Oil crunch looming: expert

27 Oct, 2004 10:00 PM
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SKYROCKETING oil prices have prompted a warning for better fuel conservation measures instead of trying to develop alternative energies.

The warning came from Bruce Robinson, a physical chemist representing the Sustainable Transport Coalition, a Perth lobby group backing sustainable transport in WA, following oil prices again crashing through the US$55 a barrel mark last week.

Speaking at an energy conference at Muresk last week, Mr Robinson called on the Federal Government to remove subsidies he said encouraged excessive private motor vehicle usage, particularly for gas-guzzling urban 4WD vehicles and Fringe Benefit Tax incentives encouraging heavy car use.

Mr Robinson is a member of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia and has been studying world oil depletion forecasts since 1996.

He believes the big rollover, or when global production starts to decline, could already have occurred, or could take place before 2020.

He said there was a great deal of uncertainty about global oil production and reserve level figures.

"But the declines in Australian and world oil availability are likely to be much faster than any alternatives can be brought on stream in significant volume," Mr Robinson said.

"Most decision makers have assumed, wrongly, that medium and short term supplies are assured.

"There is rapidly mounting evidence from the oil industry itself that this complacency about future oil supplies may well be very misplaced."

But BP communications and external affairs manager for WA, SA and the Northern Territory Peter Metcalfe disputed Mr Robinson's claims that the world was on the verge of a fuel shortage crisis.

"It is not for us an issue that the oil is running out or disappearing," Mr Metcalfe said.

"It's more about the sources of fossil fuels are getting concentrated in fewer and fewer parts of the world.

"So it's really about diversity and security, where we get the energy from rather than actually physically run out."

Mr Robinson said almost 80pc of Australia's petroleum use was for transport, with agriculture comprising 7pc of that figure.

"It is crucially important that there be open and informed discussion about oil depletion," he said.

"Contrary to many common predictions, it is highly unlikely there will ever be a single magic bullet panacea for our oil vulnerability, a major aim should be to reduce our very high levels of car dependency.

"Oil saved by reducing wasteful urban car rips in Australia can be redirected into productive uses, in the agricultural sector for instance."

Mr Robinson said alternative fuels faced severe constraints if they were to replace fossil fuels in the near to medium term.

"Enormous volumes are required to replace a sizeable proportion of our current liquid fuel usage and the time scale for their provision in these volumes is very short," he said.

"For instance, diverting Australia's entire wheat crop to produce ethanol would replace less than 10pc of our oil usage."

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