Big Antarctic Ice Melt Scenarios ‘Not Plausible’

13 12 2015


Mark Cochrane

More on Climate Change from Mark Cochrane….

There, a title that should be red meat to those who want this issue of AGW to be minimized. What does it mean though?

In the last few years we have been treated to a series of alarming findings that basically indicate that the entire Western Antarctic ice sheet is now doomed to fall into the ocean and melt (Rignot et al. 2014, Joughlin et al. 2014). A recipe for 4.8m of sea level rise or so. The big question is, just how fast will this process occur, decades, centuries, millennia?

Scientists gravitate to such questions quickly and try to answer them. So, this month we get Ritz et al 2015 trying to do just that. To do so they basically took ice flow simulation models, running them many times and in many ways, to test the sensitivity of various parameters. In this case, they compiled 3,000 model simulations. That gave them a distribution of possible ice outflow rates. What they then did that was clever; they used 20 years of satellite data to try to constrain the model simulations to weight the ones that performed most realistically more highly than the ones that performed poorly. Models meet reality. The paper was in Nature so it got a lot of press and we got stories like this:

Big Antarctic ice melt scenarios ‘not plausible’

Scientists say the contribution of a melting Antarctica to sea-level rise this century will be significant and challenging, but that some nightmare scenarios are just not realistic.

Their new study models how the polar south will react if greenhouse gases rise at a medium to high rate.

The most likely outcome is an input of about 10cm to global waters by 2100.

But the prospect of a 30cm-or-more contribution – claimed by some previous research – has just a one-in-20 chance.

Ok, what most of the public sees is, ‘sea level rise of 10 cm by 2100’ and they infer that more than that is not likely to happen. Almost no one who reads the BBC article will ever bother to dig up and read Ritz et al 2015 (conveniently linked here for the second time…). Alas, many of those who do try to read it will either give up in frustration or misinterpret it. From the quote above, we see that the 30cm or more amount of potential sea level rise still has a 1 in 20 (aka 5%) chance of occurring. Not exactly trivial. Do you feel lucky? From figure 2 in the actual Nature paper you can learn that although 10cm is the most likely amount of sea level rise that there is a 50+% chance it will be exceeded. There is also a 20% chance that 20cm will be exceeded. Again I ask, do you feel lucky?

I don’t say these things to belittle what looks to be a nice piece of scientific work. I am simply showing you that science is a process in work and that it doesn’t lend itself to simple conclusions. From the BBC article above “The most likely outcome is an input of about 10cm to global waters by 2100” what they don’t provide is the qualifier that this is true only — IF(!) the last 20 years of observations are a good proxy for what the next 85 years of ice sheet movement are going to be like. Who is it that says that the next 20 years are not going to be like the last 20? [in case any DTM reader doesn’t know, it’s Chris Martenson] It is also dependent on the models getting the physics and processes right. There is also this little detail.

There would of course be separate and additional inputs from Greenland and other ice stores, and from the general expansion of waters in the warming oceans.

That is a BIG caveat. All of that additional melting will act to lift the ice sheets of Antarctica where they pour into the ocean, speeding up the decay process further. So ultimately that statement “The most likely outcome is an input of about 10cm to global waters by 2100” should probably be understood as saying ‘The most likely outcome is an input ofat least 10cm to global waters by 2100′. Please note that in the actual scientific paper that the authors do not try to spin their findings as being conclusive. In the conclusion of the Nature paper they say “But, given current understanding, our results indicate that plausible predictions of Antarctic ice-sheet instability leading to greater than around half a meter of sea level rise by 2100 or twice that by 2200 would require new physical mechanisms” Note the parts I emphasized.

