" />
Building a world of
resilient communities.

MAIN LIST

 

San Francisco peak oil task force report

In March 2009 the the San Francisco Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force published its report on the city's vulnerability to peak oil and gas. The report acknowledges the threat to San Francisco from peak oil and gas and includes a raft of recommendations. On 23 July the report is slated to be presented to the Board of Supervisors at the Government Audit Committee meeting.
Read the full report
For more background see the the sfenvironment.org website. - SO

Executive Summary

San Francisco was born at the beginning of the oil age, and the city has flourished during an era in which fossil fuels became the foundation of our economy and society. Petroleum and natural gas heat our homes and light our offices; they fuel the trucks that bring us our food and the cars and buses that move us around; they drive our industries and power the information technologies that marvel the world. Today, the City and its inhabitants are utterly reliant on fossil fuel energy: 84% of the energy consumed in San Francisco comes from oil and natural gas.

Because petroleum and natural gas are finite resources, this situation cannot last. If San Francisco is to thrive in the 21st century and remain a world-class city, it must begin planning today for how to maintain itself in a postfossil fuel age.

The rate at which the globe consumes oil is unsustainable. There is about as much petroleum in the ground as has been pumped out and used up to date - which means we are roughly at the halfway point, or the peak, of global supplies. Much of the remaining half is more difficult and expensive to extract than what has already been pumped. Except during the oil embargoes of the 1970s and their lingering effects, from the 1880s until 2005, enough oil was produced to keep the price of oil between $15 and $30 per barrel (adjusted for inflation, in 2007 dollars). Since 2005, however, worldwide oil production has been on a plateau, leading to a sudden sharp increase in the price of oil to record-high levels, dropping only because of (and contributing in no small part to) a contraction in the economy of the entire globe.

Eventually, this plateau will turn into an inexorable global decline in oil production. A number of major individual producers have already passed their production peak; the United States was once the largest oil producer in the world, but has seen falling domestic production since 1971 and now must import more than two thirds of its oil. Outside OPEC, oil production is falling about 3 percent a year. Eventually - regardless of how much effort is put into extracting the oil from their fields - OPEC too will be unable to resist a steady production decline. It is the prospect of this inexorable decline that is referred to as Peak Oil.

The world faces similar challenges with natural gas, which is also finite. The global peak of natural gas production is believed to be farther away than that of oil, but natural gas is difficult and increasingly expensive to extract and transport. To ship natural gas by tanker, it must be liquefied, a dangerous and costly process. For this reason, the proximity of the supply of the remaining natural gas is far more relevant than the distance to the supply of oil, which is routinely shipped from the other side of the world. In North America, natural gas production was in decline for several years, but rising prices combined with enhanced recovery techniques have led to a recent surge in production. It is unclear how long this surge will last, but one thing is clear: The new production methods, which release gas trapped in non-porous rock, are much more expensive than conventional well-drilling. In the long run, regardless of what techniques are employed, the supply of natural gas will also begin an unstoppable descent.

As production of oil and natural gas eventually begin to decline, San Francisco will face a painful adjustment - unless it prepares in advance. Experts are divided on exactly when the decline will begin, with some arguing that the peak of production may not occur until as late as the 2030s, and others positing that the peak has, in fact, already happened. Regardless of the exact date of the peak, what is clear is that the sooner the City of San Francisco addresses this looming threat and prepares for the difficult transition ahead, the better off the City and its residents will be.

It is the job of the Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force to assess the degree and nature of San Francisco’s vulnerability to an eventual, inexorable rise in fuel prices, and ultimately a scarcity in oil and natural gas.
Because this report addresses both fuels, it refers to the issue as Peak Oil & Gas.

Impacts

Petroleum and natural gas have become essential to existence as we know it; their scarcities threaten to severely disrupt our quality of life. The most important impacts of Peak Oil & Gas on San Francisco will be:

  • Violent fluctuations in energy prices.

