Transition Whatcom

Bellingham / Whatcom County Energy Task Force Report

I'm pleased to report that The Energy Resource Scarcity / Peak Oil Task Force appointed by Mayor Dan Pike and County Executive Pete Kremen has completed it's report, and will present to the Bellingham City Council on Monday evening December 7th, 2009. Your attendance and support would be greatly appreciated, but you can also watch it online or on Bellingham Cable channel 10.

The full report is attached below, and can also be downloaded from the City of Bellingham website:


In May 2008 both the Bellingham City Council and the Whatcom County Council passed separate resolutions establishing the Energy Resource Scarcity/Peak Oil (ERSPO) Task Force to study and provide recommendations regarding the local consequences of a decline in the supply of traditional energy resources. The ERSPO Task Force process included meetings as a whole, in subcommittees, and in consultation with members of a Portland, Oregon Peak Oil Task Force working group. The Portland group’s March 2007 report served as a model for much of the local ERSPO Task Force’s work, with several of the applicable Portland Peak Oil Task Force findings incorporated into this report.

This report summarizes research and information relevant to Bellingham and Whatcom County and recommends actions to allow the community to better adapt to declining oil and gas supplies. The measures suggest ways to begin acting now to prepare for a lower carbon energy future in a manner consistent with ongoing efforts to reduce global warming, but with urgency driven by the potential for sudden change.

Peak oil describes the point of maximum production after which the ability to produce oil will begin to decline. Peak oil production in the U.S. occurred in 1970 and this country now imports 60% of the oil we use. On a global scale peak oil timing is not definitive, but there is a growing body of opinion, including that of the International Energy Agency, that it may be sooner rather than later. Natural gas, coal and nuclear fuels are also expected to peak, but those peaks will occur later than peak oil.

As the ERSPO Task Force members considered energy status and potential impacts to our community from peak oil, discussions revolved around the intertwined, inseparable issues of impending energy scarcity and higher energy prices. As the supply of oil dwindles, market forces of supply and demand will determine oil’s price. Oil will become more expensive and over time less available at any price.

The progression of these impacts is difficult to predict, particularly in light of the 2009 economic recession and other global forces. High oil prices in 2008 gave us a glimpse of a world with higher energy prices. The subsequent steep drop in prices, the current worldwide economic downturn (with reduced oil demand), and a return of some excess capacity, have eased the public perception that there is an “oil crisis.” However, prices could increase rapidly when worldwide demand strengthens. Economic downturns reduce capital investment in new oil supplies, making the supply of oil for a recovering world economy even more challenging. The possibility of sudden supply disruption due to global political instability is another global force that adds to the urgency of preparing for declining oil supplies.

1.1 Sense of Urgency

Our current economic, social and political institutions expect that reliable, abundant energy supplies will be readily available to meet continued demand. Whatcom County residents and businesses depend on oil and natural gas for their economic welfare and their most critical activities, including transportation, food supply, water delivery, health care and electricity. It is too rarely acknowledged that global oil and natural gas reserves are finite and that sufficient substitutes are unlikely to be widely available in the near future.

Most reports and studies on peak oil and energy resource scarcity convey a strong sense of urgency in planning for a future with dramatically reduced petroleum supplies. The International Energy Agency (IEA) was founded during the oil crisis of the early 1970s and acts as energy policy advisor to the industrial world. The IEA has traditionally been very confident about world energy supply, but in the last few years has been expressing a growing concern regarding supply.

For the World Energy Outlook 2008 report , the IEA engaged for the first time in an extensive field-by-field analysis of the world’s largest oil fields. The Executive Summary of the report opened with a strongly worded admonition, “The world’s energy system is at a crossroads.” The report continues: “Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable — environmentally, economically, socially. But that can — and must — be altered; there’s still time to change the road we’re on. It is not an exaggeration to claim that the future of human prosperity depends on how successfully we tackle the two central energy challenges facing us today: securing the supply of reliable and affordable energy; and effecting a rapid transformation to a low-carbon, efficient and environmentally benign system of energy supply. What is needed is nothing short of an energy revolution.”