In any case, you can rest assured that several other scientists are even now working up ways to test these findings. In science, publishing is only the start of the process. Your work has to stand up to every criticism and test that other scientists can devise. Only when exhaustion takes over will your ideas be accepted. It took about 100 years of this for Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW aka Global Climate Change) to be accepted by just about every scientist in the field. The last serious attempt to test it was by Berkeley Earth (link) who despite great hopes and funding from Koch brothers and their ‘skeptical’ company ended up proving AGW to be all too real, yet again…


Is there a solar revolution? Time for data, not adjectives

26 06 2015


Robert Wilson

Reblogged from Robert Wilson’s site, Carbon Counter

In reality solar power’s heavily subsidized growth is nowhere close to being the revolutionary force some of its advocates claim it already is. It is also not growing exponentially, as anyone could see if they checked the meaning of the term exponential growth and actual statistics for year on year growth rates.

Globally, solar grew by 93% in 2011, 60% in 2012, 39% in 2013, and 38% in 2014. Meanwhile, in the countries with the most developed solar sectors, absolute growth has in fact slowed.

Germany added 7.5 and 7.6 GW of new capacity in 2011 and 2012 respectively. In 2013 and 2014 the figures had gone down to 3.3 and 1.9 GW. The same goes for Italy, where new capacity additions went from 9.3 to 0.38 GW between 2011 and 2014.

In fact, the current growth of European solar is not even vaguely exponential. Instead, growth is declining overall. In 2011, 22.4 GW was added throughout Europe; in 2012 17.4 GW was added, in 2013 10.4 GW was added, and in 2014 7.2 GW was added. Absolute growth of solar capacity in Europe is now one third of what it what it was in 2011.

Anyone confidently predicting continued exponential growth of solar will have a hard time accounting for the actual decline in growth in Europe.

Growth of solar can be put in further perspective by comparing the annual growth (in TWh) with the total electricity consumption of a country. Let’s imagine that in a single year a country went from 0 to 1% of electricity generation being from solar panels. That would mean it would take roughly 100 years to get to 100% solar.

Obvious caveat: we don’t know what to do when the sun goes down, but you get the thrust.

So, how quickly is solar growing globally? Below is a chart showing the top 25 countries in terms of solar growth last year. Growth is measured by comparing absolute growth of solar (in TWh) with total electricity generation (in TWh).


Number 1 is Greece. Now, exactly why heavily indebted Greece is number one in the growth of a heavily subsidized source of energy generation can be debated, but the fact remains.

Most importantly, no major economy is above 1%. At current rates of solar additions they are all many many decades away from solar power taking over. And remember: many of these countries, e.g. Germany, are now seeing reduced rates of absolute solar additions.

Growth in solar energy in China now attracts a lot of optimistic headlines. However, the increase in solar energy last year represented only 0.2% of total electricity generation. In other words, if China kept increasing solar’s share at that rate it would take half a millennium to get to 100% solar electricity. Keep this in mind when you see misguided headlines about solar power having a major influence on Chinese air pollution.

Focusing on electricity generation alone of course is problematic. The underlying reason to switch to solar power is climate change. And the majority of fossil fuels are not used for generating electricity, but for heating, flying, shipping, making steel, and so on. What we really should look at is total energy consumption.

The growth of solar is much slower in terms of total primary energy consumption. Growth in solar in 2015 was less than 0.5% of total primary energy consumption in all major economies.

Top20growth_primThese numbers should make it clear how far we are away from a solar revolution. The figure for China and the US is 0.1%. If China and the US added solar at a rate ten times greater than they are today, then, it would take them a century to get to 100% solar.

In Germany, where a supposed solar revolution has occurred, the figure was 0.29%. 100% solar is a mere three centuries away in that high latitude, cloudy country……. where the sun still goes down.

The collapse of oil prices and energy security in Europe

17 11 2014

This is a written version of the brief talk I gave at the hearing of the EU parliament on energy security in Brussels on Nov 5, 2014. It is not a transcription, but a shortened version that tries to maintain the substance of what I said. In the picture, you can see the audience and, on the TV screen, yours truly taking the picture.

