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Branson warns that oil crunch is coming within five years

• Virgin chief and fellow business leaders call for action
• Energy crisis threatens to be more serious than credit crunch

Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, will say the coming crisis could be even more serious than the credit crunch. Photograph: Peter Schneider/EPA

Sir Richard Branson and fellow leading businessmen will warn ministers this week that the world is running out of oil and faces an oil crunch within five years.

The founder of the Virgin group, whose rail, airline and travel companies are sensitive to energy prices, will say that the ­coming crisis could be even more serious than the credit crunch.

"The next five years will see us face another crunch – the oil crunch. This time, we do have the chance to prepare. The challenge is to use that time well," Branson will say.

"Our message to government and businesses is clear: act," he says in a foreword to a new report on the crisis. "Don't let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did."

Other British executives who will support the warning include Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish and Southern Energy group, and Brian Souter, chief executive of transport operator Stagecoach.

Their call for urgent government action comes amid a wider debate on the issue and follows allegations by insiders at the International Energy Agency that the organisation had deliberately underplayed the threat of so-called "peak oil" to avoid panic on the stock markets.

Ministers have until now refused to take predictions of oil droughts seriously, preferring to side with oil companies such as BP and ExxonMobil and crude producers such as the Saudis, who insist there is nothing to worry about.

But there are signs this is about to change, according to Jeremy Leggett, founder of the Solarcentury renewable power company and a member of a peak oil taskforce within the business community. "[We are] in regular contact with government; we have reason to believe their risk thinking on peak oil may be evolving away from BP et al's and we await the results of further consultations with keen interest."

The issue came up at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos where Thierry Desmarest, chief executive of the Total oil company in France, also broke ranks. The world could struggle to produce more than 95m barrels of oil a day in future, he said – 10% above present levels. "The problem of peak oil remains."

Chris Skrebowski, an independent oil consultant who prepared parts of the peak oil report for Branson and others, said that only recession is holding back a crisis: "The next major supply constraint, along with spiking oil prices, will not occur until recession-hit demand grows to the point that it removes the current excess oil stocks and the large spare capacity held by Opec. However, once these are removed, possibly as early as 2012-13 and no later than 2014-15, oil prices are likely to spike, imperilling economic growth and causing economic dislocation."

Skrebowski believes that Britain is particularly vulnerable because it has gone from being a net exporter of oil, gas and coal to being an importer, and is becoming increasingly exposed to competition for supplies.

"This is likely to put pressure on the UK balance of payments and in a world of floating exchange rates is also likely to put downward pressure on the valuation of sterling. In other words, the positive benefits to the valuation of the pound as a petrocurrency are now eroding," he said.

The question of peak oil came to centre stage last November when a whistleblower told the Guardian the figures provided by the IEA – and used by the UK and US governments for much of their planning scenarios – were inaccurate.

"The IEA in 2005 was predicting that oil supplies could rise as high as 120m barrels a day by 2030, although it was forced to reduce this gradually to 116m and then 105m last year," said the IEA source. "The 120m figure always was nonsense but even today's number is much higher than can be justified and the IEA knows this."

But Saudi Arabia launched a counter-strike at Davos, insisting the issue was overblown. "The concern about peak oil is behind us," said Khalid al-Falih, chief executive of Saudi Aramco.

Tony Hayward, the BP chief executive, downplayed fears about dwindling supplies in an interview with the Guardian last week.

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  • lb262 lb262

    7 Feb 2010, 9:18PM

    Global oil production will start to decline before 2020 and the UK government (DECC in particular) is doing absolutely nothing (not even a risk assessment !!). Instead they prefer to trust Exxon, BP and Saudi-Arabia, who only have one objective: keeping the world addicted to oil as long as possible? (and maximizing their short-term benefits)

    Meanwhile, the IEA has been doing an appalling job and the claims of the whistleblower were verified by the anticorruption organization, Global Witness who said:

    ?Global Witness? analysis demonstrates that the Agency continues to retain an overly-optimistic, and therefore misleading, view about potential future oil production? (The IEA) sustains the myth that timely and sufficient investment will address a belatedly recognized oil supply crisis, and is seductive for those who continue to believe that the world can spend its way to a sustained and growing oil supply.?


    Time is running out!

  • MattPrescott MattPrescott

    7 Feb 2010, 9:34PM

    Whether the oil crunch comes in 5, 10, 20 or 100 years we need answers and alternatives, which we don't have at the moment.

    There is a total lack of imagination and urgency in key bits of government, and the civil service.

    We would do well to look for alternatives before we absolutely have to and get left to the sweet mercies of the market.

