Peak Oil: High Tide for an Oil Addicted World/A Summary of the Fundamentals
Why is oil important?
Because our modern economy is lubricated by oil - and not just literally! In fact the world around us would be unimaginably different if it wasn’t for oil.
The most obvious use of oil is transportation: 95% of all transport is powered by oil - virtually every car, lorry, ship and aircraft in the world runs on it. But did you also know that oil is vital for making plastics? Look around, and try to imagine a world without plastic. It is used in pretty much every industrial process you can imagine, including modern methods of food production. We use it for heating, and electricity generation. Oil is the most versatile and, very importantly, the cheapest form of energy known to man. We are so dependent on oil that to truly understand how anything works in our current society we need to grasp the vital role played by oil in our technologies. Reduce or take away oil from a modern society, and it will very quickly grind to a halt. [Pie chart of oil useage?]
Are we about to run out of oil?
No, we are not about to run out of oil! We are roughly half way through all the conventional oil we know to exist in the world. Oil production will carry on for many more years. The key issue today is not running out of oil, but whether we can produce it quickly enough to satisfy our economy's demand. And that is where peak oil comes in.
What is peak oil?
This is the phrase that has been adopted to refer to the point in time when worldwide oil production reaches a peak. After the peak, the amount of oil produced year on year will decline.
If you look at the pattern of oil production for a single oil field you find that, in general, production from that field increases in the early years and reaches a peak when roughly half of the recoverable oil has been extracted. There after little can be done to stop production rates falling. For an individual oil field the actual pattern can be jagged. When you combine the data for many fields, a smoother pattern emerges. [Graphs to show individual field and averaged pattern]
The same principle applies to a basin, a country and the world. When we have used half the world's recoverable oil then production will start to decline. That point is call 'peak oil'. Many predictions have been made as to when this will occur however dates are increasingly converging on the period 2005 to 2015. Unfortunately the data for any given year takes time to come out, so it will be at least 1-2 years after peak oil has happened before we can be sure we are on the downward trend.
Who came up with this idea of peak oil? Is it really credible?
The theory was developed by M King Hubbert in the 1950s. In 1956 he predicted that US oil production would peak in the late 60s or early 70s. At the time he was derided, but in 1970 US oil production did indeed peak, and has declined ever since. Oil production in many countries around the world [list and dates] has peaked, in line with Hubbert's theory.
Hubbert was an American geophysicist, who for much of his career worked for the Shell Oil Company. When he left Shell in 1964 he became the senior research geophysicist for the United States Geological Survey, and held professorships at both Stanford and Berkeley. We find his experience and theory credible - but then if we didn't we wouldn't have written this!
Fortunately, we're not the only ones who are taking notice of peak oil. Over the last year some journalists in the mainstream media organisations have woken up to the issue, and have written articles or presented programmes warning of the danger. For example [list 4 or 5 best examples, preferably with hyperlinks].
Ultimately, though, whether you think peak oil is credible is up to you. At the very least, we hope this book will encourage everyone who reads it to think seriously about the issue. oil started to be found in 1907.
Is peak oil the end of the world as we know it?
The end of the world? That's a bit apocalyptic! But that said, it's important not to underestimate the effects of peak oil. Once oil production is over the peak and in decline it will become increasingly difficult to continue with our current lifestyles, and change will be forced upon us. As will be addressed in more detail later in this book the world economy is based on economic and financial systems that are reliant on overall growth - which in itself relies on increasing use of resources. Energy is, arguably, the primary resource. With enough energy virtually any other objective can be achieved.
Oil counts for about 40% of total energy use in a Western economy and over 90% [Why not 95%? - see paragraph 2 of "Why is oil important?" above] of transportation. The critical need is (ultimately) to produce enough alternative primary energy. Whilst there are potential alternatives, for the reasons set out below these are not likely to fill the gap left by declining oil supplies. A totally novel energy source may be developed (and there are candidates), however these are unproven and will require many years to bring from laboratory and to turn into viable energy sources. We are thus facing, at best, chronic economic recession lasting 10s of years. This is very likely to be accompanied by political, financial and economic turmoil, armed conflicts leading to fundamental shifts in the balance of power between nations. The Western consumerist way of life will no longer be viable. It won't be a smooth ride.