free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 176. THE "OIL-BASED FERTILIZER" MEME

Monday, November 28, 2005


As we've seen in #28, fertilizer is not made from crude oil. It is made from natural gas, coal and even water (via hydroelectric electrolysis).

I know from experience that "fertilizer is made from oil" is a pernicious bit of misinformation which arises frequently in peak oil circles. However, the other day, I was confronted by a person who said that no authoritative peak oil expert claims that "fertilizer is made from oil". That is generally true, but wherever the meme came from, the fact remains that it is widespread in peak oil circles, and is a good indicator of the degree to which lies are being spread by irresponsible peak oil doom sites. Check out all these commentators talking about "oil-based fertilizer":

peak oil
"Do you buy food products grown with oil based fertilizers and pesticides, harvested by petroleum fueled vehicles, transported using petroleum, ..." California Rolls Toward Hydrogen
"because bio-diesel crops require oil-based fertilizers to produce."

Peak Oil Crisis
"After the Korean war, it had developed a modern farming system depending on machinery and oil-based fertilizers. After the Soviet Union fell, Communist aid ..."

EcoCity Cleveland | Transportation Choices
"Starvation will abound because oil-based fertilizers we've grown to depend on will be in short supply. Energy wars could erupt to control the remaining oil ..." - Dam Or Damn The Nile? Peak Oil Weekly In House ...
"It was decided that oil based fertilizers would now be used to make the fields along the Nile, bloom. In essence, the farmers have lost the power to control ..."

Odeo: The End of the Oil Age
"The food we eat: grown with oil-based fertilizers, pesticides and other
petrochemicals, sowed by oil-powered tractors and machinery. ..."

Democratize Energy Production--Reclaim
"We even slather oil-based fertilizers and herbicides on our food crops. We have allowed our addictions to overtake our common sense and a good portion of ..." - Jobs, Renewable Energy and The Economy. Peak Oil ...
"Gains in employment will happen in farming as oil based fertilizers become increasingly expensive. Hard working organic farmers will have to do more with ..."

Organise: Article / Why do they hate us?"
"Transportation depends on gasoline. Food depends on oil-based fertilizer and pesticides. Clothing, housing, and other things widely use oil-based plastics. ..."

:: I WANT CHANGE!!! ::
"... For everything we have, everywhere we go, everything we do depends on cheap oil.
Using oil-based fertilizers produces our abundant and cheap food. ..."

Lots more here.
-- by JD


At Monday, November 28, 2005 at 5:40:00 PM PST, Anonymous Reality Check said...

it comes from natural gas which is in as much trouble as oil. Why don't you either stop wasting bandwidth arguing semantics or start posting something useful.

JD, you're good at compiling links, but whenever you open your mouth you show your ass to the world.

At Monday, November 28, 2005 at 5:52:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

Petrochemical refers to any product that's derived from fossile fuel, which includes petroleum, natural gas and coal. So in a broader sense fertilizers ARE made from oil, where oil means petro-fuels.

The bottom line is fertilizers are energy intensive. It doesn't matter where the energy actually comes from. With energy you can make fertilizer. And you can convert one form of energy to another. The problem is when there is an oil crisis, it is an energy crisis and it also mean a natural gass crisis, electricity crisis, and a coal crisis. The price of coal has gone up double, which is more than even gasoline.

At Monday, November 28, 2005 at 5:54:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the coal and electricity will still be there, and no matter how expensive they get, every First World country will take massive measures to ensure that as few people starve as possible.

At Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 12:10:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

So in a broader sense fertilizers ARE made from oil, where oil means petro-fuels.

Talk about semantics. Yes, oil has an effect on the price of other commodities. Food will become more expensive, just as it did in the 1970s. But extended high oil prices will force a less oil-dependent production and manufacturing infrastructure for everything. Building this infrastructure will also create jobs. We are not going to starve in any hurry.

(Of course, is not going to tell you this. Note again that Heinberg didn't even mention switching back to coal in his article on the subject. Duh.)

Anonymous has it right:
the coal and electricity will still be there, and no matter how expensive they get, every First World country will take massive measures to ensure that as few people starve as possible.

If natural gas was going to peak next year, and coal and oil didn't exist at all, I would be very worried. But it's not, and they do, and we'll be fine.

At Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 1:22:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On this topic, interesting to note that Matt Simmons seems to have stopped the "natural gas cliff" rhetoric after his predictions of NG supply crashing failed to play out. It will probably plateau for a while longer and LNG imports meet any increasing demand.

At Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 7:19:00 AM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

Roland said:

"Yes, oil has an effect on the price of other commodities. Food will become more expensive, just as it did in the 1970s. But extended high oil prices will force a less oil-dependent production and manufacturing infrastructure for everything. Building this infrastructure will also create jobs. We are not going to starve in any hurry."