    Methane and ammonia could both be used as liquid fuels for many modes of transport.

  • strategist strategist

    7 Feb 2010, 9:48PM

    Branson is right to raise this issue. The solution is pretty simple and wildly unpopular - raise taxes on oil consumption so that behaviour changes. The perceived price of oil should be above $100 per barrel...lets say $150 for the sake of argument. We need to stretch out consumption and design vehicles and other systems that use oil to use less so that that the peak oil effect does not produce uncontrolled price rises.

    There would two other obvious effects. One would be to reduce output somewhat during a controlled transition to a higher oil price and second would be to fill the depleted treasuries of western governments. So a coordinated program of tax increases should take off as economies improve.

  • Plataea Plataea

    7 Feb 2010, 10:19PM

    At end 2007, the Energy Watch Group produced a good report on peak oil. The Total comments are also unchanged from back in 2007. What has changed is the US now producing increasing amounts of shale gas. I understand that some gas import terminals have shut as a consequence. If the US is able to move some (a lot?) of its road transport fleet to nat gas this would take much pressure off oil.

    None of the above means the UK gov should not start to plan (& act), just that the possibilities may be more complex than the article descrvbes.

  • Bellroth Bellroth

    7 Feb 2010, 10:25PM

    Aiming to slow down oil consumption is not going to save our civilisation.Such an aim will be no more effective than rearranging the deck-chairs.

    We also have to realise that all the marketing excitement about electric cars is just that, without oil we have no means of generating sufficient electricity to run the cars. And did I hear someone say, "renewable energy"? There is none. OK, so the wind will continue to blow and the sun to shine, but our means of capturing that energy is very limited. A modern windmill, for instance, requires 700 lb. of rare earths in its magnets. Rare earths are limited and not renewable. Ditto the constituents of solar panels. So what about nuclear? Well leaving aside the question of safety, the main problem is that there simply isn't enough uranium available to power the number of power plants that we would need. So shall we go for hydrogen? Not once you realise that hydrogen is an energy carrier, and not an energy source. There is unfortunately no big hole in the ground that is full of hydrogen. Hmm... ethanol maybe? Well it has been calculated that if America were to turn over every scrap of agricultural land to the production of ethanol (giving up on any food production whatsoever) then they would produce enough ethanol to replace about 7.5% of their current petrol (gas) needs. And please don't think simply about oil = transport. All of our plastics come from oil. Most pharmaceuticals are derived from oil. Our agriculture is based on oil derived fertilisers. In fact oil drives our civilisation and is present at every level. Without it water cannot be pumped, sewers emptied, street lights run, factories operated, hospitals maintained, goods delivered to the markets, power generated, zilch.

    Once oil energy is removed from the world's energy budget then it is downhill all the way. The only question will be how precipitous and rough the descent becomes.

  • SentientKeyboard SentientKeyboard

    7 Feb 2010, 11:14PM

    Don't believe the pessismists. If you'll recall, the world up to the early 20th century got by just ine without being dependent on oil, and they weren't living in some apocalyptic landscape. Alternative sources for plastics and petro-fertilizers are available.

    The UK can easily power itself with wind, solar and nuclear - the obstacles are purely political. It will require the large-scale industrialisation of the countryside and seashore. The minority who now obstruct developments because they don't like the look of windmills and power stations will be steamrolled by the majority who live in cities and need the power.

    It will be great. We will be free of dependance on other countries to fuel ourselves, and will employ an army of skilled engineers to keep it going. Low-level work in maintenance will be plentiful. The Severn barrier will be built, and we'll marvel that it took so long for us to do it.

    The UK will thrive if it takes an active role in this new global revolution. I look forward to it.I have high hopes for the future.

  • NoSurrenderMonkey NoSurrenderMonkey

    7 Feb 2010, 11:16PM

    Whatever the exact date of the peak in oil production - 2015, 2020, or 2030, the government needs to seriously make what provision it can against it now. The Hirsch report stipulated 20 years were necessary to prepare for peak oil. Ed Miliband has previously waved away concerns over oil, saying that, by nature, he is an optimist over such things. Optimism is great, but not in the absence of appropriate remedial action.

    It's no help, either, when people say there's loads of oil out there. The oil has to be economically recoverable, which ultimately means not costing more energy to extract than it provides. The world consumes 30 billion barrels of oil a year and for a long time now we have been failing to find the quantity of new reserves we need to allow this to continue. Indeed, if the global economy is to grow, then we need the oil supply to grow. Though there are some 170 billion barrels of Canadian tar sands (less than 6 years of supply), there are physical restrictions on how much of that we can recover; not least that it is energy-intensive, taking about 1 barrel of oil to get 2 back. Current plans are for about 7 million bpd from Canadian tar sands by 2030 - not a great deal.

