Peak Oil and the Looming Energy Crisis

The world is rapidly approaching and may even have passed peak oil production. Given the lack of serious alternative energy production facilities in place, our reliance on coal and oil may well have very immediate and significant political, social and economic consequences.

What is Peak Oil Production? This refers to the point where production of oil cannot meet demand, thereby causing a shortfall. This does not necessarily relate to the actual quantity of oil in the oil fields, but rather the rate at which it can be extracted and refined. The reality of Peak Oil is also unrelated to the origin of oil. There has been a debate running for some time as to the origin of oil. Some deposits suggest a fossil source, whereas others suggest that the oil is generated deep within the earth between the magma and the crust. This is known as the abiotic oil theory.

Global use of energy is rising exponentially with every year seeing an increasing amount of oil being consumed. The rate at which it is rising varies between countries, but developed nations have an average of about 4% increase annually. China is currently consuming far more than this and is now one of the largest oil consumer nations. This continual rise has put pressure on oil production and reserves so that there is little if any capacity for accommodating fluctuations in demand or supply. This has meant higher prices at the pump not just for motorists but for all fuels which has affected everything from food prices to the cost of air travel.

Virtually everything we consume is at least in part dependent on oil. Plastic products are the obvious example and we are now completely reliant on them. They not only form the basis of most household items like televisions, kettles, sandwich wraps and so on but are also important as insulators in electrical circuits. Even the wheelie bins we use to dispose of our waste are now made from plastic. Without oil these plastics cannot be produced as the basic unit of plastic production, called ethene, is made primarily from steam cracking of refined oil.

It is an unavoidable fact that if we continue using more and more energy we will reach a point where not only prices for fuel, food and commodities will skyrocket, but we will then be unable to meet these needs on a global scale.

In order to avoid this situation immediate action is required. We need to wean ourselves off oil. While this will no doubt require Herculean effort we cannot afford to shy away from this task. Governments and industries need to make this their top priority by becoming more energy efficient and also be investing heavily in proven renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Individuals also need to be involved in reducing energy consumption and adding pressure to Governments to hasten the change from oil to a cleaner and sustainable energy supply.

Roger Vanderlely

Find out more about peak oil and Fossil Fuel Production and Use at Learn about oil and coal formation, the chemical reactions involved in burning fuel, cleaner alternatives and more.

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