Lots of people I meet in the Transition Towns movement and elsewhere talk a lot about Peak Oil. The argument goes that as geological reserves become exhausted oil demand will exceed supply and prices will go up, causing economic chaos and even wars. There has been much speculation whether oil addiction was a determining cause of the American led invasion of Iraq.
To me climate change was always the main reason why we needed to quit fossil fuels. Proven reserves have long been known to be five times more than enough to cause climatic catastrophe. However the Peak Oil people would respond by saying that the easy to reach resource had been used up and the cost of newer sources would be very much higher. With oil rising to $146 per barrel back in the summer of 2008, and seeming to be on an upward trend, this looked like it might be the case. Today the oil price is at $42 per barrel, and talk is of it falling to below $40. Why has this happened?
There are many factors. Political factors like a downward bidding war amongst OPEC producers, and the imminent re-emergence of Iran as a major oil exporter as sanctions are lifted, are important. Technological factors are also playing a part. Fracking has, in the short term brought down the price of gas, and renewables are beginning to bring down the cost of electricity, and enhanced oil recovery is bringing down the price of oil.
Miraah, the world’s first large scale solar powered enhanced oil recovery project is just being built in the Amal oilfield in the deserts of Oman. Glasspoint, a Californian start-up has designed a super light weight aluminium parabolic trough system that operates within a protective greenhouse. It will supply solar generated steam to force oil out of the ground, effectively increasing the oilfields economically recoverable reserves.
Personally I’d like to see humanity quit fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We need to anyway, of course, due to climate change: so no need to worry about Peak Oil. Then we could use the Glasspoint technology to generate steam for more useful things, like generating electricity, desalinating seawater or directly driving industrial processes.
Good chart on oil price http://www.macrotrends.net/1369/crude-oil-price-history-chart