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Unformatted text preview: NZ Listener, March 8, 2003 FALLING OFF HUBBERT'S PEAK "Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know." - M. King Hubbert In 1912, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, made a fateful decision that oil, rather than coal, would thereafter fuel the ships of the Royal Navy. This had far- reaching consequences because it meant a dependence on foreign oil supplies rather than Welsh coal. It led, through government involvement, to the rapid growth of the Anglo- Persian oil company, later to become British Petroleum (BP). The rest of the great powers rapidly followed suit. Conventional, easily extractable oil now provides ~40% of the world's energy supply. We depend on oil not only for most long-distant transport (cars, trucks, trains, ships, planes) but also as a chemical feedstock for plastics, and for fertilisers and pesticides integral to modern agriculture. Economic growth involving increased industrial and agricultural production over the past century has been inextricably linked to increased oil usage. Growth through globalisation, in particular, depends on cheap long- haul transport which, in turn, is based on an enormous and complex world-wide infrastructure for extraction and distribution of oil, currently totalling over 4 km 3 per year. Within the developed world we have become particularly addicted to cheap air travel based on an abundant supply of conventional oil. In 1956 M.K. Hubbert, a petroleum geologist then working for Shell Oil, noted that exploitation within any oil province follows a predictable bell-curve trend when production is plotted against time - the biggest and easiest exploited oilfields are found early in the history of exploration while second order fields are developed as production from the big fields inevitably declines. In the ascending part of the bell-curve, exploration and production is easy and cheap but in the descending portion of the curve it becomes progressively more difficult and expensive. progressively more difficult and expensive....
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