Roland: you are circling in your logic again. High price is NOT the cause of Shortage, rather it is the result of shortage. Shortage causes high price. Just because you can afford a high price, or are willing to do so, does not make the shortage go away, or make more oil available.

Or maybe you can, by outbidding the poor countries and poor people and starve them to die off, thus demand destruction. If there is a shortage, there is a shortage, and there will be demand destructions and die-offs.

Now you jump right back in to talk about building whole new infra-structures and creating new jobs. Bla bla bla. Do you realize that all this and any other economic activities all consume a lot more energy to start up and operate?

It's like you have a great idea to start a new business and launch a whole new industry, you would want to first talk to venture capitalists and loan money or get them invest big money in your business. But humanity as a whole, how could we LOAN resources from nature, even if we can pay back later? Nature do not make loans, and we have to make do with what we are given and what we have left.


At Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 4:02:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you really want to know what is pernicious? It is the word meme. It is used by pathetic wannabee intellects to connote understanding. True self-knowledge comes with humility with JD lacks by any metric (that is snob-talk for measure) ha ha ah

Industrial farming without natural gas is impossible. Natural gas production without petroleum is impossible. Do the math meme-brain

At Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 5:29:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't you show us the math (clearly you've done it already), read some of JD's posts about using organic waste as fertilizer, study the concept of organic farming (slightly lower yields for half the energy input), and oh yeah, stop the ad hominem attacks.

At Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 9:50:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

have you ever been on an organic farm? It takes copious amounts of fossil fuels to grow those pretty heirloom tomatoes. You don't think they are grown on quaint little hobbit farms, do you?

Organic farmers are not allowed to use fertilizers, pesticides, and herbacides, so they must create super soil for the plants. They ship in HUGE amounts of chicken manure by big truck to keep the pretty yuppie food growing.

Organics will be the first to go when the poop hits the fan

At Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 1:29:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regardless, I'm sure transporting said manure takes less energy than producing an equivalent amount of fertilizer. A solution does not have to be perfect to work.

At Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 1:48:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...


Transporting chicken manure is not the problem. You can set up a chicken farm right next to an organic farm and remove the need of transportation. The big probolem is QUANTITY. You could never produce enough chicken manure to replace the amount of fertilizer we produce today. Not even close. There is nothing that can replace fertilizers if we hope to produce enough food for the world's current population.

At Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 4:47:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

we could grow a lot more chickens and then everbody would be happy! there would be chickens by every farm and by every gas station with a TDP machine. That way the chicken manure could also be used for transport fuel. This is a win-win-win situation as far as I can see.

At Monday, May 1, 2006 at 9:42:00 AM PDT, Blogger Secular-Realist said...

Peak oil pundits are obsessed with death and "die-offs". Seriously, to me, you narcissists are no different than the christians waiting for rapture. And just like the christians you are looking forward to the event. You are looking forward to the die-off, because you are a bunch of self-hating bastards.

We lived without oil, and human ingenuity will find a sufficient replacement for oil. There already is one that produces massive quantities of energy we just need to not give in the pressures of the greenies.


At Wednesday, December 12, 2007 at 2:08:00 AM PST, Anonymous V V said...

Organic farms don't just truck in a lot of chicken poop to replace synthetic fertilizers. Most (depending on the product farmed) rely on soil bio-activity to produce nitrogen and other nutrients, which synthetic fertilizers tend to destroy when applied.

At Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 2:57:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such a dumb debate. Yes, food production uses energy, including the process of making fertilizer. But it uses less than 4% of total energy requirements for all of it, including flying those blueberries half way across the world to put on your corn flakes, which could easily be priced out of the equation. If the private automobile were banned tomorrow. Or the gas tax tripled, or if we went to electric cars refueled at night, gas prices would drop like a rock. Oil is expensive because of the private automobile. All we have to do is fix that, which is easy if we have the will. There is enough coal in the US to be self sufficient. There is enough natural gas in Alaska as well, though we would have to transport it. France gets all of its energy from Nuclear. You people are talking about mass starvation but neglecting to realize if you just gave up your cars or went to electric cars there would be NO problem!!!!!! No mass starvation, nothing. Even if everybody just switched to fuel efficient cars, same thing. There are so many solutions it is ridiculous. The last thing that we will need to cut back on is food production. Stupid. Its like saying you will starve to death because there is not enough money in your budget to eat while neglecting to take into account that you spend half your money on consumer goods at the mall.

At Friday, December 12, 2008 at 4:35:00 AM PST, Blogger James said...

I'm guessing quite a lot of oil *is* involved in the process of producing fertilizer in the form of transport of materials, transport of workers, running of factories and transport of final products.

Uhm, isn't gas supposed to be shortening in supply also?

At Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 4:00:00 PM PDT, Blogger lana said...

What about mechanised agriculture? That uses petroleum for the tractors and machinery... I agree that we will be able to cope without gas/oil, but it is a matter of adaptation, and the rate of adaptation. Are we astute enough to do this early? Can we adapt in a way that avoids the death of millions?


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