Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Shortages: Is 'peak oil' idea dead?

Since humans found that oil was better than coal for shifting vehicles, people have fretted over oil wells running dry.

Bouts of anxiety are periodic. In the seventies a Shell geoscientist, M King Hubbert, sounded an alarm that supplies would peak by 1995 "if current trends continue."

They didn't peak. Fear is a powerful motivator and forecasting a shortage can be a good way of avoiding one.

Instead of seeing the 1970s oil crisis end in a long-term shortage, we responded by developing more fuel-efficient cars and burning less oil for heating. And what's more, oil production continued to grow.

Shortages: Resources running out

Fisheries on the slide

Water supplies in crisis

The latest bout of worry over oil supplies was provoked by a series of events in the 2000s, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York, the Iraq War and an unfortunate incident in which Shell's chairman resigned after the firm overstated its oil reserves by 250 million barrels.

It all disturbed President George W Bush. And his fears over energy security brought him into alignment with Tony Blair, who was pressing to combat climate change. The two agendas fortuitously converged - for a while - in the shape of home-grown energy sources like renewables and nuclear.

And by 2006 it looked as though the oil doomsters were being proved right.

Production actually fell, and by 2008 the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security began warning that an oil shortage could destabilise economic, political and social activity potentially by 2015. More


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