Ladies and gentlemen, first of all, let me say that it is a pleasure and an honour to be addressing this distinguished audience today. I am here as a faculty member of the University of Florence and as a member of the Club of Rome, but let me state right away that what I will tell you are my own opinions, not necessarily those of the Club of Rome or of my university.

This said, let me note that we have been discussing so far with the gas crisis and the Ukrainian situation, but I have to alert you that there is another ongoing crisis – perhaps much more worrisome – that has to do with crude oil. This crisis is being generated by the rapid fall in oil prices during the past few weeks. I have to tell you that low oil prices are NOT a good thing for the reasons that I will try to explain. In particular, low oil prices make it impossible for many oil producers to produce at a profit and that could generate big problems for the world’s economy, just as it already happened in 2008.

So, let me start with an overview of the long term trends of oil prices. Here it is, with data plotted from the BP site.

These data are corrected for inflation. You see strong oscillations, but also an evident trend of growth. Let’s zoom in, to see the past thirty years or so:

These data are not corrected for inflation, but the correction is not large in this time range. Prices are growing, but they stabilized during the past 4-5 years at somewhere around US 100 $ per barrel. Note the fall during the past month or so. I plotted these data about one week ago, today we are at even lower prices, well under 80 dollars per barrel.

The question is: what generates these trends? Obviously, there are financial factors of all kinds that tend to create fluctuations. But, in the end, what determines prices is the interplay of demand and offer. If prices are too high, people can’t afford to buy; that’s what we call “demand destruction”. If prices are too low, then it is offer that is destroyed. Simply, producers can’t sell their products at a loss; not for a long time, at least. So there is a range of prices which are possible for oil: too high, and customers can’t buy, too low, and companies can’t sell. Indeed, if you look at historical prices, you see that when they went over something like 120 $/barrel (present dollars) the result was a subsequent recession and the collapse of the economy.

Ultimately, it is the cost of production that generates the lower price limit. Here, we get into the core of the problem. As you see from the price chart above, up to about the year 2000, there was no problem for producers to make a profit selling oil at around 20 dollars per barrel. Then something changed that caused the prices to rise up. That something has a name: it is depletion.

Depletion doesn’t mean that we run out of oil. Absolutely not. There is still plenty of oil to extract in the world. Depletion means that we gradually consume our resources and – as you can imagine – we tend to extract and produce first the least expensive resources. So, as depletion gradually goes on, we are left with more expensive resources to extract. And, if extracting costs more, then the market prices must increase: as I said, nobody wants to sell at a loss. And here we have the problem. Below, you can see is a chart that shows the costs of production of oil for various regions of the world. (From an article by Hall and Murphy on The Oil Drum)

Of course, these data are to be taken with caution. But there are other, similar, estimates, including a 2012 report by Goldman and Sachs, where you can read that most recent developments need at least 120 $/barrel to be profitable. Here is a slide from that report.

So, you see that, with the present prices, a good 10% of the oil presently produced is produced at a loss. If prices were to go back to values considered “normal” just 10 years ago, around 40 $/barrel, then we would lose profitability for around half of the world’s production. Production won’t collapse overnight: a good fraction of the cost of production derives from the initial investment in an oil field. So, once the field has been developed, it keeps producing, even though the profits may not repay the investment. But, in the long run, nobody wants to invest in an enterprise at so high risks of loss. Eventually, production must go down: there will still be oil that could be, theoretically, extracted, but that we won’t be able to afford to extract. This is the essence of the concept of depletion.

