Meet Guest post. Guest post is 32 years old, he likes long walks on the beach and lively political debate. He is our new vehicle for experts on interesting and relevant topics to contribute posts to The Standard.
Our first guest is Simon Tegg, who has done research on peak oil. It says something about how under-prepared we are for peak oil that Simon’s papers have caused a considerable stir even among those who are well-informed on environmental issues. Anyone who is concerned about New Zealand’s long-term, even medium-term, prospects should read what Simon has written.
Guest post: Simon Tegg on Peak Oil
The theory that oil production is about to enter an irreversible decline has gained currency as oil prices have rocketed upward. Contrary to popular perception, this does not mean oil is ‘running out’, but is rather a decline in the rate at which oil can be extracted.
A peak in production rate of a finite resource typically occurs when half the resource has been extracted. There is still a lot of oil out there (perhaps half of all the oil that will ever be extracted), but as this oil is much harder to get at (eg. deepwater, Canadian tarsands) the rate of production will fall, approximately mirroring its rise over the last century. Oil discoveries peaked in the 1960’s. We have discovered less oil in every decade since then and there is no basis to believe that financial incentives and improving technology can turn around a 40 year trend. While prices have risen, oil production has been essentially flat and yearly average production is still down on 2005. A number of large oil projects are due to come online in 2008 and 2009 and production may shift up somewhat, but beyond 2012 the projects thin out dramatically. It looks like we are now at Peak Oil.
An increasing number of commentators have voiced concern, including:
Their views range from a rapid decline in oil production in the short term to an emerging oil supply crisis.
It is possible to manufacture liquid fuels out of biomass and coal, but will a ramp up in production of these fuels prevent a total liquid fuel peak? Highly unlikely. For comparison, all the food grown in the world has an energy equivalency of about 10 20% of our liquid fuel consumption. Oil is the world’s most important resource, we’re not talking about toothpicks here. And when the â€˜lifeblood of industrial society’ goes into decline there are some serious and detrimental spin-offs:
Neither of the major parties want to talk about Peak Oil, because parties that talk about scary realities are less likely to be elected than parties that promote baseless optimism. Fortunately, ordinary New Zealanders are doing something about it, such as Transition Towns New Zealand. I have written two papers that explore this issue in greater depth with a New Zealand perspective, which I encourage you to read if you’re interested in finding out more about this topic.