Monday, February 25, 2008

The State of Oil.

I noted a while ago that oil-giants such as ExxonMobil, Shell and B.P. are set to get 30 year contracts to exploit the Iraqi oil. There are nonetheless worries, within that nation, regarding multinationals exploiting its natural resources, and without much doubt, having oil will determine the relative economic and social prosperity of nations in the future, including Russia. Basra has been described as the economic "lung" of Iraq since it accounts for around 90% of government revenue and holds 70% of its proven oil resources. There are some 4,000 British soldiers based in Basra, and along with other actions in Afghanistan and Kosovo, would account for the fact that we have apparently run out of soldiers - I note a vigorous military recruitment campaign, currently.

Basra has its own access to the Gulf and could be one of the Middle East's most affluent regions, but it remains assaulted by rival militias which destabilises its infrastructure and the detailed planning of matters there. Nonetheless it is recommended to investors, and as Michael Waring, head of the Basra Development Commission, has noted "if you look at other economies in the world, particularly the oil-rich economies, many of these places are quite challenging countries in which to do business." I have no doubt of that, and the underpinning fact is the enormous value of oil, which has increased five times in the past five years. Since oil underpins the world, both as a fuel and as a chemical feedstock for industry, how much it costs affects everything, and we see the price of fuel, and indeed food, rise without pause. Yes, anywhere with oil will always prove a sound investment during the next few decades, and all efforts to grab it will be made. The Iraqi government has not, as yet, approved a "hydrocarbon law" in which it is established the terms and conditions as to how oil companies will practice and indeed how the overall revenue will be apportioned.

Meanwhile, BP (which used to refer to British Petroleum, but now subtends the phrase "Beyond Petroleum", or "Oil Dearth Era" as I envisage it to become) have been accused of dropping a pivotal stratum in Gordon Brown's policy of "beyond petroleum" per se, and to figure out what we will in reality do when petroleum is not "gone" but its supply is compromised and it costs probably twice or more its current price. What this is about is that BP is going to move into the tar-sands market through a deal with the butch sounding "Husky Energy", and it has almost inevitably been castigated by Greenpeace as a "climate crime". Well, yes, my understanding is that tar-sands is a pretty dirty business, and consumes huge amounts of water and natural gas, and is as popular with environmentalists as nuclear power.

I am trying to track-down some detailed figures, but I noticed a suggestion by Friends of the Earth that we can do without nuclear and produce 50% of our electricity from renewables. This was my position a couple of years ago, and I would like it to be true, but I have yet to be convinced that the engineering can be done in much short order, or if that energy balance works out without us using far less energy than we do now. In a comment from an article I wrote quite a while back, I have been taken to task for expressing that nuclear power can't provide for transportation - now please allow me to elaborate on this. Recently, I visited Prague, which along with many European cities, has a wonderful tram system, of course fuelled by electric power.

My main bugbear refers to transportation fuel, and while I would concede that all forms of electricity generation (coal, gas, nuclear, renewables) could supply localised transportation networks of this kind, it is the matter of longer distance transportation that is at issue. Yes, there are nuclear subs and the prospect of other nuclear vehicles scares me somewhat, especially planes; neither do I do think that the Hydrogen Economy is round the corner, if at all, and we need in any case to confront the "Oil Dearth Era", driven initially by huge hikes in the cost of fuel and all else, but this changes absolutely everything, in terms of how we live, and within 5 - 10 years.

If we can't move around easily then we will, effectively by default, return to a system of mostly localised economies, in smaller communities that demand far less in the way of transportation. Rather than hydrogen, my bet is on liquid fuel, and the best I have come across is diesel from algae, if that can be scaled-up to equal 30 billion barrels of oil a year, worldwide. I think that is a tall order, at least in the short term, again due to the necessary engineering involved, but it may prove our road to salvation.

Related Reading.
[1] "BP goes back to petroleum", By Terry Macalister:
[2] "Oil giants are poised to move into Basra", By David Smith:

No comments: