A Thousand Barrels a Second | Peter Tertzakian

Summary of: A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World
By: Peter Tertzakian


In the book ‘A Thousand Barrels a Second,’ author Peter Tertzakian delves into the imminent challenges and break points that we face in our energy-dependent world. Through examining the historical evolution of energy consumption, the book outlines the recurring cycle of energy crises, break points, and innovation that inevitably follow. By studying eras of increased fuel demand, the author highlights the critical issues that arise in relation to resource availability, environmental concerns, and the role of governments, corporations, and individuals in our global energy enterprise. Anticipate valuable insights into the continuous demand for oil, the looming break point, and potential new technologies or innovations that can help secure our energy future.

Global Energy Crisis

The world’s demand for energy is increasing rapidly, and with China’s awakening economy, it is projected to surpass 1,000 barrels of oil per second. The “energy cycle” has already created past eras of increasing fuel demand, resulting in innovation-provoking break points, and now we are on the cusp of yet another such break point. With more demand, comes an increasing dependency on the primary energy resources that are, unfortunately, limited. It’s high time governments, corporations, and individuals find a way to adjust to the new energy demands before our birthright of abundant, reliable energy comes to an end.

Energy Transitions

The book describes the evolution of energy consumption and production, focusing on the transition from whale oil to petroleum. In the 18th century, a “sperm whale rush” ensued when candle makers discovered the superior quality of spermaceti wax. The United Company of Spermaceti Candlers, the world’s first energy cartel, was formed by candle manufacturers to control prices. The transition from whale oil to petroleum began in 1849 when kerosene was introduced, and was completed with the advent of the electric light bulb in the 1880s. Today, the oil industry is facing a similar break point, as new technologies and societal changes demand a transition to more sustainable energy sources.

The Role of Oil in Shaping History

Energy has always been critical to achieving any task, and this quality has made it highly valuable. In 1911, Winston Churchill convinced the British Navy to switch from coal to oil in preparation for a war with Germany. This transition proved successful and led to the widespread use of petroleum throughout the Royal Navy. Oil-powered vehicles became even more significant during World War II, solidifying the dominance of the combustion engine. The United States emerged as an oil-consuming superpower while countries like Britain and France faded in influence. Despite oil’s importance, its continued production and consumption have raised concerns about meeting the world’s demand for it.

Oil Consumption and Economic Growth

As China, India and the United States experience economic growth, the demand for oil increases. China’s expanding economy and petroleum demand follow the US model, and as new vehicle sales rise, gasoline demand will rise too. The need for a significant change has become necessary, as reliance on oil is permanently disadvantaged. While China’s car ownership ratio may only approach global norms, it will still drive up oil demand. As demand increases, supply becomes a concern.

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