Thus the IEA concluded that even with timely investment, we appear headed for an oil supply crunch. The Executive Summary of the World Energy Outlook 2008 report ends with the following words: “It is within the power of all governments, of producing and consuming countries alike, acting alone or together, to steer the world towards a cleaner, cleverer and more competitive energy system. Time is running out and the time to act is now." The current recession is resulting in plummeting investment, not the surge in production that would be needed to keep up with rebounding, post-recession demand.

A 2008 report by a United Kingdom (UK) industry task force evaluated views on when peak oil may occur and then evaluated views on how the impacts might be addressed both from a demand perspective (i.e. How are we to get by with less oil?) and from a supply perspective (i.e. What are the options to replace oil?). The UK task force concluded that “Neither the government, nor the public, nor many companies, seem to be aware of the danger the UK economy faces from imminent peak oil.”

Similarly, some of the Portland Peak Oil Task Force members noted that during its 2006-2007 efforts, the Portland business community was less engaged in the peak oil question than other constituencies. Therefore, it is worth noting the UK industry approach and its “call to action” for the UK government.

1.2 Findings

The ERSPO Task Force is in alignment with the high level of urgency expressed in the various studies and reports we reviewed, including the Hirsch report , the Portland Peak Oil Task Force report , the Oil Independent Oakland Action Plan , the San Francisco Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force Report , the Spokane Sustainability Action Plan , and the UK Industry Task Force on Peak Oil and Energy Security . The era of relatively plentiful and inexpensive oil will soon be over, and the sooner the community acknowledges and addresses this reality, the more secure our future will be.

This report is organized around the six areas recognized by the City/County ERSPO resolutions : Energy & Water, Land Use & Transportation, Food & Agriculture, Public & Social Services, Economic Transition, Community Education & Preparation:

Energy & Water – Baseline data indicate county energy usage of about 50% electricity, 25% natural gas and 25% petroleum. Approximately 70% of Whatcom County’s electricity is generated by hydroelectric (renewable) resources, which is favorable in terms of cost, carbon emissions, and long-term conservation of non-renewable resources. Should energy supplies in general become constrained, hydropower available to Whatcom County may diminish.

Gasoline and petroleum-based diesel fuel are the most vulnerable to peak oil and also the most difficult to replace in the near term. The decline in oil availability will lead to increasing prices that will have a direct impact (see Land Use & Transportation).

Whatcom County’s major sources of water are the Nooksack River and Lake Whatcom. The principal peak oil consideration with water is with transport and treatment. In general, the ERSPO Task Force agrees with the Portland Peak Oil Task Force’s conclusion, “Water, sewer and solid waste services are not expected to be affected significantly.” However, provisions should be in place to ensure that the necessary fuel is supplied to water, sewer and waste treatment facilities in energy shortage situations.

Land Use & Transportation - Transportation fuels derived from petroleum power over 90% of road, air, rail and water transportation in the U.S. The decrease in oil availability will lead to increasing fuel prices directly impacting nearly all levels of most industries. A disruption or temporary shortage of fuel supplies may result in shortages at the retail level. No liquid fuel, non-hydrocarbon alternatives exist that can meet more than a fraction of our current demand for oil-based transportation fuel in the near term. A ten- to twenty-year lead time is required to transition away from energy dependence on petroleum.

As fuel prices rise at a local level, so will the transportation costs of daily life. Transportation is a component of most commerce activities, e.g. commuting, delivery of food and other goods, school buses, as well as many others. Land use and transportation planning must address a future with scarcer and more expensive transportation fuels.

Food & Agriculture – While Whatcom County holds a strong position in global trade and boasts a large number of small farm operations, energy price is a concern and is one of many factors leading to high production costs and the unacceptable trend in the loss of county farmland. Farmers need production and marketing strategies to increase resiliency, thereby reducing vulnerability to peak oil effects of high prices for fuel and agricultural chemicals and higher costs for transport of farm inputs and outputs.

Cost and quality of food are driving concerns for most consumers in Bellingham and Whatcom County. Studies show that as much as 3.5% of food costs may be attributable to energy expenses and 4% may be attributable to transportation costs. Demand for locally-grown food will increase due to a variety of factors. Thus, prime agricultural land needs to be protected for production on all scales.

