When the last oil
well runs dry
By Alex Kirby
News Online environment correspondent
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- Just as certain as death and taxes is
the knowledge that we shall one day be forced to
learn to live without oil.
Sunset Industry? Oil Production
could soon peak
Exactly when that day will dawn nobody knows,
but people in middle age today can probably expect
to be here for it.
Long before it arrives we shall have had to commit
ourselves to one or more of several possible energy
And the momentous decisions we take in the next
few years will determine whether our heirs thank
or curse us for the energy choices we bequeath to
There will always be some oil somewhere, but it
may soon cost too much to extract and burn it. It
may be too technically difficult, too expensive compared
with other fuels, or too polluting.
Who holds the world's oil and how
long will it last?
An article in Scientific American in March 1998
by Dr Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrere concluded: "The
world is not running out of oil - at least not yet.
"What our society does face, and soon, is the
end of the abundant and cheap oil on which all industrial
They suggested there were perhaps 1,000 billion
barrels of conventional oil still to be produced,
though the US Geological Survey's World Petroleum
Assessment 2000 put the figure at about 3,000 billion
Too good to burn
The world is now producing about 75 million barrels
per day (bpd). Conservative (for which read pessimistic)
analysts say global oil production from all possible
sources, including shale, bitumen and deep-water
wells, will peak at around 2015 at about 90 million
bpd, allowing a fairly modest increase in consumption.
"Peaking is at hand, not years
away... If I'm right, the unforeseen consequences
- Matthew Simmons, former US government adviser
On Campbell and Laherrere's downbeat estimate, that
should last about 30 years at 90 million bpd, so
drastic change could be necessary soon after 2030.
And it would be drastic: 90% of the world's transport
depends on oil, for a start.
Most of the chemical and plastic trappings of life
which we scarcely notice - furniture, pharmaceuticals,
communications - need oil as a feedstock.
The real pessimists want us to stop using oil for
transport immediately and keep it for irreplaceable
purposes like these.
In May 2003 the Association for the Study of Peak
Oil and Gas (Aspo), founded by Colin Campbell, held
a workshop on oil depletion in Paris.
One of the speakers was an investment banker, Matthew
Simmons, a former adviser to President Bush's administration.
From The Wilderness Publications reported him as
saying: "Any serious analysis now shows solid
evidence that the non-FSU [former Soviet Union ],
non-Opec [Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries]
oil has certainly petered out and has probably peaked...
No cheap oil, no cheap food
"I think basically that peaking of oil will
never be accurately predicted until after the fact.
But the event will occur, and my analysis is... that
peaking is at hand, not years away.
"If I'm right, the unforeseen consequences
are devastating... If the world's oil supply does
peak, the world's issues start to look very different.
"There really aren't any good energy solutions
for bridges, to buy some time, from oil and gas to
the alternatives. The only alternative right now
is to shrink our economies."
Planning pays off
Aspo suggests the key date is not when the oil runs
out, but when production peaks, meaning supplies
decline. It believes the peak may come by about 2010.
Fundamental change may be closing on us fast. And
even if the oil is there, we may do better to leave
Many scientists are arguing for cuts in emissions
of the main greenhouse gas we produce, carbon dioxide,
by at least 60% by mid-century, to try to avoid runaway
That would mean burning far less oil than today,
not looking for more. There are other forms of energy,
and many are falling fast in price and will soon
compete with oil on cost, if not for convenience.
So there is every reason to plan for the post-oil
age. Does it have to be devastating? Different, yes
- but our forebears lived without oil and thought
themselves none the worse.
We shall have to do the same, so we might as well
make the best of it. And the best might even be an
improvement on today.
Story from BBC NEWS:http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/science/nature/3623549.stm
Published: 2004/04/19 09:15:29 GMT
© BBC MMIV
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