Peak Oil

I first heard about the concept of “Peak Oil” a few months ago. It seemed to be something that you had to dig around the internet a bit to find any articles. But in the last month or so, it seems to have gone semi mainstream. There have been articles in the Guardian and Independent (Subscription Required) recently, and a conference in Edinburgh and Lisbon organising by ASPO.

Not heard of it? Well take 5 minutes and read on.

So basically Peak Oil (or the Hubberd Peak) “predicts that future world oil production will soon reach a peak and then rapidly decline. The actual peak year will only be known after it has passed. Based on available production data, proponents have predicted the peak years to be 1989, 1995, 1995-2000, or, according to one influential group, 2007 for oil and somewhat later for natural gas. This may lead to either minor economic or major catastrophic consequences for the world since modern civilization is dependent on cheap and abundant fossil fuels, especially for transportation. The Hubbert peak theory, while controversial, is increasingly influencing policy makers both within the oil industry and government.” (Taken from Wikipedia)

Also after the Peak, it’s not just that there is less than 1/2 the oil left. The remaining half is very expensive to produce (Poor quality oil, difficult locations to get access to the oil etc.)

Last weekend I picked up a copy of Paul Robert’s book “The End of Oil”. It’s a gripping read although you wouldn’t really expect that from a subject like this. But he basically talks about how our lifestyles (well some people’s lifestyles) are going to change dramatically in the next few decades. To summarise (I haven’t finished it yet):

Our society (Well US and the West) runs on energy and economic growth. Governments refuse to allow other factors to get in the way of this growth. Hence why the US and Australia didn’t ratify Kyoto (amongst other reasons) – i.e. they won’t let their industries suffer due to environmental concerns. Less developed countries then complain that the west has had a couple of centuries headstart developing their hydrocarbon economies (Coal/Oil/Gas) so why should they have the reduce emissions when we say so… (Hence why China is now building thousands of coal power stations to power their economic boom and India will shortly be doing the same).

Next you have the location of this fuel. Mainly the middle east (America reached it’s peak in the 1970s). OPEC, Oil crises, wars with Iraq, and possibly Iran… you know the score. This is all probably all about oil.

Then he goes onto dispels the theory that non-renewable energy could take the strain. Not really. He argues that this could only be 12-15% by the turn of the next century. The technology isn’t advanced, it’s expensive, it’s not always available. Some sort of bridging fuel is required. This could be natural gas. Hydrogen (i.e. fuel cells) still needs a fuel to create the hydrogen and this is expensive to produce (you basically use coal/oil/gas and split the hydrogen element, which leaves carbon). Nuclear takes years to approve and is very expensive… ok I’m summarising!

I think some of the theories are overplayed myself though one day all this is going to happen. We really won’t know when until it’s already passed. The question is whether the technology and alternatives will be available and people embrace them before the peak. Cos once the peak is crossed, the price of oil is going to shoot up and that effects everything (transport, manufacturing etc.) Things might get nasty again as the US isn’t going to give up it’s dependence on fossil fuels without a fight. (Although they can still dig up Alaska I suppose)

Keep an eye on the oil price, it’s 30-40$ at the moment, and the US is about to get into it’s SUVs and summer (air conditioning etc.) is about to happen. Isn’t it going to be a record breaking summer here too? I wonder why?

So I suppose all you can do now is wait and see what happens. Well maybe, but why not inform yourself about what’s going on. You aren’t going to find this stuff in the mainstream media. But there is a bubbling undercurrent on the net where you can learn a bit more.

  • Start with this one; Wolf at the door. A beginners guide to oil depletion.
  • The pessimists of course think the world will change irrevocably (We move back to small communities, 2/3 of the world’s population will die etc.). Its worth reading Life after the oil crash
  • The End Of Suburbia – an amazing documentary about post-WW2 America and how it has staked it’s expansion and economic growth on it’s suburbs. Millions of acres of farmland turned into houses for the baby-boomers. Unfortunately this boom was built on oil. The cars that transport the workers to and from the daily grind. What happens if oil doubles or tripes in price? It’s available on DVD or I’ve seen it floating about the net on Bittorrent.
  • UK Survival – a UK-centric report into how we might cope. I mean we live on quite a small island don’t we – everything should be ok? Well we import far too much food, our food distribution network revolves around huge supermarkets and distribution centres. But then again everyone can play a small part by buying stuff locally. It’s a supply/demand thing.

Glad I cheered everyone up on a Friday afternoon again. Will bring more on this when I’ve finished the book!