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Plan Now For A World Without Oil

Today we enjoy a daily production of 75m bpd. But to meet projected demand in 2015, we would need to open new oilfields that can give an additional 60m bpd. This is frankly impossible. It would require the equivalent of more than 10 new regions, each the size of the North Sea. Maybe Iraq with enormous new investments will increase production by 6m bpd, and the rest of the Middle East might be able to do the same. But to suggest that the rest of the world could produce an extra 40m barrels daily is just moonshine.

These calculations place the coming oil crunch some time between 2010 and 2015, perhaps earlier. The reserves in the world's super-giant and giant oilfields are dwindling at an average rate of 4-6 per cent a year. No more big frontier regions remain to be explored except the north and south poles. The production of non-conventional crude oil has already been initiated at enormous cost in Venezuela's Orinoco belt and Canada's Athabasca tar sands and ultra-deep waters. Yet no major primary energy alternative can replace oil and gas in the short-to-medium term.
Plan now for a world without oil

By Michael Meacher
Published: January 5 2004 4:00 | Last Updated: January 5 2004 4:00

Four months ago, Britain's oil imports overtook its exports, underlining a decline in North Sea oil production that was already well under way. North Sea oil output peaked at about 2.9m barrels per day in 1999, and has been predicted to fall to only 1.6m bpd by 2007. Even the discovery of the new Buzzard field, the biggest British oil find in a decade, with a total of some 500m barrels recoverable, will not alter by much the overall picture of dwindling resources.

This prospect would not be so bleak were it not that similar trends are now becoming manifest around the globe. The three main oil-producing regions are Opec, the former Soviet Union, and the rest of the world. According to papers presented at the latest annual meetings of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, Opec's future production is expected to peak in 2020 at about 40-45m bpd. Under-production in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s has been followed by a new surge in east Siberia and Sakhalin. Together with new discoveries in the Caspian, this will yield a peak of about 10m bpd in 2010.

Combining the models for Opec, the former Soviet Union and the remaining 40 or more major oil-producing countries puts ultimate world oil recovery - past and future - at some 2,200bn barrels, with production peaking at about 80m bpd between 2010 and 2020. To this may be added non-conventional oil and other liquids brought into commercial production by the rising price as oil becomes more scarce. These include oil from coal and shale, bitumen and derived synthetics, heavy and extra-heavy oil, deep-water oil, polar oil and liquids from gas fields and gas plants. These sources, though at very much greater cost, could provide an ultimate recovery of about 800bn barrels and might peak in 2050 at around 20m bpd. But the combined model suggests a peak from all sources of about 90m bpd around 2015.

Today we enjoy a daily production of 75m bpd. But to meet projected demand in 2015, we would need to open new oilfields that can give an additional 60m bpd. This is frankly impossible. It would require the equivalent of more than 10 new regions, each the size of the North Sea. Maybe Iraq with enormous new investments will increase production by 6m bpd, and the rest of the Middle East might be able to do the same. But to suggest that the rest of the world could produce an extra 40m barrels daily is just moonshine.

These calculations place the coming oil crunch some time between 2010 and 2015, perhaps earlier. The reserves in the world's super-giant and giant oilfields are dwindling at an average rate of 4-6 per cent a year. No more big frontier regions remain to be explored except the north and south poles. The production of non-conventional crude oil has already been initiated at enormous cost in Venezuela's Orinoco belt and Canada's Athabasca tar sands and ultra-deep waters. Yet no major primary energy alternative can replace oil and gas in the short-to-medium term.

The implications of this are mind-blowing, since oil provides 40 per cent of all traded energy and no less than 90 per cent of transport fuel. But not only are the motor vehicle and farming industries dependent on oil, so is national defence. Oil powers the vast network of planes, tanks, helicopters and ships that provide the basis of each country's armaments. It is hard to envisage the effects of a radically reduced oil supply on a modern economy or society. Yet just such a radical reduction is staring us in the face.

The world faces a stark choice. It can continue down the existing path of rising oil consumption, trying to pre-empt available remaining oil supplies, if necessary by military force, but without avoiding a steady exhaustion of global capacity. Or it could switch to renewable sources of energy, much more stringent standards of energy efficiency, and a steady reduction in oil use. The latter course would involve huge new investment in energy generation and transportation technologies.

The US response to this dilemma is very striking. The National Energy Policy report prepared by Dick Cheney, US vice-president, in May 2001 proposed the exploitation of untapped reserves in protected wilderness areas within the US, notably the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in north-eastern Alaska. The rejection of this extremely contentious proposal forced President George W. Bush, unwilling to curb America's ever-growing thirst for oil, to go back on White House rhetoric and accept the need to increase oil imports from foreign suppliers.

