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Approaching the Olduvai Cliff?

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#1 advancedatheist

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 04:16 PM


Natural gas supply is down 'serious' 35%
Shortfall: Alan Greenspan has warned that the nation's shortfall in natural gas poses "a very serious problem."
Associated Press
Originally published May 24, 2003

NEW YORK - Although natural gas is primarily a winter fuel, the industry is getting an unusually high level of attention as summer rolls around because supplies are tight and prices are soaring.
This is traditionally the period when demand tapers off and the industry is able to replenish inventories with cheap fuel. But this year, industry and government officials are worrying that supplies might still be inadequate by the time the next home-heating season begins.

At the very least, the fuel being injected into underground storage facilities these days is unseasonably expensive, a cost utilities are likely to pass along to homeowners, industry officials said.

An Energy Department report released this week said the nation had 990 billion cubic feet of natural gas in underground storage facilities as of May 16. That is 35 percent below the five-year range and the fundamental reason for concern.

As with most issues confronting the energy business, this one intersects with environmental policy. For years, natural gas executives have complained that their ability to meet the nation's demand is impaired by regulatory red tape and a lack of access to federal lands, especially in the Rockies. Under the circumstances, industry officials believe that argument will now carry more weight in Congress.

The rumblings about the root causes of the current shortfall - dwindling domestic production coupled with a cold winter in natural-gas consuming regions of the country - reached a wider audience this week when Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan raised them before Congress.

Greenspan described the difficulty the natural gas industry is having as a "very serious problem" that could have negative consequences for the rest of the U.S. economy, particularly the manufacturing sector, which relies on natural gas to generate power.

"Working gas in storage is presently at extremely low levels," Greenspan testified, "and the normal seasonal rebuilding of these inventories seems to be behind the schedule. ..."

The industry has pursued an intentionally cautious approach ever since the summer of 2001, when record-high prices prompted a flurry of drilling that resulted in a supply glut as the economy sputtered. As prices plummeted below $3 per 1,000 cubic feet, drilling activity dried up and chastened executives vowed to be more circumspect.

Sure enough, the surplus disappeared and supplies tightened. Other factors contributing to the rising price of natural gas have been increased exports to Mexico and a decline in Canadian production - the first time that has happened in nearly two decades.

Futures prices are now hovering above $6 per 1,000 cubic feet and natural gas drilling activity is on the rise again, but it takes from six to nine months for such activity to show up in storage levels.

There is plenty of time to reach the November inventory target of 3 trillion cubic feet, said William Trapman, a natural gas analyst at the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department's statistical arm.

"The big question is, will it be a hot summer?" Trapman added. "If it is, air conditioners will run more heavily, increasing demand for electricity."

Moreover, outages and maintenance-related shutdowns at nuclear plants this spring have led some analysts to conclude that extra demand will be placed on gas-fired power plants this summer.

"The hopes of refilling storage to comfortable levels while meeting gas-fired generation demand this summer don't look promising," UBS Warburg's Ronald Barone said in a report this week.

A mild summer would help avert any shortage.

So, too, would a decline in the price of oil, now more than $29 per barrel, giving manufacturers with fuel-switching capabilities an economic incentive to use crude-derived fuels instead of natural gas.

"All indications are that this winter natural gas will certainly be more expensive than last winter," said Rhone Resch, vice president of energy markets at the Natural Gas Supply Association in Washington.

Resch said the shortfall gives the industry fresh ammunition to press its political agenda on Capitol Hill, including its desire for access to federal lands currently off-limits.

Copyright © 2003, The Baltimore Sun

#2 Mind

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 04:30 PM

Thankfully, temperatures so far this spring have been below normal across much of the country, especially big population centers in the midwest and northeast.

This story is just another reminder of how dependent the industrialized world is on fossil fuels. Instead of opening up more drilling as the article suggests might happen hopefully more people will see the need for conservation and developing new sources of energy.

#3 Lazarus Long

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 04:59 PM

There are a number of options that require a major socio-psychological shift that we are culturally blocking just as we have vested interests that see these as grand shifts of economic power and resist. Transportation is one example but there are many.

There is an economically and technologically viable industrial plant that is starting to make synthetic heating oil out of urban waste and there is a need for synfuel conversion but more importantly more passive generalized energy collection/distribution and adequate mass transit. BUt decentralized power production and profit is a direct competitor with the monolithic producer interests now.

There is also in our society an ability to E-Commute through the web and reduce the need to actually leave home but there are social consequences that this includes. Recycling is measured by the wrong yardstick of cost. Many of our economic models are way out of whack for reality and are skewed to measure the vested interests of the status quo rather than more objective meters and models for a planned future.

There are windfarms going up and cities using waste vegetable oil to power busses but these are all tokens and experiments on the scale of real demand. Madison WI. for example has thousands of miles of protected bike lanes but these were an excuse to diminish rather than improve mass transit while they cut up the wetlands and built more and wider highways to encourage the urban sprawl into the richest farmland in America.

Too bad every aspect of progress seems to possess a double image, a doppleganger evil spirit accompaning every promise of technology.

There are no easy answers but there are many many small ones that begin with each individual's choices.

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#4 advancedatheist

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 05:02 PM

I got the heads-up on this problem from reading alternative, progressive & environmentalist news sources on the Web. None of the free-market sites I'm aware of even gave a hint that this was coming. If anything, free-market ideologues tend to argue sophistically that fossil fuels are potentially "infinite" because the human mind is "the ultimate resource," and can presumably pull energy out of the air the way John Galt did with his perpetual-motion invention in Atlas Shrugged.

The prospect of the power grid failing -- permanently! -- from a crash in the fossil fuels supply doesn't seem so far-fetched now. This poses just as potentially catastrophic a danger to would-be immortals as a global super-plague, a nuclear war or a doomsday asteroid or comet. But for some reason nobody with any political or business authority seems to be thinking that far ahead, unless you count the Bush Administration's efforts to turn the Persian Gulf countries into additional states of the Union.