    When global oil production peaks, there is likely to be wild volatility in the price of oil. It will spike, there will be a subsequent recession, the price will temporarily collapse, upon economic recovery the price will spike again...Each time this cycle occurs, the economy will weaken yet further. Adequate investment will not be made to overcome the relentless reduction in supply due to fast depleting oil fields not being replaced. As with the current financial collapse and economic recession, capital will be destroyed, will disappear. There will be less and less to invest. Our financial institutions will finally collapse under this onslaught. Ultimately, our food supply will fail if there is no diesel for farming or distribution..

    Since North Sea oil is fast waning, we will need a substantial amount of oil in storage; about 3 month's emergency supply and the same for natural gas. If the market won't supply the new storage capacity quicky enough, then the government must drive the process forwards more directly, with funding if necessary. Getting the Crown Estate to lower the rent for the offshore storage sites would be a start. Clearing away all planning delays would also help. The same goes for alternate sources of energy in the form of electricity. Gas and coal that would have been used for electricity can be converted into synthetic fuel along with biomass.

    We will also need a store of refined products such as diesel for agricultural plant and vehicles and the lorries to distribute what can't be grown and consumed locally. We need to let people know they will need high mpg or electric vehicles. We need to buy up lithium and rare earth metals as well as steel. We need substantial national grain stores.

    We may need to stop talking about energy in terms of carbon emissions.

  • rdrr rdrr

    7 Feb 2010, 11:30PM

    If Branson says the world is running out of oil, why is he the only person on Earth organising tourist trips to space? Why is it every time this man opens his mouth I get the distinct impression he has some hidden agenda?

  • MikeRichards MikeRichards

    7 Feb 2010, 11:38PM


    "The concern about peak oil is behind us," said Khalid al-Falih, chief executive of Saudi Aramco.

    The only way we can be past being concerned about peak oil is if peak oil has already passed. So either Aramco's boss is living in a dream world where he doesn't think oil is finite, or he's just inadvertently let on about oil supplies.

    Of course the Saudis are one of the reasons it's so hard to estimate when we'll hit peak oil or how much oil we'll get. They're refused to release data about the state of their fields, how much water is being pumped in to keep well-head pressure high, how much water is coming up with the oil - all they keep telling us is that fields like Ghawar (discovered 1948) and Safaniya (1951) are not only brimming with oil, but can be worked even harder.

    I'd recommend Mtthew Simmons 'Twilight in the Desert' for a thorough reading of why we should be very worried about the Saudis' secrecy - and the Kuwaitis. and the Iraqis, and the Iranians. Oil and gas reserves have been repeatedly ticked upwards in all of these countries despite ongoing extraction, very little new drilling and almost no investment in improved recovery methods. Why? Because their export quotas and the stability of their economies rely on saying they have plenty of oil left underground.

  • NoSurrenderMonkey NoSurrenderMonkey

    7 Feb 2010, 11:47PM

    We don't need optimism or pessimism, just calculation and action.

    It has been shown uranium supplies can be extracted from seawater, adding only 12.5% onto the price of generating electricity from nuclear and making supplies virtually inexhaustible. Electricity itself can be used to power maintenance of the grid.

    With regard to erroneous optimism, there has been a fourfold increase in the population since 1900, almost all on the back of the growth in oil production. For every calorie of food in the supermarket, 10 calories of fossil fuel was used to supply it to you. Also, a lot of the best coal has gone since then. Only a quarter or so of us may survive a return to the good old days. See the work of Paul Chefurka.

    With regard to possibly erroneous solutions; putting up the price of oil will cause the economy to weaken and thereby prevent investment in alternative energy sources and technologies. Cheap oil is needed to help roll out the wind farms, nuclear and the rest. It is estimated oil over $80 dollars will eventually send the global economy into recession.

  • Tasselhoff Tasselhoff

    7 Feb 2010, 11:48PM

    Governments will always say things are rosy until it is too late. Who would win an election saying that we need to curtail our consumption?

    Personally, I haven't waited for Government to wake up. I've moved abroad, got about ten acres and am currently putting in perennial crops (as they're easier to harvest than annuals, require no tilling and can give greater yields once mature - but you need a long term view or this).

    The BIG problem is that a decrease in oil production will mean the end of our economic paradigm, of perpetual growth.

    I don't see the Government even addressing this, if not by finding more methods to subdue us.

