The slippery slope of global oil supplies

Imagine one day you woke up and suddenly aeroplanes were grounded, cars were stalled and plastic no longer existed. How would the world continue to function without these crucial inventions?

Didn't get LOST

Could this be the future of air travel without oil?
image courtesy of Timo @ Flickr

Well, this is the future facing us if we run out of oil supplies and don’t adopt a sustainable replacement.

 

Where does oil come from?

At the moment, crude oil (our source of unrefined petroleum) is sourced from both conventional land and offshore sources as well as unconventional tight oil sources including shale using a controversial process called fracking (fracturing rock with pressurised liquid) as well as coal liquefaction.

 

As crude oil supplies are not renewable we are naturally working with limited stocks and the point at which supplies begin to dwindle has long been anticipated and termed ‘peak oil’.

 

Over at least the last five years, global oil production has reached over 80M (yes that’s M for Million) barrels PER DAY.

 

It’s not yet clear if we have reached peak oil as global demand continues to grow however just 3 months ago, large oil company Saudi Aramco’s chief executive Amin Nasser was quoted as saying “If we look at the long-term situation of oil supplies the picture is becoming increasingly worrying” and suggested that the world may indeed be facing an oil supply shortage.

 

This shortage is also a result of lack of investment and fresh discoveries because financial investors are focusing elsewhere on more sustainable alternatives.

Remaining

An offshore oil refinery

Image courtsey of Thomas Hawk via Flickr

 

So what happens when oil runs out, or becomes too expensive?

 

Commuting without the use of petroleum is possible thanks to electricity and steam power however petrol based vehicles are still the majority and the norm for transport and freight around the world.

Additionally the use of plastic in packaging and preserving food as well as in medical equipment and research around the world means oil supply is a relevant and pressing issue for people and governments across the world.

 

The International Energy Agency suggest this oil shortage is a huge problem for the worlds economy as large shifts in demand and supply create economic instability however BP claim that technological advances mean the world has energy resources to supply us for decades to come and we need not be concerned about the shortage of oil.

From an environmental perspective, this enforced shift to alternative / renewable resources to replace fossil fuels is a rather promising outcome.

 

Where is new technology at right now?

At this stage, many alternative fuels such as biodiesel and bio-alcohol have been developed. Battery, solar and wind power technology are also rapidly improving in their cost and capacity and many would argue a combination of these technologies would easily provide the energy demands of the current global population.

The major hurdle to making this switch away from oil reliance appears to be belief and commitment to policy change by governments and influential companies.

Sunset on the wind farm

A windfarm – one alternative source of energy

Image courtesy of brian.abeling via flickr

 

So what does the future look like?

 It appears that crude oil will last the world another decade or two and in the meantime, with development of alternative technologies full-steam ahead (pun absolutely intended) hopefully the transition to more sustainable energy supplies will be the easiest and most logical option for governments and large companies to choose in the future.


One Response to “The slippery slope of global oil supplies”

  1. Rob Dabal says:

    Thanks for an informative piece Jesseka. You mentioned the use of plastics for medical purposes and research, are these products ever derived from recycled material?

    Id expect that as petrochemicals become scarcer there would be a need to prioritise what the raw material is turned into. Perhaps the use of some petrochemicals for medical purposes would be a better use than burning it.

    Or are there alternative renewable raw materials for medical products?