Search This Blog

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Oil Prices To Plunge

While most think oil prices can only head higher, our view is that oil prices will head lower over time. This view is reinforced by Gail Tverberg's analysis in Two Views of our Current Economic and Energy Crisis:

A major debt unwind is likely to lead to low prices for oil and commodities of all types and significant job loss. This is analogous to the problem [in] the 1930s Depression. The big difference is that in the 1930s Depression, job loss was associated with the falling price of food, as fossil fuels replaced human labor, bringing food production costs down, and leaving many unemployed. (Stiglitz 2010). In that scenario, there was still plenty more cheap fossil fuels in the ground. Therefore, more debt and stimulus programs could re-inflate the economy, because it could lead to more use of cheap fossil fuels in non-agricultural sectors of the economy.

We are now at the edge of a very different scenario. We are reaching debt default limits because we have extracted the easy to extract oil. Additional extraction can only be more expensive and thus push us further into Stage 3 of the production function, or more toward financial collapse. As the economy naturally shrinks, there is no longer a way that more debt can re-inflate the system. Instead, the use of debt must reach a new, much lower equilibrium. Because of debt’s tie to banks, pension funds, insurance companies, and the rest of the financial system, this is a huge problem.

We can think that the growth of human systems, including the economy, will go on forever, but we are almost certainly kidding ourselves. At some point, when Nature decides, new species will dominate–perhaps plants that can use more CO2. The transition will be the transition Nature dictates.

We are kidding ourselves if we think that we can decide to slowly reduce oil and fossil fuel usage over the next 40 or more years. If oil prices drop to, say, $30 barrel because of debt defaults, oil production will drop very quickly–not based on some slow decline curve. Natural gas and coal prices will drop dramatically too, essentially putting an end to their production. Jobs will disappear with the lack of fossil fuels. Eighty or ninety percent of us will again need to work in manual food production without fossil fuels. Education, government, and services of all kinds will shrink rapidly.

Nature is deciding for us right now what is ahead. We likely will have little choice in the matter. If we do have a choice at all, it is likely to be in the direction of serious back-pedaling, in terms of population, and in terms of learning to live essentially without fossil fuels. The future is likely to be very different from the past.