    This may seem wacky, but it is worth investing in a future Anarchist society whereby we control local resources locally, and no corrupt heirarchy can let us run headlng into the wall. We have to wait for the downfall of the current paradigm, but I don't see it being too far away.

  • AGreenup AGreenup

    7 Feb 2010, 11:54PM

    Reserves of oil advance ahead of us as technological advances mean more can be extraxted, faster than we can use it. Wakey, wakey, we live in a world of abundance.

  • rystrttn rystrttn

    8 Feb 2010, 12:20AM

    well the electric car has been around for a while now, maybe God/Time was'nt counting on assholes stealing all the money and keeping it hands off till the last minute/last dollar to act.

  • misterjonestoyou misterjonestoyou

    8 Feb 2010, 1:06AM

    The age of consumerism is over, quite simply, world oil supply may have already peaked, its not somthing you can be sure about until after the fact. Time for a major rethink... permaculture is the answer.. we have to learn to live within the ecological carrying capacity of the planet and to learn how manage renewable resources wisely, so far we have not been good at this. The writing has been on on the wall for a long time.. we have been sleep walking into this.. wake up people!

  • PaPaPeng3 PaPaPeng3

    8 Feb 2010, 1:29AM

    Everyone seems to have overlooked the elephant in the room. How are you going to pay for oil imports? The pound sterling is underwater and unlikely to improve its value any time soon. Your financial services will never recover its once stellar money making magic. You don't make anything other people will buy to earn foreign currencies. I don't have any answers. But one thing for sure is that key investments in energy generation must done now before the devaluation of your money makes it impossible to do so in the not too distant future. Do look at this strategic China energy play to wake up to what's already happening in this Game.

    Australia signs huge China coal deal. 2010 Feb 6 BBC

    Coal is used to generate about 80% of China's power supplies
    An Australian firm has signed a $60bn (AUS$69bn; £38bn) deal to supply coal to Chinese power stations.

    Clive Palmer, chairman of the company, Resourcehouse, said it was Australia's "biggest ever export contract".

    Under the deal, the firm will build a new mining complex to give China Power International Development (CPI) 30m tonnes of coal a year for 20 years.

  • Victoriainthecountry Victoriainthecountry

    8 Feb 2010, 3:04AM

    Transition towns are formed by groups of committed people concerned at the challenges of global warming and rapidly diminishing oil supplies.

    Communities need to take steps towards a more sustainable, less fossil fuel dependent way of life. Our governments can no longer be counted upon to do this on our behalf.

    In an attempt to lower carbon emissions and prepare for a greener future, people in this area have invested in Australia's first community-owned wind farm. Read about it at

  • Crammer Crammer

    8 Feb 2010, 3:52AM

    Aren't there some wierdos (I mean, conspiracy theorists) who believe that oil is being produced in huge quantities below the Earth's crust by some unknown process and bubbles to the surface, or near the surface, near fault lines. Some Russians came up with the idea, I think, years ago when their economy was going down the toilet. Sounds a bit like the old joke about the economists on a desert island with a can of beans and a quandary about how to open it, when one says, "Assume a can opener," as economists are wont to do. In this case, assume there is oil. In fact, I think they posit that peak oil is a fraud perpetrated to ensure world government is put in place. Sound familiar?


    8 Feb 2010, 4:26AM

    Whilst much of the rest of the world has been asleep, China has been doing the sums and preparing for the forthcoming peak oil energy crisis. The deal to import large quantities of Australian coal is just one of many strategic moves by China to secure its economic future. Perhaps the most telling of these will be China?s pursuit of dominance in the production of rare earth metals such as (and especially) dysprosium, neodymium, and lanthanum. China has most of the world?s rare earth metal reserves and is already responsible for over 90% of the production of the metals. With their cheap labour costs, tolerance of environmental impacts and extensive experience in mining and processing, they are well-placed to monopolise the rare earth metal industry. With the thinly disguised aim of increasing its stranglehold on the industry, China is now moving to restrict the export of rare earth metals.
    What does this matter? The implications are huge, but many people I know seem to have little understanding about the massive and growing importance of these metals. Just about every hi-tech product depends on them ? computers, TVs, energy-saving light bulbs, lasers, optical fibre communications and so on. The list of applications is extensive.
    However, perhaps the most important in terms of currently identified future needs (and this thread) are electric batteries and motors, and wind turbines. If we are seeing these as escape routes from dependence on oil, then we better start thinking how we can join or thwart the burgeoning Chinese play for the overall control of rare earth metal production and supply.

  • Monkeybiz Monkeybiz

    8 Feb 2010, 5:18AM

    I was talking to someone recently who told me that coal-to-oil liquefaction was economically viable above an oil price of about $75/barrel. There's no shortage of coal and the technology is proven, (leaving aside for the moment the atmospheric costs).

