PESGB October 2004
Stones, Coals and Hydrocarbons
You may recall in the June editorial I was speculating about the possibility of breaching the $50/ barrel marker for oil; well we nearly got there. Perhaps it will get there this winter if we get a cold one.
I had the great pleasure of sharing a platform with Colin Campbell at the recent Energy Ireland conference and I also greatly enjoyed hi s article in the Geoscientist in July ‘The end of the
Oleocene ‘. Colin keeps reminding us that hydrocarbons are a finite resource that are being depleted rapidly, with peak ‘Regular’ oil production anticipated in 2005 and peak gas expected
around 2020. He also takes to task the ‘ flat-earth’ economists who expect in an open market that one resource will simply replace another and scorns their favourite mantra ‘The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones ‘ .
The UK has been in a very fortunate position for the last 40 years in having self-sufficiency first in gas and then in oil. In recent months there have been reports that this self-sufficiency for oil is about to end and the position for gas is not far behind. So what happens next?
Progress is definitely being made in increas ing the use of renewable/alternative energy. Anyone keen on walking the moorlands of the British Isles will have become very familiar with the growth of windfarms and these are also springing up offshore, including Talisman’s innovative scheme at Beatrice. Tidal and wave energy projects are also now leaving the drawing board and getting into pilot mode.
All the figures I have seen however, suggest that the contribution of renewables/altelllative energy sources, although making a valuable contribution, will go only a very small way to plugging the oil/gas gap and in any case, there needs to be a back-up supply on those long calm summer days, in those years when we get a summer.
The main solution must lie elsewhere. Two obvious sources of energy, which have both been major contributors to UK energy supply in the past, spring to mind – Nuclear and Coal. Both these sources of energy come with major environmental implications. You may recall that the Government tried to get a debate going on developing an Energy Policy a few years ago and sought to get the nuclear option back on the table, but this still appears to be politically unacceptable.
With Kyoto commitments and the great global warming industry, it will also be very difficult to go back to using more coal. All of which means that maximi sing recovery of hydrocarbons from the UK (both onshore and offshore) takes on even more importance as it is not just an economic issue, but also a security of supply issue and a real ‘ vote winner ‘ as it puts off the evil day when the electorate will have to face the difficult choice of becoming increasingly reliant on imported energy supplies, or choosing an indigenous energy source with major environmental implications.
The Coal Age didn’t end through lack of coal; but then perhaps it’s not extinct just dormant.
Oh well, back to the Carboniferous.