The standard objection, at this point, is about technology. People say, “yes, but technology will lower costs of extraction and everything will be fine again”. Well, I am afraid that it is not so simple. There are limits to what that technology can do. Let me show you something:

That object you see at the top of the image is a chunk of shale. It is the kind of rock out of which shale oil and shale gas can be extracted. But, as you can imagine, it is not easy. You can’t pump oil out of shales; the oil is there, but it is locked into the rock. To extract it, you must break the rock down into small pieces; fracture it (this is where the term “fracking” comes from). And you see on the right an impression of the kind of equipment it takes. You can be sure that it doesn’t come cheap. And that’s not all: once you start fracking, you have to keep on fracking. The decline rate of a fracking well is very rapid; we are talking about something like a loss of 80% in three years. And that’s expensive, too. Note, by the way, that we are speaking of the cost of production. The market price is another matter and it is perfectly possible for the industry to have to produce at a loss, if they were too enthusiastic about investing in these new resources. It is what’s happening for shale gas in the US; too much enthusiasm on the part of investors has created a problem of overproduction and prices too low to repay the costs of extraction.

So, producing this kind of resources, the so called “new oil” is a complex and expensive task. Surely technology can help reduce costs, but think about that: how exactly can it reduce the energy that it takes to break a rock into fine dust? Are you going to hammer on it with a smartphone? Are you going to share a photo of it on Facebook? Are you going to run it through a 3D printer? The problem is that to break and mill a piece of rock takes energy and this energy has to come from somewhere.

Eventually, the fundamental point is that you have a balance between the energy invested and the energy returned. It takes energy to extract oil, we can say that it takes energy to produce energy. The ratio of the two energies is the “Net Energy Return” of the whole system, also known as EROI or EROEI (energy return of energy invested). Of course, you want this return to be as high as possible, but when you deal with non renewable resources, such as oil, the net energy return declines with time because of depletion. Let me show you some data.

As you see, the net energy return for crude oil (top left) declined from about 100 to around 10 over some 100 years (the value of 100 may be somewhat overestimated, but the trend remains the same). And with lower net energies, you get less and less useful energy from an oil well; as you can see in the image at the lower right. The situation is especially bad for the so called “new oil”, shale oil, biofuels, tar sands, and others. It is expected: these kinds of oil (or anyway combustible liquids) are the most expensive ones and they are being extracted today because we are running out of the cheap kinds. No wonder that prices must increase if production has to continue at the levels we are used to. Then, when the market realizes that prices are too high to be affordable, there is the opposite effect; prices go down to tell producers to stop producing a resource which is too expensive to sell.

So, we have a problem. It is a problem that appears in the form of sudden price jumps; up and down, but which is leading us gradually to a situation in which we won’t be able to produce as much oil as we are used to. The same is true for gas and I think that the present crisis in Europe, which is seen today mainly as a political one, ultimately has its origin in the gradual depletion of gas resources. We still have plenty of gas to produce, but it is becoming an expensive resource.  It is the same for coal, even though so far there we don’t see shortages; for coal, troubles come more from emissions and climate change; and that’s an even more serious problem than depletion. Coal may (perhaps) be considered abundant (or, at least, more abundant than other fossil resources) but it is not a solution to any problem.

In the end, we have problems that cannot be “solved” by trying to continue producing non renewable resources which in the long run are going to become too expensive. It is a physical problem, and cannot be solved by political or financial methods. The only possibility is to switch to resources which don’t suffer of depletion. That is, to renewable resources.

At this point, we should discuss what is the energy return of renewables and compare it to that of fossil fuels. This is a complex story and there is a lot of work being done on that. There are many uncertainties in the estimates, but I think it can be said that the “new renewables“, that is mainly photovoltaics and wind, have energy returns for the production of electrical energy which is comparable to that of the production of the same kind of energy from oil and gas. Maybe renewables still can’t match the return of fossil fuels but, while the energy return of fossil energy keeps declining, the return of renewables is increasing because of economies of scale and technological improvements. So, we are going to reach a crossing point at some moment (maybe we have already reached it) and, even in terms of market prices, the cost of renewable electric power is today already comparable to that of electric power obtained with fossil fuels.