Public & Social Services - Increasing energy and fuel prices will most seriously affect those living on the economic margin. People with a significant portion of their expenditures dedicated to energy will be hardest hit. Unemployment is likely to rise to the extent that higher energy costs affect employers. These combined factors will put greater pressure on public and social service agencies.

Economic Transition - While it is hard to predict detailed economic and social hardships associated with higher oil prices, it is certain that there will be changes in what products are shipped around the globe – with more attention given to finding efficiencies at all stages of production and delivery. Following the peak in world oil production we can expect the economy as a whole to experience significant disruption and volatility. Business owners must increasingly consider how more expensive and scarcer energy will affect their businesses, both from the upstream supply side and from the downstream consumer demand perspective.

Going beyond considering what percentage energy plays in their operating costs, we encourage businesses to consider the following questions:
1. How will peak oil affect production costs?
2. How will demand for the product or service be affected?
3. How will upstream suppliers of raw materials or semi-processed goods be affected?
4. What reasonable substitutes or alternatives are available to mitigate higher production costs, shifts in consumer demand, and raw material supply disruptions?
5. What opportunities might there be to develop “green” businesses locally?

Community Education & Preparation - The public is generally more aware of global warming/climate change than it is of the issues and impacts surrounding energy resource scarcity. Whatcom County is progressive compared to other parts of the country in addressing climate change. Actions to address climate change and to prepare for energy resource scarcity/peak oil can be complementary (although this is not always the case- for example, a response to oil depletion may be greater usage of coal or oil from tar sands, both poor options in terms of climate change). In general, the ERSPO Task Force’s findings and recommendations provide an opportunity to augment existing local efforts in climate change, sustainability and “greening” our city and county.

One approach used in other cities and towns to educate and develop ERSPO strategies is a “Transition Initiative.” It involves engaging the community in local/neighborhood planning for a future with scarcer and more expensive oil. Recently a local Transition Whatcom initiative was started, which could provide a starting point for broader community participation.

1.3 Climate Change

In 2007 both the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County developed Climate Action Plans. The Action Plans identified measures that are being taken now and are scheduled to be by government and by the wider community to reduce CO2 emissions. The majority of actions taken to reduce CO2 in response to changing climate conditions are also actions that will increase the community’s resilience to changes that will occur due to increased costs and decreased availability of petroleum and other carbon based energy. Wherever possible, the ERSPO Task Force recommends coordination and/or consolidation of government and community actions to address global warming, energy scarcity and peak oil.

1.4 Recommendations

The primary ERSPO Task Force recommendations are grouped into four categories, with additional recommendations listed in the six report sub-sections.

Understand the current energy use situation

 Utilize energy data collection systems used to measure fossil fuel emissions for climate response to validate current energy usage and measure future changes.

Plan for a future with less fuel and energy resources

 Assess and integrate emergency plans for sudden and severe shortages (fuels, energy, food, etc.) into Whatcom Unified Emergency Management planning.
 Begin including the impacts of more expensive and less available fossil fuels into all government and business planning processes.

Take actions to begin addressing a reduced energy future
 Foster land use patterns and transportation systems that will make it easier for people to shift trips from autos and trucks.
 Encourage community efficiency and conservation programs, and insure that efficiency gains are accompanied by actual reduced resource and energy use.
 Preserve farmland and expand local food production (including community gardens), processing and distribution.
 Seek partnerships with businesses, universities and other government agencies to evaluate and address the economic impacts of energy resource scarcity
 Redesign the community safety net and protect vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Get the community involved in the process

 Widely publicize the Energy Resource Scarcity/Peak Oil message throughout the community via meetings and through the City and County websites.
 Encourage and support “Transition Whatcom” as a community-based initiative to address a reduced energy future.

The majority of these recommendations support or complement activities already taking place as part of Bellingham’s or Whatcom County’s Climate Action Plans.

