Canberra report highlights global peak oil predicament

by Chris Harries

Don”t feel too bad if you”ve never heard of Report 117, until recently nobody had.

Turns out the report”s conclusion was too much for some to handle, so the federal government decided not to publish it back in 2009. Leaked to a French agency early in Decemer 2011, this is a thoroughly researched run down of the global peak oil predicament and concludes that we”ll start to see a terminal decline happening by around 2016.

The Report”s findings, at a glance
“…when an aggregation is done across the globe, it is predicted that world production of conventional oil is currently just past its highest point (conventional oil is oil pumped from wells on land or in water less than 500 metres deep). A predicted shallow decline in the short run should give way to a steeper decline after 2016.

Continue reading

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Growing price of oil

Here”s a snapshot of oil prices on the global market. This one is for one of the oil markets, Brent Crude. Australia is tied to Tapis Crude, but from this chart you can see general trends in prices that are affecting us over time.


The chart speaks for itself. Note that by clicking on the four options below the casino online chart you can see how oil prices are changing over different periods time frames. The spike in 2008 coincides with the global financial meltdown and this is followed by a steady but inexorable growth in price.

(Note that this chart updates automatically so you can refer to it any time.)

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Nicole Foss in Hobart

Peak Oil, Local Resilience and Financial Crisis:

13th March 2012
7:00pm – 9.30pm
Stanley Burbury Lecture Theatre

(If you missed this event you can hear Nicole on local radio by clicking on this link)


A Public Lecture with Nicole Foss, Co-Editor of The Automatic Earth

An impending global crisis? Many assure us there is.
What are the issues and opportunities for Tasmania?

How can we prepare and respond to ensure we ‘keep the lights on’ both metaphorically and physically?

Come and explore the interrelated issues of finance, energy, resources, environment, psychology, population and real politik that make up our current multi-faceted predicament.

An explanation of why we find ourselves in a state of crisis and what we can do about it.

Hosted by UTAS Sustainability Unit
Click here for more information.
RSVP (UTAS): UTAS.Events@utas.edu.au or phone 6226 2521;
Enquiries – Fiona Brodribb – fiona.brodribb@utas.edu.au


Some background to Nicole Foss

Nicole M. Foss is co-editor of The Automatic Earth, where she writes under the name Stoneleigh. She and her writing partner have been chronicling and interpreting the on-going credit crunch as the most pressing aspect of our current multi-faceted predicament. The site integrates finance, energy, environment, psychology, population and real politik in order to explain why we find ourselves in a state of crisis and what we blackjack can do about it. Prior to the establishment of TAE, she was previously editor of The Oil Drum Canada, where she wrote on peak oil and finance.

Foss runs the Agri-Energy Producers” Association of Ontario, where she has focused on farm-based biogas projects and grid connections for renewable energy. While living in the UK she was a Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, where she specialized in nuclear safety in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, and conducted research into electricity policy at the EU level.

Her academic qualifications include a BSc in biology from Carleton University in Canada (where she focused primarily on neuroscience and psychology), a post-graduate diploma in air and water pollution control, the common professional examination in law and an LLM in international law in development from the University of Warwick in the UK. She was granted the University Medal for the top science graduate in 1988 and the law school prize for the top law school graduate in 1997.

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Nicole Foss in Launceston

Peak Oil, Local Resilience and Financial Crisis

15th March 2012
7:00pm – 8.30pm
Lecture Theatre 9, Faculty of Arts Building (map)
Newnham campus

(If you missed this event you can hear Nicole on local radio by clicking on this link)


A Public Lecture with Nicole Foss, Co-Editor of The Automatic Earth

An impending global crisis? Many assure us there is.
What are the issues and opportunities for Tasmania?

How can we prepare and respond to ensure we ‘keep the lights on’ both metaphorically and physically?

Come and explore the interrelated issues of finance, energy, resources, environment, psychology, population and real politik that make up our current multi-faceted predicament.

An explanation of why we find ourselves in a state of crisis and what we can do about it.