  • Bluecloud Bluecloud

    8 Feb 2010, 6:38AM

    Contributor Contributor

    8 Feb 2010, 5:18AM

    I was talking to someone recently who told me that coal-to-oil liquefaction was economically viable above an oil price of about $75/barrel. There's no shortage of coal and the technology is proven, (leaving aside for the moment the atmospheric costs).

    Oh boy. Hydrocracking as it's known is a really nasty process.

    This is where we're going though: Burn the dirty remains as the barrel runs dry.

  • GaryTK GaryTK

    8 Feb 2010, 7:28AM

    I have a challenge for Mr. Branson that no one else has the Guts to address.I would really like to see the EPA-OBD II Annual Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law closely examined and changed.As it stands right now, it is entirely possible for any Gasoline powered Vehicle from 1996 to the present to fail it's Emissions Inspection, for not emitting enough polluting Exhaust Emissions ! All such Vehicles have on board Oxygen [O2] Exhaust Sensors.These O2 Sensors are set up to detect a level of polluting Exhaust Emissions that would indicate that Gasoline is being consumed by an Engine at 14.7 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.If there is a low level of Oxygen, and a high level of Pollution, a Vehicle will fail it's Emissions Inspection as well it should.But Gasoline can be safely vaporized into a mixture that is 100 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.With this, even the largest SUV could easily get 50 + MPG and emit a fraction of the Emissions of a conventional 14.7/1 Fuel System, with an increase in Power, and much longer Engine life.I'm not the first to figure this out.Far from it ! For proof, do a search on [the late] Tom Ogle, and Charles Nelson Pogue.Then, go to and scan down the page to just before the update.But even if it is not to be believed that Fuel Vaporization is entirely possible, it's illegal to even attempt to do so with any Vehicle from 1996 to the present.O2 Sensors are set up to detect that Fuel is being consumed at 14.7/1. A mixture of 100 / 1 will not emit enough Polluting Exhaust Emissions to register on O2 Sensors.When such a Vehicle is connected to an OBD II Emissions Inspection Analyzer, an O2 Sensor Failure Code will be generated, which will result in a failed Emissions Inspection.O2 Sensor Exemptions are permitted for Vehicles that have been legally converted to operate on Natural Gas, Propane, or Hydrogen, and are Registered as such.But not for vaporized Gasoline.Thus, it is entirely possible under this EPA-OBD II Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law for any Gasoline powered Vehicle from 1996 to the present to fail it's Emissions Test for not emitting enough polluting Exhaust Emissions ! As long as this insane 14.7/1 Law that only benefits Big Oil remains in effect, the only way to make Vehicles more "efficient" will be to make them lighter, and smaller.This has got to change ! I have asked the Question many times ; "Why is it illegal for any Gasoline powered Vehicle from 1996 to the present to emit too little polluting Exhaust Emissions"? And since everyone wants to sell their Vehicles in the USA, this amounts to a world wide issue. So far, not one Big Oil Executive, Politician, or Concerned Environmentalist can, or will answer the Question.Those that have bothered to reply can't seem to come up with an Answer either.How about it,Mr. Branson ? If you truly care about the Environment, and Oil Shortages, Can you address this Issue, or have you been bought off like everyone else? If I don't hear from you, then I will have my answer. Thanks ! Gary

  • antipodean1 antipodean1

    8 Feb 2010, 8:07AM

    Interesting comments.
    World oil supply peaked in 2008 at 81.73 barrels per day and the truth is we still dont know if production capacity can actually exceed that for a sustained period;
    personally i doubt it. For no better reason than the huge secrecy surrounding oil reserves, and the eerie correlation between the peaking price of oil and the onset of the global economic crisis.
    Lack of information causes markets to fail.
    Oil companies and oil producing countries have good reason to keep the numbers obscure. If consumers are confident that oil supply is abundant and secure and prices will remain reasonable, then investment in alternatives will remain small.
    Of course gas, coal, uranium can increasingly take some of the strain, but the transition is unlikely to be smooth, peak theory still applies, and climate change offers further challenges.
    Renewable energy is the only long term future, and we are still globally dangerously deficient in capacity.

  • zavaell zavaell

    8 Feb 2010, 8:14AM

    Peak oil and global warming march on a parallel course. If one doesn't set alarm bells ringing then at least the other should. In fact both for different reasons are important to tackle but the great advantage, denied by a shrill group, is that the solution to one is also the solution to the other. Has Labour got the intellect to see that?

