Peak oil, the time when oil production levels off before going into decline, is increasingly looking to be upon us.
I mentioned a couple of years ago that the International Energy Agency believed oil production would level off around 2020. The Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shell also said in 2008 easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will probably no longer keep up with demand by 2015.
Since that time, there’s been whispers it may be even sooner. Like next year.
The Guardian reports that leaked cables mention Saudi Arabia crude oil reserves may have been exaggerated by as much as 300 billion barrels – nearly 40%. That being the case, peak oil may occur as early as 2012. Saudi Arabia is supposedly exaggerating its oil reserves to stimulate foreign investment.
Aside from the climate change threat, looming peak oil may help explain (and this is just conjecture on my part) why President Barack Obama talked up electric cars and biofuels in his State of the Union speech and made what I thought was an incredibly bold statement in the USA – to remove oil subsidies. Oil subsidies have prevented renewable energy technologies such as solar power evolving as fast as they could have.
While the demise of the oil industry will be a blessing in many ways environmentally speaking, it may also be a curse as we’re simply not ready for that scenario to occur any time soon. Using food as fuel, or farmland that could grow food for fuel production stock instead is just as dangerous to society and the planet as crude oil.
If we’re not able to pump what crude oil we need out of the ground, then we’ll also increasingly turn to digging it up – e.g. Canada’s tar sands. Tar sands oil extraction is a toxic exercise; incredibly water, energy and greenhouse gas intensive – and operations look frighteningly similar to the landscape of Mordor.
Crude oil isn’t just the basis for fuel for cars – many products are petrochemical based, so to hit peak production and then ultimately, decline, sooner than expected would have major ramifications in just about every aspect of our lives – quite an adjustment would need to be made.
While you and I can do nothing about the situation as such as it’s a given (only the timeline is up in the air), what we can achieve by living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle is preparing for the scenario and avoiding some of what could be a very nasty shock. Green living is in some ways about learning to do more with less; e.g. implementing gas saving tips and avoiding non-essential petrochemical based products where we can – or making what we have of them last longer. It may be about reconsidering where we live, finding work closer to where we live or telecommuting.
Lets just hope that clean energy future we’ve been hoping for arrives before peak oil really takes hold – and that’s where we play a role too, in showing our support with our dollars and our votes for clean, renewable energy.