It takes dramatic accidents like this one in order for society and politicians to seriously ask themselves:
– How much longer will we be dependent on oil?
– Why are we so dependent? And why didn’t we foresee the inherent risks and – dangers of deep sea drilling earlier?
– And what should we do now?
– And just why do we need to act quickly?
The global political economy is based on cheap oil. It is the “blood” of our political economy, without which we can’t be vital, healthy, and happy. The first two oil crises in the seventies and eighties led to short-term outrage and a temporary rethinking. After that, everything was back to normal. As soon as oil is cheap, problems are forgotten yet again.
So far, the global oil supply has been sufficient to meet the demand. Although supporters of various theories often argue as to when exactly global oil production will have reached its maximum, everyone is in agreement: Oil is and will remain a finite resource. And the time of a sufficient oil supply is coming to an end. The question is really how long we will still have sufficient oil available to us. Worldwide oil production is currently at approximately 85 million barrels a day, and the demand was roughly the same before the financial crisis. Booming and especially rapidly-growing political economies have an enormous hunger and thirst for oil. This means we need to considerably broaden global oil supplies in order to even begin to meet the demand. It is safe to predict that worldwide demand will rise to 100 million barrels a day in the course of the next decade. A trend reversal beforehand can basically be ruled out, since mobility technologies are almost completely based on oil.
We also continue to waste vast quantities of oil by keeping the price low, even artificially. Especially the United States needs to take a good look in the mirror, as it consumes over twice the amount Europe does. And – as opposed to Europe – the US hardly levies any energy taxes. Mobility is an expression of freedom and wealth, one that can’t be touched. And that is exactly where the problem lies: Keeping the oil price artificially high is extremely unpopular in politics. And in order to introduce new technologies into the market, you need great persistence and a combination of wise political and economic decisions.
In order to expand oil supplies to the necessary 100-million-barrel mark in the next decade, all available resources need to be tapped – even if we would like to avoid that particular situation. More and more, conventional and easily-accessible fields are dwindling, and the supply needs to be broadened globally as well. This is why we find ourselves dependent on deep sea drilling, not only in the US, but also, for example, in Brazilian and African waters. It also takes enormous amounts of energy and is a significant environmental burden to extract oil from sands and rock, as is especially the case in Canada. As much as we would like to convince ourselves that we don’t want any of this to happen, we need to understand that we should have begun to say “goodbye” to oil 20 years ago. Then we would see the current global demand for oil sinking rather than rising.
Without a doubt, deep sea drilling is risky business. Especially when it takes place in depths of over 1500 metres, as was proven with the recent catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet the technology is controllable, and risks must be minimised from both technological and political standpoints. Most of all, everything needs to be done in order to better prepare for pollution clean-up operations and damage control in the future. Yet we have no choice if we want to avoid both an energy crisis and a global financial crisis. A lion’s share of worldwide oil supplies is in the hands of state-controlled systems, such as in the Arab states, in Russia, or in Venezuela. Private corporations who are able to coordinate such costly, capital-intensive drillings only have access to about 20 percent of global oil supplies. That’s why one factor we cannot afford to underestimate is the fact that we need to diversify oil fields. This especially means resorting to deep sea drilling.
The majority of oil used in the world is used for mobility, followed by building energy and other uses, such as, for example, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and other product manufacturing. So – in order to greatly lessen our dependence on oil – we need to find alternative propulsion technology and materials to use in the mobility sector as quickly as possible. This would not only require new techniques such as electric mobility and its associated storage technology, but especially a new infrastructure. Using natural and liquid petroleum gases as propulsion materials in the existing petrol station and automobile system, this could definitely be both easily and promptly implemented. Using hydrogen, on the other hand, things would already become more difficult. Hydrogen must be produced, stored, and transported and therefore requires new technology and infrastructure. Renewable energies could especially be employed to produce hydrogen, since the medium of hydrogen could be used as storage. Just as, for example, methane, biomethane, and other fuels that must be energetically produced, could be used as storage media for volatile renewable energies. However, it can’t be ignored that enormous investments in researching these technologies would be required, while new automobiles and infrastructure would need to be developed. Biofuels are, for example, currently already being mixed with conventional fuels. In some countries, for example in Brazil, a large percentage of ethanol (made from sugarcane) is already being used. Sustainable manufacturing is important when employing renewable resources for fuel production, as they should not compete with foodstuffs and also prevent any environmental damage from occurring.
All in all, there is a need for wide-sweeping, consistent, and – most of all – global efforts to explore these kinds of innovative technologies and to introduce them into markets. However, this is something that needs to start taking place today, as we will need at least 20 years to witness any noticeable successes and changes. At the same time, everything should be undertaken to conserve energy, for example by making energy processes more efficient, as well as noticeably improving the efficiency of building energy. All of this requires wide-reaching political regulation and intelligent business-led decision-making. The “green” markets, i.e. energy efficiency technologies, sustainable mobility, but also intelligent infrastructure are the markets of the future. Corporations are increasingly recognising the enormous business opportunities. Politicians shouldn’t be allowed to make hasty and unchecked political decisions based solely on environmental catastrophes. They should especially take long-term precautions. These mainly include – in addition to unpopular decisions such as raising the oil price – measures and parameters for the improvement of energy efficiency and the facilitation of a sustainable energy transition and mobility. This is something that certainly can’t be set out in the course of a single afternoon during a televised speech or at a roundtable with representatives from the oil industry. This demands political decisions that are both far-reaching and especially designed with the long term in mind. People will soon forget the oil-covered pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico. They mustn’t, however, forget the necessity of a sustainable energy transition.