Oil is black gold. It has brought unprecedented growth in technology and innovations, easing lives, improving health in most countries, and much more… I have calculated: Less than 10 litres of petrol can bring my family, my shopping and my car home from our nearest city 80 km away in less than one hour. It would take me 3 years to walk the same distance carrying my kids, my shopping and the ton of steel and plastic that is my car! Oil is fantastic and I thank you all, the oil industrialists, for this wonderful era of success.
But it comes with serious side effects, which I summarize below. Knowing this, is “growing NZ Oil and Gas capability” really the best thing to do? I am just asking you to reflect, to think. And I suggest ideas on how you could you use your skills and inventiveness, your investing capabilities and your leadership, to continue to innovate and bring progress while restoring life-sustaining resources and at the same time, improving your profits.
Extracting substances from the Earth’s crust leads to a concentration of substances outside of the crust that nature cannot process. You are well aware of the first law of thermodynamics that states that both energy and matter cannot disappear. So extracting these materials that are normally tucked away in our Earth’s crust leads to their build up in the atmosphere and throughout nature. This results in, for example, rising levels of heavy metals in the soil, phosphate in lakes, cadmium in our kidneys and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter is our concern here because it comes inescapably from coal and oil combustion and it creates a greenhouse effect that has been proven to have devastating impacts on life on Earth. 97% of scientists agree that climate change is human induced. And this is a good news: it means we, humans, can actually do something about it.
There is enough oil left in the soils to raise the atmosphere’s temperature far above temperatures the biosphere can adapt to. Instead of focusing on extracting as much as possible, you can choose to help the world depend less on oil, for example by developing different engines or renewable energies generators.
Oil is the raw material of many products that accumulate on Earth because they cannot be broken down and recycled by natural systems. Be it plastics that endure and pollute the oceans and its living creatures or PCB and fertilizers that are toxic to soils and concentrate in our bodies causing cancers, decreased fertility and other damage. Complexity and time-lags make it difficult to assess safe limits. Therefore the only precautionary option is to gradually phase out all non-biodegradable products. Your industrial capabilities could focus on replacing these artificial compounds with biodegradable substances with similar or better performance.
Your activities result in degradation of the ecosystems by physical means and even worse, devastating spills, as in the Gulf of Mexico and other places, the toxic effects of which continue for decades. In a world where biodiversity has been reduced by more than 20%, it is time to choose what is important -the short term profits or ecosystems and their vital services, says the Convention on Biological Diversity, a United Nation agency
Moreover, as the easily accessed oil reserves are mostly emptied now, the techniques to extract oil are increasingly damaging to the ecosystems (e.g. fracking), or take place in increasingly difficult and sensitive places (poles or deep seas). These circumstances mean the effects of accidents will be more and more severe. Particularly in New Zealand, sitting on the Ring of Fire, any installation can, at any time, be toppled despite all the precautions taken. Instead of putting the Earth at risk, the responsible attitude is to start reorienting your activities now.
Even socially, oil and gas production does not need to continue to increase. While some people still overuse petrol unaware of the issues, most people are unhappy to pay ever increasing prices at the petrol station and have started to reorganise their lives to travel and entertain differently, to buy locally and avoid using petrol based products. While the oil prices keep going up, its unaffordability becomes a social injustice. Arguing that emergent countries will need large amounts of oil simply does not work, as the Earth cannot sustain the consequent temperature levels. It is far smarter to invest now in renewable and affordable techniques rather than to make people believe that they can have all the benefits of oil without the consequences.
Financially, the oil and gas industry delivers shrinking profit margins due to the need for increasing investment required for each oil unit. Besides, its return on investment is insecure and also at stake is the relationships with with people, communities, associations and even governments. Social media enables increasing awareness and social action, and engenders unwanted side costs like the Denniston plateau lawsuit and many others. Meanwhile, you are subject to political change which can mean a revocation of contracts, such as in April 2013 in Belize.
Business for future generations
In this post-industrial era of change, carrying on with business as usual is not an option. However, if you think in terms of services (selling transport options, warmth, light, etc) rather than products (oil, gas and electricity), then you can dream about creating energy efficient vehicles, insulating building materials, widespread solar and wind power and much more.
Many people are already working in these directions but are often lacking the necessary capital capabilities. There is huge opportunity in the economies of scale. If you want to learn more about these, watch this entertaining Amory Lovins TED talk and contact the Rocky Mountain Institute for advice.
In New Zealand, contact the Centre for Sustainable Practice, or you may be helped by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.
How could YOU use your finances, skills and creativity to bring energy breakthroughs?
I am looking forward to hear if you intend to ignore this information or to explore it and make your grandchildren proud of the difference you made to their world.
Thank you for your attention.
20/06/2013 at 3:33 am
Every Nzer should see our future deep sea oil dril http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yduv3APYawA&feature=player_embedded#at=583
20/06/2013 at 3:37 am
Bill McKibben, 350 founder said “In New Zealand a massive subsidy goes directly from the Government to the oil and gas industry . From a subsidy of $6 million in 2009 that has now grown to $46 million. Of our money going to the very industries that need it the least. So the campaign in NZ will begin with not spending our tax in helping the fossil fuel industry, the richest industry in the world –of all time”. (http://www.celsias.co.nz/article/bill-mckibben-nz-tour/?utm_source=CelsiasWeekly&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=20130617)
24/07/2013 at 10:31 am
John Key was personally sent this open letter. He did not reply to me however, he just published this very clear plan http://youtu.be/qQrBly7xMjs which will earn New Zealand 13 billion $ in royalties, which is convincing considering the whole government earned $84 billion of revenue in 2012. John Key is counting, but he did not reflect nor think yet.