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A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World Paperback – May 9, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though written by an energy industry investment analyst and intended primarily for investors, this book makes a convincing, layreader-friendly case that the end of oil is nigh and it's time to get serious about energy alternatives now that the world is at "the dawn of a new energy age" that will pit the U.S. against China in the struggle for oil. Tertzakian provides an excellent primer on oil's history, uses, supply chains and politics, including dozens of charts and graphs to illustrate the bleak outlook for oil's future. The future of energy, Tertzakian advises, is an amalgamation of increasing dependence on alternative fuels (biofuel, nuclear and green sources) and conservation. He admits conservation is a tough sell for big earners who will be able to afford the $4 per gallon gasoline will inevitably cost, but he notes in the same breath that low- and moderate-income earners and energy inefficient industries will suffer the most. His analyses of energy consumption cycles and their breakpoints and rebalancing periods (when a fossil fuel becomes too expensive or difficult to obtain and society must change sources to maintain its economy) lend factual heft to his outlook. Though the author neglects significant facts-such as the influence of the CIA in the fall of Mossadegh in Iran and the threat of global warming-the book should be required reading for policymakers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The coming "break point" Tertzakian describes--more a period than a moment, really--is the next 5 to 10 years, during which rising oil prices and market volatility will force structural changes in how we extract and expend energy. Both a chronicle of previous break points and their consequences--including the shifts from whale oil to kerosene lighting, coal- to oil-fueled navies, and steam to electric engines--and a carefully considered economic analysis of our present conundrum, this book offers no magic-bullet solution to the increasingly uncomfortable primacy of petroleum as the world's fuel of choice. Nor is it as alarmist as its title suggests, although Tertzakian harbors no illusions about the discomfort the next decades will bring. Rather, his cost-benefit analysis points toward pursuing a plurality of minor incremental solutions (mostly familiar, like smaller cars and biodiesel) as the next major fuel source (sorry, probably not hydrogen) emerges. Refreshingly measured and pragmatic, this account also is illuminating as a quick historical primer of the oil industry. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill; 1 edition (May 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0071492607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0071492607
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.6 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,111,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill VINE VOICE on February 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Tertzakian and his book stand as a rare find: a work on a timely topic often argued with little information, written by a man with great expertise in a plain and understandable style. His thesis is sobering. The world currently approaches a tipping point, where growth of demand so out paces growth of supply that a paradigm shift becomes the only way to move forward. Tertzakian offers examples of other such shifts, though none appear as deep as a post fossil fuel age -- whale oil may have stood as a primary lighting source, but it was hardly the basis for the entire economy when demand began outstripping supply.

While some may complain about certain of the works shortcomings, such as its failure to consider climate change, Tertzakian's work stands as primarily an economic text as well as a primer on this key industry. His choice to focus his book, far from a flaw, inures to his credit.

Further to his credit, this author does not pretend that any magic bullet will deal with the situation, nor does he claim to have a crystal ball and map out the future. Instead, he offers a fine primer from which to begin a crucial conversation. For this alone, he has great credit. All of us would do well to read this fine work.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Lance B. Sjogren on June 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the fourth book I have read in the last several weeks since I first became alerted to the peak oil issue.

The others being:

Beyond Oil (Deffeyes)

The Long Emergency (Kuntzler)

The Coming Economic Collapse (Leeb)

One excellent feature of Tertzakian's book is his presentation of the history of the prevailing forms of energy that have been used in human history (whale oil, etc). This is a basis for his "break point" theory, which I'm not sure I absorbed all that fully but involves the process by which the human race switches to new source(s) of energy when the dominant existing source is no longer tenable.

He mentiones the debate regarding "Hubbert's Peak", the hypothesis that we are reaching the peak of oil production in the current century.

At one point he states it as a debate, but I have seen no fundamental disagreement on the issue. There seems to be a widespread agreement that oil, under the narrow definition as the light sweet crude we pump out of the ground, will reach a production peak in this century.

There are, of course, the other large potential sources of oil- coal gasification, Oil Sands, and Oil Shale. These exist in large quantities and if oil were produced in large quantities from these sources, the bell curve for global oil production would likely peak at a considerably later date.

But Deffeyes, who seems to be the most prominent advocate of the Hubbert's Peak theory, makes clear that he is referring to conventional oil production.

So I don't think there is actually any disagreement on this issue, except that there are, no doubt, some cornucopianists who would contend that there is a vast amount more recoverable oil than the Hubbert's Peak curve would claim.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mercenary Trader on November 17, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It feels appropriate to review this book as crude oil futures hit all-time contract highs... The 1980 inflation-adjusted highs for crude (roughly $100 per barrel in today's money) are just around the corner in geopolitical terms.

In the book's title, "A Thousand Barrels a Second" refers to the point at which world oil demand exceeds 86 million barrels per day. (86.4 to be exact--there are 86,400 seconds in one day). The International Energy Agency (IEA) believes the 86 million threshold could be crossed this year.

The "Coming Oil Break Point" refers to the aftermath of crisis and inevitable forced change. Tertzakian explains:

"...the history of energy shows that a time of crisis is always followed by a defining break point, after which government policies, and social and technological forces, begin to rebalance the structure of the world's vast energy complex. Break points are crucial junctures marked by dramatic changes in the way energy is used."

During the break point and the rebalancing phase that follows (which can last for 10 to 20 years), nations struggle for answers, consumers suffer and complain, the economy adapts, and science surges with innovation and discovery. In the era that emerges, lifestyles change, businesses are born, and fortunes are made.

I read the entire book on one leg of a coast-to-coast plane trip, a feat made possible by the clarity and lucidity of Tertzakian's writing. He excels at laying out detailed concepts in ways that are easy for the reader to grasp and understand, and paints a convincing picture of the significant challenges we face.

Tertzakian firmly grounds his argument in history, explaining what he calls the "evolutionary energy cycle" through the lens of past transitions.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Peter M. Dunne on April 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
By now, the issues concerning oil depletion have become generally well known; at least to anyone paying attention. By nature and experience, I tend to discount the "sky is falling" arguments from people like Deffeyes and Simmons even though both provide well researched arguments rich in facts. Concurrently, I reject the omnipotent cabal argument from such people as Learsey and his incredibly silly contentions in "Over A Barrel". [Pick your favorite villain: Arab Sheiks, George Bush, Aliens, the Trilateral Commission, ...whatever.]

Finally, a book has arrived that takes known and reasonably conjectured facts, and then applies logical economic laws, not pedantic textbook economic dogma. This book does not refer to the supply-and-demand arguments so often espoused that presupposes adequate, if not infinite, supply. Instead, Tertzakian applies the more rational and historical laws of substitution that occur once an economic breaking point has been reached. We may indeed be reaching this breaking point very soon.

Now for the rub: in the long term, the author makes very plausible suggestions for the next era of fuel. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I suppose, depending upon your point of view), great fortunes are made and lost in times of disequilibrium. Since both citizens and law makers have ignored the approaching peak oil dilemma for 25 years, disequilibrium could last a good deal longer than it did when whales began to die out, robbing the world of the blubber needed to light its lamps.

Still, Tertzakiam's arguments make a great deal of sense. When oil reaches a breaking point, we will move rapidly toward an efficient substitute, not toward economic Armageddon. But, to quote Keynes, "in the long term, we're all dead.
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