Edited by advancedatheist, 24 May 2003 - 05:04 PM.

#5 Mind

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Posted 25 May 2003 - 01:35 PM

The prospect of the power grid failing -- permanently! -- from a crash in the fossil fuels supply doesn't seem so far-fetched now.

I still think it is a little far fetched, but it is another incentive to get power generation for my house and get off the grid. Solar cells & fuel cells are what I am looking at. Having both would add redundancy and both are relatively clean.

#6 advancedatheist

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Posted 14 September 2003 - 05:08 AM


Oil Companies Show Fiscal Discipline
Sat September 13, 2003 08:53 AM ET
By C. Bryson Hull
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Exploration and production companies could once be counted on to spend like drunken sailors when oil and gas prices were high, but in the current boom, they are holding onto their wallets like never before.

Two key factors have led to the fiscal discipline in the E&P sector, say executives and industry experts: the memory of how free boom-time spending led to a sector collapse in 2001 and the growing shortage of high-yield prospects.

#7 Mind

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Posted 14 September 2003 - 11:59 AM

This is great news AA! If oil and gas are getting scarce the free market will force people into different energy sources than oil. Oil is an old an somewhat dirty source of energy. It would've been replaced already if it wasn't so darn cheap.

#8 advancedatheist

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 06:46 AM

If industrial civilization isn't falling into a systematic energy crisis, the news stories this year read "as if" we are.


The U.S. government acknowledges that North America is experiencing a serious shortage of natural gas, with no short-term solution.

The U.S. military invaded an allegedly oil-rich country, but its contractors can't seem to get the oil production back up to its reported potential. (It wouldn't surprise me if we hear in a few months that Iraq didn't have nearly as much oil as we were led to believe.)

New Zealand, Japan, several European countries, Canada and the U.S. have experienced massive power failures not caused by natural disasters or other specific disruptions. Italy has just joined the list.

Reuters reports that American oil companies are reluctant to spend money on new exploration and drilling, despite high prices for oil and gas, because of "the growing shortage of high-yield prospects"

Phoenix, Arizona, experienced a gasoline shortage for several weeks this summer because a pipeline broke.

The international airport in Sydney, Australia, has recently experienced a shortage of aviation fuel because of problems with the local refinery (which could pose a problem for a cryonicist who deanimates in Australia and needs to get flown in a refrigerated state to his cryonics organization in the U.S.).

And just the other day, OPEC announced a cutback in production.

You know, a few more data points like these will make the prospect of a Final Blackout seem not at all far-fetched.

#9 Lazarus Long

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 11:04 AM

In addition to energy shortages we are also seeing a year when weather is beginning to demonstrate the clear and dangerous characteristics of accelerated global warming and the impact to economy and food supply is starting to have repercussions as well as a year that is finding new disease outbreaks and at least showing that we are beginning to take that avenue seriously.

Nature Magazine
West Nile epidemic grows
Densely populated, mosquito-rich California could be next for virus.

18 September 2003

Ironically as food should always be considered a part of energy related issues for both reasons of physics and production it should also be noted that fish stocks are not just dramatically lower than at any time since the pre Devonian Age but the fish are smaller and this represents a reduction in the tonnage of yield as well.

Nature Magazine
North Sea fish have shrunk
There are lots more small fish in the sea thanks to fishing.

25 September 2003

Fish in the North Sea have got smaller and overfishing is probably to blame, researchers will announce at the North Atlantic's most important fisheries meeting this week.

"Fish smaller than about 30 centimetres have actually increased in abundance," says ecologist Niels Daan of the Netherlands Institute for Fisheries Research in Ijmuiden. He will present his findings this weekend at the annual science conference of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in Tallin, Estonia.


Never forget that food is literally our biological "fuel" and continuing to beat Malthus depends on secure and continuous, massive supplies of fuels for an industry that is very dependent on large quantities of energy and technology as well as well as climate, area, transportation, and labor to maintain increasing productivity to meet increasing demand. Fuel disruptions also directly effect food production as well as cost and availability of the end product.

Those who think that Malthus's ideas are dead speak prematurely for what we have is an ever increasing level of struggle. The crisis not only looms but as populations grow and become more urban the threat hangs even greater over our heads like a sword of Damocles because a single sufficiently catastrophic event, or combined series of events could tip the balance precipitously over to massive short or even long term inability to provide food to billions of people.

Severe and longer term disruptions of energy supplies combined with political and economic crises are one scenario but a single impact of a sizable asteroid even in the ocean, would not only create hardship and devastation for major segments of the directly impacted populations but would drastically alter global climate and inhibit shipping and the ability to redistribute existing stocks sufficiently fast to offset the social crises and famines that would occur over large parts of the world for many months to years that follow.

Oh and weather is a factor for energy distribution too as anybody that is still without electricity in the Ohio River valley and the Virginia's or Carolina's should begin to understand. Severe weather can damage a distribution grid and the resources to safely put it back together takes time. And as we are learning in Iraq petroleum distribution pipelines are vulnerable too and these "grids" are being impacted by the "social climate".

#10 advancedatheist

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 03:35 PM

Richard C. Duncan in his "Olduvai Theory" graphs empirical data about the world's per capita energy consumption. (I'm trying to find data from reliable sources so I can test his theory.) Duncan claims that the graph peaked in the late 1970's (!), and has been declining ever since. He predicts that we're on a "slide" and near a "cliff" in energy availabilty which will be signaled by recurring massive, and eventually permanent, blackouts by 2012 or so:


I find it striking that pervasive power problems the world over have begun this year.

New Zealand experienced an electricity crisis earlier this year because of a drought and the depletion of its main natural gas field.

Japan experienced an electricity crisis over the summer because it had to take a number of nuclear power plants offline for safety reasons.

France's nuclear power plants during its recent heatwave had trouble cooling because of restrictions on the temperature of the exhaust water they can emit. If the French had adopted the American habit of running air conditioning in the summer, they would have experienced an extraordinary blackout.

The northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada had experienced an unprecedented blackout back in August, from causes as yet undetermined.

England experienced a similar blackout about a week later.

And just a few hours ago, Italy experienced a blackout affecting even more people than the North American one, again for reasons not immediately obvious.

Those are just in developed countries. China is investing an enormous amount of resources into building up its generating capacity, but even then it can't keep up with the demand caused by its rapid industrialization. So I wouldn't be surprised if China joins the ranks of blacked out industrial countries some time in the next few months.

#11 Lazarus Long

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 04:19 PM

Italy's grid went down today as a matter of coincidence.
Italy slowly comes back to light

#12 Mind

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Posted 02 October 2003 - 02:38 PM

C. tarsalis thrives in ditches in California's heavily irrigated agricultural heartland. When WNV reaches there, as it is expected to do next summer, there could be trouble.

I lived in California for almost a year, right in the central valley, and spent most of my time outdoors. I was not bitten by one mosquito (none that I am consciously aware of anyway). In fact I remarked to most of my friends that the one good thing about California is that there are virtually no bugs (due to the arid climate). Here in the midwest I get bitten several hundred times each year.

Also, I cannot believe that "experts" still claim that WNV arrived in 1999 and spread to 34 states within 2 summers. They still cling to outlandish theories that circular migrating birds and mosquitoes that "over-winter" in city drain pipes led to this rapid spread.

Given that WNV shows no sypmtoms in 80% of the cases and the rest of the time it mimics the cold or flu, it is quite likely it has been here a long time (decades), and the so called "rapid spread" across the country was just an epdipemic of testing.

#13 Lazarus Long

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Posted 02 October 2003 - 04:47 PM

And you aren't even an "expert" epidemiologist Mind. How dare we question these illustrious minds, Mind. [lol]

But actually when was the last time you found experts agreeing easily? :))

In the case of mosquito populations in California I suspect they are actually more common in metropolitan areas (a more dangerous situation for pandemics) due to how the insect has adapted to the advantages of humans creating stagnate standing water sources than they are in many more arid environments. But almost all mosquito populations appear tame in comparison to some areas around Wisconsin in summer, though inland Florida is worse I think.

Again this is an aspect that has solutions. I am just reporting it as they are writing it but aside from whether we are going to agree on the rate of the spread I think it is important to acknowledge it is spreading.

As a serious climatologist I also suggest you consider this perspective in relation to not only global warming but whether we are accelerating that process as a species too. Or do you also want to go on record saying global warming is a myth and madness?

We can argue about consequences of global warming separately after we first get past the question of existence. The same idea relates to West Nile Virus and other encephalitis infections as well as now malaria that are appearing in America for the first time in decades.

We may discuss why we have, and what to do about this problem but it is only meaningful to raise these issues if we first agree that we have a problem.

#14 advancedatheist

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Posted 02 October 2003 - 06:17 PM


World oil and gas 'running out'
By CNN's Graham Jones
Thursday, October 2, 2003 Posted: 1245 GMT ( 8:45 PM HKT)

LONDON, England -- Global warming will never bring a "doomsday scenario" a team of scientists says -- because oil and gas are running out much faster than thought.

The world's oil reserves are up to 80 percent less than predicted, a team from Sweden's University of Uppsala says. Production levels will peak in about 10 years' time, they say.

"Non-fossil fuels must come in much stronger than it had been hoped," Professor Kjell Alekett told CNN.

Oil production levels will hit their maximum soon after 2010 with gas supplies peaking not long afterwards, the Swedish geologists say.

At that point prices for petrol and other fuels will reach disastrous levels. Earlier studies have predicted oil supplies will not start falling until 2050.

Alekett said that his team had examined data on oil and gas reserves from all over the world and we were "facing a very critical situation globally."

"The thing we are surprised of is that people in general are not aware of the decline in supplies and the extent to which it will affect production.

"The decline of oil and gas will affect the world population more than climate change."

According to the Uppsala team, nightmare predictions of melting ice caps and searing temperatures will never come to pass because the reserves of oil and gas just are not big enough to create that much carbon dioxide (CO2).

Alekett said that as well as there being inflated estimates, some countries in the Middle East had exaggerated the amount of reserves they had.

Coal-burning could easily make up the shortfall. But burning coal would be even worse for the planet, as it would create even more CO2, he said.

Predictions of global meltdown by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sparked the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an agreement obliging signatory nations to cut CO2 emissions.

The IPCC examined a range of future scenarios, from profligate burning of fossil-fuels to a fast transition towards greener energy sources.

The Uppsala team say the amount of oil and gas left is the equivalent of around 3,500 billion barrels of oil -- the IPCC say between 5,000 and 18,000 billion barrels.

Alekett said his team had now established what they called the "Uppsala Protocol" to initiate discussion on how the problems of declining reserves could be tackled -- protecting the world economy but also addressing the problem of climate change.

The conclusions of the Uppsala team were revealed in the magazine New Scientist Thursday, and Nebojsa Nakicenovic, of the University of Vienna who headed the IPCC team said it was standing by its figures.

He said they had factored in a much broader and internationally accepted range of oil and gas estimates then the "conservative" Swedes.

A conference in Russia this week heard a warning that global warming kills about 160,000 people through its effects every year. The numbers dying from "side-effects" of climate change, such as malaria and malnutrition, could almost double by 2020, the climate change conference in Moscow was told.

"We estimate that climate change may already be causing in the region of 160,000 deaths... a year," Andrew Haines of the UK's London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said. (Full story)

Most deaths would be in developing nations in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, says Haines. These regions would be worst hit by the spread of malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria as a result of warmer temperatures, droughts and floods.

#15 Mind

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Posted 02 October 2003 - 09:31 PM

As a serious climatologist I also suggest you consider this perspective in relation to not only global warming but whether we are accelerating that process as a species too. Or do you also want to go on record saying global warming is a myth and madness?

