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Major New Peak Oil Study

Peak Oil Report for Bristol

The Bristol Partnership and Bristol City Council have welcomed the report of the Peak Oil Study, presented at the Partnership board meeting on Thursday 15th October. The study was commissioned by the Bristol Partnership and the city council to consider the implications for Bristol once global oil production has peaked and production is in decline. The comprehensive 108 page report spells out the potential impact of ‘peak oil’ on every aspect of Bristol life - transport, food, healthcare, public services, the economy, power and utilities.

Bristol is the first city in the country to take action in this way by commissioning the study, which is intended to be a starting point to help the city to prepare for the future oil crunch and the impact it could have. The city already has a reputation as being a leading environmental player, and last year received many awards and accolades, including being short-listed for a European Green Capital award, crowned the UK’s most sustainable city in a Forum for the Future assessment, as well as being named the country’s first Cycling City. Recent figures released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change have also revealed that Bristol is one of the most energy efficient cities in the country*.

This sobering report can be downloaded in full here: http://www.bristol.gov.uk/ccm/content/Environment-Planning/sustainabilit...

Here is the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

In 2008 oil prices hit record levels of
$147/barrel. This event, alongside growing
evidence that the global energy picture is
changing has led the Bristol Green Capital
Momentum Group and Bristol City Council to
consider the issue of peak oil and its probable
effects on the future prosperity of Bristol.
Input and comment have been sought from
organisations and authorities in the city. (For a
list of other cities and organisations
considering peak oil see Appendix 4). This
report sets out to look at the evidence for
peak oil, its potential impact on Bristol, and
what actions could be taken now to address it.

Why Should Bristol Act Now?

An increasing number of experts and
commentators warn that the era of cheap oil
is over and that an oil crunch is likely within
the next decade. An oil crunch would
fundamentally threaten the way our city
operates with challenges to transport,
healthcare, food distribution, social cohesion,
public services and other sectors.With a
reputation as a leader in sustainability1, Bristol
has the opportunity to show the way in
responding to this challenge.

What is peak oil?

Peak oil describes the point at which the
amount of oil produced globally in a single
year reaches its absolute maximum. From this
point onwards, oil will still be produced but at
a lesser volume. After peaking, oil production
will ultimately go into decline. Estimates on
the timing of this vary. There is, however, a
growing consensus that the era of cheap oil is
over, and that an oil crunch in the next decade
is likely. The consequences of constrained
supply are likely to be severe and disruptive.
The current credit crunch and collapse in
global oil and commodity prices may cause
optimism that the 2008 spike in oil prices was
a bubble, but the underlying picture of supply
and demand tells a different story. The reality
is that the credit crunch is causing
cancellations and delays in new oil production
projects whilst existing production is in
decline.

Oil discovery peaked in 1960s. In 2007 over a
quarter of the world’s oil production came
from the twenty largest fields2 and seventeen
of these were discovered before 1970.
According to the International Energy
Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2008, the
average annual global rate of depletion in oil
fields is now 6.7%. In other words, without the
discovery of new fields, oil production will fall
50% in 10 years. At current rates of discovery
the world is finding approximately one barrel
of oil for every three that it uses. Much of this
new oil comes from deep sea fields and tar
sands and is both expensive, polluting and
energy intensive to exploit. Due to a
combination of population increase and
economic development, the IEA predicts that
global oil demand will reach approximately 95
million barrels per day (mb/d) by 2015 and
106 mb/d by 2030. In order to meet this
demand, the IEA estimates that the world
needs the equivalent of almost six times the
amount of current Saudi Arabian oil
production to be brought on stream between
2007 and 2030. They add that “Some 30 mb/d
of new capacity is needed by 2015. There
remains a real risk that under-investment will
cause an oil-supply crunch in that timeframe.

Until recently the UK was in a strong position
with regard to oil supply due to its North Sea
fields, but production is now in decline. Since
becoming a net importer of both oil and gas
between 2004 and 2006, the UK has become
highly vulnerable to the global energy market.
With UK oil production predicted to decline by
5-7%/year imports will need to rise to make
up the gap.