The problem is that our society was built around the availability of cheap fossil fuels. We can’t simply switch to renewables such as photovoltaics, which can’t produce, for instance, liquid fuels for transportation. So, we need a new infrastructure to accommodate the new technologies, and that will be awfully expensive to create. We’ll have to try to do our best, but we cannot expect the energy transition – the “energiewende” – to be painless. On the other hand, if we don’t prepare for it, it will be worse.

So, to return to the subject of this hearing, we were discussing energy security for Europe. I hope I provided some data for you that show how security is ultimately related to supply and that we are having big problems with the supply of fossil energy right now. The problem can only increase in the future because of the gradual depletion of fossil resources. So, we need to think in terms of supplies which are not affected by this problem. As a consequence, it is vital for Europe’s energy security to invest in renewable energy. We shouldn’t expect miracles from renewables, but they will be immensely helpful in the difficult times ahead.

Let me summarize the points I made in this talk:

Thank you very much for your attention and if you want to know more, you can look at my website “Resource Crisis”.

Ugo Bardi teaches at the University of Florence, Italy. He is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of “Extracted, how the quest for mineral wealth is plundering the planet” (Chelsea Green 2014)

Successful launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite

3 07 2014

Below is the NASA press release from a a successful launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite. The scientific community has been waiting for this for a long time since the first version OCO-1 blew up on launch. This should provide a much better understanding of how carbon is cycling into and out of the atmosphere. For emissions, this is a non-trivial problem since this is like trying to spot who is pouring the most water into the oceans by way of comparison. The atmosphere is well mixed so CO2 isn’t very different anywhere and spotting new emissions (or uptake) is not easy.

Mark Cochrane

July 2, 2014 NASA Launches New Carbon-Sensing Mission to Monitor Earth’s Breathing

OCO2launchA United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket launches with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)satellite onboard from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

NASA successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide at 2:56 a.m. PDT (5:56 a.m. EDT) Wednesday. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) raced skyward from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.

Approximately 56 minutes after the launch, the observatory separated from the rocket’s second stage into an initial 429-mile (690-kilometer) orbit. The spacecraft then performed a series of activation procedures, established communications with ground controllers and unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays. Initial telemetry shows the spacecraft is in excellent condition. OCO-2 soon will begin a minimum two-year mission to locate Earth’s sources of and storage places for atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world and a critical component of the planet’s carbon cycle.

“Climate change is the challenge of our generation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.” OCO-2 will take NASA’s studies of carbon dioxide and the global carbon cycle to new heights. The mission will produce the most detailed picture to date of natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks” — places on Earth’s surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere.

The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time. “This challenging mission is both timely and important,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “OCO-2 will produce exquisitely precise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations near Earth’s surface, laying the foundation for informed policy decisions on how to adapt to and reduce future climate change.”

Carbon dioxide sinks are at the heart of a longstanding scientific puzzle that has made it difficult for scientists to accurately predict how carbon dioxide levels will change in the future and how those changing concentrations will affect Earth’s climate. “Scientists currently don’t know exactly where and how Earth’s oceans and plants have absorbed more than half the carbon dioxide that human activities have emitted into our atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era,” said David Crisp, OCO-2 science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “Because of this we cannot predict precisely how these processes will operate in the future as climate changes.

For society to better manage carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, we need to be able to measure the natural source and sink processes.” Precise measurements of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide are needed because background levels vary by less than two percent on regional to continental scales. Typical changes can be as small as one-third of one percent. OCO-2 measurements are designed to measure these small changes clearly.

OCO2During the next 10 days, the spacecraft will go through a checkout process and then begin three weeks of maneuvres that will place it in its final 438-mile (705-kilometre), near-polar operational orbit at the head of the international Afternoon Constellation, or “A-Train,” of Earth-observing satellites. The A-Train, the first multi-satellite, formation flying “super observatory” to record the health of Earth’s atmosphere and surface environment, collects an unprecedented quantity of nearly simultaneous climate and weather measurements.

