As mentioned in the introduction, the best industry estimate
in 2005 was that oil will become too expensive to use as a prime
mover or source of heat in 10 +/- 5 years. In other words, this
is expected to happen some time between 2010 and 2020.
- source: ASPO
A study (Crude Oil: The Supply Outlook, October 2007) by the Energy Watch Group supports this view. It says that world oil production peaked in 2006 and is predicted to drop by several percent a year, reaching half the current production rate by 2030.
To gauge the effect on national economies, take a look at just one small, exporting nation: New Zealand:
The current export of flowers, fruit and vegetables and other perishables by air to China, Korea and Japan will become too expensive and so will tourism. A friend of mine who is a retired airline pilot is scathing of Airbus/Boeing/airlines claims of bigger, better, faster, more... As he says, where will the fuel come from?
- source: David Gregorie, New Zealand.
Last but not least, there is still no real replacement for oil as a lubricant or as a feedstock for many of the plastics our modern world depends on. As oil becomes a scarce commodity it should be reserved for these two uses but I would not hold my breath. The GUAP and its equivalent elsewhere is too ignorant of chemistry and the sources of manufactured goods to understand why it is told it can no longer have petrol or heating oil: it will refuse to listen and demand these items as a right. Then it will scream with rage when suddenly there are no more plastics and its lawn mower seizes solid. Politicians? They will follow the herd because that gives them an easy life and street credibility.
Thomas Gold (1920-2004), developed the hypothesis that oil is not, in fact, of biological origin in 1992. He was an Austrian astrophysicist, one of the trio who proposed the 'steady-state' cosmological universe. He coined the term 'magnetosphere' for the region of space influenced by the earth's magnetic field. He does not, however, seem to have had any geophysical or geological qualifications.
The abiotic hypothesis states that oil is the non-biological result of heating carbonates with iron and water: if you cook these substances at 800°C and 45 kilobars (45,000 times atmospheric pressure) you'll get methane, which then condenses into the heavier hydrocarbons that make up crude oil as they percolate up from the mantle. This is an attractive scenario because there is a lot more deeply buried carbonate than animal or plant material: the latter are the starting ingredients for biologically sourced oil, which is the generally accepted theory of oil formation. Vastly more starting material should lead to much larger oil reserves. Nobody disputes that methane can be produced this way in the laboratory or that suitable conditions of temperature and pressure can be found, together with carbonates and water, in the mantle at depths of between 8 and 32 km. Its just that the conversion of these materials into significant amounts of heavy hydrocarbons seems unlikely because:
Nobody has yet come close to demonstrating that abiotic hydrocarbons are produced at a rate that can match, or preferably exceed, current oil production rates and so far, every time a well has been drilled where the abiotic oil hypothesis indicates that oil should be found but biological oil theory predicts a dry well, the well has been dry. Similarly, whenever the abiotic oil hypothesis has attempted to explain an existing oil reservoir's existance and production pattern the wells have been found to contain unmistakable markers of the oil's biological source and conventional oil geology has explained the variations in production rate. Meanwhile the biogenic oil theory has been successful in describing the composition of crude oil and predicting where it is likely to be found. The same cannot be said of the abiotic oil hypothesis.
A critique of the abiotic oil hypothesis was published by Wilderness Publications, FromTheWilderness.com as No Free Lunch in three parts:
In summary, abiotic oil looks like a pipe dream. Although in theory abiotic oil could be vastly more plentiful than biogenic oil, in practise the world's entire abiotic methane equivalent is much less plentiful than the methane in cattle's flatulence. Frankly, who cares if abiotic oil is produced in small quantities? Unless its easily extractable at current consumption rates it is irrelevant because it can't affect the approaching oil crisis. We still have to find an acceptable substitute for energy from biogenic oil and move the world onto its replacement before supplies dry up.
New Scientist reports (4 March 2006, page 11) that, although 15% of global warming is due to atmospheric methane, all its sources have not been identified. A recent discovery accounts for some of it: a mud volcano, situated 1250 m down in the Norwegian Sea is estimated to be emitting several hundred tonnes of methane a year, which dissolves in the seawater before eventually ending up in the atmosphere. This is minute compared with the 600 gigatonnes that enters the atmosphere every year, but nobody knows how many of these volcanos exist, how many are active or where their methane originates. However, this is at least a hint that there may be more abiotic methane produced than we guessed and, if it can be captured at source, it might even prove a useful energy source.