Six years ago I learned of peak oil when followed a link from a blog post to The Oil Drum, the best open source site for energy, which is often compared to Cambridge Energy Research Associates. I began reading, commenting, and less than two years later articles on my work involving renewable ammonia were seen on the site. While technically feasible, policy barriers make any investment in this area impossible.
Last winter marked an end to my four year run in policy, domestic elections, and opposition research. America has come through a period of time I refer to as “peak stupid” and we are again starting to do things on a less irrational, more pragmatic basis. The changes have yet to appear in policy beyond the much needed withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the same problems that were simmering in 2008 are still present.
Oil producers are subject to an effect know as the Export Land Model. Basically, oil fuels internal growth and when production declines exports decline even more swiftly, as producers steer production into uses at home. Egypt, Syria, and Yemen have all featured heavily here and they are first up in the ominously titled How Oil Exporters Reach Financial Collapse.
Syrian and Yemeni production is somewhat subject to their internal disorder, while falling Egyptian production simply intersected with rising demand. The numbers also have to be scaled to fit the population. Eighty four million Egyptians are less concerned with a 200,000 barrel a day decline than the Syrians and Yemenis, who each saw a 300,000 barrel a day decline with populations of around twenty four million each.
Recall that if you only have time to track one thing wheat consumption is a decent proxy for overall food security. Egypt imports between six million and twelve million tons. Syria swings wildly from as little as fourteen thousand to almost two million tons. Yemen has gone from just under two million to not quite three million tons annually.
Three hundred thousand barrels a day missing from Yemen’s coffers are $30 million in revenue, or just under $11 billion annually. Wheat is just over $300 per ton today and their annual imports are just shy of three million tons – roughly a billion dollars. They are either right at or just past the point where they become a net importer, and the population has quadrupled in my lifetime.
I’ve written a background post for Yemen and like this one, there is no good news. Both they and Syria have ongoing civil wars and Egypt is chafing under the fact that they’ve had a revolution but not much has improved. There are too many people, not enough water, and all three nations either have lost or shortly will lose what oil revenues they have.
We view places like Afghanistan, Mali, and Somalia as oddities – areas with lines around them on the map that make them look like countries, but in reality the central government’s writ is seriously circumscribed. The Afghan government can hardly act beyond line of sight from Kabul, Mali’s government is powerless north of the Niger river, and Somalia split into two fairly orderly statelets in the north and a humanitarian disaster in the south. Yemen is on the same path Somalia took, Syria’s current regime is a bit like Mali, constrained to an ethnic enclave, and only Egypt looks at all hopeful from this perspective.