UK Govt Acting on Peak Oil but NZ Govt Deep in Denial

The UK's Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has ordered his officials to look at the impact of a 1970s-style oil price spike on the British economy. Mr Huhne warned that a  1970s-style doubling in the price of oil would drain £45billion from the UK economy in two years, hitting investment and jobs.

Meanwhile our Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee and the NZ government are deep in denial about peak oil and resulting higher oil prices.

Mr. Brownlee still believes that peak oil is about "running out of oil" Anyone with even a  basic understanding of peak oil knows that it's actually about oil production, about supply not being able to meet demand -- forcing up prices, possibly causing oil shortages -- all with severe impacts on New Zealand's economy and our way of life.

Which is exactly why Mr. Huhne  has ....

“ asked for some work to be done in the department about what the impact of that might be in terms of British business, businesses that have nothing to do with energy.  The corner shop is affected if we have an oil price shock because the economy is hit very seriously.”


The UK government has come under pressure from Lloyds of London, Oxford University, UK Energy Institute, UK Energy Task Force - including Sir Richard Branson, and a 200 page report on global oil depletion from the prestigious UK Energy Research Centre - to name just a few.  There has been a concerted push in the UK to force the UK government to get advice and come up with a strategy to at least attempt to mitigate the effects of the next oil shock.

Why is it that here in New Zealand no similar ground swell of pressure on the Key government from industry, businesses, economists and energy think tanks has occurred?  And where was our media?  None of these UK reports were reported on, or analysed by our mainstream media.

It seems like New Zealand is in this comfortable bubble of complacency and denial, believing that somehow we are immune from the next oil shock. This has to change - and fast.  The UK reports and many others all point to peak oil impacting sometime between 2011 - 2015.

Mr Brownlee may not be unaware

Thanks Denis.

Based on a talk Jeannete Fitzsimons gave tonight at a gathering of people who had come to hear about a visit in May next year of James Hansen, author of "Storms of my Grandchildren".

She made it clear that this countries energy policy has been thought about for some time. Quite aware of the issue of oil supply, those making the decisions have a plan to take us towards coal - lots of it!

I'll link to a blog and video from tonight, very soon.

Here's Jeanette's insights

Hi Denis,

Here's a link to a video that I took the other night, in which Jeanette Fitxsimons points out the likely direction we are being unwittingly led down.


Plan to take us towards coal

I seem to be having difficulty geting the lumps into my Hilux's fuel tank- can anyone help, please?

Solid Energy have a solution

They have the coal to liquid fuel plants planned. Too bad about the climate, but it'll help take the lumps out of your fuel.

During WW2 the Nazis ran

During WW2 the Nazis ran their war machine on syngas....i.e coal converted to liquid fuel,as the Allies had control of most of the oil reserves. The technology is not hard, obviously been around for decades. The EROEI aint that good but "who cares" when you have billions of tonnes of coal and not enough oil! Currently cost is the issue but from memory when when oil was up around the $150/barrel range syn gas becomes economical.

On top of syngas you have natural gas i.e methane, which like LPG can run your car. There was a report on Radio NZ (I refuse to call it National Radio! :o) this morning of an Aussy aerial photography company prospecting with thermal imagery over the south island looking for methane pockets associated with coal seams. Solid Energy is getting into that one as well.

So there's no chance of your car choking on the lumps.....just the planet choking on the CO2!


coal to liquids too pricey, too late and too dangerous

Don Elder of Solid Energy has laid out his plans for coal to "unconventional petroleum" in his presentation to the Petroleum Conference. Note that it is "planned" production and there is many a slip twixt cup and lip... see below


The massive cost of these options will produce fuel we and the NZ economy cannot afford to burn. As the oil price rose over $100 US a barrel in 2008 the world and NZ dived into the great recession. It was not a coincidence. see Jeff Rubin for more on this theme

If we burn just 60% of current global reserves of fossil fuels, we produce two degrees of warming. As Jeanette Fiztsimons says ... it does not matter a jot whether we use the coal now or in 20 or 30 years

The emerging consensus is that peak oil or at least supply not meeting demand will occur 2012 - 2015.   None of Elder's "solutions" will be producing more than a trickle by 2015.  Nor will any of the other touted solutions such as electric cars. When the price spikes again and shortages occur ... maybe sooner than we think... we are back in recession and the capacity to fund these capital intensive options disappears anyway.