We can argue about consequences of global warming separately after we first get past the question of existence. The same idea relates to West Nile Virus and other encephalitis infections as well as now malaria that are appearing in America for the first time in decades.

Laz, my beef with the WNV spread (read scare) is that it has been blown out of proportion. Municipalities are spending millions of dollars spraying toxic chemicals on people over a virus that has been here much longer 4 years. For the threat level WNV represents to the U.S. population we are spending an obnoxious amount of money. There are much greater threats. I know you know this.

I would also argue that the spread of old diseases is more the result of the mobility of the world population than climate change. The only way climate change would factor in is that "warm weather" mosquitos can live 100 miles further north than before. It has no effect on the spread of these diseases in 95% of the U.S.

Many immigrant neighborhoods in the U.S. now resemble the lesser developed parts of the world from where the immigrants came. It is no suprise to me that the diseases have followed.

Also, the climate changes over time. I can't argue about that.

Supercomputer climate model whips up a storm

The above link is an article about improved resolution in global climate models. The models that have run in the past were coarse with many atmospheric factors removed for number crunching reasons. Soon there will be new results with a greater degree of confidence. I posted this in the Climate Change/Global Warming forum also.

#16 advancedatheist

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Posted 16 October 2003 - 05:51 AM

From "THE PEAK OF WORLD OIL PRODUCTION AND THE ROAD TO THE OLDUVAI GORGE," by Richard C. Duncan (refer to Duncan's graphs):


The "cliff" is the final interval in the Olduvai schema. It begins with the 7th event in 2012 (Note 7) when an epidemic of permanent blackouts spreads worldwide, i.e. first there are waves of brownouts and temporary blackouts, then finally the electric power networks themselves expire. The 8th event in 2030 (Note 8) marks the fall of world energy production (use) per capita to the 1930 level (Figure 4). This is the lagging 30% point when Industrial Civilization has become history. The average rate of decline of ê is 5.44 %/year from 2012 to 2030.

Now, this year alone previously unprecedented blackouts have affected well over 100 million people in developed countries. The power situation in the U.K. appears especially dire, as reported by the Wednesday, 15 October 2003 issue of Scottsman.com:


'Save power or beware blackouts' say experts

FAMILIES have been warned to save electricity to stem the prospect of a winter of blackouts.

A series of power cuts could plunge the country into darkness, spelling chaos on the roads, forcing businesses to close and increasing the number of fires as people turn to candles for light.

The warning comes in the wake of a report by energy watchdog Ofgem which revealed the UK is facing the tightest electricity squeeze for almost a decade.

It means the country will be vulnerable to power shortages in "extreme circumstances" such as a severe winter.

Energy experts have predicted there is a one in five chance the nation’s system may be unable to cope.

And they say consumers should try to be as "energy efficient as possible".

Measures which could help include turning down heating and hot water, avoiding leaving electrical appliances on standby, turning off lights after leaving a room, buying low voltage bulbs and stopping heat escaping through floorboards by filling gaps with newspaper.

The industry crisis was forced into the spotlight after the blackout that hit America and Canada in the middle of August. Fifty million customers there were affected by the power cut.

And in London two weeks later, a fifth of the city was blacked out after technical problems at a substation.

#17 JonesGuy

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Posted 16 October 2003 - 08:21 AM

A clever balance is needed. We need enough available energy to power our economies. On the other hand, we need an energy demand to fuel experiments into new sources of power.

Sadly, the world prefers to use the "pound of cure" instead of the "ounce of prevention". It seems very tough to promote R&D into alternate energy. Also, reducing your own demands seems futile when compared to the ignorance of your neighbors.

No one seems to appreciate suggestions to reduce their energy/water/landfill consumption. Most everyone seems to prefer to whine when costs go up.

I like the study of ecology. But, boy, it's depressing.

#18 Mind

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Posted 16 October 2003 - 10:36 PM

Good things humans are rational and we have a relatively free market. Malthus did not include human ingenuity in his projections of mass starvation. Neither did Ehrlich. How many of us here think people are going to just keep on using more and more electricity until the world stops going? The blackout of 2003 caused quite a stir and people are working on solutions. They don't just sit by and say "oh well, I guess the world will end now...nothing I can do" When gas prices rise people buy smaller cars and drive less. If the supply of electricity runs short, the price will go up, and people will conserve - or get to work developing new sources of electricity and power. And... the great thing is...the people who develop new sources of electricity will get rich.

#19 advancedatheist

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Posted 26 October 2003 - 09:17 PM


Public release date: 26-Oct-2003

Contact: Lee Siegel
University of Utah

Bad Mileage: 98 tons of plants per gallon
Study shows vast amounts of 'buried sunshine' needed to fuel society
Oct. 27, 2003 – A staggering 98 tons of prehistoric, buried plant material – that's 196,000 pounds – is required to produce each gallon of gasoline we burn in our cars, SUVs, trucks and other vehicles, according to a study conducted at the University of Utah.
"Can you imagine loading 40 acres worth of wheat – stalks, roots and all – into the tank of your car or SUV every 20 miles?" asks ecologist Jeff Dukes, whose study will be published in the November issue of the journal Climatic Change.

But that's how much ancient plant matter had to be buried millions of years ago and converted by pressure, heat and time into oil to produce one gallon of gas, Dukes concluded.

Dukes also calculated that the amount of fossil fuel burned in a single year – 1997 was used in the study – totals 97 million billion pounds of carbon, which is equivalent to more than 400 times "all the plant matter that grows in the world in a year," including vast amounts of microscopic plant life in the oceans.

"Every day, people are using the fossil fuel equivalent of all the plant matter that grows on land and in the oceans over the course of a whole year," he adds.

In another calcultation, Dukes determined that "the amount of plants that went into the fossil fuels we burned since the Industrial Revolution began [in 1751] is equal to all the plants grown on Earth over 13,300 years."

