Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What is peak oil and how does it affect Hawaii?

Oil is a finite resource. There haven’t been any large discoveries of oil deposits since the 1970s. Known deposits have been drilled and pumped relentlessly. Many of these deposits have been pumped so much that they no longer produce the same amount of oil as they initially did. Their production reached a maximum output, or “peak,” then began to decline. The term “peak oil” refers to the point at which oil production begins to decline for a given well, field, region, country, or the world. Many experts believe that the world-wide peak has either begun or will occur in a few years.

As demand continues to rise, oil production is failing to keep up. On the contrary, oil production has been stagnant for the past few years, and we appear to be currently at or near peak production. The disparity between supply and demand will cause prices to go up sharply. We’re already at $100 per barrel up from a little over $10 per barrel in 1998. Oil prices will continue to rise affecting the price of all other goods and services, since oil is used to create or transport almost every product consumed or used by human beings on this planet. There really aren’t any substitutes for oil as a raw material in many products and as an engine fuel for many machines.

Hawaii’s food, electricity, transportation, and economy are more dependent on oil than any other state. This state is unique in that over 90% of our energy and 90% of our food are imported in freighters that run on oil. About 80% of our electricity in the state is produced by burning diesel. Another 15% is from burning coal, which is mined and shipped here using oil-driven machinery and ships. We are the most isolated place on the planet, separated from any continent by over 3000 miles. The mainstay of our economy, tourism, is completely dependent on cheap oil in the form of jet fuel to remain viable. More than any other state, we are completely and utterly dependent on oil for economic prosperity. Before supplies get much more expensive, and shortages occur, we need to have alternatives in place. Failure to take action will lead to job loss, poverty, and hunger of large portions of the population here.

I’ve given a brief description of peak oil, but others have done it much better than I ever could. Here are some links which describe the phenomenon in more detail.

The Energy Bulletin has a great explanation:

The detailed and refined explanation at The Oil Drum is has a FAQ-style set up with excellent charts:

Wikipedia is a bit dry, but is fairly comprehensive and has some good charts:


Hillery said...

Great intro to a much needed topic! Certainly the Peak Oil dilemma will affect Hawaii a bit differently than the rest of America or the world. Here we are, isolated thousands of miles from the nearest continental landmass, and highly dependant on imports of food, fuel, and tourists. There is a phrase we use liberally here in the islands; "Lucky you live Hawaii"... one has to wonder if that will still be true in the coming futre.

Keolo said...

I just came back from our annual Hawaii family vacation. I am aware, after reading about peak oil articles, including Jeff Rubin's book, that Hawaii will be in deep trouble when it hits. When I was there on your beautiful islands, I look around and imagine Waikiki a decade from now when tourists can no longer fly in. As you mentioned, everything in Hawaii runs on oil. I did not even know that your electricity is fuelled by oil. I guess it will be back to the basics for us all. You can probably consider yourselves lucky in that you are able to grow crops all year round. I live in a Vancouver townhouse and can't even grow beans in summer. Good luck. I will visit your site again when the storm hits.