Rimu's picture

What is CTF and UCG? Also,

What is CTF and UCG? Also, how many barrels of oil is 150 Petajoules equivalent to?

good idea

I like the idea of using coal for fuel. I'm a climate change skeptic and am not totally convinced man-made CO2 is the cause of warming. What we should do is legalize industrial hemp (you cannot get high from this) to manufacture biofuel. It is fast growing and releases a lot of oxygen at the same time absorbing a lot of CO2. There are thousands of other uses for the plant as well, you can also manufacture plastics from the plant which are totally biodegradable _b

More than happy to have some dialogue...

Hey james, next time you're down this way pop over and see me on Waiheke. I won't try and "convince' you that taking coal and dispersing it into the environment is not a good idea. Though I'm sure we can have some juicy dialogue on this subject :-)

Ted Howard's picture

What else did you expect Dennis?

Hi Dennis
I've been a peak oil activist for 13 years. I co-founded ASPO-Nelson, ASPO-NZ, Transition Nelson, and under a Transition Now! banner, organised and put up a candidate in our local elections. Since 1999, a bunch of us have been lobbying councils, MP's and governments, and getting pretty much....nowhere. Our local candidate? Lowest polled.

The real issue is not any of the Peak Everything events coming at us. The real issue is the elephant in the room. The dominant culture we find ourselves in is pathologically, suicidally insane. Until the entitle-ist and hubris of the modern industrial "civilised" human is pulled down, nothing is going to change, and collapse is the best thing that could happen. Why? Because without collapse, the 6th Mass Extinction already well underway, continues to pick up pace. There will be wide spread grasping at toxic techno-fix straws, such as coal-to-liquids. At the same time the politicians will continue to say nothing to see here, move along, don't scare the markets, etc.

The fact is we're being farmed. The elites, banksters and corporations now own us, especially the political and business class.

I see no other alternative than to face this, and realise we have to keep grass-roots networking and education going and growing. I have no idea whether TT will make a difference, or all the other community sustainability groups will either. At least 120 species went to extinction today. They are my kin. If we don't continue to wake up and seek real change, we are doomed to join them. Even if we have to wait a while more, I know we're on the winning side, because, Nature bats last.

You've hit the nail on the head Ted

You've hit the nail on the head Ted.

It does seem incredible that while the climate becomes more chaotic, species disappear, ecological catastrophes keep happening with great regulariity the vast majority of the population and (heaven help us) those that govern us are asleep and either deny or pay lip service.

Meanwhile, Collapse is on the way,make no mistake about it - the signs are there and being read by the more clear-seeing of us.

I think in this country it is partly being sheltered from the worst that is happening, and complacency that keep most of us in Aotearoa this way.

Rapid Collapse may just help this species from extinction; slow decline (with the burning of filthy fuels such as tar sands and coal) would be a catastrophe.

Doom & Gloom or Transition

I have said it before….and no doubt I’ll say it again. Collapse is not inevitable. In my opinion it is the least likely scenario due to the fact that those driving the globalised mega industrial system will do their best not to let it happen. The strategies they will use to keep it all ticking over are things like continued privatisation, centralising power, bail outs etc coupled with technological fixes such as syn gas, genetic modification, opening up hard to get to reserves (actric/Antarctic/deep water) and other high tech means.

This is what David Holmgren describes as the Brown Tech option, which is one of 4 potential scenarios.

He also suggests there is the Green Tech which is more democratic open but centralised government embracing alternative technologies, coupled with technological break throughs such as cracking cellulose to ethanol or huge leaps in solar technology ( both of which have made significant advances in the last 2-5 years).

Another scenario is Earth Stewardship. Localisation of resources, economy , food and goods production and political power coupled with easily achievable (and already existing) technological alternatives. Examples of these could be biogas or starch and sugar ethanol. But the good old community garden or currency is another example.

The final scenario is Life Boats, which is collapse.

We need to be aware that those of the old paradigm will cling to the old opportunities such as converting coal to fuel, LNG etc etc to continue to power the globalised machine, but we don’t need to convince ourselves that such strategies are the only options.

What we in Transition need to do is advocate, promote and research the alternative options and make it well known to everyone that those alternative systems, technologies and processes do exist.

Energy decline IS inevitable. But personally I’d rather see that happen slowly from Green Tech to Earth Stewardship, rather than from Brown Tech to Collapse.

So again Collapse is NOT our only option. We do have a choice.

You have great faith...

Richard, you have great faith in those that are running things!!

