your brain Morris, take the train
Oils inexorable decline must drive Sydney public
MATT MUSHALIK and GAVIN GATENBY*
29 September 2005
Possum News Network
will record that the Carr Governments greatest failure was that
it squandered the opportunity to make timely preparations for peak
oil. Few Australians are familiar with this phenomena, but its
ramifications will seep into every aspect of political and social life
in the coming years.
whole decade state cabinet ignored a sincere and increasingly strident
warning from oil industry experts: the maximum possible level of world
oil production was imminent and would be followed by inexorable decline.
It remains to be seen whether the Iemma cabinet will face the issue
squarely or remain in denial.
this year, under relentless pressure to fix Sydneys transport
chaos, Carr announced a belated and minimalist plan for future public
transport. At the time, world oil prices had just passed $US53 a barrel
and industry sources were warning of $US60 a barrel in the coming northern
winter, the traditional demand peak. Ominously, this threshold was passed
in June during the northern summer and the price now hovers
between $64 and $70.
the future availability of the oil and LPG that power most of our transport
barely figures in the Australian infrastructure debate. If the issue
is discussed at all, the impression is given that were dealing
with a temporary coincidence of unrelated events and that prices will
soon go back to normal. Oil company bashing and populist
solutions abound, but very few commentators will commit
themselves on the root cause the successive and continuous peaking
of production in many oil-producing countries.
from any given oilfield always follows the same life cycle: it first
increases, then reaches a peak or plateau and then declines. Peak oil
is a geological characteristic of oil production, reflecting the laws
of fluid mechanics controlling the flow of oil through the pores and
fissures of oil-bearing rock to the wells. Peak oil is also driven by
the economics of exploration and production, which seek fast returns
for investment and forces companies into ever growing production until
production peaks. Usually the peak happens when 50 per cent of the fields
oil is produced (Hubberts Peak). Advanced technology
can push the peak up to 60 per cent but the decline is then steeper.
Peak oil happens in every oil field, in every oil province, in every
country and, in aggregate, in the whole world.
last year, 18 major oil producing countries were in decline, at 1.1
million barrels a day per year. By 2009 this group of countries will
be joined by six more accelerating the rate of global decline
to 1.6 million barrels per day, per year.
now in dispute is the year in which world production will peak before
going into permanent decline. This will happen when production volumes
from growing and declining countries balance each other, something that
can, in advance, only be estimated, and known with certainty only in
already in the first phase of this crisis. The most detailed and methodologically
reliable analysis for the approaching years comes from Chris Skrebowski,
member of the London based Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC) and
editor of the professional oil and gas journal Petroleum Review.
Skrebowski considers 2004, with a daily production of 82.4 million barrels,
as the first year in which there was virtually no spare capacity. From
now on, he calculates, every oilfield project coming on-stream must
both offset accelerating decline in existing fields and provide for
growth in demand. And demand is rising inexorably.
research shows that supplies could be extremely tight in the fourth
quarter of this year depending on when a new pipeline from Baku to southern
Turkey comes into operation. More oil fields are scheduled to come on-stream
in 2006, slightly improving the outlook, But Hurricanes Katrina and
Rita have temporarily reduced Gulf of Mexico (GOM) output by almost
1 million barrels a day. Future new GOM projects totaling 800 Kb/day
might also be delayed. Even if repairs can be affected quickly, the
worlds fields will still struggle to provide 2 per cent growth
over the next 3 years.
2008, the world will have to adapt to lower growth rates. In this phase,
high oil prices will trigger demand destruction. If all
oilfield projects come on-stream in time, the peak of production can
be expected around 2010, otherwise earlier. Even if a new, giant, field
were discovered today, it would most likely be offshore and development
would take at least five or more years. In other words, for the next
five years, oil production is almost pre-programmed.
period after 2010 and into 2012, uncertainty grows, but if current trends
continue, in 2015, production will be back to 2004 levels.
is in stark contrast to the complacent outlook of politicians and the
public who, upon being told that oil will last for 40 years
imagine the situation is analogous to a cars petrol tank
well keep driving for four decades and then itll suddenly
run out. Actually, it will be as though the supply of petrol to your
cars engine was slowly strangled. In 40 years time, petroleum
will be a rare and precious commodity, carefully husbanded for applications
for which it is irreplaceable.
smoothly-functioning theoretical market beloved of economists this decline
would act as if it were new demand, sending prices steadily upwards,
but real life will surely be messier. As consciousness of peak oil sinks
in, turmoil in the Middle East may limit supplies and international
competition and market panic will inevitably boost prices further.
about this: Skrebowskis year of demand destruction,
2008, is just three years away, and four years before the projected
completion of stage one of the state governments very modest rail
car fleet is not remotely prepared to cope with stagnant, let alone
decreasing, oil production. Even if half of all new cars were hybrids,
we would achieve only a 2 per cent annual reduction in fuel consumption
very close to the initial decline rate we can expect after peak
oil. And such a transition would take 25 years assuming 8 per cent new
car sales every year and a booming economy.