Why is oil so important?

Our current way of life relies on the availability
of an abundant supply of cheap oil. Economic
studies suggest that without a cheap and
plentiful supply of energy, economic growth is
not possible and that high oil prices result in
recessions. Assuming that Bristol oil
consumption is in line with UK averages, our
city consumes approximately 11,500-12,000
barrels of oil/day (4).

Oil has unique properties that make it highly
versatile; it is stable as a liquid at a high range
of temperatures which makes it easy to
transport and store. It also has a high energy
density which means that 23,200 hours of
human work can be replaced with just one
barrel of oil5.When we consider our
dependence on oil, we usually focus on petrol
and diesel but our reliance upon it runs much
deeper and wider as it is used in many plastics,
medicines, packaging, fabrics and other
synthetics.

Alternatives to oil

It is tempting to think that current modes of
operation can simply be made more
fuel-efficient, or use different fuels so that we
can simply carry on as usual. However, current
alternatives aren’t scalable – there is no
alternative available that can replace the
amount and type of energy that we receive
from oil at a comparable cost.

The UK is already facing challenges around
gas supply as it becomes more dependent on
imports in an increasingly challenging market;
in addition, 30% of current electricity
generation is scheduled to close by 2020.
Realistically any viable solution must include a
combination of increased efficiency, reduction
in energy consumption and alternative fuels.

Peak oil and climate change

Fortunately, the policies and actions required
to deal with climate change and peak oil
coincide in many areas and can be pursued
together. Both call for a reduction in the
exploitation of fossil fuels. There is however a
real danger that peak oil could lead to
desperation for energy from any source
regardless of the environmental impact, as is
already being seen in the exploitation of tar
sands.Whilst the effects of climate change are
already being strongly felt in some parts of
the world, it is likely that the effects of peak oil
will hit the UK harder first.

Peak oil and Bristol by sector

In our oil-dependent society any change to
the price of oil, or access to it, quickly impacts
on our lives.We are used to being able to get
everything we need on demand, but
expensive oil increases fuel, food and
transport costs while interruptions in supply
can leave people stranded and cause panic.

Food and fuel poverty are already a significant
problem in the UK6 and with Bristol having
around 16% of the population living in the
lowest 10% of multiple deprivation areas,
there could be serious impacts here. Examples
of dysfunction due to oil shocks have already
been experienced in Bristol, the UK and
Europe including panic buying, increases in
fuel related crime and rioting.

Emergency planning

In the event of disruption in fuel supply, the
emergency response for Bristol would be
dealt with under existing national and local
emergency planning procedures. Emergency
responses however are just that; they
concentrate on maintaining essential services
and protecting the vulnerable.

The length of time for which emergency fuel
plans could fully maintain essential services is
not known. If a disruption were prolonged it
would push more people into vulnerable
categories and therefore stretch essential
services beyond capacity. Prolonged fuel
emergency could lead to shortages and result
in civil disobedience and dysfunction.
Frequent reoccurrence of fuel supply
disruptions would put a strain on all city
functions, services and budgets.
of a major global oil shock, petrol and diesel
based transport could become redundant
almost overnight. Fuel shortages and
escalating prices would mean the vast
majority of people would not be able to use
their cars. Alternative fuels to petrol or diesel,
irrespective of cost, simply do not exist on the
scale currently required for normal
functioning of the city.
Options lie in reducing the number and
distance of journeys made. This means
employment and services being located
closer to where people live. Investment in
bus and rail services and other forms of
mass transit are needed as well as better
provision for cyclists and pedestrians.More
efficient and strategic use of alternative
fuels will be important.

Transport and accessibility

Bristol’s passenger and freight transport are
almost entirely petroleum based. In the event
of a major global oil shock, petrol and diesel
based transport could become redundant
almost overnight. Fuel shortages and
escalating prices would mean the vast
majority of people would not be able to use
their cars. Alternative fuels to petrol or diesel,
irrespective of cost, simply do not exist on the
scale currently required for normal
functioning of the city.