There are already signs that things are running out of control - but you need to look at the financial and economic news for that. With the level of the economy as it is at the moment it does NOT take $140/barrel of oil for the economy to falter - it will take maybe $90/barrel. It comes down not so much to levels of oil reserves but to what people can afford.

We have a deflationary situation with the prices of commodities such as oil, gold etc. going up - stagflation. The elite are desparately trying to manipulate things to keep things going but those with money are opting for gold and buying it by the tonne.

I think that if we have economic hard times with a gradual decline in oil, fertiliser, water and every other damn thing the idea of Green tech with open democratic government is a pipe dream - the greater likelihood, at least in the larger countries is some form of fascism with an attempt to eke out every last bit of energy from wherever we can get it - coal, tar sands etc. You don't need to look much further than Gerry Brownlee for this sort of approach.

This would be a disaster for us and the planet as it would hugely increase our release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere - quite apart from the other ecological and human costs.

You talk of choices and options as if the sustainability movement and TT was in charge of things.I go along more with Ted - the business, financial and banking elite own us. The only way this is going to change is the collapse of industrial society. Those guys will not give up their power so easily; and although some may pay lip service to a 'green economy' they have no intention to change their modus operandi.

This is not a preference but an analysis that is shared by many in the Peak Oil movement - Mike Ruppert and Dmitri Orlov come to mind immediately IF you only look at the energy part of the equation but ignore the economic, financial, ecological - and dare I say it, the political (globally, not just Aotearoa) then you are in danger of not seeing the wood for the trees.

Further thoughts

If we had been talking ten years ago - may be even five years ago I might have agreed about options.
However, it is a whole different world since 2008.

A Russian friend of mine said once "optimism is the lack of realism"

Dmitry Orlov says 'hope won't take you very far'

Be careful of what you wish for

If we actually bother to look past the inherent greif that hits you when you realise the paradigm we are immersed in can not be sustained and instead embrace the ideas and actions espoused by more positivists activists such as permaculturalists like Geoff Lawton, Rob Hopkins, Bill Mollison, David Holmgren etc then it soon becomes obvious that the demise of the mega industrial system, though inevitable, is a bloody good opportunity to take the change by the horns and create a much better world.

But if you and everyone else who has bothered to pay attention to the state of the world embrace the doomers like Orlov and Rupert then that is what we will get....your'e doom.....Give me transition.

Like Orlov, I have lived off the grid, I have grown my own crops and sustained myself and my family. Unlike Orlov I didn't stroke my own ego by touching the buttons of every doomer out there by feeding them what they wanted to hear.

Like Bill mollison, I realised that dropping out, being frightened and scared won't do me, my family or my community squat, if it all actually goes down the pan.

To create the change we need, just live it. I grow alot of my food, I shop though community co-op and farmers markets, our milk is bought raw direct from the farmer, our kids go to a school run by and funded by our community, the fuel that drives my car is bought from a biodeisel coop, my money is earned by teaching people how to garden and live sustainably, anything spare is invested ethically, I ride my bike..... I am not alone, my community is around me. Its called the permaculture nation, a diaspora of people around the world who share the same values, ideas and beliefs.

So I am not being "farmed". You are only a "slave" when you believe it.

Collapse will oly happen if we let it....... be careful what you wish for.

"What you wish for?!"

The essence of what you are saying lies in your subject line - "be careful of what you wish for".

The only thing I wish is that is a matter of what I wish for, and that if I wished for a tidy transition to a sustainable society (or, even if I wished for 'business as usual' - God help me) then reality will somehow organise itself around my personal wishes.

I encountered this idea the other day: someone was talking about the angst of her friends in Germany, that the Euro would be kaput by May next year; she said "if you think that that's where the energy will go". This is New Age nonsense - presumably millions of people wouldn't be starving if only they could change their thinking. This is voluntarism.

We don't disagree about what needs to be done and obviously you are further along this path than I am. I am arguing that with the world constituted as it is an orderly transition to a green economy is the least likely scenario. Not that that's not what I want - this conclusion is based on looking at how things actually ARE rather than how I want them.

I don't think that Dmitri Orlov is stroking his ego. What these people are doing is looking at things as they are and trying to get people prepared for what lies ahead.

If these people were just stoking fear they would be just like the "global conspiracy people" - but they are pointing to how to develop a lifeboat movement - not so different from what you seem to be doing.

Denial, grief (I dare say fear), anger - are all part of the process of developing acceptance and action.