Shell CEO admits peak oil reality

For an industry that’s been in denial for so long, the walls around the truth of peak oil are coming down faster than the wall of Berlin finally did.

Back in late 2006, oil industry associations started to more openly come to terms with the fact that peak oil was a matter of when and not if (see OPEC Bulletin”  (November/December 2006), on page 62).

But this latest development really knocked my socks off. A few days ago, Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shell; circulated a memo with an item intended for publication recognizing peak oil is upon us. In it, he says:

“Regardless of which route we choose, the world’s current predicament limits our room to maneuver. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to rising population and economic development. After 2015, easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand.” Read more – it’s now on the Shell site.

Now you know why many oil companies have recently taking to referring to themselves as “energy” companies. They know the writing is on the wall for crude.

It’s not as though we haven’t had plenty of warning. In 1956, a geophysicist by the name of Hubbert predicted that global oil production would peak around the late 90’s/early 21st century. He plotted the trend of of oil production on a graph; and his theory is popularly known as Hubbert’s Peak. He’s been pretty much spot on with his projections.

No doubt many folks will still be in denial; referring back to the Oil Shock of the 70’s and how we pulled through that. That was an entirely different situation and purely political – peak oil is about how expensive and destructive it is to pull what’s left out of the ground. A great example of what oil extraction of the future will look like is the Alberta oil sands in Canada. Scarey stuff – we need to get away from that fast. Another negative aspect is some are turning their attention to liquid coal.

While many people are suffering through the increased price of oil; something good to come out of it has been that it’s now economically viable to sink more research cash into cleaner renewable energy alternatives – wind, solar, geothermal, wave. I’m not including nuclear in that mix as I’m by no means convinced it’s a good way to go.

The other thing we need to bear in mind is that oil isn’t just used for powering our cars – it plays a vital role in many plastics; the production of food – and even fertilizer.

Our lives are about to change dramatically – it’s a pivotal point in human history where we can choose a route that will rapidly bring us back more into harmony with the planet that supports us; or we fly headlong into total chaos.

By the way; if you’re in the market for a new car; one that you intend on keeping for a long time – perhaps van der Veer’s warning is something that you should keep close to mind. In just 10 years from now, traditional cars may have pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur – affordable only by the very rich or only taken out on special occasions.

Let’s hope we move fast enough so that enough viable alternatives are in place to avoid a very nasty shock.