  • harbinger harbinger

    8 Feb 2010, 8:38AM

    Not for one minute are the Branson Bunch attempting to feather their own nests. Oh no........

    Talk about a cynical attempt to shift the ground. Having seen the climate change lobby go a bit wobbly, Branson - ever quick to leap onto a new bandwagon - now shifts the threat to 'peak oil' and away from CO2. Neatly it has to be said playing on the only real fear that unites everybody - no petrol for the motor.

    But Branson is wrong and probably knows he is. Not one of the renewable energy conglomerates, Siemens and the like, will agree that oil peaks in 2015 and we then quickly run out. All of them will tell you that no matter how much energy we generate from renewables, the world will still by 2020 be getting 50% of its energy needs from fossil fuels, namely oil.

    So I challenge Branson to the following. If by Feb 8th 2015 you are proved wrong, then agree to spend a week in the stocks on Parliament Hill. People who make threats such as Branson does, should be made to pay the consequences and not claim they acted in good faith when proved hopelessly wrong.

  • Cutslikeawife Cutslikeawife

    8 Feb 2010, 8:44AM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.
  • Cutslikeawife Cutslikeawife

    8 Feb 2010, 8:50AM

    @antipodean1 - no mate, peak DEMAND happened in 2008.
    Currently oil companies are trying to divest themselves of refining capacity instead of just mothballing it, which means they know that demand will never again be so high.
    Long story short, we (and most of all, the US) are weaning ourselves off oil - via cars that use less and less of the stuff to get around, and houses that had oil burning boilers are switching to less costly forms and more environmental forms of heating.
    The big peak in prices in 2008 did us all a lot of good.

  • keepsmiling keepsmiling

    8 Feb 2010, 9:10AM


    Don't believe the pessismists. If you'll recall, the world up to the early 20th century got by just ine without being dependent on oil, and they weren't living in some apocalyptic landscape.

    The other facts that you have to recall are that (a) they were burning coal for all they were worth and (b) until a couple of centuries ago and the advent of fossil fuels, the earth's human carrying capacity was about a quarter of what it is with oil. Perhaps if you know that you and your children will be among the 1 in 4 survivors you can afford to be optimistic. I have two grown-up daughters - I don't care about my life chances at this stage but I don't fancy what happens to young women when economies - and the civil fabric that they support - break down. And that 's before we become unable to provide universal vaccination, antibiotics, birth control, dental treatment and everything else we take for granted.

    But I'd love to be optimistic if someone would give me something other than pipe dreams to be optimistic about. A government and population that would prefer to believe in fairy stories doesn't give me much confidence in their ability to deal with the defining challenge of the age.

    People have fought over energy - whether food or oil - since time immemorial. I see no reason to assume that they will suddenly behave differently as our easy energy starts to fail us.

  • g0annahead g0annahead

    8 Feb 2010, 9:11AM

    Shhh quite please

    Peal Oil.
    Running out of resources..
    Now that's just nonsense isn't it.

    Oh looky looky at that pretty object in that window, go buy, be happy.

    Shhh Hush

  • jeremyll33 jeremyll33

    8 Feb 2010, 9:12AM

    Well the Saudis who tell the truth as always not only need oil, but also water.

    There's a well in al Kharj known as Ain Dhil, which 20 years ago used to be 15 feet below the ground full of water. That same well 20 years later was 200 feet or so. make of that what you will.

  • ado16 ado16

    8 Feb 2010, 9:14AM

    Funny it's the train/bus people behind this. They've already made their point with Government by refusing to buy any new diesel rolling stock - because they don't believe there will be the fuel to run them in 30 years time, Though it intrigues me that they think the latest trains will still be around in that amount of time - considering the flack the slam door trains got for living that long. Saying that though there are still Sprinter trains running that were introduced in the late eighties. So the Government have had to buy all the diesels for them apparently. As if they don't get enough subsidy as it is - I don't know why we just don't reclaim the railways for our own again - A fat lot of good the franchising system seems to have done us.

  • BigB73 BigB73

    8 Feb 2010, 9:15AM

    God you lot are morbid this morning..... If peak oil had been and gone why do the Opec countries cut back on production to manipulate the price up, i.e. there is spare capacity from the Opec nations alone right now.

    Also peak oil assumes there are no oil reserves to be found that are cost effective to extract, it also assumes that there will be no more major finds i.e. it assumes the forecast major finds will be out stripped by demand which is patently ridicules.

    PEAK Oil is simply a scare tactic by the oil companies to manipulate the price up. And Branson?s outburst is simply an attempt to manipulate a populist political machine into helping him with fuel costs.

