Saturday, September 09, 2006

Are we running out of oil?

Peak oil. It is a subject which divides those who address the issue, often along ideological lines. Greens vs Prometheans, left vs right. Are we at peak oil? (The point at which demand for oil exceeds supply).

The question once again lodged in the forward areas of my brain as I read of this oilfield find. In deep water in the Gulf of Mexico, Jack Field could represent a 50% increase in US reserves. That on top of a recent Mexican Pemex discovery of 10 billion barrels.

Oil must be a finite resource, but things sure don't seem as bad as the doomsayers predict. (Shades of the 'Limits to Growth' panic of the 1970s. ("...The Club of Rome wrote that only 550 billion barrels of oil remained and that they would run out by 1990...").

So, colour me sceptical. We see 2 new oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico announced (if not recently discovered). There is the Timor gap fields north of Australia. And all that is before we go to alternatives for petrol (gasoline to some), diesel, and avtur - options like Canada's Athhabasca oilsands, Venezuelan heavy oil, then shale oil, and synthesised oil via the Fischer-Tropsch process that was used by the Germans in WW2, and the South Africans even now (by their Sasol plants).

There will be much nashing-of-teeth by enviromentalists over the greenhouse gas emissions to refine, then use these latter options - but are they blameless on the issue of climate change? The only current practical alternatives to fossil fuels are nuclear power, and hydroelectric power. Both of which the green lobby fights hard against. France reportedly generates 75% of it's electricity by fission nuclear power. Had not the environmentalists - the 'green' lobby, effectively vetod nuclear and hydro power as alternatives, much of the greenhouse gas problem could have been ameliorated. So they stand accused of exacerbating the greenhouse gas/climate change issue, not of fixing the problem.

So, no, I don't see us running out of fuels in the near future.

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