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ASPO 5. Richard Heinberg on the Oil Depletion Protocol

Richard Heinberg. “The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse”.

The Fifth International Conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO-5) July 18-19 2006 in San Rossore, Italy.

odpRichard spoke on the morning of the first day and gave a clear and passionate overview of the Oil Depletion Protocol. Here is an overview of what he said.

Without an Oil Depletion Protocol (ODP), what will happen? Extreme price volatility will make planning and investment difficult. There will be conflict over the remaining reserves which will hinder their development and make planning and investment difficult. Conflict over remaining reserves will hinder their development and divert resources from the required energy transition. Also, efforts to produce at maximum rates will damage reservoirs.

We need a cooperative agreement to gradually reduce oil consumption, to discourage competition, stabilise prices, protect the resource base and this agreement should be pegged to some kind of objective datum. The ODP began in 2002 when it was proposed by Colin Campbell, and was known initially as the Uppsala Protocol and then the Rimini Protocol, it was taken up and is now being driven forward, both by the forthcoming book of the same name and also by the Post Carbon Institute.

heinbergThe idea itself is very simple, and that is its great strength. The world and every nation therein should commit to reducing its oil consumption by at least the world depletion rate. No country shall produce oil at above its depletion rates, likewise, no country shall import oil above the depletion rate. The depletion rate is defined as annual production as a percentage of what is left (reserves plus yet-to-find).

The Protocol focuses on Regular Conventional Oil, and excludes heavy oil, deep water below 500m, tar sands, shale oils, oil from coal and many other unconventional oils. The depletion rate to begin with will be set at around 2.6%. So how might meeting the Protocol affect daily life? In terms of energy, we need to develop renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, biomass and so on.

Agriculture will become more labour intensive, and take a more localised, organic model, and will learn much from more ingenious approaches such as permaculture. We will need to involve a lot more people in food production, like the Victory Gardens of the last 2 World Wars. In terms of transport, rail and light rail will become the best long term options for the movement of people.

There are a number of short term strategies that can be adopted as well, such as community cars, car co-ops, ride share, carpooling, community supported hitchhiking. The domestic implementation of the ODP will require some kind of carbon rationing approach, such as Tradeable Energy Quotas. In World War 2 fuel was rationed, market mechanisms such as TEQs can help in the process of transition. Obviously the concept of the ODP raises a number of questions:

How do the challenges of peak oil and climate change differ?

They are both similar in that they deal with dependency on oil. The ODP Differs from Kyoto in some key ways.

What are the incentives to participate?

In the context of carbon reduction the idea is to compensate people not to develop carbon. The ODP argues that oil depletion is happening whether we want it to or no, nations that plan in advance for it will be in a stronger position than those that don’t.

Does the ODP eliminate the need for emissions-based agreements?

The temptation is to fill the gap with coal, which would be disastrous for the climate, so we need strong agreements.

How could cheating be prevented?

There will be the need for a Secretariat to monitor it.

How would we know the real data for each country?

To sign on a nation would ned to allow an independent assessment of its reserves.

What if the post peak depletion rate is steeper than 2.6%?

It is possible then to raise the depletion rate, if only some sign up to the Protocol they will be in a stronger position.

If peak is now, is it too late to enact the ODP?

It would actually be beneficial whatever stage it is implemented at.

Would it violate the rules of the World Trade Organisation?

No, the role of the WTO is only to adjudicate in disputes between nations.

Isn’t interfering with the market harmful to the process of energy adaptation?

Here we have to ask whether high oil prices actually help or hinder this kind of development. Only a stable economy can really facilitate this kind of transition.

How would signatory countries reduce their imports?

By the use of import quotas, which are a well established mechanism now.

If some nations use less oil, won’t others who are not signed up to the ODP simply use more oil?

This may happen initially, but those within the ODP will soon start to see the benefits.

Will it be unfair on less industrialised nations?

Not really, it is oil dependency that is the core of the problem.

How can it be adopted? Is it realistic?
Yes. Some nations are already de facto in compliance, fully or partially. Sweden. Iceland, Cuba, Kuwait (?), also the declining producer nations, such as Indonesia, many poor nations are already unable to afford oil at over $70 a barrel.

Municipal efforts – how can we start to implement the ODP at a local and regional level?

heinberg(…he puts up a list of towns in the US that are moving towards developing local powerdown solutions). San Fransisco has passed a peak oil resolution and has explicitly endorsed the ODP, and now plans to reduce its total consumption by 3% each year. What can we do as individuals? Eat locally, buy organic, garden, publicise our personal and group efforts.

You can find out more about the Protocol at www.oildepletionprotocol.org, and also in Richard’s forthcoming new book. The Post Carbon Institute will be producing a DVD and other promotional materials.

Thoughts and Reflections

Hearing Richard talk is always a pleasure. A gifted orator, I was looking forward to hearing him talk on the subject of the ODP, I wondered whether he would be able to deliver on what could potentially be a dry topic with his usual passionate style. As it turned out, he managed, and I loved the way he gradually brought it closer and closer to home.

The ODP can not only be adopted internationally, but can also be taken on locally, by businesses and by individuals. It is a very powerful tool with great possibilities, but in order to maximise its potential it needs to have significant international adaptation. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next couple of years, but if anyone has the passion and skills to drive this forward then Richard has. I was taken with the idea that our towns involved in the Energy Descent Planning process could become signatories to the Protocol.

Editorial Notes: The Fifth International Conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO-5) was held on July 18-18 2006 in San Rossore (near Pisa) in Italy. Over 250 people attended the 25 talks presented by international experts and discussed the numerous poster presentation. The conference was also attended by more than 30 media representatives from all over the world and by numerous media teams. The objective of the ASPO-5 conference was to raise the awareness of the impending peak of oil extraction and the general phenomenon of depletion of all mineral resources. The experts who convened at the conference gave a strong warning that the depletion of mineral resources, and of oil in particular, will have an important effect on the structure of society and on the economy. It is necessary to develop geological and economical models describing depletion and political action is needed in order to reduce the impact of depletion.

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