After two years of work, the San Francisco Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force was ready to submit their report to the Board of Supervisors with a meeting in City Hall that was televised live on cable's government channel. I got there just as it was beginning.


Ross Mirkarimi started the meeting by pointing out that the front page of that morning's New York Times had an article about a big new find of oil. He said that reading between the lines, you could see that it was further off shore than previous finds, and in deeper water. It was going to be harder to bring that oil to market. The fact that we are willing to do that underscores the need for the Task Forces work. Then he invited Jean Rosenmeier to the podium to tell us about what they had found.

Jean explained that pumping oil is more like extracting honey from a sponge than it is like draining a barrel. Because of this, every field seems to go through a bell shaped recovery curve, where little oil is extracted in the beginning, followed by peak production years. After that yield becomes more of a function of price, with production halted when it doesn't make economic sense. Global oil production is a sum of the individual yield curves of the oil fields out there.

Different oil fields reach peak production at different times, depending on when they were discovered, what technology was used then, and many other factors. However, it does seem that oil production has already peaked. It is too early to know if that is THE peak or just A peak, but clearly oil production has fallen since then.

Oil field discovery peaked in 1962, and since the bell curve of oil production from every field starts when the first production well is drilled, it makes sense that the peak of production would follow the peak of discovery.

After going through the above she read a few quotes from notable personages to illustrate the reality of the problem. I only put a couple of them here.


Then she showed us a stack of peak oil reports done by different government groups. Click here for the list.


Different experts have different dates for when peak oil will occur. The range seems to be somewhere in the range of next year to next decade sometime. Only Clinton was bold enough to suggest the peak might have already happened.

Whenever peak oil happens, demand has caught up with supply already. For most of the last century, more demand for oil was just an excuse to hire more oil workers, drill more wells, and pump more oil. That first changed in the 1970s. There was something of a new higher plateau for oil price in the 1980s, but since then the price has hit the highest levels in all of industrial history. Future prices are less predictable than they used to be, but it is likely they will be above historic levels.

There is a direct effect of the price of oil on our economy. (Behind the words is a picture of a guy pushing his car because high gas prices sent the economy south and he has no other way to move it.)

Jean wanted to show these points around a circle, to illustrate the cyclical nature of oil price swings, but her tools wouldn't let her. In general, rising oil prices choke the economy, and falling prices lubricate it. Lower prices increase demand, which causes prices to rise, which chokes demand, which causes prices to fall. Then the pattern repeats again and again.


She finished her presentation by thanking the members of the Task Force by name. A few were in the room and she had those members rise briefly while their names were spoken. After she finished the list, Ross added his thanks.

Then Jean put on the energy hat for that chair, who couldn't be with us. She pointed out that more than three quarters of the energy San Francisco uses is supplied by oil and natural gas. Since they are both finite fossil fuels, the city is vulnerable to price swings, the usual method of balancing out supply and demand. To give us an idea of the scale of the change, she pointed out that all of the work we have done in the past decade to bring more solar on line has only moved solar power from one percent of the city's supply to two percent of the city's supply. Probably the biggest bang for the buck is in demand reduction.

Another vulnerability come from the fact that San Francisco has a large tourist industry, which is dependent on cheap travel. Similarly the high tech industry and finance industries, both of which have a strong presence in the city, are impacted by the price of energy. Then there is the fact that a lot of the food eaten in San Francisco has to be shipped in, which also uses lots of energy. The task force expects that as oil prices rise, people with economic leverage will want to abandon suburbia, and that will further gentrify the city.

The key recommendation is to plan for expensive energy supplies.

She pointed out that a lot of city government doesn't have power meters that give the people working there an incentive to use less power. She suggested adding meters to identify waste and stop it. Another recommendation was to make it worth something to pump power into the grid. Right now all somebody can do is reduce their bill to zero. We need incentives to produce more power!

Jean finished by passing the mike to Ben Lowe, who talked about transportation.


Ben began by pointing out that recently there has been a steady decline in vehicle miles traveled, and an even more dramatic rise in transit ridership across the USA. Expanding MUNI is the best way to respond to that trend.


He wanted us to notice that San Francisco has less excess generating capacity to charge electric cars with than places like Texas have. Adding enough capacity to change that would be very expensive.


These were followed by some brief comments from government officials.



The guy on the left is San Francisco's in house economist. He also reminded us that San Francisco was one of the winners of the cheap energy era.


This guy has studied emergency response systems in great detail. He said something like "all of the disaster plans I know about boil down to stop the bleeding and ride it out until help comes." Then he explained that "what makes peak oil different is that there isn't going to be help coming from outside. We need to find the resources to deal with it locally."

The guy in the suit has something to do with BART. He pointed out that many developers had lost a lot of money when people had stopped wanting to live further out from their jobs then they had before. He also said good things about a walkable lifestyle, and that we should stop building freeways.


This was followed by members of the public that had something to say.


I wish I could remember what they said.

As you can see, there was still a line of people waiting for an opportunity to speak on the subject for two minutes each.


The guy in the checkered shirt strung together lines from old songs, but twisted them to be vaguely on topic. It was about the only comic relief we had in the whole hearing.


This guy wanted people to visit


Then Supervisor Mar and Supervisor Maxwell made some closing remarks.


They finished by pointing out where you can go to download the thing online. If you click on the website address above, and then click on the "Peak Oil Task Force Final Report" you can then download the 2.4 megabyte file to read at your leisure. Probably you will have to scroll down a bit to see that button under the "Resources:" header.


After the meeting was over Ross talked a bit with the task force. He started by saying "you could probably stack the reports that have been submitted here to the ceiling of this chamber." He wanted them to force the city to do the right thing. I hope something comes of it. We shall see...