Hosted by UTAS Sustainability Unit
Click here for more information.
RSVP (UTAS): UTAS.Events@utas.edu.au or phone 6226 2521;
Enquiries – Fiona Brodribb – fiona.brodribb@utas.edu.au


Some background to Nicole Foss

Nicole M. Foss is co-editor of The Automatic Earth, where she writes under the name Stoneleigh. She and her writing partner have been chronicling and interpreting the on-going credit crunch as the most pressing aspect of our current multi-faceted predicament. The site integrates finance, energy, environment, psychology, population and real politik in order to explain why we find ourselves in a state of crisis and what we can do about it. Prior to the establishment of TAE, she was previously editor of The Oil Drum Canada, where she wrote on peak oil and finance.

Foss runs the Agri-Energy Producers’ Association of Ontario, where she has focused on farm-based biogas projects and grid connections for renewable energy. While living in the UK she was a Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, where she specialized in nuclear safety in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, and conducted research into electricity policy at the EU level.

Her academic qualifications include a BSc in biology from Carleton University in Canada (where she focused primarily on neuroscience and psychology), a post-graduate diploma in air and water pollution control, the common professional examination in law and an LLM in international law in development from the University of Warwick in the UK. She was granted the University Medal for the top science graduate in 1988 and the law school prize for the top law school graduate in 1997.

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Peak Oil – watch our video clip

Our Peak Oil forum in Hobart in July attracted much interest, especially from people interested how peak oil relates to local government and local communities.

The video clip below gives an excellent overview of Peak Oil, it’s consequences and government and community responses – with a particular focus on Tasmania.

The presentation was delivered (by Todd Houstein) at the Peak Oil forum. Other sessions from the forum can be viewed by clicking HERE.

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The problems with alternative energy

The table below illustrates a very important principle – there is no free lunch in energy supply.

Whereas each of us has our own preferences about different energy sources, each energy source has its peculiar set of problems. Some may cause less environmental harm or harm to humans, but even these ‘softer’ technologies can cause major contention and may not be able to deliver the type of energy that is in demand.

For instance, an energy source that delivers a surplus of electricity may not be all that useful if our immediate energy problem is shortage of liquid fuels.

[Note that EROEI (right hand column) stands for energy return on energy invested.]

Energy source Problems Nominal EROEI
Firewood Although firewood enjoys a very high net energy return (EROEI), unregulated firewood collections has caused much habitat damage in Tasmania. Requires a firewood production regime, including firewood farming allotments. Firewood burning can also cause significant local pollution and health problems in certain environments. Note that the high net energy return (at right) applies only to burning firewood directly to create heat – not to be confused with burning firewood for electricity production, net energy return is closer to that of brown coal (8). 32
Hydro-electricity Net energy return (EROEI) for hydro is very site specific, depending on construction needs, such as amount of concrete and earth fill etc. EROEI can be up to 200 for a simple run-of-river scheme, less than 30 for a remote dam built in very difficult terrain. Although a renewable energy source, its greenhouse emissions can be very high where significant vegetation or soil carbon is inundated, especially rainforests. Ecological damage can range from disruption of fish habitat, to destruction of ecosystems, to loss of wilderness, to alteration of downstream river ecology. 20
Geothermal Release of polluting gases (SO2, H2S,); water requirement; groundwater pollution by chemicals including heavy metals; seismic effects; significant transmission infrastructure required for small output, most potential sites being far from where electricity is used. 8
Wind farms Main problem is bird strike. Also resources to provide transmission infrastructure to dispersed sites spread over a wide area and their consequent visual intrusion of landscapes. There has also been much public opposition to despoilation of natural vistas and purported effects on TV reception and, in some sites, subtle effect on human health, resulting from noise frequency. 9
Solar photovoltaics Use of toxic materials in manufacture of PV cells; delivers energy at very high cost per kilowatt-hour; visual intrusion in both rural and urban environments; all input energy is at the front end, before any power is produced…. long payback period. 7
Nuclear High level of public fear; potential catastrophic accidents; radioactive waste disposal problem unresolved; potential misuse of fissile material by terrorists; potential contribution to nuclear weapons proliferation; high water requirement; at least 10 years needed for planning approval and construction. 7
Natural gas Greenhouse pollution; pipe leakage; methane explosions 10
Coal seam gas Greenhouse pollution; serious poisoning of aquifers and drinking water; intrusion on private lands and human rights; landscape scarring. 4
Coal Serious greenhouse pollution; environmental spoliation by open-cut mining; land subsidence due to deep mining; spoil heaps; groundwater pollution; acid rain; damage to agricultural lands. The EROEI of 30 (at right) = coal burned for industrial heat as opposed to 9 = coal burned for electricity production. 9 and 30
Oil Serious greenhouse pollution; world demand exceeding supply; resource wars in oil supply regions; marine and terrestrial damage from oil spills; exploitation of ethnic people in major oil regions (eg Nigeria); net energy return from oil wells now averages at only 15, as opposed to best quality oil in the world (Libya) at 100 17
Bio-fuels Significant competition with food production; impacts on landscapes and biodiversity; groundwater pollution from fertilisers; use of scarce water; significant chemical pollution from burning emissions. Best source of bio-fuels is by-products from wastes and food crops, but volume of these are strictly limited. 3
Oil shale Very serious greenhouse pollution; very serious local land degradation and local pollution. 3
Tar sands Very serious greenhouse pollution; very serious local land degradation and local pollution. 4


