Sunday, November 25, 2007

The TAO of Oil by Leonardo Maugeri

Only around 2,000 new field wildcats (wells made for exploring the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsoil) have been drilled in the entire Persian Gulf region since the inception of its oil activity, as against more than 1 million in the United States. TAO

Leonardo Maugeri's 2006 book, "The Age of Oil (TAO)," is an indispensable look at the past, present, and future of the role of petroleum. Written in two parts, TAO first looks at the human history of oil along with current events of oil. The second and final section of TAO looks at the question of whether the world is at or near "peak oil."
In April 1977, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) delivered a highly influential report stating that the growth of world oil demand would soon outpace production because of constraints on OPEC potential and the impending peak of Soviet Production. By the 1980s, the report argued, oil would be scarce and very expensive....
Maugeri points to three categories of reserves used when referring to future oil reserves.

  • Proven Reserves---defined as the amount of oil and gas in place in known reservoirs that can be estimated with "reasonable certainty" to be commercially recoverable under current economic conditions....profitable recovery of at least 90 percent.
  • Probable Reserves---the probability of profitable recovery falls to 50 percent
  • Possible Reserves---profitable probability of recovery no less than 10 percent.
Maugeri points out that:
During the last 25 years more than 70% of exploration has taken place in the United States and Canada, mature areas that probably hold only 3% of the world's reserves of crude. The Middle East, on the other hand, has been the scene of only 3% of global exploration, even though it harbors 70% of the earth's reserves. In the Persian Gulf, holding 65% of the region's reserves, fewer than 100 exploration wells were drilled between 1995 and 2004. During the same period, 15,700 such wells were drilled in the U.S. Forbes

Future advances in the technologies of production, and refinement--as well as improved efficiencies of utilisation--have the potential to move reserves from the "possible" and "probable" categories up to the "proven reserves" classification. Future advances in discovery technology have the potential to expand all reserves significantly.

A recent declaration by the International Energy Agency that world petroleum production had peaked in 2006--had passed "peak oil"--was based on an analysis of world petroleum production, without considering either world petroleum reserves or seriously considering the many reasons why world petroleum production might peak from time to time without signaling any type of "peak oil." (Like the IPCC, the part of the IEA that produces reports touching on politics, eg "peak oil," may well have been infiltrated by bureaucrats and contributors with a fixed agenda.)

Maugeri concludes his book with a look at "resource nationalism," the gloomy reality that most of the world's known conventional petroleum resources exist in territories controlled by dictators and autocrats--Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, etc. For this reason, oil prices are likely to remain quite high--unless market forces arising from new discoveries and production outside the autocratic zone force the dictators of oil to compete once again.

Remember, nationalised resources do not tend to attract the latest technology in discovery, production, and refinement. That means that a lot of resources remain in the ground.
Despite its long history as an oil producing region, the Persian Gulf is still relatively virgin in terms of exploration. Only around 2,000 new field wildcas (wells made for exploring the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsoil) have been drilled in the entire Persian Gulf region since the inception of its oil activity, as against more than 1 million in the United States. p. 221 TAO

More from Maugeri at National Geographic, Forbes, and Foreign Affairs.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Charles Darwin's Neuroplasticity

Thanks to Alvaro at SharpBrains for this fascinating peek into how Charles Darwin's thinking changed over his adult life.
I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the
last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond
it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray,
Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great
pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in
Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also
said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very
great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a
line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and
found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also
almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets
me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on,
instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine
scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it
formerly did. On the other hand, novels which are works of the
imagination, though not of a very high order, have been for years
a wonderful relief and pleasure to me, and I often bless all
Darwin's Autobiography

Darwin's own writing style apparently changed over the years--to his own satisfaction.
Formerly I used to think about my sentences before writing them
down; but for several years I have found that it saves time to
scribble in a vile hand whole pages as quickly as I possibly can,
contracting half the words; and then correct deliberately.
Sentences thus scribbled down are often better ones than I could
have written deliberately.

That is a technique that I have found useful as well, even in short comments. The first sentence I write is often useful as a summary, after I work through the ideas a little better. It helps to put the ideas out in the open first for modification and reconstruction.

Darwin's brain experienced neuroplasticity and modification from the "overuse" of some faculties at the expense of other faculties--such as appreciation of poetry and music. His observations of the natural and human worlds may have gained a certain rigour and precision in this process of "selective cultivation" of cortical real estate.

If Darwin had been given the opportunity to relive his life, and thus was able to carry out his plan-in-hindsight of listening to music and reading poetry at least once a week--would his scientific writings have been as clean and precise? An interesting question.

While the neuroplasticity of both motor and sensory cortex following strokes, other denervation, and amputation, are well documented, the neuroplasticity of the associative cortex--prefrontal lobes etc--still requires study to delimit the possibilities. The old saying "you are what you think" is likely to be proven truer than many people would like.

You can find Darwin's works free online here or here.