Thursday, February 26, 2009

Only so much oil in the ground

Native Americans from the Cree clan will today announce a legal challenge to the Alberta government’s issuing of permits allowing oil corporations to start extracting oil from tar sands in the Beaver Lake area. This highly profitable activity will pollute hunting and fishing lands and destroy protected areas and species. The Co-operative Bank has offered the Cree £50,000 towards their legal costs.

The rush for cheap oil is speeding up everywhere, though the oil price has plummeted. The International Energy Agency explains why: even assuming no growth in demand, an extra 45 million barrels per day of oil production will be needed by 2030 in order to compensate for falling output in ageing oilfields.

But the low price means there is no incentive to explore for underground or undersea deposits. Tar sand doesn’t need to be searched for – you just drag out the oil, devastate the land, and pocket the profits.

The anarchy and injustice of the market is nowhere more clear than in energy. Investment in alternative energy is now at a standstill as the corporations abandon any efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The price of carbon credits has fallen so low, that it is cheaper to go on polluting than to invest in cleaner technologies.

Governments are reducing subsidies for alternative energy and the credit crunch means there loans to alternative energy companies are few and far between. The big energy giants are pulling out of alternatives with the exception of bio-fuels from grain, which are heavily subsidised in the US.

BP is cutting solar cell production in Australia, abandoning all its wind power projects except in the US and scrapping plans for “experimental” carbon capture power stations. It is doing it because its net profit for the last quarter was only $2.605 billion compared to a forecast $2.98 billion. BP is one of the companies involved in the Alberta Basin project.

The oil corporation is also cutting investment in an experimental project to produce oil from jatropha, a hardy plant that can be grown on land unsuitable for food crops. This is just the kind of production that could offer a living to farmers in poor countries in the future – although the model used of growing the plant in India and Africa and then importing it to Mansfield, seems completely crazy.

BP’s partner in the business, D1, has already shut plants in Merseyside and Middlesbrough. They produced bio-diesel from rape seed oil but could not compete with subsidised US bio-diesel. So fuel is being used, and emissions created, to transport supposedly green diesel across the Atlantic ocean.

Now the Mansfield plant faces contraction, and the farmers in India and Africa commissioned to grow 500,000 acres of jatropha will be hit too. And yet, world governments continue to look to this market to deliver consistency of supply AND reduce carbon emissions at the same time. It is the double bind of profit-driven globalisation, which they can see no escape from.

This flawed system is incapable of delivering a just, affordable and sustainable energy supply. We must urgently develop the alternative. Join A World to Win in planning how that can be achieved – start by reading our Action Plan for the Eco-Crisis. And I find it concentrates the mind wonderfully if you have playing in the background the amazing Tower of Power’s prescient 1973 hit "Only so Much Oil in the Ground".

Penny Cole
Environment editor

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