Explaining why he conducted the study, Dukes wrote: "Fossil fuel consumption is widely recognized as unsustainable. However, there has been no attempt to calculate the amount of energy that was required to generate fossil fuels, (one way to quantify the 'unsustainability' of societal energy use)."

The study is titled "Burning Buried Sunshine: Human Consumption of Ancient Solar Energy." In it, Dukes conducted numerous calculations to determine how much plant matter buried millions of years ago was required to produce the oil, natural gas and coal consumed by modern society, which obtains 83 percent of its energy needs from fossil fuels.

"Fossil fuels developed from ancient deposits of organic material, and thus can be thought of as a vast store of solar energy" that was converted into plant matter by photosynthesis, he explains. "Using published biological, geochemical and industrial data, I estimated the amount of photosynthetically fixed and stored [by ancient plants] carbon that was required to form the coal, oil and gas that we are burning today."

Dukes conducted the study while working as a postdoctoral fellow in biology at the University of Utah. He now works for the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Global Ecology on the campus of Stanford University in California.

How the calculations were done

To determine how much ancient plant matter it took to eventually produce modern fossil fuels, Dukes calculated how much of the carbon in the original vegetation was lost during each stage of the multiple-step processes that create oil, gas and coal.

He looked at the proportion of fossil fuel reserves derived from different ancient environments: coal that formed when ancient plants rotted in peat swamps; oil from tiny floating plants called phytoplankton that were deposited on ancient seafloors, river deltas and lakebeds; and natural gas from those and other prehistoric environments. Then he examined the efficiency at which prehistoric plants were converted by heat, pressure and time into peat or other carbon-rich sediments.

Next, Dukes analyzed the efficiency with which carbon-rich sediments were converted to coal, oil and natural gas. Then he studied the efficiency of extracting such deposits. During each of the above steps, he based his calculations on previously published studies.

The calculations showed that roughly one-eleventh of the carbon in the plants deposited in peat bogs ends up as coal, and that only one-10,750th of the carbon in plants deposited on ancient seafloors, deltas and lakebeds ends up as oil and natural gas.

Dukes then used these "recovery factors" to estimate how much ancient plant matter was needed to produce a given amount of fossil fuel. Dukes considers his calculations good estimates based on available data, but says that because fossil fuels were formed under a wide range of environmental conditions, each estimate is subject to a wide range of uncertainty.

Plants in your tank?

Dukes calculated ancient plant matter needed for a gallon of gasoline in metric units:

One gallon of oil weighs 3.26 kilograms. A gallon of oil produces up to 0.67 gallons of gasoline. So 3.26 kilograms for a gallon of oil divided by 0.67 gallons means that at least 4.87 kilograms of oil are needed to make a gallon of gasoline.

Oil is 85 percent carbon, so 0.85 times 4.87 kilograms equals 4.14 kilograms of carbon in the oil used to make a gallon of gasoline.

Since only about one-10,750th of the original carbon in ancient plant material actually ends up as oil, multiply 4.14 kilograms by 10,750 to get roughly 44,500 kilograms of carbon in ancient plant matter to make a gallon of gas.

About half of plant matter is carbon, so double the 44,500 kilograms to get 89,000 kilograms – or 89 metric tons – of ancient plant matter to make a gallon of gas. In U.S. units, that is equal to a bit more than 196,000 pounds or 98 tons.
Dukes made similar calculations for oil, natural gas and coal to determine that it took 44 million billion kilograms (97 million billion pounds) of carbon in ancient plant matter to produce all the fossil fuel used in 1997. That includes 29 million billion kilograms of prehistoric plants to produce a year's worth of oil (including gasoline), almost 15 million billion kilograms of buried plant matter to make all the natural gas used in 1997, and 27,000 billion kilograms of dead plants to produce all the coal used in the same year.

"It took an incredible amount of plant matter to generate the fossil fuels we are using today," says Dukes. "The new contribution of this research is to enable us to picture just how inefficient and unsustainable fossil fuels are – inefficient in terms of the conversion of the original solar energy to fossil fuels. Fortunately, it is much more efficient to use modern energy sources like wind and solar. As the reasons keep piling up to switch away from fossil fuels, it is important that we develop these modern power sources as quickly as possible."

What about modern plant biomass?

Unlike the inefficiency of converting ancient plants to oil, natural gas and coal, modern plant "biomass" can provide energy more efficiently, either by burning it or converting into fuels like ethanol. So Dukes analyzed how much modern plant matter it would take to replace society's current consumption of fossil fuels.

He began with a United Nations estimate that the total energy content of all coal, oil and natural gas used worldwide in 1997 equaled 315,271 million billion joules (a unit of energy). He divided that by the typical value of heat produced when wood is burned: 20,000 joules per gram of dry wood. The result is that fossil fuel consumption in 1997 equaled the energy in 15.8 trillion kilograms of wood. Dukes multiplied that by 45 percent – the proportion of carbon in plant material – to calculate that fossil fuel consumption in 1997 equaled the energy in 7.1 trillion kilograms of carbon in plant matter.

Studies have estimated that all land plants today contain 56.4 trillion kilograms of carbon, but only 56 percent of that is above ground and could be harvested. So excluding roots, land plants thus contain 56 percent times 56.4, or 31.6 trillion kilograms of carbon.

Dukes then divided the 1997 fossil fuel use equivalent of 7.1 trillion kilograms of carbon in plant matter by 31.6 trillion kilograms now available in plants. He found we would need to harvest 22 percent of all land plants just to equal the fossil fuel energy used in 1997 – about a 50 percent increase over the amount of plants now removed or paved over each year.

"Relying totally on biomass for our power – using crop residues and quick-growing forests as fuel sources – would force us to dedicate a huge part of the landscape to growing these fuels," Dukes says. "It would have major environmental consequences. We would have to choose between our rain forests and our vehicles and appliances. Biomass burning can be part of the solution if we use agricultural wastes, but other technologies have to be a major part of the solution as well – things like wind and solar power."

