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Oil and the future: a review of Peeking at Peak Oil

Olle_Qvennerstedt__Kjell_Aleklett__Michael_LardelliOlle_Qvennerstedt__Kjell_Aleklett__Michael_LardelliReview of the book “Peaking at Peak Oil”
Kjell Aleklett with Michael Lardelli
Illustrations: Olle Qvennerstedt
Published in English June 2012 by Springer
Will be released later this year in Swedish

Oil and the future in a thorough work

The oil production maximum, “Peak Oil”, is already here or within sight says Uppsala professor Kjell Aleklett in a new book. It is a fundamental and thorough illumination of our oil dependency, according to Kersti Kollberg.

Oil in the form of petroleum has existed in the Earth for millions of years. During the 19th and 20th centuries we became, for better or worse, dependent on oil. Many people have difficulty even imaging a world without oil and take access to oil for granted. However, this great dependency on oil and the burning of oil itself creates problems. Greenhouse gases have been rising with global warming as a consequence. But oil is a finite resource. When we drain oilfields of their contents in volumes counted in billions of barrels per year the fields are not filled at the same rate at which they are emptied. Oil will never disappear entirely but a day will come when it is no longer economically profitable to produce it. Already, the moment when oil production begins to decline, Peak Oil, has been reached or is within sight.

However, there are conflicting ideas about when Peak Oil will occur. Economists working in this area assert that oil will be available for the foreseeable future due to the operation of the market and price mechanisms. Meanwhile others, such as geologists and physicists, indicate that the situation is more complicated. Oil is still being discovered, but its accessibility is such that only a small proportion of it can be produced despite advanced technologies. This means that the world must prepare for a life after oil.

Kjell Aleklett, Professor of Physics at Uppsala University, is one of those who persistently and successfully has shown us that the curves describing oil production have reached their peak and are beginning to point downwards. Together with his research group, the Uppsala Global Energy Systems Group, UGESG, he has mapped out the world’s oil assets and the conditions required to produce them as well as assessing the world’s ability to meet demand. In the book, Peeking at Peak Oil, that is released today in Uppsala, Aleklett summarises very thoroughly his ten years of work studying and trying to view the entirety of our oil-supply situation. Among other things his research group has collected complicated data from the world’s oil producers – something that was previously impossible to do since oil companies kept their data on production capacity secret. However, since Aleklett works at an independent university it has become possible to assemble this data.

In the international research organisation ASPO, The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, work is ongoing with the task of showing the world that its oil supply will soon reach a critical point. What will happen when the world’s giant oilfields in, among other nations Saudi Arabia that account for a large fraction of the world’s oil resources decline? And what does China’s growing oil consumption mean for the rest of the world and especially the oil-thirsty USA? What international conflicts can we expect?

In the book’s rich collection of tables and figures Aleklett shows how companies, nations and even international energy organisations such as the OECD-based IEA have – intentionally or otherwise - made erroneous assessments. Alternative sources of oil such as Canada’s oil sands, oil shale and deep water production cover only a small proportion of our needs asserts Aleklett.

Peak oil is now an accepted reality at international levels and Aleklett and his researchers travel the world to show their results to corporations, governments and other organisations.

But scepticism also exists, not least in Sweden. Maybe the discussion around peak oil is similar to that regarding climate change. The unwillingness to take warnings about Peak Oil seriously is possibly due to the fact that acceptance of this idea would require decisive changes in political direction. To borrow an expression Aleklett commonly uses, “Business as usual” is a more comfortable path for our leadership.

Kersti Kollberg
kultur@unt.se

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