Ashwin reviews the book 'Oil Crisis' by Colin J. Campbell. A previous post on Peak Oil is here.
Energy is the very basis of life on earth. Industrialization and modern lifestyles have been made possible only due of the vast increases in primary energy use of which Oil and Natural Gas combined presently contribute roughly 60% of world requirements.
High crude oil prices, the Iraq war, global warming, the growing energy needs of India and China and questions regarding sustainability have all contributed to getting Oil back in the headlines lately. While the majority of the experts agree that oil is finite in nature, there seems to be no agreement over the ultimate recoverable quantity. This has led to highly polarized views where in one side suggests that the oil crisis is already here while the other side suggests that we have enough time to make a shift to a renewable and sustainable energy future.
Hence the question, Is the world really running out of oil? The simple answer according to Dr. Colin Campbell, author of the new book 'Oil Crisis', is yes. There is only so much oil in the earth and we started running out of oil from the very day we pumped out the first barrel of oil. Dr Campbell is a former oil exploration geologist with nearly 40 years of oil industry experience behind him, so when he speaks people take notice. He is also the president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO). 'Oil Crisis' is the revised version of Campbell's earlier book, 'The Coming Oil Crisis' published in 1997. The two titles aptly catch the author's views. The world is facing an imminent OIL CRISIS and this time it is here to stay for good.
In his book he explains that the above question is the wrong way of looking at the problem itself. The more important question, according to him, is: When is world oil production going to peak? That is the point of maximum world oil production beyond which oil production goes into terminal decline and the gap between supply and demand becomes a runaway train. That event, rather the time when we use our last drop of oil should be of prime significance to society and energy policy planners.
His book delves deep into the question of peak oil and leaves no doubt in my mind that unless we de-addict ourselves of oil we are in for big trouble ahead. The central message of 'Oil Crisis' is that world oil production is soon set to peak (Due to its finite nature and the rate at which we have been extracting it and not due to conspiracies by Governments or oil companies) and that we are not going to run out of oil any time soon but the era of cheap oil is over.
The book starts like an autobiography with Campbell's sharing his own early experiences and then goes on to explain the science behind oil formation and the history of the oil industry. It details oil discovery and production with the help of many graphs and tables and the glossary of technical terms associated with oil reserves given in chapter 6 explains why there is no consensus over the world oil reserves.
According to the books data, Oil discovery peaked in 60's, while consumption exceeded discovery in 1981. Every year since then we have been using more oil than we are finding. But the fact that over 93% of the oil that will ever be found has already been found really sends home the message of 'Oil Crisis'. Due to its high energy density, ease of storage and pumping, oil is the world's choicest source of energy. According to Dr Campbell, oil will be practically impossible to replace on account of its above characteristics and secondly due to the scale of the problem. The world currently uses a massive 30 billion barrels of oil a year.
The interviews of various oil experts included in the book makes it a pleasure to read. In the final chapters Dr Campbell suggests an Oil depletion protocol which could help reduce world oil consumption in a planned manner. He also stresses the need to reduce energy use and switch over to renewables wherever possible.
The book's conclusions lead to some extremely serious implications for countries like India whose oil needs are growing at an unprecedented rate and energy policy planners would do the country a great service in heeding the advise of Dr Campbell. There is a lot to learn from the history of oil discovery and production, the most important lesson being that oil is a finite resource and the faster we wean ourselves off it the easier will it be for us to make the inevitable transition to sustainable lifestyles.