    A reduction in oil conbsumption is essential but scare mongering will not help and will have the adverse effect.

  • BigB73 BigB73

    8 Feb 2010, 9:25AM

    P.S> I have worked for an Oil company and behind the scenes there are no worries about oil running out any time soon, (and thats before they start drilling in the polar regions and previously inaccebile locations) there are worries however about prices going down...

  • TonyTheHarrison TonyTheHarrison

    8 Feb 2010, 9:25AM

    Tasslehoff - Not sure it needs to be Anarchist (but what the hell, I've long been a fan of the old circled A's on underpasses), but "Relocalise Now!" has been a slogan for quite a few sensible people for a while. The only issue being that you risk being conflated with the BNP or other nasties. I was at a Green party "do" a while ago where an energy speaker said that two parties had recently asked him to speak and he'd "given the finger" to the other party on grounds of taste. It does seem fairly inevitable that the world will get smaller again at some point.

    Speaking of political nasties, it's not really relevant, but the Fischer-Tropsch process for coal->diesel liquefication has an erm, interesting, history. Nazi Germany and Apartheid SA were fans. Anyway, I think Bluecloud has already pointed out that it's hardly an ideal solution. Mr Cloud, would you happen to know if end-to-end this use of coal is more or less environmentally harmful than just burning the coal? Reminds me of that whole thing at the end of 3 Days of the Condor where the spook explains that when the American people start getting cold they'll tell their commander-in-chief to go out and get the fossil fuels by any mean necessary.

    Speaking of less-than-ideal solutions; Tar Sands. I understand that the North American continent is awash with natural gas right now, but the conversion of tar sands into something more useful uses huge amounts of gas and water and leaves an environmental disaster in its wake. There's also a pretty poor EROEI. I seem to remember rumours that one of the oil majors' suggested in the '70s that using an underground nuclear explosion would be an optimal way of getting the tar sands out. Not sure the good people of Alberta were keen...

    Wagram - Interesting point about Iraq. Iraq is probably actually one of the places with some spare capacity over the next 10 years. In terms of the invasion, though, would the Iraq war have been about Iraqi oil, Saudi oil (supporting the House of Saud without having US troops on the ground in Saudi) or WMD? Maybe the Chilcot inquiry will tell us. Presumably shortly after it gets Tony Blair to apologise to the Kelly family.

    Algae->long-chain hydrocarbons anyone? I've not really read much outside of positive talking up of individual companies by technofixing articles. Not a lot in any scientific literature.

    hilltopdweller Good long-term thinking on the location, BTW. I like a good hill, myself. I think there is a fair point that BP, for example, have done more to promote thinking "Beyond Petroleum" than some democratically-elected governments. (I'm thinking there about Ed Millipede's flapping mouth in the "elephant trap" interview after the "Age of Stupid" premier.) The oil majors in general (not BP obviously, if their lawyers have popped in) may also be funding lobby groups to undermine the climate change consensus, agreed.

    Oh well, peace and best of luck to all. Take care and may you live in un-interesting times.

  • lateagain lateagain

    8 Feb 2010, 9:27AM

    One of the biggest problems I have with the modern world is one of trust. I don't trust what anybody, especially businessmen bankers and politicians say anymore. They lie through their teeth and Sir Branson has been found wanting in this particular department on more than one occasion.

    But supposing he's right and the worlds oil supplies are running out what does he expect the government to do about it, reinvent oil?

    His companies are totally dependent on oil and what is he doing to protect them? He was a great champion of biofuels and eventually his whole fleet were going to be running on the stuff but it seems biofuels are not only very expensive to produce but also not very green.

    I have no doubt that his warning to government is a prelude to his demanding vast sums of taxpayers money to fund his biofuel company and we'll all end up paying to make Sir Branson even richer.

  • BethanyGleave BethanyGleave

    8 Feb 2010, 9:39AM

    Richard Branson would have more credibility if a reliable service at reasonable cost was provided by his train company. My employer no longer allows staff to travel on Virgin Trains because of the expense and probability of arriving late. I do not understand why the media report everything that Branson says - it is obviously all about getting free publicity whilst the underlying standard of service is very poor.

  • littlepump littlepump

    8 Feb 2010, 9:42AM


    I have worked for an Oil company and behind the scenes there are no worries about oil running out any time soon, (and thats before they start drilling in the polar regions and previously inaccebile locations) there are worries however about prices going down...

    You may be right, I'm in no position to judge, but I think in the short term the real issue is not wether the oil will run out, but how much it will cost, especially if demand outstrips supply (again this may only be a short term issue). This is not just about the cost of driving going up; almost everything we consume (including food) is deeply dependant on oil and a large and sustained increase in oil prices will be disastrous for many, many people.

