fish production works.

Yeah, I have a PhD in Nitrogen.

Odd that you haven't figured out how/why it works.

Yeah, I know you don't believe it.

Yeah, I've been there and seen it with my own eyes.

They don't give out McArthur Foundation Genius Awards to ficiticious people who run ficticious organizations.

Where's your award?

LawsofPhysics's picture

Again, kudos for getting people to invest time in growing their own food, now let's see 7 billion folks do it. I'll be sure to look for your Nobel Prize when the Haber Bosch process is shut down and everyone is surviving on your system.  In the mean time we will keep selling our produce to folks around the world.  Good luck.

flattrader's picture


Nice straw man you set up.  But then again I never said that it would feed 7B.

The system is perfectly scalable to feed many, many more people than partake either through their neighborhood organization or their commercial operation.

One guy's variant for his little family in a former swimming the desert

LawsofPhysics's picture

So then I guess there is nothing at all to worry about.  Again, I will look forward to 7 billion+ surviving like this.  Yes, one guy and his pool will provide for 7 billion plus.  Have you ever fed your family on only what you have produced and the water and compost taken from you land and livestock?  I do, and provide jobs for several in my area.  Like I said, I look forward to the day when the Haber Bosch process is turned off, but right now the FACT is that this single chemical process consumes over 18% of our energy alone.  Not even considering the farm equipment and transportation of food.

I don't know why you people don't think I am serious when I say i welcome the day when this process is shut down, I thought you might too, I mean if you really believed this "technology" was the real deal.

flattrader's picture

Hmmm...I never said one guy with a pool can feed 7B either...but you keep building up those strawmen.

During WWII Victory Gardens produced up to 41 percent of all the vegetable produce that was consumed in the nation.

Producing and preserving up to 50% or more of what you consume is not impossible...though you'd have us believe it to be so.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Never said it was.  Don't put words in my mouth and I won't put them in yours.  How many died during WWII again?

flattrader's picture

What does the number of WWII dead have to do with anything?

It was the fact that we were at war and commercial agricultural food production was diverted to THAT effort rather than homefront consumption is the issue.

So, divert commercial agriculture and some people still find a way to feed themselves is the point.

I am awestruck by twisted "logic".

LawsofPhysics's picture

Then impress us and feed even ONE city.  We will all know who you are when you appear on the cover of Forbes.

buyingsterling's picture

You've got a fetish for this subject.

I'd like to see you stop 7 billion people from trying to feed themselves. Are some going to die if food becomes scarce enough to make charity difficult? Yes, but in that instance whatever is being given 'to the starving' might actually get to them. We've got lots of waste and fat that isn't necessary. And any of a number of breakthroughs (desalination, portable nuclear power, etc.) end your argument.

The complex lifestyles enjoyed by many in the west are not necessary for (or even conducive to) happiness. When a reset of kinds comes, things are going to get a lot more basic for many people. Civil war will come before tens of millions of taxpayers are forced onto the streets (literally onto the streets). It will be very inexpensive to get by - food, clothing, shelter, basic health - because the alternative is mass ghettoization or death.

tmosley's picture

When the cost of food and fuel become greater, the profitability of such operations increase, while the profitability of factory farms you are familiar with increase.

You don't think there could be a couple of these types of facilities in every neighborhood that currently supports a couple of grocery stores?

Just because it isn't doesn't mean it can't be.

LawsofPhysics's picture

There it is, let the fucking markets work already.

tmosley's picture

Second "increase" should read "decrease".

But I am glad you agree.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Understood, let's get this fucking crash over with already some I can use some of this silver.   We all know that the like ov Monsanto and Dupont control the nitrogen flow and food supply.  It is what it is, I can eat my humble pie when this guy feeds a city and his face appears on the cover of Forbes.  My money is on economic collapse happening first.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Okay, serious question.  Have you tried incorporating microaerophilic diazotrophic phototrophic organisms into your system?  These organism should boost the available nitrogen suppy and can use light to do it.  Not sure what kind of side effect this will have on the fish, not my area of expertise, could be bad.  Many Rhodospirillum species might work, depends how you are mixing, but then you need energy to do the mixing.

css1971's picture

My question is have you farmed without manufactured NPK supplements?

Every harvest you are removing these from the soil. So where do you get yours?

LawsofPhysics's picture

Yes, I have the land to rotate with legumes which are turned back in with horse manure (all requiring diesel fuel and taking iup valuable land that can not be used to produce more crops - another problem with scale).  Admittedly I use chemical inhibitors of nitrification and denitrification to make the ammonia and nitrate stick around a bit longer.  I know large scale and know the energy requirements.  hence the skepticism around fish tanks with plants in them.  What about evaporation?  Big problem on a large scale?  Where is the energy coming to bubble oxygen in the fish tanks or circulate the water.  What about the susceptability of the whole system to disease?

I encourage inovation, but understand the mega flux required.

Dr. Acula's picture

BTW, I admit I have no clue what the Haber Bosch process is or what diazotrophic bacteria are.

Thanks. Looks like I need to do some studying...

Let us know if there is anything good on arxiv.


