Co-director and writer for the upcoming series AFTER OIL, Shailyn Cotten, talks about the science behind the “global oil crisis” that inspired the series, and how we may be seeing a future like AFTER OIL as soon as 2030.
Let me preface this by saying that I am not an expert. I am a writer. I am the exact opposite of an expert. I am a person who stalks Wikipedia threads, lurks in online science forums, and has queued up a long list of search results which, to an outside eye, probably make me look like a serial murderer - all in the name of “research”. That being said, if I’ve excelled at anything over the past several years as a writer, it’s at taking a complex, sophisticated concept, and watering it down to something straightforward and palatable.
So here it is in layman’s terms: we are not going to “run out” of oil.
What we are going to see, in the next fifteen or so years, is a major decline in the production of crude oil.
Is that so catastrophic? The answer is, potentially. Our world’s population only continues to grow, and if our global oil production peaks - which many experts already believe that it has - than by 2030, our oil production could be halved, while our world population may have doubled.
It is widely known that the production of many regions of oil fields which our industry relies upon have plateaued, if not completely been depleted. And yet, in the last ten plus years, committees like the National Petroleum Council (NPC) which represent the oil and gas industry, as well individual oil companies, have stated that worldwide oil production has in fact increased exponentially.
How can both be true? By lumping in other sources of oil to the mix, such as biofuels, natural gas, lease condensate, and refinery gain, none of which are currently accepted as “oil” at major exchanges. In fact, “crude oil blended with lease condensate is discounted to refiners in recognition of its lower value.” Meanwhile, if you look at focused reports of estimated global crude oil production - the only type of widely usable oil that can be sold on the crude oil market - since 2002, production has in fact plateaued.
If we have in fact hit peak oil in 2005 - and there are many who say we have - it’s all downhill from here. Once production outpaces global population and demand, the price for gas and oil will skyrocket.
What does that mean for us?
Sadly, our global economy is built on oil and gas. Without it, we will crumble. One essay on the effect of peak oil states, “for instance, during the 1970s oil shocks, shortfalls in production as small as 5% caused the price of oil to nearly quadruple. The same thing happened in California a few years ago with natural gas: a production drop of less than 5% caused prices to skyrocket by 400%.” The crisis of the 1970s was a short-lived “shock”. If peak oil theorists are correct, then the decline that follows the peak in global crude oil production could result in a semi-permanent condition.
Resource wars. Rioting. Looting. When the price of gas goes up, the price of everything must go up. Our food production is powered, at every step, by fossil fuels. If crude oil goes into a steady decline, it won’t be long before food starts to disappear from our shelves. Flights will be grounded. We won’t be able to make jet fuel. Public transportation will shut down. All of our electrical systems which run on natural gas or coal will go dead.
Without transportation, how will food get to our local marketplace? Even if it could, without refrigeration, and other electrically powered food storage devices, how would we preserve our food?
Whether you buy into peak oil, or take the NPC and oil companies at their word, the question of a global oil crisis isn’t if, it’s when.
When life after oil does hit, what will happen? What can we do to survive the years of crisis? How long will it take before our global economy - and the world at large - stabilizes?