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#20 advancedatheist

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 04:42 PM

From, "Bush Is Wasting His Energy and Ours on Old Ideas":


The U.S. still has energy myopia — a belief that we can produce ever-increasing amounts of energy to fill our gas tanks.

It can't be done.

About 50 years ago, M. King Hubbert, a geophysicist who worked for Shell Oil in Houston, used mathematical models to predict that American oil production would peak in the early 1970s. That's exactly what happened.

In 2001, Princeton University geology professor Kenneth Deffeyes used Hubbert's work to predict that world oil production will peak in the early part of this decade. After that peak, writes Deffeyes, "the world's production of crude oil will fall, never to rise again."

In his book, "Hubbert's Peak," Deffeyes predicted the peak would occur in 2003. After that, he writes, "no initiative put in place starting today can have a substantial effect on the peak production year." No new energy sources, he warns, "can be brought on at a sufficient rate to avoid a bidding war for the remaining oil."

There's evidence afoot that gives credence to Deffeyes' prediction. It came quietly in the third-quarter results turned in by the major oil companies.

In late October, Exxon Mobil, the world's biggest oil company, announced that its profit increased by 38%. But its energy production fell 1%. Production fell even though Exxon Mobil is spending 16% more on exploration efforts — nearly $8.7 billion — than it did last year.

ChevronTexaco told a similar story. It too had a huge profit. But its total oil and gas output fell 2.7%. Meanwhile, British oil giant BP reported that its energy production was flat for the first three quarters of 2003.

Given today's strong commodity prices, these companies desperately want to produce more energy. They are not able to. That's probably because they are reaching the limits predicted by Hubbert and Deffeyes.

Of course, scientists, pundits and oil men have been predicting that the world will run out of oil ever since the gusher blew at Spindletop in Texas in 1901. But there is simply no denying that the number of major new discoveries are dwindling and supplies are tightening. The globe has a finite supply of oil.

#21 advancedatheist

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Posted 14 November 2003 - 05:48 PM



LONDON -- Even when the bombs are going off in Saudi Arabia, people tend to take it for granted that the kingdom has a bottomless reservoir of cheap oil. But that perception of low-cost abundance may change if a U.S. investment banker's revisionist critique of Saudi oil reserves proves accurate.

"The prevailing view has been that the Saudi oil fields are great big caverns of oil, and that recovery is so easy they will basically last forever," says Matthew Simmons, the chief executive of a Houston-based investment banking firm called Simmons & Co. International.

Simmons believes that this traditional image of Saudi Arabia as a perpetual gusher of cheap oil is wrong. He is finishing a book documenting his argument that in the future Saudi oil will be scarcer and more expensive than many people expect.

Simmons's analysis has been generating a buzz in oil circles, and he presented some of his findings last week to experts attending a conference here sponsored by the Energy Intelligence publishing group. Essentially, Simmons was revisiting a question that has vexed the CIA since the late 1970s: How much oil can Saudi Arabia produce, and at what cost?

Also check out Simmons's company's Website.

#22 Mind

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Posted 15 November 2003 - 01:03 AM

This is great news Mark. Thanks for posting it. There is nothing like a shortage of oil to force people into cleaner energies!

#23 JonesGuy

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Posted 15 November 2003 - 01:54 AM

You know, a couple times a week I read the financial section of the newspaper. And I see that the availability of oil is going down, but the demand is expected to rise.

It makes it really tough to figure out where to invest my money, meaning the "energies" section of my portfolio. Ideally, I'd like to follow the 'long-term winner' but only for convenience. It always seems that there's short-term money to be made in oil - but we know long-term it will eventually bottom out.

#24 advancedatheist

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Posted 15 November 2003 - 02:21 AM

You know, a couple times a week I read the financial section of the newspaper.  And I see that the availability of oil is going down, but the demand is expected to rise.

Especially because Chinese oil imports are increasing at nearly double-digit rates:


[If the L.A. Times link doesn't work, try:


Energy Agency Raises Oil Demand Estimates
AP Business Writer

11:44 AM PST, November 13, 2003

LONDON -- Signs of an accelerating global economy, propelled by torrid growth in China, has led the International Energy Agency -- a watchdog for the world's biggest oil-importing countries -- to boost estimates for crude demand for this year and 2004.

In its influential monthly oil market report, the IEA said Thursday that it has increased its forecast for average daily demand growth in 2003 by 170,000 barrels, arguing now that demand will grow this year by 1.28 million barrels a day. The Paris-based agency expects daily oil demand to average 78.6 million barrels in 2003.

The IEA also raised its estimate of demand growth in 2004 by 20,000 barrels a day to 1.08 million barrels, for an average daily world demand of 79.6 million barrels.

Although global oil demand should increase by a robust 1.7 percent in 2003, growth will ease somewhat to 1.4 percent in 2004, the IEA said. It attributed this likely slowdown to nonrecurring, one-time factors that have contributed to oil demand this year, including high prices for natural gas -- a substitute fuel for oil -- and unusually cold weather in Europe and Japan.

Chinese oil demand is set to rise by 9 percent this year. At this rate, China will overtake Japan as an oil consumer in the second half of 2003, the agency said.

"At this juncture, China is the engine of oil demand growth with significant room for further expansion in the industrial and transportation sectors," the report said.

Despite some concerns that the Chinese economy may overheat, the IEA expressed confidence in the country's continued strong demand for crude in 2004. China alone should account for nearly 30 percent of global growth next year, after contributing roughly 35 percent in 2003, the report said.

It's starting to look as if we've been oversold on the Persian Gulf's remaining oil potential, though disentangling depletion from mismanagement problems may take awhile:

Iraqi Oil Industry Needs Major Investment, say Analysts


Gasoline rationing on the horizon [in Iran!]
http://www.iranmania.../...s & Economy

#25 advancedatheist

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Posted 18 November 2003 - 03:01 AM


Payvand's Iran News ...