The EROEI figures given above are illustrative and derived from a number of sources. They give a general guide to the net energy return on energy invested, but this may have no bearing on total amount of potential energy available from any one source.

What about new alternative energy sources?

Although potential technologies have their hard core enthusiasts, none of them is, as yet, proven up so that they actually work and deliver a net return of energy in any particular setting. Some of them may never be. Such sources include nuclear fusion power, solar collectors in space, liquid fuels derived from ocean algae, integrated fast nuclear (fission) reactors, wave power, tidal power.

The history of development of energy technologies tells us that the forecast net energy return of new technologies tends to be overestimated (and capital costs underestimated) by a factor of two, as a result of wishful thinking on the part of enthusiastic developers. But the really core problem is that the global energy crisis is upon us now and we can’t wait for decades for solutions to be developed several decades into the future.

In summary

The aim of this summary is not to champion any energy source over any other, it is simply to illustrate that there is no free lunch in energy supply.

Pitted against all of these energy sources (many of them very costly) is a very basic strategy: using less of it. Living more comfortably with less energy wastage. Running our energy economy much more efficiently.

In nearly every situation the financial, environmental and social burden is much reduced, costs to business are lower and public acceptability is higher.


References
    The nine challenges of renewable energy (download – 1.5meg)

    Hydroelectric dams and global warming: A little understood aspect of hydro dams is their potential significant contribution to global warming, as reported by the World Commission on Dams. Although methane emissions from Tasmanian dams are far less than those in tropical areas, this reference is included simply to provide background information on this topic.

Posted in Discussion, In-depth analysis | 1 Comment

How to approach your local council

by Chris Harries

How can your local council respond to peak oil in the best possible way?

Some councils are large and well resourced. Others less so. Some have progressive councillors elected. Some may have already taken steps to address the issue. Most have not done so yet. Some will be much more impacted by high fuel prices than will others.

In short, no one-way-fits-all. So here you go in 7 easy steps:


Remember: Approaching your local government representative is not as forbidding as you may think. Most people have an elected councillor living somewhere in or near their neighbourhood. They are normally quite friendly and approachable and (even where they may disagree with you) will listen, provided that you approach him/her in a courteous, respectful manner.


Here is a sample motion that can be put to any council:

    That a report be prepared to examine the potential impacts of Peak Oil on:

    1) Council’s operations
    2) Local businesses
    3) Local ratepayers

    That the report further examine some of the policies and practices of leading councils in addressing Peak Oil and report on their potential to be used for the benefit of the council and the community.


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What can Tasmanian local councils do?

The article below is a summary taken from an advisory report (pictured).