  • BigB73 BigB73

    8 Feb 2010, 9:44AM

    60BN barrels from an area we have some sway over, no wonder the OPEC nationas are feeding us Peak Oil, cashing in while they can, they know when the sand under their feet runs dry they dont really have a lot else to sell to the world.

  • keeptakingthetablets keeptakingthetablets

    8 Feb 2010, 9:45AM

    After AGW this sounds like the next big Malthusian scare. They have been talking about peak oil since the 1950s yet reserves keep going up. It should also be noted that we have about 300 years of coal supplies that can now be burned extremely cleanly.

  • littlepump littlepump

    8 Feb 2010, 9:45AM

    isn't Branson also promoting space tourism? that must be a pretty big waste of oil for some increased sumgness of a few of Branson's mega rich pals. If he was really concerned (and I think he should be) you would have thought he would knock this sort of wasteful activity on the head. Seems like a case of do as I say not as I do.

  • BigB73 BigB73

    8 Feb 2010, 9:49AM


    8 Feb 2010, 9:42AM


    I have worked for an Oil company and behind the scenes there are no worries about oil running out any time soon, (and thats before they start drilling in the polar regions and previously inaccebile locations) there are worries however about prices going down...

    You may be right, I'm in no position to judge, but I think in the short term the real issue is not wether the oil will run out, but how much it will cost, especially if demand outstrips supply (again this may only be a short term issue). This is not just about the cost of driving going up; almost everything we consume (including food) is deeply dependant on oil and a large and sustained increase in oil prices will be disastrous for many, many people.

    I agree 100% we need to reduce dependance on oil, however this peak oil argument is scare mongering by the people who seel us oil, not so we reduce consumption but so that they can extract as much out of us as possible.

    Its a "sky falling in" policy to sell reinforced unberellas and its working on the back of the environmentalists, which is beyond ironic.

  • BigB73 BigB73

    8 Feb 2010, 9:53AM


    8 Feb 2010, 9:45AM

    isn't Branson also promoting space tourism? that must be a pretty big waste of oil for some increased sumgness of a few of Branson's mega rich pals. If he was really concerned (and I think he should be) you would have thought he would knock this sort of wasteful activity on the head. Seems like a case of do as I say not as I do.

    Exactly, if he'd put the R and D money into alternative fuels rather than wanky space flights I might listen to him, until then he sounds like some toss pot trying to cover his arse and get some cash from the gov to run his woefull train service or uneconomical airline.

  • TheThunkWorks TheThunkWorks

    8 Feb 2010, 9:56AM

    There is something pretty sickening about the heads of multi-billion pound/dollar industrial and commercial corporations bleating about peak oil and demanding: 'Why doesn't the government (the taxpayer) do something?!!!'

    The government (several governments) are doing something. As I have posted before:

    The Energy War Is On and has been for some considerable time, now (our masters just pretend it's something else).

    Active theatres are in Af-Pak/Central Asia and Iraq/Iran (with a network of land-locked 'Death Star' fortress-complexes established to extend [project] military power across the Middle East and down into Africa). Major bloodletting continues there.

    Another active, but today quiescent, theatre is The Balkans. Major bloodletting has happened there.

    Nascent theatres are The Baltic/Arctic (with NATO integrating Scandinavian military power in preparation for [or in anticipation of the possibility of] 'going hot') and The Bering Sea/Arctic (which pits the US directly against Russia/China and the SCO [Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, a mutual-security treaty organisation comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan]; and which also, interestingly, pits it [the US] against the national interests of Canada). Major bloodletting is possible there.

    All of this is being done at enormous cost in wealth to taxpayers here in the UK and in the US (and elsewhere) and terrible cost in blood to combat service men and women, and to the (literally, in many instances) uncounted victims of war in the civilian populations caught up in it.

    One might, more reasonably, ask the money-bloated corporations (and their bonus-heavy pals in The City and on Wall Street): 'Why don't you do something (other than feed as profiteers off the carnage)?'

  • Ianbolton Ianbolton

    8 Feb 2010, 10:05AM

    So what if somebody with a bit of cash has piped up about this? The point is, as a human race, we will continue to suck our planet dry of all it's resources. We're idiots. We'll keep pumping oil out of the ground until every last drop has gone, and once we realise the earth relies on it's natural resources for the balance and harmony of our planet, we'll be royally screwed then. Climate change is nothing really. I'm sure oil (and gas) is in the ground for a reason.

    I'm not a scientist though, so I'll shut up!

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