Take Peak Oil seriously - it'll be here much sooner than you think
By Cathal Kelly
While panic is not the prescription, experts are warning that the time to begin taking Peak Oil seriously is past.
"It's not about believing. It's about facts," said Gord Miller, Ontario's environmental commissioner. Miller has been warning about Peak Oil for years. He thinks we hit peak around early 2007.
"If we're not there, we're awful close," said Dave Hughes, a geoscientist who once ran Canada's national coal inventory.
Peak Oil doesn't mean we have run out of the stuff. It means that we have crested the top of a bell curve of supply. Then it's a roller-coaster ride down. Depending on who you ask, that ride will either be slow and uncomfortable or teeth-rattling and destructive.
"Depletion is taking somewhere between 5 and 6 per cent of (existing) world oil production per year," said Hughes. "The reason that oil price is where it is today is that the economy has reduced demand."
No one has found a major new oil field since the 1960s. It's getting harder and more expensive to bring up the oil we know is there. All these signs point toward the peak.
What happens now?
The first stage is price volatility, a little like the $100-per-barrel drop we've seen in less than a year.
The current low price "will increase demand to a certain extent, which will then increase price," Hughes said. "There will be a few cycles of that. That is, until depletion kicks in for good."
Hughes guesses a barrel of oil could cost $200 (U.S.) within the next two to four years. It sits at $41 today. Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands, imagines it could go as high as $300 in that time.
"The second stage is supply shortages," Hughes said. "We could see a replay of the (oil crisis of the) early '70s."
Canada might initially be insulated from supply shocks, owing to our huge deposits in the Alberta oil sands. Of course, most of that oil is pumped into the U.S. Since Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes get most of their oil from overseas, we are vulnerable.
"It will be a slow deterioration in our quality of life, in the reliability of transportation, in the availability of certain foods as well as price spikes for food," Nikiforuk said.
"It will cause pandemonium in both the public and private spheres."
So what should we do?
"Save your capital. Reduce your consumption. A lot. Make yourself accessible to mass transit," Hughes said. "And forget about buying things at Wal-Mart that were shipped here from halfway around the world."
"You prepare by walking more, operating one vehicle. You prepare by buying more food locally and talking to your friends about getting engaged in the political process," said Nikiforuk. "Oil has made us fat and lazy. ... It was a 150-year addiction to an energy source we didn't appreciate or use particularly wisely. It distorted our economy. Now it's going. And we can't go back to business as usual."