Official says Iran's oil field yield declining

A senior oil industry official has said that Iran's oil output could drop to nearly 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2020 unless the country adopts suitable measures to conserve its oil reserves, the press reported in Tehran on Wednesday.

The English-language newspaper 'Iran Daily' quoted Ali Akbar Vahidi Al-Agha, the director of Engineering Department at the National Iranian Oil Development and Engineering Company, as saying that most of the country's oil wells are now facing a decline in production.

Al-Agha said Iran needs to take practical steps to prevent a possible drop in oil production considering that over 60 years pass from the start of developing Iran's oil fields.

#26 advancedatheist

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Posted 18 November 2003 - 04:33 PM

I can''t emphasize this enough. The Olduvai Theory explicitly predicts:

The "cliff" is the final interval in the Olduvai schema. It begins with the 7th event in 2012 (Note 7) when an epidemic of permanent blackouts spreads worldwide, i.e. first there are waves of brownouts and temporary blackouts, then finally the electric power networks themselves expire.

We're seeing more and more empirical evidence of this looming catastrophe. E.g.:

Blackouts 'to be the norm' if power switch goes ahead

By Edmund Conway (Filed: 17/11/2003)

Britain faces the prospect of regular blackouts and more than triple its current electricity prices if the Government goes ahead with its latest plans for UK power stations, says the Adam Smith Institute.

Switching power generation from coal and nuclear to gas and renewable sources will leave the country too dependent on imported supplies and the unpredictable elements, says the report by Professor Michael Laughton, which is published by the think tank today.

Prof Laughton, an expert on alternative energy, said yesterday he is certain that if the Government's energy policy goes ahead the UK's electricity network will become prone to blackouts within 10 years. Recent rises in the price of gas will also be dwarfed in comparison with prices of renewable energy, which will be three and half times the price of the coal or nuclear alternative.

"Renewable sources are unreliable and need some kind of a back-up from coal or - preferably - nuclear plants," he said. "Over-dependence on gas will significantly raise the risk of supply interruption, price instability and economic damage."

Prof Laughton said that with the current generation of nuclear power stations nearing their shut-down dates, it was essential at least to plan building replacements to keep Britain's power systems independent.

"It will take at least 10 years to get a new nuclear power station up and running, by which time most of our current power stations will be out of action," he said.

#27 yose

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Posted 23 November 2003 - 01:26 AM

There are limitless sources of energy, both on Earth and in the rest of the universe. We just need to learn how to harvest those alternative energies:-)

#28 advancedatheist

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 08:55 PM

[I was expecting we'd hear this admission within months of Bush's conquest of Iraq.]


Oil Experts See Long-Term Risks to Iraq Reserves
Sat Nov 29, 2:35 PM ET Add Top Stories - The New York Times to My Yahoo!

By JEFF GERTH The New York Times

As the Bush administration spends hundreds of millions of dollars to repair the pipes and pumps above ground that carry Iraq (news - web sites)'s oil, it has not addressed serious problems with Iraq's underground oil reservoirs, which American and Iraqi experts say could severely limit the amount of oil those fields produce.

In northern Iraq, the large but aging Kirkuk field suffers from too much water seeping into its oil deposits, the experts say, and similar problems are evident in the sprawling oil fields in southern Iraq.

Experts familiar with Iraqi's oil industry have said that years of poor management have damaged the fields, and some warn that the current drive to rapidly return the fields to prewar capacity runs the risk of reducing their productivity in the long run.

"We are losing a lot of oil," said Issam al-Chalabi, Iraq's former oil minister. He said it "is the consensus of all the petroleum engineers" involved in the Iraqi industry that maximizing oil production may be detrimental to the reservoirs.

A 2000 United Nations (news - web sites) report on the Kirkuk field said "the possibility of irreversible damage to the reservoir of this supergiant field is now imminent."

American officials acknowledge the underground problems, but figuring out how to address them is a quandary for the United States. The Bush administration and the Iraqis are banking on oil revenues to help pay for Iraq's reconstruction, and American officials say that aggressively managing the reservoirs is crucial to keeping oil and revenue flowing. But so far, American officials have steered clear of delving below ground, partly, they say, out of fear of adding to suspicion in the Arab world that the United States invaded Iraq to control its oil.

The above ground versus below ground debate also raises the question of whether the American-led reconstruction effort is intended just to repair damage from the war or to improve conditions beyond what they were before the invasion.

When Wayne Kelley, a Texas oil engineer, and other experts asked about attending to Iraq's oil reservoirs during a government conference for contractors in July, Army Corps of Engineers officials said their mission was restoring war-damaged facilities, not "redeveloping the oil fields," according to a transcript of the meeting.

But in a recent interview, Rob McKee, a former top executive with ConocoPhillips who took over last month as senior oil adviser for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, said that while some might overstate the underground problems, he believed that the reservoirs did demand attention. "It's bad," Mr. McKee said in a telephone interview, "but it will not be catastrophic and especially overnight." Still, he said, it is crucial to collect data, and do engineering on the problem.

Wendy Hall, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, the Houston oil services and engineering company managing the Iraqi oil-repair job, said Iraq's present production levels and the administration's future oil goals "cannot be sustained without reservoir maintenance."

Thamir Ghadhban, a senior adviser to the Iraqi oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, disputed this view and predicted that production would return to prewar capacity of three million barrels a day by the end of 2004; currently production is at slightly more than two million barrels a day. At the same time, he said in an interview, "we should do much more than we have in the past" to maintain the reservoirs. "We definitely have to put more money into it and bring in consultants," he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers has already set aside $1.7 billion for maintaining Iraq's oil supply, and the money has been split between paying for imported fuel and fixing the Iraqi pipes, pumps and transfer stations, officials say. Approximately $2 billion has been approved for oil infrastructure repairs next year, including about $40 million to begin the study of the reservoirs. But managing the reservoirs could be a long and expensive process involving complicated computer simulation and changes in extraction techniques.

