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WSJ – The Next Crisis: Prepare for Peak Oil

Wall Street Journal
… Against the gloomy economic backdrop that Europe currently provides, siren voices shrieking that a potential energy crisis is imminent and could be worse than the credit crunch are liable to be dismissed as scaremongers. Since they are led by Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin group runs an energy-guzzling airline, and include Brian Souter, who runs Stagecoach, another energy-hungry transport business, they are also at risk of being seen as self-interested scaremongers.

But the work of the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security shouldn’t be disparagingly dismissed. Its arguments are well founded and lead it to the conclusion that, while the global downturn may have delayed it by a couple of years, peak oil—the point at which global production reaches its maximum—is no more than five years away. Governments and corporations need to use the intervening years to speed up the development of and move toward other energy sources and increased energy efficiency.

… Wind and sun and wave can all make their contributions, but nuclear is where the biggest strides can be made. The U.K. gave up an early lead in nuclear and only in 2008 gave the go-ahead for a new generation of reactors, though funding remains an issue. France is the most enthusiastic devotee of nuclear, with around 60 working reactors. Whatever progress can be made in turning crops into power, scale will make nuclear the fuel of the future. But governments need to wake up to the urgency with which it may be required.
(10 February 2010)
The WSJ is beginning to take peak oil seriously. I wonder who wrote the article? It doesn’t appear signed. Some of the WSJ journalists are very aware of peak oil, but as far as I know the ideas hadn’t made it onto the editorial pages. -BA

Peak oil warnings turn up in the strangest places

Kate Mackenzie, Financial Times
It’s always intriguing to see how companies come out on the big – and often controversial – questions of energy future.

The UK Peak Oil Task Force, which launched a new report today, has a small membership: two engineering firms, an energy company, a rail operator, and Solar Century, whose founder Jeremy Leggett contributed to our Copenhagen experts’ panel. Another member is Virgin, which is also a train operator in the UK. Richard Branson however is another kettle of fish – how do his oil crunch warnings square with his planned space travel venture?

It is interesting to see that NRMA Motoring & Services, one of Australia’s biggest motoring organisations, is calling for government support of alternative fuels. The organisation published an independent report it commissioned which warns of energy security problems and peak oil – and calls for more government investigation into stricter efficiency standards, biofuels, natural gas, and electric cars.

Imagine these points being made by the American Automobile Association, or the UK’s AA.

The report, by Jamison Group, called for:

  • Changes to behaviour that reduce fuel demand could make a significant contribution to national fuel needs;
  • Biofuels may also contribute to national fuel needs if accompanied by long-term comprehensive planning and incentives;
  • Natural gas could make an important transitional contribution, but massive infrastructure implications need to be recognised and dealt with, and competing demands for gas may limit its contribution; …

(10 February 2010)

Society ignores the oil crunch at its peril

Jeremy Leggett, Guardian
In the years approaching the credit crunch, whistleblowers were limited to a few insightful economists and financial journalists. Now whistles are blowing again about another grave threat to the global economy and the security of nations. They warn of an oil crunch: an unexpected crash in global production such that supply can no longer meet demand, even if China and India throttle back.

This time the warning is not limited to a prescient few individuals. Major British companies, led by Virgin, Scottish and Southern and Stagecoach, are flagging the danger, in today’s report from the UK industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security . So too are the CEOs of oil companies themselves, in the case of Total and Petrobras, and growing numbers of other senior oil industry figures, usually recently retired. Even the International Energy Agency is sounding the alert, in a coded sort of way.

With modern economies geared to their rivets on just-in-time supply of copious amounts of affordable oil, society surely ignores this risk issue at its massive peril.

… as with the climate crisis, there is a general desperation to believe the comforting narrative ahead of the uncomfortable one. This is why it is so important that companies who understand risk speak out, as the taskforce companies have. It is why governments – who must lead in matters of national security – should listen to the uncomfortable arguments and, given the stakes, buy insurance against them.

History is going to judge us all on how we manage the risk of premature peak oil. And soon.

Jeremy Leggettis the chairman of Solarcentury and SolarAid, and the convenor of the UK industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security
(10 February 2010)

Oil crunch ‘just five years away’

Shanaz Musafer, BBC
Business leaders, including Sir Richard Branson, have criticised ministers for not doing enough to avoid a potential oil crunch and are calling on the next government to take action.

“Governments need to urgently, urgently wake up,” insists Sir Richard in an interview with the BBC News website.

His Virgin Group is one of six companies that have formed a coalition called the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

The taskforce – made up of engineering group Arup, architects Foster and Partners, Scottish and Southern Energy, Solar Century and Stagecoach, as well as Virgin – has launched its second report looking at the oil crunch, just months before the next general election.

It warns that Britain is unprepared for the oil shortages and price volatility that it predicts will become a reality in the next five years.
(11 February 2010)

Peak Oil Solution: The Simmons Plan

Christopher Helman, Forbes
… get ready for the Simmons Plan. This iteration has been hatched by Houston investment banker and Peak Oil worrywort Matt Simmons. The gist: 1. build the world’s biggest windfarm off the windy coast of Maine. 2. Use the electricity generated to desalinate and de-ionize sea water. 3. Use that water, plus electricity and air, to manufacture ammonia. 4. Pipe the ammonia to shore and use it to power a new generation of cars.

The cost: $25 billion. “It sounds like a snake oil project, I know,” said Simmons at a reception in Houston Tuesday night. But he’s earnest. He truly believes that within a decade or so the world will face a crushing shortage of oil, sending the price of crude towards $500 a barrel and crippling the global economy.

What’s needed, immediately, he says, are alternatives to fossil fuels. In Maine, he’s established the Ocean Energy Institute, which quickly determined that the best way to harness energy from the oceans isn’t, as I would have expected, through some kind of tide-catching dynamo in the famous Bay of Fundy. Instead, he says, we’ll be better off catching the winds offshore.

… Simmons’ enthusiasm attracts serious engineers, like Edward Horton, the 79-year-old Houston structural engineer whose innovations paved the way for practically all the big oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Horton is considering new methods for building offshore platforms that will hold wind turbines. In time, says Simmons, he envisions turbines spinning on hundreds of those gulf platforms, which would be outfitted with gear to make ammonia at sea and send it to shore through pipelines now used for oil and gas.
(10 February 2010)