The Battle Over “Peak Oil” — IEA Vs OPEC

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Last week, Fatih Birol, head of the IEA (International Energy Agency), had positive things to say how the uptick in renewable energy resources — mostly from the addition of new solar capacity — has made him feel a little more hopeful about taming the challenge of an overheating planet before it dooms the human race.

“Despite the scale of the challenges, I feel more optimistic than I felt two years ago. Solar photovoltaic installations and electric vehicle sales are perfectly in line with what we said they should be, to be on track to reach net zero by 2050, and thus stay within 1.5ºC. Clean energy investments in the last two years have seen a staggering 40% increase.”

IEA On Peak Oil

Prior to that, Birol wrote an op-ed for the Financial Times in which he said, “Despite recurring talk of peak oil and peak coal over the years, both fuels are hitting all-time highs, making it easier to push back against any assertions that they could soon be on the wane. But according to new projections from the International Energy Agency, this age of seemingly relentless growth is set to come to an end this decade, bringing with it significant implications for the global energy sector and the fight against climate change.”

The folks at OPEC were not happy with the IEA or Birol over that statement. Two days later it issued its own press release to counter what the IEA said.

It is an extremely risky and impractical narrative to dismiss fossil fuels, or to suggest that they are at the beginning of their end. In past decades, there were often calls of peak supply, and in more recent ones, peak demand, but evidently neither has materialized. The difference today, and what makes such predictions so dangerous, is that they are often accompanied by calls to stop investing in new oil and gas projects.

“Such narratives only set the global energy system up to fail spectacularly. It would lead to energy chaos on a potentially unprecedented scale, with dire consequences for economies and billions of people across the world,” says OPEC Secretary General, HE Haitham Al Ghais.

This thinking on fossil fuels is ideologically driven, rather than fact-based. It also does not take into account the technological progress the industry continues to make on solutions to help reduce emissions. Neither does it acknowledge that fossil fuels continue to make up over 80% of the global energy mix, the same as 30 years ago, or that the energy security they provide is vital.

Technological innovation is a key focus for OPEC, which is why Member Countries are investing heavily in hydrogen projects, carbon capture utilization and storage facilities, the circular carbon economy, and in renewables too. While some may suggest that a number of these oil-focused technologies are still immature, they ignore the fact that many technologies referenced in net-zero scenarios are at an immature, experimental or even theoretical stage.

In recent years, we have seen energy issues climb back to the top of the agenda for populations as many glimpse how experimental net zero policies and targets impact their lives. They have legitimate concerns. How much will they cost in their current form? What benefits will they bring? Will they work as hyped? Are there other options to help reduce emissions? And what will happen if these forecasts, policies and targets do not materialize?

Thankfully, there has been a reawakening across many societies of the need for energy security and economic development to go hand-in-hand with reducing emissions. In turn, this has led to a reevaluation by some policymakers on their approach to energy transition pathways.

“Cognizant of the challenge facing the world to eliminate energy poverty, meet rising energy demand, and ensure affordable energy while reducing emissions, OPEC does not dismiss any energy sources or technologies, and believes that all stakeholders should do the same and recognize short- and long-term energy realities,” says HE Al Ghais.

In the interests of contributing to future overall global energy stability, OPEC will continue to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders to foster dialogue, that includes the views of all peoples, so as to ensure inclusive and effective energy transitions moving forward.

Michael Mann Is Correct

Fortunately, CleanTechnica readers can spot the gaping holes in OPEC’s argument, which are thoroughly explored in Michael Mann’s interview with Vox this week, in which he exposes the campaign of the fossil fuel industries to delay, distract, divide, and deflect. Did you notice Al Ghais used the magic words “hydrogen” and “carbon capture?” That is right out of the Koch Industries playbook.

Mann told Vox the intent is to delay, delay, delay, and delay some more. The OPEC crowd likes to say, “Oh, look, we can fix the problem with geoengineering, with carbon capture down the road. Trust us, we’ll be able to fix it. So ‘let us continue to burn fossil fuels now. We will fix it later.” Mann said, “That’s what they want. They want people disengaged on the sidelines rather than on the front lines. We see these tactics literally playing out today.”

