Sunday, August 13, 2006

Reaction to Peak Oil Starts Close to Home

Cowichan Valley News Leader (Canada)

By Pete Keber

Last month the Cowichan Valley Regional District overwhelmingly rejected a motion on peak oil.
That is a most disappointing development, since this issue threatens our way of life and our very existence.

The reasons given for turning down the motion are simple. It is a global issue that is not within the purview of the CVRD. The majority at the CVRD feel there is nothing that they can do about it.

This demonstrates a total lack of vision, and a failure to understand the consequences of ignoring this issue.

Other municipalities in North America comprehend the problem and are moving towards finding measures that they can undertake to mitigate the consequences at a local level.
In an e-mail I sent to the board recently, I suggested several steps that they could take to start the ball rolling here in the Cowichan Valley. I also went into more depth on what peak oil actually is.

For the uninitiated, peak oil occurs when approximately half of the world’s conventional oil supplies have been used up. At that point it is close to impossible to increase production any further. This happened to the United States in 1971.

It has never been able to pump as much of the black gold as it did that year, despite increased drilling, significant discoveries in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico and continual advances in technology. Since then, another 53 to 55 of the major oil-producing nations have experienced peak production.

Is it not then reasonable to infer that this will happen on a global basis as well? Although it is helpful to know when that will happen (many experts believe global peak could occur between now and 2012), it is more important to do whatever we can now to lessen the impact.

There are two big arguments against peak oil advocates. The peak of oil production has been predicted several times in the past and it has not happened. The second counter is that recoverable reserves have continued to grow every year despite declining discoveries.

The first argument is not based on science, merely past failed predictions. A stopped clock…well you know the saying. How can we keep on increasing reserves if we are not discovering more than we are pumping?

In the 80’s the major Opec producers virtually doubled their stated reserves on paper with no major discoveries to back them up. This was to get around the new quota system.

Since then, those reserve numbers have stayed at the same levels despite extracting billions of barrels without replacing those barrels with new discoveries. Additionally, many major oil companies understated their reserves due to SEC requirements, than increased those reserves when they became provable.

Expectations that new technologies will increase the amount of oil being produced from oil fields has also helped to boost reported reserves. There may be phantom barrels in those reserves and there are limits to what technology can produce from finite fields, so all these numbers must be viewed with some suspicion.

We are not addicted to oil. We are addicted to convenience. A steady supply of cheap oil that has provided us with that convenience.

The thing is, we don’t care if it is oil or something else that ensures that convenience. The overarching problem: there is nothing on the horizon that can replace that gooey tar to guarantee a continuation of our gluttonous ride. Maybe nanotechnology can create a clean-burning alternative, but I wouldn’t hold my breath since that would contravene the first law of thermodynamics.

What will happen when peak oil occurs? My guess would be nothing immediately, but as shortages really start to hit escalating prices will impact the poor and developing nations. There will likely be scrambles by nations to secure their oil supplies and regional conflicts over resources. Whoa. That is already happening. Things can only get worse. The conflicts may spread to North America.

So what can we do? We can be a lot more conscientious about our vehicle use to start. North America consumes more than 25 per cent of the world’s oil supply with only five per cent of the population. We could reduce our consumption by 50 per cent if we set our minds to it without seriously limiting our lifestyles. Notice, I said limit and not change.

Either we change our style of living or wait until we are forced to. It is our choice. We can also lobby the CVRD to make peak oil mitigation a policy in the Cowichan Valley.

Pete Keber is a south Cowichan resident.


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