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Plan Now for a World Without Oil

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  • npat1@juno.com
    Article by Michael Meacher Financial Times January 5, 2004 Four months ago, Britain s oil imports overtook its exports, underlining a decline in North Sea oil
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2004
      Article by Michael Meacher
      Financial Times
      January 5, 2004

      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
      2001proposed 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.


      Plan Now for a World Without Oil by Michael Meacher
      The writer was UK environment minister from 1997
      to June 2003. Michael Meacher stepped down from
      the Blair government in protest in June

      http://www.mindfully.org/Energy/2004/World-Without-Oil4jan04.htm

      Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Other Environmental Costs by
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      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClimateArchive/message/229



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