It’s a basic checklist for anybody who wishes to influence local government on the multiple ways that councils are able to respond to the Peak Oil issue.

Click here to download a complete copy of the report.


Summary

The decline of global oil production will radically change the way our societies are run: our transport systems, how we produce food, where we work and live.

There are a great many things that councils must do, and policies that need to be changed, if we are to have any chance of mitigating the economic effects of peak oil. On the plus side, some of these initiatives already exist (recycling, etc.) but these efforts need to be significantly expanded, and entire areas of policy remain unaddressed.

The continued expansion of road and air infrastructure no longer makes any sense. Forecasts of a massive increase in road travel over the next thirty years are based entirely on historical data, and will soon be rendered meaningless by peak oil. New major road developments run the risk of turning into expensive white elephants. Instead, we must start preparing for a contraction in all travel modes that depend on oil.

Food supplies should be of primary concern. Prices are already soaring globally, partly due to the dash for biofuels. As oil production declines these pressures are only likely to increase, and the dilemmas they pose will only sharpen in the future. In a world of constrained transport, food security will increasingly depend upon local supply. We need to start planning for these changes now.

The most fundamental change needed is in the way people think. Local policy will be fundamental to the transition to a lean-energy future, but councils cannot achieve everything by themselves; the necessary changes will require much greater co-operative spirit within and between communities in future. Hearts and minds are critical; now is the time to change them.

1. Preparing for peak oil
Peak oil means local authorities need to plan for the likelihood of rising oil prices and shrinking fuel supplies. First steps should include:

  • A detailed energy audit of all council activities including transport and buildings. This will point the way to immediate cost savings, emission reductions and greater energy security, and better prepare the authority for any short term interruptions to energy supplies
  • An in-depth assessment of the impact of peak oil on the local economy, environment and social services including food and agriculture, health and medicine, transport, education, waste, water supply, communications, and energy use
  • The development of an emergency plan to respond to sudden interruptions in oil supplies and/or sharply rising oil prices, with a particular emphasis on ‘at risk’ communities
  • Set specific targets for reducing oil and natural gas consumption in the local government, business and household sectors, by a significant proportion within a defined period
  • Encourage a major shift from private to public transport, cycling and walking, through investment in public transport and expansion of existing programmes such as cycle lanes and road pricing
  • Reduce overall transport demand by using planning powers to shape the built environment
  • Shape planning rules to encourage the greatest energy efficiency in new and existing buildings
  • Promote the use of locally produced, non-fossil transport fuels such as biogas and renewable electricity in both council operations and public transport
  • Prevent infrastructure investments that are not viable in a low energy society
  • Develop rigorous energy efficiency and energy conservation programmes that help businesses and individuals to reduce their oil dependency
  • Support the growth of businesses that supply renewable and energyefficient solutions
  • Launch a major public energy-awareness campaign incorporating leaflets, the internet and an expanded network of energy-saving advice centres. The more people understand peak oil, the more likely they are to support or accept demand management measures
  • Find ways to encourage local food production and processing; facilitate reduction of energy used in refrigeration and transportation of food
  • Set up a joint peak oil task force with other councils, and partner closely with existing community-led initiatives such as the Transition Network and the Relocalization Network
  • Adopt the Oil Depletion Protocol and the ‘Five principles’ proposed by Post Carbon Cities

2. Peak oil and climate change
Council policies on peak oil and climate change should be closely coordinated and mutually reinforcing. Most policy options will help mitigate both problems, but where priorities conflict, peak oil must be given adequate weight. Councils need to understand and connect these issues in both strategy and internal and external communication, and should propagate this understanding into the wider local, regional and national government strategic framework

3. Education
Councils need to develop positive ways to educate the public about peak oil, to effect behaviour change and reduce oil dependency throughout business and the community. Local authorities should distribute educational leaflets to households in their area, focussing on positive solutions and the incidental benefits, such as the impact on climate change. The role of institutions and individuals, and the need for immediate action, should all be emphasized

