Friday, March 24, 2006

Peak Oil and the Army Corp of Engineers

According to a September 2005 report by the Army Corp of Engineers entitled "Energy Trends and Implications for U.S. Army Installations, "world oil production is at or near its peak and current world demand exceeds supply."

The Army Corp of Engineers goes on to say:

"The supply of oil will remain fairly stable in the very near term, but oil prices will steadily increase as world production approaches its peak. The doubling of oil prices in the past couple of years is not an anomaly, but a picture of the future. Peak oil is at hand with low availability growth for the next 5 to 10 years. Once worldwide petroleum production peaks, geopolitics and market economics will result in even more significant price increases and security risks. To guess where this is all going to take us is would be too speculative. Oil wars are certainly not out of the question. Disruption of world oil markets may also affect world natural gas markets as much of the natural gas reserves are collocated with the oil reserves."

The document can be found via the Association for the Study of Peak Oil at:

What this says to me is that the idea of peak oil is gaining greater credibility and already part of the working assumption of the US Army.

And as I have been saying for the last couple years, the TDM community needs to jump on this and makes sure that TDM is one of the first strategies that federal decision-makers think of in terms of how this nation responds to mitigate the impact of peak oil. The question is what is the best way to promote TDM as one of the most cost effective ways of not only dealing with congestion, but also America's oil dependence. What are your thoughts?



Barry Keppard said...

I think you make a good point. Peak oil is an important issue, whether addressed in the literal sense or in the figurative sense. For me, the real issue is how does this translate to the local or regional level. I think the more oil depedence is understood at the local level the more it can inform and shape local policy decisions.

I work at a TMA, and I rarely hear Peak Oil mentioned in any of the municipal or county meetings I attend. Maybe the term needs to be framed differently, more pertinent to local costs and opportunities for savings.

Chris Hagelin said...

I see where you are coming from Barry...While there are changes that can be made at the federal level, like changing CAFE standards to require more fuel efficient cars, the aggregate of changes at the local level can have a greater impact. For example, the MPO here in Hillsborough County, Florida continues to fund road-widening projects as their solution to congestion. At some point I hope they realize that adding capacity cannont solve their traffic problem and only encourages more automobile use (and therefore perpetuates oil dependency), and a more sustainable solution involves the investment in alternatives, such as transit, biking and walking. I really believe that we, the TDM community, need to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of TDM and find new ways for showing the link between automobile-focused development, oil dependency, and its threat to our econonmy, environment, and national security. We need to get local decision-makers to take that first step and to try innovative approaches rather than "stay the course" and perpetuate the cycle of automobile-centered development and oil dependency. Thanks again for your comments! CHRIS

Barry K. said...


Thanks for your response.

Building off of your comment of "perpetuate the cycle of automobile-centered development and oil dependency", I wonder where oil/oil-dependency stands as a value? I use it in a figurative sense, but is oil valued about community livability, above higher taxes. I recently attended a talk by Enrique Penalosa, a former Mayor of Bogota, Columbia, and he framed the transportation in a interesting way. Here is something he said: "When I got to city hall, I was a handed a transportation study that said the most important thing the city could do was to build an elevated highway at a cost of $600 million. Instead, we installed a bus system that carries 700,000 people a day at a cost of $300 million. We created hundreds of pedestrian-only streets, parks, plazas, and bike paths, planted trees, and got rid of cluttering commercial signs. We constructed the longest pedestrian-only street in the world. It may seem crazy, because this street goes through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Bogotá, and many of the surrounding streets aren't even paved. But we chose not to improve the streets for the sake of cars, but instead to have wonderful spaces for pedestrians. All this pedestrian infrastructure shows respect for human dignity. We're telling people, "You are important--not because you're rich or because you have a Ph.D., but because you are human." If people are treated as special, as sacred even, they behave that way. This creates a different kind of society."(from "The Politics of Happiness"

I hear more people talk about the need or pursuit of meaning in their lives. Could we address the peak oil condition, or a different way, our need to lessen our dependence on oil, as a value. As a way to better invest in our communities - the value of TDM. TDM for livability?