OCO-2 science operations will begin about 45 days after launch. Scientists expect to begin archiving calibrated mission data in about six months and plan to release their first initial estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in early 2015. The observatory will uniformly sample the atmosphere above Earth’s land and waters, collecting more than 100,000 precise individual measurements of carbon dioxide over Earth’s entire sunlit hemisphere every day. Scientists will use these data in computer models to generate maps of carbon dioxide emission and uptake at Earth’s surface on scales comparable in size to the state of Colorado. These regional-scale maps will provide new tools for locating and identifying carbon dioxide sources and sinks.

OCO-2 also will measure a phenomenon called solar-induced fluorescence, an indicator of plant growth and health. As plants photosynthesize and take up carbon dioxide, they fluoresce and give off a tiny amount of light that is invisible to the naked eye. Because more photosynthesis translates into more fluorescence, fluorescence data from OCO-2 will help shed new light on the uptake of carbon dioxide by plants.

OCO-2 is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, built the spacecraft bus and provides mission operations under JPL’s leadership. The science instrument was built by JPL, based on the instrument design co-developed for the original OCO mission by Hamilton Sundstrand in Pomona, California. NASA’s Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management. Communications during all phases of the mission are provided by NASA’s Near Earth Network, with contingency support from the Space Network. Both are divisions of the Space Communications and Navigation program at NASA Headquarters. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information about OCO-2, visit: OCO-2 is the second of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to launch into space this year, the most new Earth-observing mission launches in one year in more than a decade. NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing.

The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet. For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit: Follow OCO-2 on Twitter at: -end- Steve Cole Headquarters, Washington 202-358-0918

Alan Buis Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 818-354-0474

Still on target……..

15 02 2014

Every year, I download the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics’ oil production data.   BREE’s data comes in spreadsheet form, and are official Federal Government data…… they are not numbers I make up, and as anticipated, the news are not good.  The production rate has fallen year on year during 2013 by a whopping 18.3%……  as I keep saying, imagine if the economy itself shrank this fast…?

The spreadsheet is available at if you want to see for yourself.

Using this data, I produced the following chart:


As you can see, we are still on target to totally run out of oil sometime around 2020, which is now just six years away.  The silence over this gobsmacking trend is deafening…..  Of course, it is just a projection, a trend.  Things could miraculously improve, but they could also get worse……  for instance, why does it say on the spreadsheet “Petroleum production by basin data is currently under review and publication of this data is suspended until further notice.”?  The cynic in me can’t resist the idea they’re hiding something…..  like, is Bass Straight on the cusp of collapse?


Australia’s $50 billion petrol industry is set for its biggest shake-up in decades, with energy majors Royal Dutch Shell and BP considering the sale of refineries and petrol stations in order to free up cash for their core energy production businesses, reports The Australian Financial Review.

Shell chief executive Peter Voster said in November last year that the company was “entering into a divestment phase” amid rising costs for energy projects and investor concern about capital expenditure…..

It is believed BP is also examining a $3 billion sale of its petrol stations and refineries in Queensland and Western Australia. BP supplies fuel to about 1400 petrol stations of which it owns about 225….

There is speculation Chevron may follow BP and Shell and consider selling out of service stations in Australia. A spokesman would not comment.

You can add these as yet more red flags to the collection of automotive manufacturing collection.  I expect QANTAS will be the next bull in the china shop…..

The adults morons running this country not only have no idea of what’s going on, they want to make it all even facepalmworse….

APPROVAL for a second Sydney airport at Badgery’s Creek could be given within months, with federal Treasurer Joe Hockey pushing to fast-track a decision to include the project in the government’s first budget.

