The world and humanity have developed during the past hundred years as never before. The magic commodity which has helped us to prosper is called crude oil. The wide use of fossil fuels has been one of the most important stimuli of economic growth and prosperity since the industrial revolution, allowing humans to participate in the consumption of energy at a greater rate than it is being replaced – it happens because people let influence their life by the motto: “Let's live for the present” and forget about the responsibility for the next generations which they bear on their shoulders, in addition, they usually focus only on the everyday life instead of paying enough attention to the essential facts and information such as increase of the oil consumption, whilst there have not been any new oil discoveries. The population of humans living on the planet Earth has doubled over the past five decades and it is currently estimated to be 6,9 billion and the oil peak has already been reached, moreover it is projected to reach at least 9 billion by 2050 what is likely to lead to the increase in world's oil dependency...
1. History of oil use
The first use of crude oil is dated 4000 ago. According to Herodotus, asphalt was used in the construction of the walls and towers of Babylon. Oil flows from natural springs in many localities and it used to be obtained and used for medicinal purposes. In the 1850s, the process to distill kerosene from petroleum was invented by Ignacy Łukasiewicz, providing a cheaper alternative to whale oil. The first commercial oil well was drilled in Poland in 1853. The trend quickly spread in many parts of the world with the Russian Empire, especially in Azerbaijan and the modern oil industry was born. Oil exploration in North America during the early 20th century later led to the U.S. becoming the leading producer by the mid 1900s. Texas and Oklahoma became the centers of US production. Its biggest use came with the development of the car. After the oil discoveries in the Middle East, the Middle East has become the largest supplier of oil and the main point of political and military interest.
2. Oil use in the present and possible future alternatives
The World society is nowadays heavily depended on petroleum, although the consumption of developed countries has been falling from 2006, what is more, the alarming fact is that in 33 from 48 countries that are petroleum suppliers, the production has been decreasing and it will probably never rise. If the demand for the crude oil (what is unlikely to occur in the future) did not increase, the world would have about 40 years left till all the existing and proved oil resources would be used. But, in some cases (Saudi Arabia-the world biggest supplier as a member of OPEC can extract only restricted number of barrels) this number can be lower because there has been done an independent research by Oxford University which has shown that the oil reserves might be exaggerated by one third.
Production of oil by country - 2008 (bbl/day):
1. Saudi Arabia (OPEC) - 10,782
2. Russia - 9,789
3. United States - 8,514
4. Iran (OPEC) - 4,174
5. China - 3,973
World total - 73,69
As I have already mentioned, according to ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) conference, which was held in Washington D.C. on 7 October 2010, after 150 years of oil extraction the oil peak has been achieved. Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production decreases. Since 2005 Dr. Robert Hirsch has been giving warnings about the dangers to the World if the peak shocks us unprepared. It could possibly have devastating effect on the World. The issue is not that simple that we will only have to pay outrageous prices for petrol. If that was the worst of it, the situation would be difficult but manageable. Unfortunately, the reality seems to be different.
There are multiple factors affecting it:
- continued global population growth,
- a global increase in demand for crude oil,
- the plateau in the production of crude oil.
When there isn't enough oil to satisfy global demand, the price obviously rises. Maybe less obvious is the effect this price increase would have on the world's ability to produce food, as a result each stage of food production would be affected. At the same, the appetite of fastest growing economies such as China or India has been burgeoning, which accelerates the consumption of petroleum-related products and increases the amount and quality of food each person eats. It might even weaken the world's inability to feed itself or cause vast economic depression.
Consumption of oil by country - 2008 (1000 bbl/day):
1. USA - 19,497.95
2. China - 7,831.00
3. Japan - 4,784.85
4. India - 2,962.00
5. Russia - 2,916.00
EU - 13,680.00
World total - 72, 216.20
Oil as a source of conflicts
It seems that it will be really difficult to avoid this worst - case scenario because the most powerful countries has proved that they are prepared to commit whatever to gain the control over the oil reserves (Middle East conflicts – in 2003 George Bush claimed that the reason for attacking and liberation of the independent country Iraq were the weapons of mass destruction, of course, nothing has proved because the obvious and real reason was only one - Iraq has the fourth biggest reserves of oil on the globe). I am quite certain that if the money wasted on military expenses were used to develop new technologies, the issue of oil would be extremely unimportant.
Proved oil reserves by country - 2008 (billion barrels):
1. Saudi Arabia - 264.3
2. Canada - 178.8 (oil sands – it is likely to reflect in higher prices for barrel of oil)
3. Iran - 132.5
4. Iraq - 115.0
5. Kuwait - 101.5
World total - 1,292.6
For one thing, there is no doubt that on the world already exist solutions of complete oil replacement in industries like energetics or transportation - higher use of railways and electric powered cars (the first so - called green cars are sold this year) could fully decrease transportation´s oil demand. On the other hand, this would require very high investments in infrastructure (railways electrification, construction of high speed rail instead of planes, recharging stations for vehicles), furthermore with the existing technology it would be unsustainable solution because to replace all fuel and diesel powered cars we would have to build at least about 10 000 nuclear power plants (radioactive waste would surely have detrimental impact on the environment) therefore the world has to develop the source of cheap and clean energy.
For another thing, petroleum is also the raw material for many chemical products, including pharmaceuticals, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, plastics and it is nearly impossible to find suitable alternative for these products, but some people believe that when oil production decreases, modern society will be forced to change drastically.
3. Environmental impacts of oil use
The environmental impact of using oil is not only CO2 emissions produced by vehicles.
It includes searching, drilling, pumping, refining and transporting the oil before the end consumer gets it. In addition, it involves the land use, waste management and groundwater and air pollution from the production and refining process. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and other harmful gases and waste materials are produced, which affects high pollution levels in many parts of the world and what is more, global warming. The oil is usually transported long distances by tanker and pipeline, adding to its impact on the environment (oil spills, deforestation). Accidents such as oil spill cause additional damage to the ecology.
In the end, the final product is eventually burnt, adding more carbon dioxide to our greenhouse gas.