that the growing road traffic now cited to justify investment in new
tollways and road tunnels cannot be sustained in the future, irrespective
of population growth.
to replace oil-dependent transport. The only proven and readily available
alternative mass-transit technology is electric trains and trams with
power from coal or gas-fired power stations or renewable sources,
when these come on-stream.
areas, the quickest and most economic way to implement this would be
light rail along all major roads and tollways. This is commercially
risk-free because thats where the traffic is. Low density suburbs
would need feeder bus services, and cycle-tracks, to connect to train
and tram stations. Sydney should urgently follow the example of Perth,
which has already put such a system in place (using its narrow-gauge
rail system) along the Mitchell freeway. A second project is under way
along the Kwinana freeway.
Morris Iemma should seize the opportunity to change planning priorities
in favour of public transport. In the face of peak oil, Sydney cant
afford more months of denial and muddling through.
Matt Mushalik and Gavin Gatenby are members of public transport advocacy
group EcoTransit Sydney. Matt Mushalik is a civil engineer.
newspaper of record in denial
and I originally wrote this piece for the Sydney Morning Herald
way back before Bob Carrs resignation in response
to the Heralds call for the public to get behind its Campaign
Whitehead resigned as editor and the campaign died in the arse, but
we persisted regularly re-writing the piece to reflect recent
developments and resubmitting because we felt that the future
of the fuel that powers our society was of more than ordinary public
the beginning of this year the Herald has published but a single
article on peak oil (2 April) and it was misleadingly headlined
Running on empty. Actually, of course, were running
on half full. The Financial Review has done better with three
stories in the same period.
to me by two successive opinion page editors reflect the general atmosphere
of denial in the mainstream media:
Thanks for this piece it is very interesting and strong
but I am afraid I will not have any room for it, I am juggling
too many other pieces right now.
Quite apart from its length, debating the issue of 'peak oil'
is not where we should be focusing our efforts.
should we be focusing our efforts
? I responded, amazed.
us something we don't already know.
like to try and advance the debate in some way ...
hard to respond to something like that, but I tried: Alas
95 per cent of the public haven't a clue about the peak oil concept.
First, they have to grasp that there's a fundamental problem. To have
a debate, the punters need to see the facts and theories on the table.
And I never
heard from him again.
SEE ALSO >>>
not running out of oil
(but were running out of
time to prepare for Peak Oil)
10 May 2005
Sydney civil engineer MATT MUSHALIK takes a cool, rational, look
at the worlds rapidly-approaching energy crisis.
a week passes without media reports on rising petrol prices and
tight oil supplies. Often the impression is given that were
dealing with a temporary coincidence of unrelated events and that
oil prices will go back to normal. Few of these articles
analyse the situation in enough detail to explain the root cause
the successive and continuous peaking of oil production
in many oil producing countries.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE >>>
the Sydney Morning Herald tell the truth about oil?
2 June 2005
week, Robert Whitehead, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald,
went on a crusade. The paper presented us with a Sydney-in-crisis
that we experience every day: water restrictions, high cost of land
and homes, pollution, public transport in disarray, clogged roads,
increasing energy consumption, you name it.
But growth must go on, it seems.
It will therefore be interesting to watch whether the SMH will manage
to confront us with what is along with the water resource
problem our most serious limiting factor: declining Australian
oil production and the global oil peak.
THE FULL ARTICLE >>>
Did we get Peak Oil right, or what?
our record to the mainstream media ...
evil empire of oil addicts
Old Possum, stirred from his usual position at the end at the bar. Forget
September 11 and the fear of terrorism, theyre just excuses for
war and conquest. You can sum it all up with one word oil,
he remarked. Whats really behind this is that the American
elites know the end of the age of oil is at hand, and theyre desperate.
THE FULL ARTICLE >>>
oil, wasting time
it's back to the future, now", Old Possum remarked, waving his
walking stick at a tram full of Olympic visitors as it rolled passed
us on its way towards Darling Harbour. "I nearly cried when they
started pulling the trams out in the late '50s. Such a wonderful tramway
system we had then. With this world oil shortage we're going to have
to rebuild it, otherwise oil dependence is going to cripple us all."
READ THE FULL ARTICLE >>>
an oil barrel
"So the price could stay up for some time?" I asked.
"Well, it'll go up and it'll go down down, but the trend will
be pretty relentlessly up. You've got to remember that none of these
manoeuvrings with supply would work for the oil producing countries
if it wasn't for the underlying geological reality we've used
about half of the stuff and it's getting harder and harder to find
and more and more expensive to extract. At the moment we're discovering
6 billion barrels annually but we're using 23 billion and if
South East Asia booms again it'll jump pretty quickly to 26 billion."
THE FULL ARTICLE >>>