This work is particularly important, oil experts say, because while Iraq sits on one of the world's largest deposits, most of its oil is being drawn from two older fields, Rumaila in the south and Kirkuk in the north.

The complications in Iraq are common in aging fields, whose management is a delicate balance of geology, physics and economics. Petroleum engineers often compare oil reservoirs to a bottle of soda, which has a high level of energy when full but loses energy as it is depleted. Engineers use a variety of methods to maintain the pressure needed to bring the oil to the surface, including injection of gas or water into the fields.

Pumping oil too quickly can upset the balance, leading to more gas and water migrating into the wells and ultimately making extraction of oil uneconomical. Oil experts said Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) demanded high production, but United Nations economic sanctions precluded Iraq from acquiring the sophisticated computer modeling equipment and technology required to properly manage older reservoirs. As a result, despite the ingenuity of Iraqi engineers, the fields have suffered.

Oil experts working for the United Nations found that some reservoirs in the southern part of Iraq "may only have ultimate recoveries of between 15 percent and 25 percent of the total oil" in the field, as compared to an industry norm of 35 percent to 60 percent.

Before the United States-led invasion, the Iraqis sought outside help in managing its reservoirs. "Kirkuk was of particular concern and particular urgency," said Maury Vasilev, senior vice president of PetroAlliance Services, a Russian oil-field company that held discussions last year with the Iraqi Oil Ministry. He said that because of the water content in the wells "there was a question of how much oil they could recover."

More recent estimates of Kirkuk's condition are also bleak. Fadhil Chalabi, a former top Iraqi oil executive now based in London, said Kirkuk's anticipated recovery rate had dropped to 15 percent from 30 percent. An American oil executive said Iraqi engineers had recently told him they were now expecting recovery rates of 9 percent in Kirkuk and 12 percent in Rumaila without more advanced technology.

Iraq's problems were well known to the United States before the war. The Energy Infrastructure Planning Group, set up by senior administration officials in September 2002 to plan for the oil industry in the event of war, learned that Iraq was reinjecting crude oil to maintain pressure in the Kirkuk field.

"Iraqis acknowledged it was a poor practice," said one administration expert involved with the group, and as the main war wound down the Iraqis " were unequivocal that that practice had to stop and right away."

But it did not. The amount of oil being reinjected is now 150,000 to 250,000 barrels a day, down from as much as 400,000 barrels a day last summer, said Mr. McKee, but he added that he had never encountered such a practice in his lengthy career in the oil industry.

The reinjection of oil was a clear sign of trouble in the underground reservoirs, but the energy planning task force decided not to address them, partly for political reasons, according to participants in the process.

"We didn't want to give fuel to the fire of debate that was saying the U.S. was just doing this to steal the oil," one administration official said.

Task force participants said there was another potential political factor. The group had secretly decided, without soliciting bids, that the contract for fixing Iraq's oil infrastructure would go to Kellogg, Brown & Root, a unit of Halliburton, which had an existing Pentagon (news - web sites) contract related to war planning. Halliburton was previously run by Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites).

"Everyone realized the selection of KBR was going to look bad," said one task force member.

K.B.R. and others made a case that reservoir management was necessary and the occupation authority asked Congress for the $40 million now set aside for reservoir management. But Ms. Hall, the Halliburton spokeswoman, said this month that those underground tasks had been "pulled and are not being funded" even though reservoir maintenance is critical to even present production.

Mr. McKee, however, said the financing was not canceled, but just "pushed back for a short while."

There is not yet a firm price tag of modernizing Iraq's oil industry, but it is clear it will be enormous.

Edward C. Chow, a former Chevron executive who is now a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, estimates it will cost $20 billion to restore Iraqi production to prewar levels, an amount that is more than double the administration's plan for oil reconstruction needs over the next four years.

Mr. McKee said he believed that Iraq could get back to the prewar production capacity of three million barrels a day under current budgets. But even he is cautious.

"How sustainable that would be is a question," he said. "I think it would depend a lot on how long they could nurse their old infrastructure along without it cratering."

#29 advancedatheist

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Posted 30 November 2003 - 09:02 PM

There are limitless sources of energy, both on Earth and in the rest of the universe. We just need to learn how to harvest those alternative energies:-)

They are not in the form we can readily use. Whole countries are experiencing blackouts these days, and the trend seems to be accelerating.

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#30 advancedatheist

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 05:08 AM


Boom in Canada gas drilling keeps output flat-NEB
Reuters, 12.08.03, 7:07 PM ET

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A boom in Canadian drilling will only keep natural gas production steady in 2003 and 2004 as the industry battles declining output from established wells, the country's energy regulator said Monday.

The energy industry in Canada, which supplies more than 15 percent of the gas used in the United States, will drill enough wells to hold output at about 16.3 billion cubic feet a day, the National Energy Board said in a report on short-term natural gas deliverability.

Production from traditional gas sources across North America has been slipping as fields have matured, pushing up prices and sparking new interest in expensive alternatives, like frontier areas, coalbed methane and imported liquefied natural gas.

"The high decline rate associated with production from existing gas wells, as indicated in this report, presents challenges to maintaining production levels from (Western Canada)," board chairman Ken Vollman said in a statement.

The reported pegged the overall annual decline rate for producing wells in Western Canada, the main producing region, at 22.8 percent, translating into an overall drop of 3.3 billion cubic feet a day each year.

Producers must replace that deficit with new wells to maintain production.

Initial output from new wells has been gradually decreasing as well, the board said.

It forecast the the number of new well connections to the pipeline grid at 14,400 this year, due to record drilling activity amid high gas prices. The board projected 13,850 new connections in 2004 and 12,850 in 2005.

That should keep overall production steady this year and next, but output could fall to 15.8 bcf a day by the end of 2005, it said.

The board cautioned that market conditions and advancements in technology could affect the outlook.

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