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What is Canada doing about peak oil?

Dear Mr. Lunn

I have been researching the topic of energy security/peak oil for the National Farmers Union for almost two years (although my interest in the oil depletion issue goes back to 1972).

The results of this research are increasingly worrisome for many reasons, but one of our greatest concerns is the position of Natural Resources Canada's Oil Division with respect to peak oil.

As an interesting exercise, you might take two minutes on the Internet and note the following difference:

If you go to the US Dept. of Energy website and do a search on peak oil, you will get over 8000 leads, many of which indicate that peak oil is a very serious concern.

If you go to NRCan's website and do a search, you will get 10, none of which have anything to do with peak oil. 

Quite apart from failing to serve citizens who might want information on peak oil, the appearance (unwarranted, I realize) is that NRCan is not even aware of peak oil and has nothing to contribute on this topic.

In 2004 the US DoE commissioned a prominent and objective scientist, Dr. Robert Hirsch, to lead an investigation into the "Peak Oil Theory." The Hirsch Report was issued almost three years ago and concluded (to everyone's surprise, I'm sure) that peak oil was not some groundless theory, but that it is "an unprecedented risk management problem." Even more striking is that subsequently two of the three previously neutral co-authors (Hirsch and Roger Bezdek) have become increasingly active within the ASPO "peak oil camp", so to speak.

Many jurisdictions are taking the warnings of Hirsch and the other peak oil analysts seriously and have begun to take action.

It took me several months of dealing with a number of people within your Ministry to discover that NRCan has undertaken no formal study or position paper on peak oil, which I find stunning. The Hirsch Report is 91 pages long, balanced in its presentation, carefully worded and thoroughly footnoted. I would have expected nothing less from NRCan.

Meanwhile, the Hirsch Report was based on data from 03 and 04 and much has changed in five years. Also, the Canadian situation is different (we have the tar sands, but we also have NAFTA obligations and the eastern region is 90% dependent on imported oil). 

We need our own assessment not only of the current data and latest peak oil thinking, but of the larger energy security issues as well, which would hopefully lead to a National Energy Plan (with sustainable energy security for Canadians as its top priority).

Furthermore, I have been informed that not only does NRCan not have a position paper (or any other formal assessment) on peak oil, it has no intention of doing one.

What we now have is the remarkable situation where the lead agency in the US undertakes a 91-page study, thoroughly documented and sourced, and concludes that we have an international problem of the greatest magnitude, with two of its three researchers going on to becoming increasingly involved with ASPO. 

In Canada, the lead agency has not undertaken a formal analysis, has no intention of doing so, but assures the public that peak oil is a less-than-credible theory and that Canada's oil supply is secure for several centuries (despite the fact that eastern Canada is not served by the tar sands, which have their own water, natural gas and pollution issues).

Given that many analysts predict that public concern over peak oil/end of cheap oil will soon match concerns about climate change, I cannot understand why NRCan (whose mandate it is to ensure the long-term energy security of Canadians) would not view this issue as worthy of urgent and intensive research.

But the responses that I have received from NRCan have been most puzzling. As an example, I would like to offer you an excerpt from a letter I sent to NRCan on Nov. 15, 2007:

I received a response from an anonymous person at NRCan on Oct. 2 which said that "the department has no views on this issue."

I received another anonymous response from Questions@NRCan on Oct. 12. This letter indicated a shift from NRCan having "no views" to a view which clearly dismisses peak oil concerns and instead indicates that NRCan views global oil production as something which "may experience a decline... at some point in time" (ie. as a distant possibility, rather than a probable and imminent risk-management problem).

I do not accept this position, but I certainly appreciate NRCan's willingness to declare it in the face of so much contradictory information.

What I continue to ask for is the evidence on which your Ministry bases its position.

The current position of the peak oil analysts is that the world does indeed have a very grave situation which needs to be addressed, not denied. The concerns of these analysts are completely at odds with NRCan's stated position that "There is no imminent peak oil challenge" (Oct. 2/07).

I cannot imagine how both sides can be correct, and the expertise of your staff notwithstanding, I am afraid that I find the analysis of the main peak oil analysts to be entirely credible. At the very least, such serious energy security concerns surely warrant a formal and thorough investigation.

I have a great deal of information in well-organized binders as well as a Powerpoint presentation which I have used in presentations to teachers, farmers, Queen's University, to senior researchers at Agriculture Canada and twice to the Department of National Defence’s Directorate of Fuels & Lubricants (F&L) which is mandated to be the focal point within DND on strategic F&L matters.

Not once has anyone pointed out something which they did not find believable.

I have asked to meet with someone at Oil Division and have invited them to view this same information and point out errors. I certainly do not wish to be passing out false information to anyone, and I am slated to do presentations at Queen's University on Jan. 13, Feb. 10 and March 12. 

I am a teacher as well as a farmer, but if you or your staff would grant me a bit of time then I am willing to lose a day's work and drive to Ottawa to meet. Everyone who has viewed this information has found it credible, and I have every confidence that you and your staff will as well.

Thank you for considering all this, Mr. Lunn, and I will await your reply.

Sincerely

Rick Munroe, Howe Island ON
National Farmers Union

Editorial Notes: A copy of a letter sent to the Hon. Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources on January 7, 2008. Since no response from Minister Lunn has been received, Rick Munroe decided to make the letter public. The lack of awareness on the part of the Canadian government is surprising. In addition to the Hirsch Report mentioned by Rick, there have also been reports by the National Petroleum Council (NPC) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for the United States. We have published reports of progress in Australia and Great Britain. Even executives from the oil companies have gone public about peak oil, expressing varying degrees of concern. Just recently, Brunei's Minister of Energy delivered a prescient speech on Days Of Cheap And Easy Oil Are Over . All the more puzzling why Canada, extremely dependent on fossil fuels, does not appear rigorous in planning for oil depletion. -BA

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