27 Nov 2006
Exclusive to Transition Culture! An Interview with Richard Heinberg – Part One… Peak Oil.
**An Interview with Richard Heinberg – 23rd November 2006 – Part 1**.
While Richard Heinberg was at Schumacher College teaching part of the **Life After Oil** course I was lucky to be able to take 40 minutes of his time to do an interview with him. We explored various aspects of the peak oil challenge before moving on to explore solutions, in particular community-initiated responses, such as the work Richard is contributing to in Oakland, as well as the emerging process here in Totnes. Part One, posted today, focuses on peak oil, and was recorded the day after his talk in Totnes Civic Hall, which was attended by over 350 people.
**With the recent discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico and the falls in the oil price, what developments over the last couple of months have reinforced your belief that we are close to the peak?**
Well, there was the recent International Energy Agency report which didn’t give me any new information, but I thought it was interesting to see the IEA more or less admitting to the problem of future oil supply. Claude Mandil is clearly worried now, which is in stark opposition to the CERA Report which came out two days later that basically we have nothing to worry about for the next 3 decades (laughs), which of course is an entirely political document, not based on science at all, and is extremely irresponsible in terms of its message to the world.
Even though the IEA isn’t actually talking about a near term global oil production peak they are at least saying that supply is likely to be tight and may be inadequate in the years to come. People at least need to hear that message. As to new news, I mean of course a lot of things are slow to develop.
We know that Mexico’s oil production is going into decline with the decline of Cantarell, but that was forecast several years ahead, that’s not really a surprise to anyone who has been watching that sort of thing. I think the signs of near-term peak are not typically dramatic episodic events, it is the slowly developing accumulating evidence that we are seeing. The fact is that global oil production has been pretty well stalled out at around 84½ million barrels a day, on average, for the past year. Given the high prices, that is very suggestive that we may be in the early undulating plateau stage of the peak right now, but we won’t know for a while.
**In the UK there are now the beginnings of a concerted momentum on climate change. Do you see the two issues as being separate or intertwined?**
They are very intertwined but not always exactly the same. For example, because the emissions from natural gas are so much less than the emissions from coal or oil, many nations are looking to natural gas as a solution to Kyoto obligations, fuel switching from coal to natural gas. This is happening in the US too, the US emissions have been growing, and some states like California have at least attempted to keep their emissions under control by switching away from coal to natural gas for electricity production.
Well that makes perfect sense if your focus is climate change and reducing emissions, but if your focus is peak oil and gas and reducing vulnerability to future fuel shortfalls it doesn’t make any sense at all, particularly in the US and Great Britain where future natural gas supplies are guaranteed to decline over the very short term. California has got itself into a terrible fix as a result of its dependence on natural gas. There are going to be electricity shortages in the year ahead as a result of that.
**How do you see the state of health of the peak oil movement and how has it changed over the last 2 years?**
Well, the peak oil movement barely existed 2 years ago. So it has grown absolutely enormously and very quickly over the past couple of years and we are seeing groups forming spontaneously in towns and cities in many countries around the world, where literally nothing was happening even months ago. Many of those new groups are being very successful actually in advocating policy and contacting officials and affecting policy.
I think we have a lot to be proud of in terms of what we have accomplished, but of course any movement that grows very quickly is going to grow unevenly, and I’m sure that there have been growing pains in various ways and various areas and various kinks to work out along the way. I also think that over the past 2 years we have seen a rapid growth in oil prices and that has helped enormously in getting out the message.
However in the past few weeks where we have seen declines in oil prices exactly the opposite has happened, we have seen a PR attack against the peak movement, by Cambridge Energy Research Associates and by Exxon and others to say “peak oil theory is garbage