Monday, January 23, 2006

real oil crisis

Catalyst, the Australian weekly news program that covers science-related stories, has produced a 13 miunte video that introduces and explains Peak Oil in an informative and thoughtful way. It is well worth your time. The best aspect of the video is that it thoroughly explains the most confusing statement usually associated with Peak Oil.

This short documentary says, "So if we’ve found nearly all the world’s oil, how long before it runs out? Surprisingly, that’s not so important. The real question is when will we reach half way – it’s known as 'peak oil'."

Peak Oil does not mean we're running out of oil. It means we are reaching the halfway point of oil production. It means we have used half of the oil available in existence on this planet. When the average citizen hears about Peak Oil for the first time he or she usually comments, "We're not running out of oil", and they're right in a sense. There is a great deal of oil still left in the ground.

Another way of thinking about it though is that we've been running out of oil since the day we fist began pumping it. There is a limited amount of oil under the surface of our planet. Imagine for a second that you pour yourself a glass of water. As soon as you begin to drink you are using up your limited amount of water. If you drink very slowly your glass of water might last a long time but eventually, unless you stop drinking, you will use up all your water. Oil, like the water in your glass, is a finite resource. If we continue to use it we will one day run out.

But Peak Oil is not about the day we run out of oil. Peak Oil defines the point at which we have removed half of the oil available to us. From that point on the amount of oil we produce globally each year will decline. We will have pumped all of the easy to access oil from the Earth and it will take increasing amounts of time and energy to pump out the rest.

Catalyst reporter Jonica Newby says "When oil is first pumped, it’s under pressure and comes out easily – production rises. But over time, oil pressure drops. Water is pumped in to maintain pressure. At the half way point, it reaches peak oil, and then-"

So what's the big deal you say? If we've used only half of what's available then there is still plenty left, and that statement is correct. The problem is that consumption of oil increases every year as our economies and populations grow in size. As soon as less oil is available each year this growth will slow and then stop and reverse course. Less oil means less energy and less energy means less of lots of the things we here in America and in many other parts of the world have become accustom to.

Near the end of the video the reporter interviews Eric Streitberg, Managing Director of ARC Energy. "Earlier this year, Eric asked an extraordinary question at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference. Eric asked them to put up their hands if they thought that we had reached peak oil. Fifty percent of the people in the audience put up their hand saying that they believe we’re at peak oil and these are practicing petroleum industry professionals. So what if they’re right?"

How would you like to be the one to tell the next generation of the citizens of this planet that they will have to make do with less? This video might be a good way to start.

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