Our entire society and prosperity hangs on a single thread that will one day be unable to support us any longer. Practically every aspect of society is dependent upon an unlimited supply of inexpensive energy and in this respect oil plays the key role.
Oil has special qualities, mainly that it is a liquid. This means that, even in the longer term, it makes it extremely difficult to replace oil with another form of energy that could be used, for example, for aviation, road transport, shipping, the petrochemical industry and so on.
The demand for crude oil increases by approximately 2 per cent each year and production/consumption is at present approximately 35,000 million barrels per year. When converted into a river of oil, this is almost 250 tonnes of oil per second, or one third of the largest Swedish river, the Göta Älv river, or an endless motorcade of some 20 tank lorries driving abreast at a speed of 40 kilometres per hour. This is an astronomical quantity, which also gives us a good inkling of the problems that will arise when this river starts to run dry.
It is simply a matter of time before there is a severe shortage of oil in the world. The reason for this is, first and foremost, that no new prolific oil finds are being made any longer. 90 percent of the oil that is being pumped up today comes from major oil fields that are at least 30 years old.
The discovery of new oil has declined dramatically in recent years.
We have now reached the peak of what our planet can offer. It is simply a matter of time before global extraction starts to decline. This critical point, at which the demand for oil continues to increase, perhaps even accelerates, whilst the supply of oil starts to decline.
We will soon be faced with a severe shortage of oil.
At current levels of oil consumption, the world will last no more than 50 years. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that it becomes more and more difficult to extract oil, since the remaining oil reserves are deep in the bowels of the Earth.
When will this serious oil crisis occur? It is already started.
We don’t even know how we will be able to replace oil It is not possible, neither in the short nor even in the mid-to-long term, to fill the widening gap between the demand and the production of oil with any other form of energy. Purely theoretically, it would be possible to expand nuclear power production or increase coal mining. However, aircraft cannot be fuelled with electricity or coal. The conversion of our industrial society from its use of petroleum to the use of hydrogen gas is a far distant prospect. The large-scale production and transport of hydrogen gas is problematic. An explosion on board a tanker carrying hydrogen gas has been compared to a small-size atomic bomb going off.
But hydrogen gas also has to be produced by means of energy-intensive water electrolysis. Today, and in all likelihood in the future too, there are no facilities for this production of alternative energy. We do not even know how we are to produce the enormous amount of energy that could replace the dwindling river of oil. We find ourselves in a grave situation, mainly because of the magnitude of our energy requirements, but also because of the necessity for a swift change-over to something that we haven’t even the faintest idea what it should be.
The great difficulty with alternative fuels is that they are illusory alternatives in a sense since, in most cases, their production is dependent on a substantial energy investment in the form of oil. Trucks and lorries, forest machinery, chain saws, tractors, combine harvesters, grain driers, manufacture of fertilizers and biocides, etc. all require oil these days. This energy investment could, in some cases, be so huge that the net gain would, according to some estimates, be close to zero – in other words, almost all the extracted energy would be used up in producing it. Rapeseed oil is apparently produced with a hopelessly low efficiency ratio.
The same applies to a long-term extraction of oil from the oil sands in Canada, a project that requires tremendous amounts of energy in the form of gas. In the same way, the total energy required to make a solar cell – including mining extraction and the final process of dealing with the waste – is said to be so great, that a considerable proportion of the cell’s useful period of life is spent producing equivalent amounts of energy. The most important thing we can do Young people today should have realistic expectations of what serious problems the future is offering in the light of these facts.
Do you recognize the problem? What do you think needs to be done already today to resolve the problem?