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New Zealand should prepare urgently for coming oil shortages

New Zealand should prepare urgently for coming oil shortages

It may be a very serious mistake to assume that oil will continue to be readily available, Bruce Robinson a Peak Oil expert said today.

Trouble in the Middle East, such as Iran being bombed, might cause a sudden world oil shortage, as 20% of the world’s oil is shipped from the Persian Gulf, through the narrow Strait of Hormuz.

As well, global oil shortages are likely, perhaps within 5 years. Existing giant oilfields are now declining faster than new fields are being discovered. Peak Oil will cause substantial disruptions to automobile dependent countries. The on-going hype in the US and now in Australia about shale oil is unlikely to change the overall picture.

Mr. Robinson is Convenor of ASPO-Australia, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, and vice-president of ASPO-International.

He said a major opportunity for NZ was the proposed national transport SmartCard, which should also include provision for petrol rationing and public transport rationing, to prepare for the risk of fuel shortages. Petrol rationing should allocate scarce fuel efficiently and equitably. Rationing by price would cripple farming communities, for example. An electronic card-based system is the only transparent way of allowing people with different needs, such health problems or a crucial job, to have access to fuel ahead of people who could easily ride a bike, or catch public transport. If say 25% of motorists wanted to change to public transport, existing bus and train capacity would be overwhelmed, so if fuel rationing is needed, public transport rationing is also required.

Expanding public transport and bicycle facilities and securing and expanding train lines are vital steps. More important is informing people to prepare in case future fuel shortages arrive much sooner than generally expected.

An Australian CSIRO economic modeling Future Fuel Forum in 2008 had a worst case scenario of $8/litre fuel by 2018. Since then the GFC has curbed oil consumption worldwide, but the underlying risk still remains. A suppressed 2009 report by Australia’s Bureau of Infrastructure Transport and Regional Economics estimated, like many other studies, global oil shortages starting in 2017. A valuable research paper “The next oil shock?” was released in October 2010 by the NZ Parliamentary Library, but it has been overlooked by transport planners. The UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security reported “We will face an Oil Crunch in the next five years. We have time to prepare, but the challenge is to use the time well”.

NZ, like Australia, has no separate strategic fuel reserve, and we are assuming the oil tankers will continue to come regularly. International shortages will see tankers diverted elsewhere and we cannot rely on “business-as-usual” planning. Advance preparation will be essential, but “Optimism Bias” is clouding judgements, Mr Robinson said.

New Zealand people prepare for floods and earthquakes, but there is no serious preparation in case fuel shortages happen. There is a great deal that can be done to reduce the impact of future fuel shortages, but preparations need to be started now. Leaving things till a crisis hits will be too late.
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