It was a fateful decision. It means that, for the US alone, oil imports, or imports of other sources of oil, such as natural gas liquids, will have to rise from 11m bpd to 18.5m bpd by 2020. Securing that increment of imported oil - the equivalent of total current oil consumption by China and India combined - has driven an integrated US oil-military strategy ever since.

There is, however, a fundamental weakness in this policy. Most countries targeted as a source of increased oil supplies to the US are riven by deep internal conflicts, strong anti-Americanism, or both. Iraq is only the first example of the cost - both in cash and in soldiers' lives - of facing down resistance or fighting resource wars in key oil-producing regions, a cost that even the US may find unsustainable.

The conclusion is clear: if we do not immediately plan to make the switch to renewable energy - faster, and backed by far greater investment than currently envisaged - then civilisation faces the sharpest and perhaps most violent dislocation in recent history.

The writer was UK environment minister from 1997 to June 2003

homepage: homepage: http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c=StoryFT&cid=1073280779775&p=1012571727085
address: address: Financial Times

A drop in the barrel. 05.Jan.2004 15:11

gus

See, here's my thing:
If everybody who reads, say, Indymedia or Dieoff.org or whatever ditch their cars, get on bikes and begin living oil-free existances to the extant that such a thing is possible these days,(and believe me, I'm all for it. I can't even remember how to drive a car,) how many people is that? A few hundred? A few thousand? More, hopefully? Still, is it enough? I'm not saying it's useless, but it also isn't going to affect any major change, I don't think, beyond possibley allowing for a bit more gasoline for people who could give a fuck about impending oil-depletion scenarios. And that's really just going to drag this whole thing out even longer, I would think.

Please, somebody, tell me I'm wrong, and why.

be the change 05.Jan.2004 18:08

you want to see in the world

"I'm not saying it's useless, but it also isn't going to affect any major change, I don't think, beyond possibley allowing for a bit more gasoline for people who could give a fuck about impending oil-depletion scenarios. And that's really just going to drag this whole thing out even longer, I would think.

Please, somebody, tell me I'm wrong, and why."

I don't think you're wrong, but I think there are different yardsticks for change. Don't use the one for personal growth on the whole entire world important changes you're fully in charge of may fail to register. If I ditched the car and got on my bike, the change in my health for the exercise would probably be a major one. The change in my own approval rating of my own lifestyle would probably be a major one. The change in my own exhaust emissions would probably be a major one. The money left in my wallet might also be a major change in my financial outlook, but money couldn't buy you the other three benefits very well.

Those are some pretty major changes in one person's life for a single small action taken. I can't make other people's changes for them, but I could make mine, and I might even smile and occasionally wave as if how I'm getting around is making me five times as happy as the way someone else's is. It probably will be.

heat and light 05.Jan.2004 22:09

dude

Much of our oil/gas is for heat and light. I suspect much more than in auto trans-but i don't know.

Its pretty cold lately-so I'd plant a tree or two for the future.

Dieoff's take... 06.Jan.2004 05:47

random peak'ster

DieOff.org's take is basically the same as from "gus", from what I can tell: there's simply too much momentum now to "save the world" (population), we will have to crash. Or as biologists studying the past's mass extinctions and stuff say, we'll have to "overshoot". Wasting oil and thus bringing the day of reckoning as soon as possible, before the population gets to 7Billions and global warmins kicks in for good, would then seem to be a good thing to do, to try and minimize the impact (shock, horror!).

You should still go to a rural house and learn to grow your own food though. Not because this is the "moral" or "ethical" thing to do, this is too late for that, but for your own sake - things will get very ugly in cities in the near future.

As to "dude": all the stats are available from the DOE (eia.doe.gov). Yes fossil fuels are used in significant amounts to generate electricity and other stuff. 5% of oil for electricity in the US, ~15% or more of natural gas (which will be as much as a problem as oil, if not bigger, soon).

Oil is more important to modern civilization than other fossil fuels... 06.Jan.2004 11:27

Whomever

Not only is oil essential for our modern transportation needs (automobiles and jets), but it also is needed for agricultural petrochemicals which are now necessary to feed the world's human population. Getting out of the way of the impending crash would be a good idea. Where and how is open to debate if it's even possible at all.


smart, sustainable use... 06.Jan.2004 14:24

this thing here

yes, there will never be a world without any petrochemical products. that is not possible. metal grinding against metal does not work in mechanisms, machinery or automobiles, for example, even if the automobile was powered by hydrogen. there are crucial products and mechanisms that use petroleum and petrochemicals.

however, the simplest and smartest way to look at it is to use what remaining oil there is for products and industries and parts of the economy that need it, and NOT USE what remaining oil there is for products and industries and parts of the economy that DON'T. and with the continued advances in green design, solar power, wind power, hybrids, and hydrogen, there is less and less of an excuse to keep using oil for THINGS THAT DON'T NEED IT.