  • Rising food prices; possible food shortages.
  • Damage to the overall national and local economy.
  • Spreading poverty, as the economy contracts.
  • Loss of confidence in the future.
  • Increasing cost of travel and freight, especially by air; declining air traffic.
  • Increasing pressure on public transit.
  • Exacerbation of other problems such as climate change and credit contractions.
  • Increasing gentrification as the affluent move to the City from the suburbs, displacing those who cannot afford to stay.
  • Declining city government revenue, due to
  • generally lower level of economic activity
  • fewer conventioneers and tourists
  • lower revenue-sharing from state and federal governments.

Strategies

Addressing these impacts will not be easy. The challenges of reducing our overall reliance on energy from fossil
fuels and finding new sources of energy are so enormous that they will require an array of adaptive strategies at
every level of government. The most important strategies for the City to pursue are:

Energy:

  • Instruct City agencies and departments that planning must include a scenario of energy decline.

  • Implement our city energy buying cooperative, Community Choice Aggregation, and move ahead with the planned efficiency programs and development of electricity based on renewables.
  • Encourage the installation of local, renewable, distributed electric generating facilities.
  • Pursue the conversion of the electric system to a smart grid.

Food:

  • Convert vacant and underutilized public and private properties to food gardens.

  • Vastly expand urban agriculture programs and services.

Transportation:

  • Expand passenger capacity of all mass transit.

  • Avoid infrastructure investments which are predicated on increased auto use.
  • Convert City equipment, buses, and trucks to 100% biodiesel from reclaimed lipids, as feasible.
  • Discourage private auto use by disincentivizing car travel and ensuring that alternatives (walking, bicycling, public transportation) are competitive with driving.
  • Expand the potential for rail and water transport, for both passengers and freight.

Recycling:

  • Encourage local manufacturing that utilizes recycled material as feedstock.

Buildings:

  • Retrofit the building stock for energy conservation, efficiency and on-site generation.

Societal Functioning:

  • Begin an education plan, to inform San Francisco residents about Peak Oil & Gas and its implications.

And most importantly, with all of these policies, start now. Conditions will be far better in the long run if the City begins addressing this unfolding challenge immediately. The transition cannot be done quickly; the City faces a limited window of opportunity to begin, after which adaptation will become enormously difficult, painful, and expensive. There is no time to lose.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
CHAPTER 2 INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER 3 ENERGY
CHAPTER 4 ECONOMY
CHAPTER 5 FOOD SECURITY
CHAPTER 6 TRANSPORTATION
CHAPTER 7 WATER SUPPLY
CHAPTER 8 WASTEWATER
CHAPTER 9 WASTE DISPOSAL AND RECYCLING
CHAPTER 10 EMERGENCY SERVICES
CHAPTER 11 BUILT ENVIRONMENT
CHAPTER 12 PROTECTING VULNERABLE POPULATIONS
CHAPTER 13 SOCIETAL FUNCTIONING: PUBLIC RESPONSES AND EDUCATION
CHAPTER 14 VISION OF LOW-CARBON SAN FRANCISCO: THE CITY IN 2050
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
ENDNOTES
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
APPENDIX I MEMBERS OF THE TASK FORCE
APPENDIX II DATES OF PEAK BY COUNTRY
APPENDIX III FURTHER RESOURCES

Editorial Notes: Thanks to EB contributer Paul Nellen for the update. For an excellent archive of peak oil reports see Post Carbon Cities.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Sign up for regular Resilience bulletins direct to your email.

Take action!  

Make connections via our GROUPS page.
Start your own projects. See our RESOURCES page.
Help build resilience. DONATE NOW.


Crops of the past and future

Developing perennial varieties of grains, legumes, and vegetables can help …

Top 10 books for summer

We’ve put together our list of top 10 new book releases, just in time …

Growing the Open Food Revolution

The open food movement has been developing at a pace in recent months …

"Pollinators of Native Plants" is a Great Resource for Creating Pollinator Habitat

A whole range of people will find Heather Holm's book useful, from …

Organic Food Is Healthier Confirms New Analysis

More nutritional antioxidants, far fewer toxic pesticides; those are the …

Tips and Insights from Miracle Farms   

Recently Michelle, Rowan, Naomi and I embarked on a cross-country train trip …

Focusing on Food Miles is a Mistake

While I'm all for reducing the energy demands associated with food …