One of the signs that a system is failing is that it becomes increasing brittle and unable to respond to small perturbations. Such is apparently the case with the nation’s oil supply this summer:
“American refiners are running roughly 5 percent below their normal levels at this time of the year.
‘You have a system that is taxed to the limit,’ said Adam Robinson, an energy research analyst at Lehman Brothers. ‘This is what happens when spare capacity is eroded. (emphasis added)’
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted the nation’s energy lifeline two years ago, oil companies delayed maintenance on many of their plants to make up for lost supplies and take advantage of the high prices. But, analysts say, they are now paying a price for deferring repairs.”
…Meanwhile, demand has been rising relentlessly, providing little respite to the nation’s aging energy infrastructure. Even as consumers complain loudly about high prices, they show no signs of scaling back. Gasoline consumption reached 9.66 million barrels a day in the first week of July, the second-highest level on record.
“The cushion that used to be available five to seven years ago for these unplanned perturbations is no longer there,” said Jeet Bindra, Chevron’s president of global refining. “When a refinery has a hiccup, there are consequences on supplies.”
For people thinking about peak-oil predictions, this is just one more data point indicating that our present energy distribution system is starting to fail. The really scary thing is that the lack of foresight shown by the refinery owners in putting off maintenance is just going to accelerate the problem.
Read the rest here: Gas Prices Rise on Refineries’ Record Failures – New York Times