Options lie in reducing the number and
distance of journeys made. This means
employment and services being located
closer to where people live. Investment in
bus and rail services and other forms of
mass transit are needed as well as better
provision for cyclists and pedestrians.More
efficient and strategic use of alternative
fuels will be important.

Food

The global food production and distribution
systems on which Bristol relies are utterly
dependent on oil. For every calorie of food
energy delivered, 7-10 calories of fossil fuels
are used to produce it. According to a July
2008 government report, the transportation
of food alone accounts for a third of the 20.6
million tonnes of oil used in the UK food chain
each year7. Any interruption in food supply or
an increase in cost risks devastating
consequences.

Options include farming methods which
build soil fertility and don’t rely on
pesticides and artificial fertiliser;
protection of productive farmland
on the outskirts of the city;
promotion of more seasonal food from
more localised producers; a switch to a less
meat-based diet; encouraging people to
grow their own food in private gardens,
community gardens and allotments; and
even using some public space to produce
food.

Healthcare

Modern healthcare is dependent on oil as a
raw material for medicines and supplies, for
transport and for power back-ups. In 2007-8,
the GreatWestern Ambulance Service alone
made 315,399 patient journeys. Increases in
oil and fuel prices would strain existing NHS
budgets and care models; the NHS spends
some £20 billion a year on supplies and a
mere 5% increase in costs would require an
extra £1bn from the budget which, in turn,
may lead to a reduction in services.
As well as existing contingency planning,
options lie in less energy & resource intensive
models of healthcare, as
acknowledged by the current NHS Carbon
Reduction Strategy.Measures would
include renewable energy generation at
hospitals and clinics; alternatives to fossil
fuels for vehicles and travel planning for
health service staff; provision of care closer
to people's homes and workplaces; and a
greater focus on preventative care.

Public Services

Bristol’s police, fire, Council and other public
services are highly reliant on oil for transport.
Fuel shortages and rising costs of food and
fuel would lead to cuts in services, whilst also
increasing demand.
Peak oil is currently not even considered as a
risk for most businesses, yet its effects would
make many of today’s business models
redundant. Peak oil will cause substantial price
volatility in raw materials and fuel. It will
Strategies to reduce vulnerability include
improvement of contingency planning,
decentralisation of services, making
priorities for constrained budgets and
working with the community to build
resilience. Planning policies which promote
accessibility, low energy building and set
aside land for food production will equip
communities for the future.

Key Economic Sectors

Peak oil is currently not even considered as a
risk for most businesses, yet its effects would
make many of today’s business models
redundant. Peak oil will cause substantial price
volatility in raw materials and fuel. It will
challenge globalized manufacturing and
distribution models. Key Bristol economic
sectors with a direct vulnerability to oil
shortages and price rises include distribution,
retail, construction and aerospace. However,
large service sectors such as banking,
insurance and tourism will not be immune.

Energy efficient companies will be able to
keep costs better under control. Businesses
that provide products and services tailored
to fuel efficiency, energy savings and waste
recovery are likely to be at an advantage.
Companies located nearer their staff or
allowing homeworking will cope better
during acute fuel supply shocks. Overall,
high oil prices will favour a more localised
economy for everyday goods and services.
Companies with complex supply chains are
likely to have a harder time.

Power & utilities

An oil crunch will result in volatility in energy
costs across the board. UK gas and electricity
resources are already under strain and efforts
to displace oil usage to these energy sources
are likely to worsen the situation. Likewise,
current water and sewage systems are highly
energy dependent and back-ups are reliant on
diesel.

Options lie in a combination of reduced
energy use and increased efficiency. A
more strategic approach to energy, heating
and cooling for the city is needed, which
effectively utilizes waste heat, local
biomass and develops renewable sources.
Further engagement with communities is
required to undertake retrofitting of
homes and reduce energy and water usage.