Redlining it - a new oil peak is reached

Back when I owned a motorcycle, I occasionally got lots of fun by hurtling along country roads while redlining the engine - pushing the engine speed into the "red" zone on the tachometer. The red lines on tachometers are there for a reason - they are the maximum rated speed an engine should be operated at and should only be done sparingly.

My 1983 Honda VT-250F redlined at 12,500 rpm. Redlining in top gear was difficult, but was probably around 160kph (100mph), which is pretty good for a bike with a small 4-stroke engine let me tell you.

One thing always bothered me, however, on those rare occasions when I redlined my little Honda, was the fact that the closer to the redline the engine got, the more difficult it became to increase speed. If I was riding sedately that would not be an issue, but when you're travelling flat out and want more power, the redline was more than just an arbitrary "danger" zone - it was pretty much a technical limit to how much power (and thus speed) I could get. The difference between 11,500rpm and 12,500rpm could be as much as 2-3kph. By contrast, moving from 5,000 to 6,000 rpm could increase speed by up to 10kph.

So when I happened upon this graph from The Oil Drum tonight, I was reminded of my redlining experiences:

What's the good news? Well, it seems that worldwide oil production has reached a new high. In May, 2008, the EIA estimates that 74.48 million barrels of oil per day was extracted from the world's oil reservoirs. For people who are confused about the science of Peak Oil, such a figure may appear to contradict current claims by oil experts and various other "Peakniks" who say that the world's oil stocks are headed for inevitable decline.

But when looking at statistics it is always important to keep them in context. Look at the graph above - notice how oil production jumped up in the middle of 2007? Well, the bad news is that, although production has increased, the rate of increase is just not enough, especially from the beginning of 2008 onwards.

In other words, the world's oil producers are redlining - they are pushing more and more oil out as much as they can, but the rate at which that is occurring is slowing down. By way of contrast, look at the middle of 2004 - within a matter of a few months oil production levels spiked up quickly as producers opened up the spigots to let more oil out. Despite the fact that the price of oil has been over $100 for most of this year and was even within spitting distance of $150, the production levels needed to meet demand and thus reduce price are just not there. Yes, a new peak has been reached... but it has taken years to achieve since the last peak of mid-2005.

This data is empirical proof that oil production is unable to adequately respond to market price signals. In other words, it is more proof - if any is needed - that oil production levels will be unable to meet future demand.

I miss my old motorbike - but the chances are that redlining any motor vehicle these days will do more damage to your fuel budget than to engine reliability.

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