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Thank-you David and all the people who participated in making this report. As the partner of one of the primary crafters of the report (David MacLeod) I have seen the many many hours that have gone into it over the past 2 years. All done on personal time, unpaid. I've seen the patience and grace it takes to work with a diverse group of people with a range of perspectives, positions and styles, to produce this work for our community. I hope everyone takes the time to read and digest the findings of the report and to contact our elected civic leaders and ask them to also make use of the valuable information in the report. I am deeply grateful that our community has such dedicated caring citizens in our midst. If you also see the value of this contribution please express your appreciation to the authors.
Great report, David and other members of the task force! The first step seems to be the education component, such as getting the county counsel to read the report and begin asking questions. Likewise, getting the local media covering the report and getting the public-at-large to grapple with these issues. The five stages of response to the issue (denial, anger, etc.,) will need to be worked through for all of these groups. Of course, the biggest initial response will be denial as people fall behind the pseudo political science of climate change denial ("It was really cold this week, how could there be any change in the climate?"), and continue to accept the previous common wisdom position that there will be no oil shortage, therefore life can continue as we now know it.

Will the counsel embrace the report and begin planning a response to the issue or say "thank you" to the task force and then move on to other more immediate business? Will the collective public response be "huh?" and then hop in the car for a drive to the mall? A big part of the education aspect will be to keep the report in the public eye through the action of continued elaboration on the issues of how to implement responses for each of the key areas in the report.
Thank you David and other task force members! Regardless of the response, I believe the effort to mobilize the community to acknowledge the issue of peak oil and to formulate an intelligent response, is work that is worthy of great respect. I'm grateful that there are members of our community that are willing to step up and put the time and energy into this endeavor.
Thank you Angela and all for the support. I'd like to acknowledge all of the task force members.

Tom Anderson is a consulting engineer and former Public Utility District manager.

Gigi Berardi is a professor at Western Washington University, Huxley College of the Environment and works with Huxley’s Resilient Farm Project/The Resilience Institute.

Kate Clark has worked in the local economic development sector, including workorce development for the energy industry. While involved with the ERSPO Task Force, she and several other community members formed the Transition Whatcom Initiating Group.

Rick Dubrow is a general contractor and president of A-1 Builders, Inc. and Adaptations, the company's design division. He serves on teh Board of RE Sources and on the Initiating Group of Transition Whatcom. Additionally, Rick was a co-founder of Sustainable Connections and Futurewise Whatcom.

Brian Humphrey is a WorkSource Administrator for Skagit and Island counties.

David MacLeod has served on the Core Vision Team for Sustainable Bellingham and during the ERSPO Task Force process became an initiating member of Transition Whatcom. He is employed in Whatcom County’s manufacturing sector.

Jim McCabe is a retired oil and gas industry executive and a Guest Lecturer at Western Washington
University College of Business and Economics.

John Rawlins is a retired nuclear physicist and Whatcom Community College professor.

Evan Stark is an electrical engineer employed in private industry.
The Task Force presented it's report at the December 7, 2009 Bellingham City Council meeting. The Council showed interest and had a very positive response to the report and the effort that went into creating it. As Tom Anderson said, "There will need to be careful follow up. It has good potential for the future."

The Bellingham Herald covered the report here:
"BELLINGHAM - After a task force's 18 months of work and more than 100 meetings, City Council members heard how limited energy resources globally could have an impact locally.

Members of the Bellingham/Whatcom County Energy Resources Scarcity/Peak Oil Taskforce recommended tying their work to how the county manages emergencies, especially if there is a shortage of oil and other energy resources, as well as things that need fuel to get here, like food.

No recommendations were approved or adopted by the council Monday night, Dec. 7, after the presentation. Instead, Councilman Jack Weiss, who worked toward initiating the task force's assignment, will work with the group to bring a resolution back to the council for approval...."

Video of the Task Force presentation to City Council can be viewed online (fast forward to 112:55 for the ERSPO presentation).
Energy Task Force Web Page:

Download the Energy Task Force Final Report:
David and all, Thank you for all your work and thank you for providing information here on the Ning site. Has a presentation been scheduled for the County Council? Lest you might think no one is reading the report...I did. Resources you provide here are read by many even though they do not leave a trail.
Thank you Judith! The presentation to County Council is yet to be scheduled. We're waiting for the new Council to convene and then hope to schedule the presentation.

Tom Anderson, however, is currently starting to plan presentations about the report. He's hoping to do numerous presentations throughout the county.

Judith Culver said:
David and all, Thank you for all your work and thank you for providing information here on the Ning site. Has a presentation been scheduled for the County Council? Lest you might think no one is reading the report...I did. Resources you provide here are read by many even though they do not leave a trail.

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