Dr. Acula's picture

BTW if natural gas is used then this doesn't seem to be related to oil so much. This seems rather small in the grand scheme of things:

"3–5% of world natural gas production is consumed in the Haber process" -

Also, how many nitrogen molecules (e.g. ammonia, nitrate, or nitrite) does 7 billion people crapping generate? i.e. what portion of the molecules must be artificially assembled rather than simply recycled?

LawsofPhysics's picture

People do not shit nitrate or nitrite.  Excess nitrogen is released in the form of amino acids and bile acids, which bacteria are all to happy to oxidize all the way to N2O, peroxynitrate, and nitrogen gas - all forms that plants can't use.  The diazotrophs reduce gaseous nitrogen back to ammonia.  the thing is it still cost them a lot of energy and the process is slow (sorry thermodynamics are what they are).


An interesting side note is the bile acid taurine (one way we release nitrogen AND sulfur).  This is a secondary messenger in humans as well as a bile acid.  It turns out that it functions to jack up your heart rate and has a regulatory role in regulating the heart.  Go pick up a can of Red Bull and see what the primary ingredient is.  Turns out even your shit can give you wings. 

Dr. Acula's picture

So is it as I suspected?

As the human population grows, so do the sources of ammonia?

"Waste water is often high in ammonia. Because discharging ammonia laden water into the environment can cause problems, nitrification is often necessary to remove the ammonia. This may be a potentially sustainable source of ammonia in the future because of its abundance and the need to remove it from the water anyway." -

Is it a bad thing to turn more and more of the inert, useless nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere into life-giving molecules like ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite? Is it bad to fill the world with people and lush flora and fauna?


LawsofPhysics's picture

Dude, read the article, the process of nitrification and denitrffication REMOVES viable nitrogen sources for plants from the water source.  I am confused I thought you wanted use the nitrates for fertillizer, hence you want to INHIBIT or STOP nitrification.  But then you can't use the water for drinking.  all those nitrate and nitrites also kill animal life in the streams lakes and oceans.  hence why I don't surf after a good rain.  The bacteria in our gut do lots of things and the waste is useful. Inhibiting nitrification is one thing we already do in order to increase the effectiveness of the chicken, goat, and horse manure we already apply.

Dude, urea is the primary nitrogen compound all mammals release and bacteria rapidly realease the ammonia contained within this compound.

The article is about OIL and ENERGY.  So you want to extract the ammonia and nitrate, that will take even more energy, why not just directly apply the waste?

We do this with animal waste on one property already.  Again, it is all about FLUX and SCALE.  won't work for 7 billion.  Somehow need to incorporate a faster light driven reaction here.

Dr. Acula's picture

>I'm confused.

Me too. From what I've gathered:

-The Haber process necessary to support 7 billion people uses, overall, a negligible amount of energy (1-2% of global energy use) mostly from exploiting plentiful natural gas

-Ammonia can thus be manufactured cheaply, and in any case can be largely recycled from waste (if it were economically worthwhile to do so).

-Ammonia is a form of nitrogen accessible to biological organisms (e.g. autotrophic bacteria), and it is the same with nitrates and nitrites.

-There thus are plenty of opportunities to create fertilizers and food.

-There thus isn't a reason to predict 50% of humanity starving 40 years from now.


LawsofPhysics's picture

Then shut the Haber Bosch process down and let's see what happens, I have wasted enough time today.  I understand selling you want to sell your product.  I am not selling anything, impress me, let's see it feed even one city.  You will have your own Nobel Prize and be a billionaire overnight.

Dr. Acula's picture

>I understand selling you want to sell your product.

I'm not sure what that would be. I openly admitted I didn't know anything about the Haber process until you mentioned it.

>I have wasted enough time today.

Not really. You've helped us learn about the Haber process and about how it helps feed billions of people using miniscule amounts of energy (when it isn't being used to produce bombs that blow people up). You've helped show how there is no foreseeable dearth of ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, fertilizer, or food.


LawsofPhysics's picture

Do the math, it takes over one volt to reduce one molecule of nitrogen gas to two molecules of ammonia (there are 6.02 x 10^23 molecules in one mole).  Go to the USDA's website and look how many million tons are produced each year.  This is not a trivial amount of energy.  Again, details matter.  Stop repeating yourself and fucking feed a city already or at least provide REAL metrics for a specific size system and you many people it will feed.  I am interested in the technology, now man up and provide details.  In the real world details mattter. Speaking of details, I noticed a lot of petroleum based polymers in your set-up there.

Okay, now I am just playing.

tmosley's picture

I thought you were a physics guy?  You should know the difference between charge and energy.

Also note that just because petroleum is the cheapest feedstock for polymers does not mean it is the only one.  Oil is everywhere, it only needs to be harvested and extracted.

flattrader's picture

Dude, just read here--

Large and scalable aquaponics variant systems are not impossilbe.  People are doing it.

LawsofPhysics just can't figure it out.

LawsofPhysics's picture

How many people is it feeding again?  Again, never said it won't work, just not feeding even one city yet.

Dr. Acula's picture

I Don't Know

 "How would the free market attend to mail delivery were the postal service desocialized? I don't know! Nor could anyone have known 100 years ago how the free market would develop the means to deliver the human voice from city to city."

 "The greatest fault, of course, is that these students of liberty themselves have not yet learned to answer honestly, "I don't know; I never will know; no one will ever know." They have not wholly cured themselves of the offending psychosis."