Last week I wrote here
about the Creation of a Local Peak Oil Task Force in Bellingham and Whatcom County.
Today I want to share the Briefing Paper that was prepared in advance of the task force. This paper was written to accompany and support the City and County Resolutions creating the task force in May of 2008. Some will want to read the 8 page paper as one document - please see the pdf attachment below this post. Others may not have time to sit down and read it all through right now, so I'm posting it in the Forum here in 3 installments. Part 1 below. I encourage you to follow up on at least some of the footnotes - lots of good info out there!
Local Solutions from a Peak Oil Task Force
Peak Oil – Introduction and Definition
“The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented.” (1)
So begins the Executive Summary of a 2005 risk management report commissioned by the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Recognizing that oil is a finite natural resource, subject to depletion, the term "Peak oil" refers to the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum production is reached, after which the rate of production enters its terminal decline. (2) Following a few years of flat production rates, decline in production rates will reach 3-5% per year (3) and the decline will continue indefinitely until virtually no oil will be available by 2100. This situation means that in the coming years, with unpredictable timing and severity, oil and related fuels will be more expensive and less readily accessible, resulting in dramatic impacts on what we consider normal daily activities.
The concept of Peak Oil dates to the 1950s when M. King Hubbert determined the approximate year when half of the world’s supply of oil would have been extracted. His predictive model gained credibility when he correctly estimated the peak of oil production in the U.S. to occur in 1970-71. (4) Although energy experts disagree on the exact year that global oil production will peak, many, including oil industry CEOs (5) , have declared publicly the peak will occur before 2020, and some believe we are at or near peak now. (6) Global production rates have been flat from 2005-present, and it appears increasingly likely that permanent decline could begin by 2010-2012. Energy experts also predict natural gas will peak sometime between 2018 and 2030.
A proactive approach to preparing for diminished energy supplies will position Whatcom County to better adjust to this inevitable situation with minimal disruption to our economy and social structure.
Our Local Problem and the Consequences (7)
Fifty years from now, the peak of global oil production will be a distant memory. Despite the apparent breadth of current projections, even the most optimistic forecasts offer little time to adapt given the very long lead times required to change such things as transportation and building infrastructure.
Of all the impacts from rising oil prices, the clearest are those on transportation
, which will experience profound pressure to shift toward more efficient modes of travel. For personal travel, this means transit, carpooling, walking, bicycling and highly efficient vehicles. Transportation of freight will become more costly and either decline or shift modes from air and truck to rail and boat. Population may shift to city centers, and density and mixed-use buildings will increase.
American food production and distribution
have become highly dependent on fossil fuels, accounting for 17 percent of U.S. energy consumption. Because of this, higher oil and natural gas prices are expected to lead to a decline in the amount and variety of food produced and available locally, even with Whatcom County’s supply of prime agricultural lands. Food prices will rise, further straining the ability of low-income households to put food on the table.
Like agriculture, the economy
as a whole is expected to experience significant disruption and volatility. Impacts will vary widely by industry and firm. Bellingham and Whatcom County are likely to see increased demand in the development of a clean energy sector. Nevertheless, many of Bellingham and Whatcom County’s industries are dependent on national and global markets, and business start-ups and failures are likely to increase.
Unemployment could increase. This is of particular concern, since social services
are already stretched to their limits. Vulnerable and marginalized populations are likely to grow and will be the first and hardest hit by rising oil prices. Increasing costs and decreasing incomes will reduce health coverage and further stress the health care system, which is already in crisis. Heating, maintenance, and monthly housing costs will consume a larger share of household budgets and push people toward lower-quality housing choices at the same time that auto transportation costs increase dramatically. First responders, especially police, are likely to be further taxed as social service agencies struggle to meet demand.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s risk management consultants stated in 2005 that, "The problems associated with world oil production peaking will not be temporary, and past 'energy crisis' experience will provide relatively little guidance. The challenge of oil peaking deserves immediate, serious attention, if risks are to be fully understood and mitigation begun on a timely basis" (8)
1. Robert L. Hirsch, R. Bezdek, R. Wendling, “Peaking of World Oil
Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management,” report prepared for and sponsored by U.S. Dept. of Energy, February 2005. http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/others/pdf/Oil_Peaking_NETL.pdf
3. Dick Cheney, speech at the London Institute of Petroleum, Autumn 1999.
; Maxwell, Charles T., “The Gathering Storm,” Barron’s, Nov. 14, 2004. http://www.energybulletin.net/3161.html
4. Brown, J.J. & Khebab, “M. King Hubbert’s Lower 48 Prediction Revisited,” March 6, 2006.
5. Van der Veer, J. (Shell CEO), “Two Energy Futures.”
; Thierry Desmarest (Total CEO), Le Monde, Oct. 31, 2006. http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2006/11/6/4357/22826
; Dr Jim Buckee (Talisman Energy CEO, retired), audio interview ABC Local Radio: “It is the underlying decline of the world's major fields that is the dominant driving factor here.” http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2008/s2149330.htm
6. Wikipedia, Timing of Peak Oil: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil#Timing_of_peak_oil
Simmons, M. “The Peaking Of Fossil Fuels And The Transformation Of The National Security Environment, Pentagon Briefing,“ Feb. 2008.
Energy Watch Group, “The Oil Supply Outlook,” October 2007.
7. “Descending the Oil Peak: Navigating the Transition from Oil and Natural Gas, the Portland Peak Oil Task Force Final Report,” March 7, 2007. http://www.portlandonline.com/osd/index.cfm?c=ecije
8. Hirsch, et al. http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/others/pdf/Oil_Peaking_NETL.pdf