CNBC says the spat reflects the ongoing clash between climate change concerns and the need for energy security. That juxtaposition was on full display at ADIPEC — the annual gathering whose name stood for Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition Conference until this year, when it was quietly changed to Abu Dhabi International Progressive Energy Conference.

In Abu Dhabi this year, the CEOs of oil majors and state oil producers stressed the need for a dual approach, insisting that their companies were part of the solution, not the problem, and that an energy transition is not possible without the security and economic support of the hydrocarbons sector.

“I don’t know if we’re going to have peak oil in 2030. But it’s very dangerous to say that we have to reduce investment because that is against the transition,” Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Italian multinational energy company Eni, told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick this week. He warned that if oil investment — and therefore supply — drops and fails to meet demand, prices will surge, crippling the economy.

Descalzi acknowledged that burning fossil fuels “is producing lots of CO2,” but added “we cannot shut down everything and rely just on renewables and that is the future, no. It’s not like that. We have infrastructure, we have investment that we have to recover and we have the demand that is still there.”

Investments you have to recover? Bullsh*t. Show us where it is written that investments in failing industries have to be recovered. Go bankrupt. That’s the penalty capitalism imposes on those who make bad business decisions.

The IEA Road Map To Net Zero

In August, the IEA also outlined its road map for net zero by 2050, calculating that worldwide oil demand would need to fall to 77 million barrels per day by 2030 and 24 million barrels per day by 2050 in order for the world to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. CNBC describes that goal as nearly impossible to meet, since during Covid — when the world economy came to a near standstill –demand was reduced by only 20%.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that fossil fuel emissions must be cut in half within the next decade if global warming is to be contained to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Since 90% of global carbon emissions come from fossil fuels and heavy industry, the choice is clear — dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels or watch billions of people (and most other species) die.

We always wonder what goes on in the minds of these fossil fuel apologists. Do they not understand that if there are no people, there will be no demand for their products? Do they think God will swoop down and to help them recover their investments? Do they not understand that if they kill most of the people on Earth, their business model goes straight into the toilet?

Shell Pitches Climate Killing Behavior To Young People

The truth of Michael Mann’s warnings can be found in a story published by The Guardian on October 6. Media Matters for America reports that Shell is targeting young players on Twitch, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, encouraging them to fill up virtual vehicles at interactive Shell gas stations and post screenshots of the game with a #Shellroadtrips hashtag.

The group reports that Shell has collaborated with Fortnite creators and paid popular gamers on multiple platforms to showcase its “ultimate road trips” promotion, part of a marketing campaign for a new gasoline it calls V-Power Nitro+.

“Shell’s marketing to young people is another example of how big oil puts profit over people and the planet, even though it has known for decades that the product that it sells is driving the climate crisis,” said Allison Fisher, director of Media Matters’ climate and energy program.

Older readers may recall when cigarette companies paid candy companies to make fake cigarettes so children would get used to the idea of smoking at an early age. The hugely successful Joe Camel cartoon was created specifically to make Camel cigarettes appealing to young people.

Aru Shiney-Ajay, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, also criticized the promotion. “This is another desperate move by a dying company. Gen Z knows the truth about the fossil fuel industry, and companies like Shell know it. This is just the latest attempt to buy their way to survival. Students are done with this bullshit and are claiming their power. They are sitting in at [Republican party] offices and organizing to make their school boards teach the truth about the climate crisis and the fossil fuel industry’s role.”

Isn’t it interesting that fossil fuel apologists get all high and mighty when someone attacks their business, but then smile and wink when Shell pulls a despicable trick like this? Hypocrisy is not on the list of D-Words that Michael Mann warned us about, but it is clearly the foundation upon which the oil and gas companies have built their businesses. Why would anyone want to do business with these slimeballs?

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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