Peak oil warnings turn up in the strangest places

It’s always intriguing to see how companies come out on the big – and often controversial – questions of energy future.

The UK Peak Oil Task Force, which launched a new report today, has a small membership: two engineering firms, an energy company, a rail operator, and Solar Century, whose founder Jeremy Leggett contributed to our Copenhagen experts’ panel. Another member is Virgin, which is also a train operator in the UK. Richard Branson however is another kettle of fish – how do his oil crunch warnings square with his planned space travel venture?

In any case, it is interesting to see that NRMA Motoring & Services, one of Australia’s biggest motoring organisations, is  calling for government support of alternative fuels. The organisation published an independent report it commissioned which warns of energy security problems and peak oil – and calls for more government investigation into stricter efficiency standards, biofuels, natural gas, and electric cars.

Imagine these points being made by the American Automobile Association, or the UK’s AA.

The report, by Jamison Group, called for:

• Changes to behaviour that reduce fuel demand could make a significant
contribution to national fuel needs;

• Biofuels may also contribute to national fuel needs if accompanied by long-term
comprehensive planning and incentives;

• Natural gas could make an important transitional contribution, but massive
infrastructure implications need to be recognised and dealt with, and competing
demands for gas may limit its contribution;

• The establishment of new vehicle fuel consumption standards, commensurate
with those of the European Union, would underpin both a resurgence of the vehicle manufacturing industry and contribute to reducing national fuel demand; and

• The promotion and support of the development of the electric car option should
also be a significant part of the future.

On peak oil:

It is now widely conceded that the global supply of crude oil has reached a stage where new discoveries are generally of smaller fields and exploitable at higher costs than in the past. Some would argue that the supply of oil has now peaked12 and through the coming decades with diminishing supplies, the price of oil will inevitably rise. In the particular case of Australia this ‘peaking’ is very clear (see Figure 4).

We found this in NRMA’s history:

In 1931, the Association objected to motorists’ taxes being used to upgrade rail and tramways, arguing that these monies should be used to improve roads.

More recently, the group’s opposition to funding of bicycle pathways has attracted criticism from Sydney’s Sydney’s mayor and the Greens party.

In a sense, calling for fuel alternatives isn’t out of sync with that history; after all, it is still seeking government support for maintaining driving as the transport method of choice. And the associated media release focused on energy security rather than overall supply, or environmental impact. But it’s still striking  to see an organisation so involved with car-use issue such a stark warning about the future of oil.

Related links:

The love affair with the road: Changing, not slowing down (FT Energy Source)
Houston goes electric (FT Energy Source)

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