for example, the automobile. yes, all the moving parts require a petrochemical lubricant to minimize friction. the plastic components that make the passenger compartment comfortable also require petrochemicals. however, all the moving parts, whether made of metal, plastic, glass or rubber, DO NOT require a petroleum based fuel energy to move them from point A to point B.

for example, a wind power turbine. yes, all the moving parts in the generator require a petrochemical lubricant to minimize friction. if the generator is siezing or overheating, what good is the wind? perhaps the composites or fiberglass the blades are made of require petrochemicals. however, to generate energy from the blades and the generator obviously does not require a petroleum fuel source. all that's needed is wind.

what about the trucks and cranes that haul the wind power turbine to the top of the hill and set it up? obviously, their engines and hydraulics require petrochemicals as lubricants. but the energy needed to MOVE them up to the top of the hill does NOT have to be petroleum based. even if it was, the petroleum could be used MUCH more efficiently. hell, honda announced it had developed a hybrid V-6. why not a hybrid V-8? why not a hybrid truck engine? why not a full size, 10 wheeled rig that gets 50 mph per gallon?

i'm not trying to point out the obvious, but the common knee jerk attack used against environmentalists and renewable energy developers by the oil industry and the grousers and naysayers who support them is to always claim "you'll never be able to exist without oil, you'll never be able to ban it completely." that's not the point. it's not even an argument, for that matter. nobody i can think of is trying to ban completely the use of oil. though moving parts requiring lubricant are a long, long way from being dead, the combustion engine IS dead. the generation of energy which produces a movement from point A to point B, especially on the ground, is a sector of the economy which increasingly DOESN'T need petroleum. the point is to save the oil for what needs it, and stop using it for what doesn't. i guess it's hard for some people to get their minds around that...

Running out of oil 10.Jan.2004 09:10

Stephen Hamilton Bergin stephen@no19bus.org.uk

I am an author just publishing a series of books on the coming global energy crisis. I have been to doom and back. When all things are considered it is clear all things are related. The Global warming problems can only be solved by burning much less fossil fuels. Apparently politicians and business recognise this mentally but are incapable of acting on it practically or rationally. Fortunately Mother Nature is about to intervene. We at at the Twilight years of HydroCarbon man. It was planned since the begniing of evolution. We should not be frightened by it. We should begin to embrace it. Of course it will be utterly fraught with momentous changes but retreating to our own individual little vegatable plots will not help. This is something we will all have to share together. My journey begins on the no19bus. Hope you can catch the ride with me. Regards.

http://www.no19bus.org.uk
01444 47 11 22

Thoughts on Peak Oil and its After effects 22.Jan.2004 11:50

eddy glover.ed@epa.gov

I've been reading and studying this topic for more than six years after first reading about it in an article written by the late Buzz Ivanhoe. Since then, I have plowed through Campbell's book and Deffeyes book and Matthew Simmons work. Here's my take for what it is worth.

1. Clearly oil and gas are rapidly depleting and reaching peak production. In fact, it is possible that we reached peak oil production in calendar year 2000 or will likely reach it within 3 years or until the next recession strikes the USA.

2. North America will likely experience a severe natural gas shortage PRIOR to experiencing the complete effects of Peak oil. This will have profound implications on the manufacturing industry in the USA and electricity generation. In the 1990's we bet the farm on natural gas for electricity generation. It was a poor bet.
I seldom hear much talk regarding natural gas, but it really can't be imported from another continent (like oil), and it is being depleted at a much faster rate than oil !

3. I live in Michigan and last summer I experienced a brief power outage. This was a big wake up call for me. Electricity is the most important energy form. Without it modern society crumbles. The effects of peak oil and gas may manifest themselves as a series of electricity crisises.

4. The recession of 2000 - 2002 was caused by in no small part the electricity crisis that occurred in 2000. The current economic expansion will be halted when we bump up against a production limit in either oil, gas or electricity.


The long term (5 - 15 years hence).

1. Since peak oil may have already occured for conventional supplies, the DIRE consequences are not likely to be immediate. The peak will likely be a flat one with a more rounded top rather than a sharp cliff. Unless there is a political crisis the downslope will likely mirror the upslope of the past 30 years. If this occurs, there will be real serious problems, but not the end of the world. The world will experience the mirror of its immediate past. We will have longer, more progressively deeper recessions marked by shorter recoveries and expansions. Total world output will decline for the first time in hundreds of years.

2. Technology may continue to advance and provide some relief. However, a growing population combined with dwindling resources will increase social strife. How this balances is anybody's guess. My guess is eventually it will lead to World War.

3. Peak Cheap Energy will mean that the basics of life will get more expensive and the luxuries will diminish.

4. Globalization and global problems will eventually diminish, but local ones will get more ugly.