Wonders will never cease….. if this goes ahead, it will be finished right on time for no fuel available to run the planes.  And you wonder why I think we’re screwed…

Australia still on target to run out of oil by 2020

4 04 2013

This post is a follow up on previous ones on this topic which can be found here here and here

Yesterday, Shell signalled its intentions of getting out of refining oil by selling its remaining facility in Geelong, Victoria:

Shell selling Geelong refinery to focus on international interests (The World Today)

The future is uncertain for more than 400 Shell employees after the company announced it is selling its refinery in Geelong in Victoria.

A year ago, the general manager of the Shell refinery assured the community that he had no plans to close the Geelong operation.

Today Shell Australia announced not a closure but a sale, which it hopes can take place by the end of 2014.The announcement puts the jobs of around 450 people on site and hundreds of contractors in limbo, and also threatens the supply of fuel to Victoria and South Australia.

Australian oil:

Oil refineries produce petrol, diesel, jet fuel, fuel oil, liquefied petroleum, bitumen and heating oil.

Australian refineries are relatively small by international standards. The Jamnagar refinery in India, for example, has a capacity almost double that of all Australia’s refineries combined.

Local refining capacity has fallen from 100 per cent self-sufficiency in 2000 to just over 50 per cent in 2008, with forecasts it will drop to just 18 per cent by 2030.

Shell says if the refinery cannot be sold, one option could include converting the site into an import terminal.

Yeah right…..  “someone” will come along and buy a billion dollar oil refinery knowing full

Shell Geelong Refinery

Shell Geelong Refinery

well (because if they don’t they’re bloody idiots!) that Australia will have no oil left to refine, and well before 2030, let me tell you…..

EDIT:  Swiss-based group Vitol, the world’s biggest oil trader has in fact bought Shell’s interests in a 2.9 billion dollar deal since this post was written.  Vitol owns a fleet of oil tankers, and will be processing oil it will import itself into Australia at the Geelong refinery. 

Vitol spokeswoman Andrea Schlaepfer said the group did not have plans to convert the refinery to a fuel import terminal — a process that would have cost more than 400 jobs…  “The intention is to keep it going”.  This of course makes no difference to the fact we are running out apace, and that we will soon be fully dependent on foreign oil.

The Australian Government’s official 2012 oil production figures are now available at and whilst our depletion rate has fallen from 2011’s dramatic 26.6%, it still doesn’t make good reading at 13.9%.  On current trend, there is no way there will still be 18% capacity at any Australian oil refinery by 2030.
Our oil production has now fallen from 317,000 bbls/day in 2010, to 298,000 in 2011, to 257,000 last year (for a 3 year rolling average depletion rate of some 19%).  Condensate, the oft quoted “saviour” of our liquid fuel capacity, is going down just as fast, with a 3 year rolling average depletion rate of 16%.  And let’s not forget, condensate is not oil, its energy content per barrel is appreciably lower.
Just imagine if the economy shrank at such rates…….!  It doesn’t even bear to think about the consequences of that, maybe unemployment at 90%, total cutting off of pensions, stockmarket worth zero…..  yet these numbers never make the business pages of the papers, let alone the front page where they really belong.
Below is a graph generated through BREE’s own spreadsheet.  Spreadsheets do not lie.
Australian oil depletion trendline

Australian oil depletion trendline

It was pointed out to me that you cannot draw a “trendline” from just three data points and say it’s “factual”.  Of course I totally agree, and it was remiss of me to not point out that, as this post is a continuation of the other several posts I have written about Australia running out of oil by 2020, these three data points above merely complement the other data published earlier.  The trendline from ALL the data still points to us running out by 2020, and only a very major new find, like finding another Bass Straight, would make any difference.  So far, nothing’s changed……

Charting Australia’s Peak Oil decline

8 09 2012

This is a guest post by my friend Dave Kimble of who is much better than me with spreadsheets!

The original article was sourced from

The Australian Government makes following the progress of Australia’s Peak Oil decline very difficult.

