current affairs energy peak oil sustainability

The oil depletion dilemma

The International Energy Agency released their latest World Energy Outlook this week. It’s a crucial report, as these are the ones that the US and UK governments, among others, base their energy projections around. Bizarrely, the IEA are the most optimistic of all the energy agencies. While other experts warn and wring their hands over the state of oil reserves, the IEA confidently predicts that we can not only carry on as normal, but actually grown our oil production to 105 million barrels a day by 203o.

Forget peak oil prophets, even oil company CEOs are on record saying the industry will never increase production beyond 100 million barrels a day. Experts poring over the report since its release are baffled. “We find the production outlook made by the IEA to be problematic in the light of historical experience and production patterns” says one expert from the University of Liverpool. “The IEA is expecting the oil to be extracted at a pace never previously seen without any justification for this assumption.” The IEA’s figures seem to be from some fantasy land of infinite oil, which is music to the ears of the oil-addicted US and UK governments.

So do the governments choose to follow the IEA because they say the things we want to hear, or do they say the things we want to hear because they’re the ones the governments listen to? Hard to say, but either way, their reports are deeply compromised.

Earlier this week former IEA staff blew the whistle on the report, saying that the agency was under pressure from the Americans to ignore the issue of depletion. “Many inside the organisation believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90m to 95m barrels a day would be impossible but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further.”

In other words, the figures are massaged to keep the oil price down. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – the end of cheap oil will come the moment we recognise it. All it would take is Barack Obama or Gordon Brown to say that peak oil is real and is here, and the oil price goes through the roof within minutes. Since the economy is so linked to the oil price, that would prolong the recession or even send it in to full-blown depression. Do you see the problem here? Depressing isn’t it?

Like debt in the financial system, we’ve managed to create a system that can only run until it breaks. It cannot slow down. The government is unable to take it seriously. The only thing we can do to prepare for peak oil is to prepare ourselves for it as best we can, and our towns and communities.


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