(Photo: Andrew Hitchcock / Flickr)
Peak Oil occurred in 2006, the International Energy Agency indicates. Logically, that sentence should have made world press headlines; stock markets should have fallen; and we should have finally responded to the question: "Knowing that this system is completely bust, when are we going to change it?" with the answer: "Now!"
Let's summarize the facts. Peak Oil is the moment when oil production begins to decline. For the last fifteen years, a number of geologists have been warning of this critical moment's imminence : it means, in fact, that the global energy regime, based on black gold for close to a century, will have to change radically. We won't lack fuel from one day to the next, but we will have to reduce its consumption. Peak Oil theory became accepted and the question became: when will it happen?
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has just answered that question in its annual report entitled, "World Energy Outlook 2010," published in mid-November. This is how the agency states its projection(PDF page 6): "Crude oil production will more or less stabilize around 68-69 Mb/d (millions of barrels per day) towards 2020, but will never return to the record level of 70Mb/d it achieved in 2006." In other words, the peak was 2006.
And since 2006, in fact, there has been a significant rise in oil prices (partly speculative), then an economic crisis. This price increase has made development of "non-conventional" oils, such as tar sands, profitable, partially offsetting the decline in conventional oil production.
The IEA foresees a global increase in consumption between now and 2035. How will it be realized? By pumping Saudi Arabia's reserves harder and by developing tar sands, Arctic oil and very deep-sea oil. The problem is that these activities are even more polluting than classical oil production and there are reasons to wonder about Saudi Arabia's capacity. The mezza voce conclusion: the oil crisis is fast approaching.
How can it be escaped? The IEA's least bad scenario is called "450": we limit greenhouse gas emissions so as not to exceed 2°C of warming. It presupposes a rapid reduction in demand for oil: apart from the gain for the climate, that would allow us to avoid the pollution from unconventional oil sources and to reduce the investments necessary for their development - which is also good for the economy. But that would involve...changing policy...now.
See also: L’Europe doit se préparer au choc pétrolier ["Europe Must Prepare for the Oil Shock"]
This article was first published in Le Monde of November 24, 2010.