peeking-at-peak-oil

Guess what? We’re running out of oil and gas

in Environment by

Barbara Yaffe
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, September 06, 2003

I’ve lately taken to snarling at gas pumps. In recent months the people and forces behind those pumps are showing less and less mercy.

But the price of gas and our addiction to buying the stuff is an essential reminder of much bigger things — things we rarely contemplate.

The fact is, the world is running out of both oil and natural gas. Of course, the tendency is to leave such global mega-problems to government types and scientists.

An unwise strategy, says an obscure Swedish organization that’s bound to become high profile in coming years.

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas (ASPO) held its first gathering in Sweden in 2002. A second forum was held in Paris this May.

ASPO describes itself as a 24-member “network of scientists affiliated with European institutions and universities.”

Its goal: Raising public awareness of a fast-approaching crisis — the end of a world fuelled by oil and gas, resources that provide 95 percent of our transportation fuel and 40 percent of our energy needs.

Swedish physicist Kjell Aleklett, ASPO president, speaks of an urgency to let the world know “the party is over. The depletion of oil heralds for humanity a discontinuity of historic proportions.”

In a nutshell, here’s the situation. The world “oil depletion curve” — which includes in its calculation expectations regarding as-yet undiscovered resources — indicates world oil production will peak around 2010 (or slightly earlier.)

At its Paris workshop, ASPO declared that, while consumption continues to rise, world oil discoveries have declined steadily since the 1960s despite the most technically advanced exploration methods. The world uses three times the amount of oil it finds each year.

The U.S. Geological Survey, a Denver-based group that keeps close tabs on resource use, predicts oil and gas production will peak sometime between 2011 and 2015.

It’s hard to determine precise dates because so much depends on politics, exploration results, conservation efforts, alternative energy discoveries and such.

The world’s proven reserves of oil and gas currently stand at the equivalent of roughly two trillion barrels. We have used one trillion of them.

When potential discoveries are factored in, the Geological Survey estimates the world’s finite supply is 5.6 trillion barrels. Thus we have likely consumed nearly 20 percent of the Earth’s total conventional oil and gas resources.

“After the peak, the world’s production of crude oil will fall, never to rise again,” geologist and Princeton University professor Kenneth Deffeyes says in the June 2003 Oil and Gas Journal. “Developing alternative energy sources on a large scale will take at least ten years. In the meantime, there will be chaos in the oil industry, in governments and national economies.”

Not a fun scenario. Add to this forecast the likely American response to reduced world supplies.

The energy-hungry superpower already has begun plotting its future in a petroleum-pinching world, reports a compelling paper delivered at the Paris ASPO session by Maine professor of peace and world security studies Michael Klare.

(Okay, so Canada is also an energy guzzler. But we don’t have the military might that would make our plotting of much consequence.)

The U.S., a net oil importer, Prof. Klare says, will be looking to ensure a secure energy flow from the following areas — Persian Gulf countries; the Caspian Sea; Angola and Nigeria in Africa; and Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico to the south.

All are in unstable regions and offer their own set of problems for the Americans. Which may be why the U.S. is so busy establishing military bases and nurturing diplomatic ties in these areas.

Energy and security needs in the U.S. have merged into “a single integrated design for American world dominance in the 21st century,” Prof. Klare concludes.

Which brings us back to those gas pumps around the Lower Mainland, with those outrageous prices. Each high-priced liter we consume is one liter less of energy available on Planet Earth.

Perhaps more appropriate than a snarl when I next pass a gas station would be a long, deep sigh.

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