Prior to 2006, oil production data was published in ABARE’s “Australian Mineral Statistics”, which came out quarterly, and accumulated the quarters onto financial year annual boundaries, (July-June) , which differs from the normal international convention of calendar years. Moreover the figures were published in PDF format, with a numerical format having a space instead of a comma to denote thousands, making it very difficult to convert to Excel format in order to chart the figures.

Then in 2006 they revised the method of collecting data, and back-dated the revised data set, meaning there was a “wrong” set and a “right” set of data.

Then in 2010, ABARE was relieved of the responsibility of publishing the data, which was taken on by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (RET) (Tourism ? Yes, that’s right). They now publish “Australian Petroleum Statistics”, which is monthly and in Excel spreadsheet format.

You can find it by going to where you will see the current year’s monthly reports.

EDIT by Mike:  that URL no longer works, just checked.  I got data there myself some months ago, then recently found the page taken down.  They really don’t want us to know what’s going on…….

Previous years’ data can be accessed from the left-hand panel. (Don’t bother with trying to find it with the SEARCH facility, because it is not indexed in there.) Within the report itself, look for Table 1A, and focus on columns A and B.

These figures only go back to 2003, so there is no consistent data set covering the history of the oil industry in Australia. You can get annual figures going back to 1965 from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, but their definition of “oil” has changed to include Crude Oil plus Condensate plus NGPLs (including LPG) plus ethanol plus biodiesel, so that figure is much higher (64% or so in 2011) due to Australia’s booming gas fields.

So to see the progress of Australia’s Peak Oil decline in a chart, you have to download 9 spreadsheets and extract the monthly data on Crude Oil, and paste it into a new “history” spreadsheet to chart it. You can then accumulate the monthly data to calendar years.

And to extend the data set back to before 2003 to see the peak in 2000, you must also download the relevant PDFs from ABARE, go through the laborious convertion process on the quarterly data, and accumulate them to calendar years.

One wonders whether there is a better data set that the Government uses, or whether they just want to avoid thinking about Peak Oil altogether by simply not having the data in a useful form.

But fear not, I have done all the hard work for you.
Here is the monthly oil production using RET data in the form of a chart:

The monthly numbers are very jittery, which leads me to think that data reporting/collection is not very good.

By accumulating over a longer period, this irons out the effects of “late returns”, maintenance and weather effects.
And here is the data complied from both ABARE and RET accumulated to calendar years:
(The figure for December 2011 hasn’t been published yet, so that is estimated by averaging)

As you can see, in 2011 we only produced 36% of what we produced in 2000, and the fall off rate for 2008-11 has been particularly rapid, averaging 12% per year, and accelerating.
The reduction from 2010 to 2011 has been a staggering 24.1%.

In the face of this decline, to suggest that “a higher oil price will bring more oil to market” is complete nonsense.

Self-sufficiency ?

The international oil refining industry is ultra-competitive and causes some odd things to happen. Instead of our refineries using our oil as feedstock, we export a lot of our oil because it is “light sweet crude” and attracts high prices, and we import “heavy sour crude” which is cheaper, and mix it with our Condensate (from gas wells) to produce some of our petrol and diesel and other fuels. We also import a lot of refined petrol and diesel, and export some to Pacific island nations (our little empire).

In the 12 months to November 2011, we exported 18,136 MegaLitres of crude+condensate, and imported 31,055 MegaLitres of crude.
We also imported 3,085 ML of automotive gasoline, and 10,143 ML of diesel, plus other varieties as well.
Our chief crude oil suppliers are : United Arab Emirates, Congo, Nigeria and Malaysia. We even get some from Russia.
Most of our imported petrol comes from Singapore, and most of our imported diesel comes from Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

Given this dependency on world petroleum trade, any disruption to that trade would see us floundering, along with the rest of the world. It is a puzzle, therefore, why we are itching for a fight with Syria and Iran, that would probably set the Middle East alight. My guess is that it is all a bluff, if not, they (western governments) must be so desperate that they are prepared to risk everything rather than give up their power and privileges.

Dave Kimble