Saturday, May 21, 2011

Climate Change-Peak Oil Feedback Loops

From The Harbinger:

Mike Flannigan, a University of Alberta wildland fire professor and Canadian Forest Service researcher, told the Globe & Mail that climate change was one of the causes of the forest fire that burned down 485 homes and businesses in Slave Lake, Alberta Canada. “I think it’s consistent with what we expect from climate change. We’ve already seen increases in fire activity in Canada,” he said. The boreal forests are warming and drying out; lightening strikes start 35% of fires; and the pine bark beetle is attacking and killing the weakened trees, making them more vulnerable to fire. Thus far in 2011, 264,000 hectares of forest have burned in Alberta, three times the 2010 total.

A further consequence of climate change is, paradoxically, that the forest fires caused the shut down of oil production from the tar sands, Canada's chief source of carbon emissions and climate change. The Globe & Mail reports that "nearly 150,000 barrels of oil-equivalent production has been halted amid a massive string of blazes in the oil patch that has threatened some energy infrastructure and created major logistical hurdles for many crude operators. . . With roughly 150,000 barrels of shuttered crude production, Alberta companies are losing more than $10-million per day in revenue. . . For Alberta, that translates into roughly $1.7-million per day in lost royalties, a tally that adds to the significant blow already faced by a province that has committed $50-million toward massive rebuilding costs after the fires."

And again, paradoxically, climate change has also caused a reduction in the demand for gasoline in the United States, Canada's chief importer of tar sands oil. Massive flooding of the Mississippi River has actually shut down parts of the highway system and forced people to cut back on their driving.

Fadel Gheit, a senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. Inc, sites three causes of the US drop in demand for gasoline:

"First, the price of gasoline has stretched above the psychological breaking point for American drivers – hovering around $4 (U.S.) per gallon – prompting motorists to leave the car keys at home. Second, several major centres are suffering from massive floods, making highways impassable, again hampering driving habits. States in the Mississippi River Delta are staring down the threat of record floods as water spills over the banks of powerful rivers, with some Interstates closed and cities under water. Southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois have also been hit, and earlier this spring parts of northern states including Minnesota and North Dakota were under water. Third, a soft economy is once again hurting oil demand, Mr. Gheit said."

This is an unexpected confluence of the twin crises of climate change and peak oil: oil production is causing climate change, which is in turn creating climate conditions that are shutting down the production and consumption of oil. It is an ecological feedback loop of global proportions that has become directly observable.

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