Chris Hagelin said...

I think you have hit the nail on the head...The Mayor of Bogota made such a wise decision and was able to sell it. We also need to frame our efforts in terms of quality of life and making smart sustainable investments that provide benefits to a wide range of citizens. We also need to be able to prove to local politicians and DOT staff that TDM works and is cost-effective especially compared to road building/widening.

Chris Simmons said...

The cost effectiveness of TDM is such a non-concrete issue, how do you measure it? Do you measure in terms of preserved road capacity, reduced fuel consumption, employee retention, projects delayed due to delayed need, or some other measure? And even within those measures, what percentage of change has a direct causal relationship to TDM measures. We can (and should) talk in terms of livability and system investment, but I think we need to find a suite of measures that can stand up to an apples-to-apples comparison with other transportation investments, or we will consistently be attempting to prove the existence of a negative.

Anonymous said...

Here's a potential strategy to link peak oil and TDM, focusing on homeland security related disruptions caused by gas price spikes:

From my way of thinking, U.S. cities and regions should plan for the first 10 immediate things to do when gas prices rapidly rise to hit $6/gallon. The recent unsuccessful terrorist attacks on Saudi oil production bring home just how possible a rapid spike to $6/gallon gas could be. There are plenty of scenarios where 4 million daily barrels of oil are taken off the world market from a major terrorist hit. From Katrina lessons, we now understand that we need to better plan for disasters, but somehow we ignore peak oil. As far as I know, ZERO U.S. cities have peak oil plans in place. That's negligent. TDM professionals could lead local planning efforts to produce a disaster plan for a price spike to $6/gas. This provides a great opportunity to educate run-of-the-mill citizens on TDM and Peak Oil. In addition, the first U.S. locality with a plan will generate significant favorable publicity and help goad the rest of the U.S. into undertaking such planning. The 10 immediate solutions for a gas price spike will coincidentally tend to be things we want to think about implementing even without a disaster. It's a great way to use a grim but realistic scenario to educate citizens, and the event can be "wrapped in the American flag" by being a patriotic Homeland Security planning exercise. It seems apparent that national leadership will not be forthcoming on Peak Oil.

In the U.K., award-winning researcher Bob Noland (he has some background at U.C.) has conducted research on immediate steps to take during an oil supply emergency. Here's his most digestible paper: . Bob is actually a huge bicycling fan, but his paper doesn't cover bikes. In addition, state of the art TDM approaches are missing.

- Steve Raney

Chris Hagelin said...

By the way, the full report for the Army Corp of Engineers is located at:

The section on oil is located on pages 5-11. It is also important to look at the section on natural gas.

Anonymous said...

I've been linking TDM to Peak Oil for a couple of years now. One of my own board members tried to tell me that there is "pleny of oil" and its not a concern. I think its important to make the point that peak oil is about demand overtaking supply - at which point prices would be high enough to affect every aspect of the economy.

Anonymous said...

Here's a long article on peak oil:

Peak Oilers Ponder Ways To 'Re-Engineer Society To Go Backwards'

Community groups and individuals across North America are "powering down" and preparing for life after cheap oil.

"Meeting in plush digs donated by a foundation for the occasion, "San Francisco Post Carbon" is a kind of combination study group, support group and citizens' action committee. Among their accomplishments is having produced a slick poster that depicts the history -- and possible future -- of the oil age, which they've distributed to every member of Congress. At least the lawmakers won't be able to say that they weren't warned! This post-carbon group is one of six such groups that meet regularly in the Bay Area[...]The group wants San Francisco to undertake a study to gauge what peak oil will mean to the city's economy, food distribution, transportation and tourism.

But it's hardly just a California obsession. There are groups around the world affiliated with the Vancouver, B.C., Post Carbon Institute, most of them in North America."

Source:, Mar 22, 2006

- Steve Raney

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