Peak Oil is a topic that is as divisive as it is uncommon and yet it is one of the most serious issues facing our community today.
It is a topic that needs to be discussed, debated and talked about in order to allow members of the public to come to terms with a worrying trend.
That trend relates to the cost of fuel and gaining access to that fuel.
It is a complicated area and only a brief and generalised overview can be presented in less than a thousand words.
The phenomena related to the cost of fuel and gaining access to it has become known as ‘Peak Oil’, a term originally used to describe the point when an oil reserve is more than 50% consumed.
Recent news reports highlighted the new finds of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, the recent exploration under the Artic Sea Ice and other finds and refinements of the Oil Shale sands in Alaska. This, it has been argued, proves that there is still a large amount of oil and natural gas yet to be tapped. It also shows, in the case of the Oil Sands, that there is an alternative source if the more traditional fields were to run low.
The issue however stems not from the fact that there is not enough oil in the ground but the fact that there has not been suitable investment into the infrastructure to take the oil from the oil fields and bring it to the refineries.
The Gulf of Mexico is the body of water that helps turn tropical storms into Hurricanes, so how safe would the oil rigs be?
The Artic Circle is one of the most hostile places on earth, so even if the ice is gone in the summer what happens to the rigs, plant equipment in winter?
Shale Oil has to be heated by steam or dug out by digger in order for it to be processed, so it is not just a case of digging a well. Also how do you make the steam?
In other words it is no good knowing where it is if we can not get to it or afford to get to it. It is also not enough to hope that the calculated reserves will actually match the amount in the ground. It is, after all, only an estimate.
In short there are serious issues here. In fact it was so serious that the Bush Administration conducted a study and recognised the issue in the Hirsch report of 2005.
It recognised the impact on manufacturing, production and distribution that any disruption or restriction of oil could have. In our own lives too we have seen how Fuel blockades and Industrial Action impacts on our day to day lives. There are not only shortages at petrol stations but also knock on impacts on retail outlets and in services.
Now imagine if that was to become the norm, not the exception!
Also, that was then….
……………………………….we now have one or two additional problems.
When you add in the global economic down turn and the level of debt Governments have acquired to provide fiscal stimulus it can be argued that a large capital project will not be funded directly from the state. This argument can be made against U.S. as well as the U.K. and other countries in Europe.
That lack of funding will result in the need for any investment made privately by the Oil companies to be off set through a higher oil price. That in turn will see the price of Natural Gas and Coal rise due to the demand for a lower price alternative.
These increases are then passed on by the Utility Company to the consumer through higher utility bills. This in turn impacts on the general public and business alike, reducing the amount of money the individual has to spend and increasing the cost of goods and services.
So how, if you accept the above, do we deal with this? The problem is that the only personthat can know how to change your life to make it have less of an impact is you.
You could save money by insulating your home (there are grants and advice, see Warmfront and the Energy Saving Trust – contact details in the references section below),
You could change the way you drive your car, down size to a smaller vehicle.
Or you could work on alternatives. You could buy locally grown produce from a local farmer. In effect it would not only cut down the cost to you but also boost the local economy.
You could walk small distances rather than drive, and/or,
You could even grow your own food.
The list is endless but the fact is that there is only one way of dealing with this problem and that is for people to start taking the lead.
Transition Towns are forming all over the Country, (see Healthy Life Essex article Transition Town Westcliff) there are local growers, bee keepers, wine makers, beer enthusiasts, social groups and like minded people coming together to actually try and make a difference.
If we, as a society, can have this debate about our use of fuel, our use of resources, then awareness can increase and more can be done to highlight the problem. Once people know the problem is out there and enough people can get together then action will inevitably be taken both locally and nationally.
I encourage you to tell your friends, your family and join the discussion, the debate and help form the solution.
Stuart Burrell MPEM, BA (Hons), Cmgr, MCMI, MInstLM Stuart has experience in all three sectors (Public, Private and Voluntary) Interested in Climate Change and Carbon Management, Qualified Domestic Energy Assessor.
Awarded the Thames Gateway Award for Contribution to the Community (2005),