Where councils already operate a service offering information and advice on climate change and energy saving, its remit should be expanded to include peak oil. If a council does not offer such a service, it should consider setting one up

Councils also need to conduct an internal education and awareness-raising programme to inform all their councillors, officers and employees on peak oil issues and the available solutions towards reducing oil dependency

4. Expand existing initiatives
Many initiatives are already underway at the local government level that will help the transition from pre-peak plenty to post-peak scarcity, for example: road pricing, energy efficiency/insulation programs, promotion of renewables, recycling/reuse. These can all be further legitimised as policies that will help mitigate peak oil; if the general public understand peak oil, they are more likely to participate and support local government initiatives in these areas

5. Organization
Each local authority should consider nominating an officer to develop and coordinate its response to peak oil both internally and in cooperation with other councils. Where possible, councils should set up a task force on peak oil

The council’s peak oil task force should partner closely with existing citizen initiatives which are already working on energy planning to foster community based solutions

References:
See also related articles here and here.

Posted in Government (local), Responses / solutions | 1 Comment

Peak Oil Forum – July 2

This forum was a follow-up to a successful public forum held in 2010. Since then it has become evident that the most responsive arm of government to pressing oil depletion issues has been local government, which has close links with affected communities and businesses.

The forum attracted 80 people, including many local government representatives. A summary of proceedings can be downloaded HERE and a DVD is also available.

Meanwhile, if you would like to be put onto our update list, please click HERE.

Posted in Events, Government (local), Media | 8 Comments

Tasmanian Government’s Peak Oil Study

by David Hamilton

[This article refers to the Tasmanian government’s Oil Price Vulnerability Study, currently being conducted]


Why supply is an issue too.

The Background Info section of this web site explains that oil fields inevitably decline, and since peak discovery was in 1964, global oil supply will shortly enter an inevitable decline – the “second half of the Age of Oil”. Thus, reduced availability will be an absolute constraint: oil will simply become increasingly unavailable, regardless of price.

Put simply, the fact of peak oil means the end of business as usual.

What decline rate is expected?
The rate at which oil fields decline varies from field to field; in addition the companies operating the fields can usually reduce the rate of decline or delay the worst of the decline by spending money trying harder and harder to extract the diminishing amounts of oil left in the field. Predicting the global rate of decline of oil supply once we are clearly past the peak is therefore difficult. Most predictions seem to be in the range 2% to 4% per year, but higher predictions can be found. If the decline is a steady 2% per year, then oil supply will halve every 35 years; if it is a steady 5% per year (at the higher end of the predictions), then oil supply will halve every 14 years.

The time frame for the Tasmanian Oil Price Vulnerability Study is 20 years, so even at the low end of the range of predicted declines, the availability of oil will decrease significantly over the period, as we appear to be already past the absolute peak of oil production. There is a further issue the Oil Price Vulnerability Study is ignoring: whether the oil that is available will be distributed around the world in proportion to how it is currently used. For example, oil exporting countries could decide that they want to slow down the rate at which they export oil to allow a larger buffer for their own use over the years.

What are the implications for oil supply?
Putting these factors together, the outlook for oil supply over the next 20 years is at best a gradual decline of around 2% per year; at worst a larger decline will underlay a tumultuous period which includes rapid changes in availability and conflict over access to oil.

What difference does including supply issues make?
All of us make decisions based on assumptions about the future. When we move house, change jobs, buy cars, we are assuming (perhaps unconsciously) what the future will be like, and often part of that assumption relates to future availability of petroleum fuels: petrol, diesel and jet fuel. A person knowing that price rises were inevitable might decide that given present and expected income and living expenses they could manage the price rises with a slightly smaller or more efficient car, or a bit less travel – life would go on much as at present. If however a person knows that fuel will be subject to occasional severe shortages and will consistently become less available, then they are more likely to decide that the future will be significantly different from the past, and change the decisions they would otherwise make.

Nick Towle et al’s table, below, summarises the differences that considering supply as well as price makes:

Posted in Discussion, Government (state), Responses / solutions | 2 Comments