BBC Radio 4 discusses Peak Oil (intelligently!)

by | Sep 27, 2008

The “You and Yours” programme on BBC Radio 4 this week held a studio discussion on Peak Oil, with energy investment banker Matt Simmons, peak oil educator Richard Heinberg and the Chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil, John Hemming MP.

The 12 minute discussion can be heard above or here and includes discussion of the options open to the UK government, including Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs).


  1. Steve

    Hi Shaun,

    Thank you for putting this Radio 4 file up; I’ve just downloaded it for a listen. I’ve just come across your website and I look forward to reading it more closely,


  2. Daniel

    Hi Shaun

    I’m a bit of newbie to this but rather confused why none of the discussions of Peak Oil make reference to oil from coal, or shale oil, which have the (terrifying) potential to provide (v dirty but only slightly more expensive) oil for a lifetime. e.g.


  3. Shaun Chamberlin

    Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for your comment. The truth is that despite all the hype from various vested interests coal-to-liquids (CTL) and shale oil do not have the potential to make up for the depletion of conventional oil.

    With regard to coal take a look at my article on the Energy Watch Group’s analysis of global reserves. Their work is based on the most authoritative data available (which is still of pretty poor quality) and finds that the peak in energy from coal – as opposed to the tonnage peak – is likely to come in the next couple of decades, even if no limits are put on extraction due to the climate challenge.

    The more fundamental issue with regard to your question though is that while the peak oil challenge is often presented as being about running out of oil reserves, it is really about flow rates. Depleting reserves are one key factor limiting these production/flow rates, but it is this rate of production that defines the energy availability to society at a given time. As they say, with peak oil it’s not the size of the tank which is fundamental, but the size of the tap.

    And as explored in Appendix A of my book, the size of the tap with shale oil is relatively tiny. According to experts like Ray Leonard and David Hughes, limits on the availability of water, natural gas, pipelines and suitable personnel mean that even production from bitumen, tar sands and oil shale combined is likely only able to increase by around 2m b/day by 2018.

    Similarly, Robert Hirsch’s famous report advocating a global crash programme of CTL in response to peak oil estimated that around 3m b/day of additional production could be brought on line by 2018.

    These numbers would barely make a dent in the bigger oil depletion picture. So yes, oil shale ‘reserves’ are huge, but Randy Udall put it well (with tongue firmly in cheek):

    “Shell has spent $200 million dollars to produce 1,700 barrels of shale oil in the last decade. At that rate of production the shale oil that we have here in Colorado will last six million years. This is something that gives me great hope for the future.”

    And of course you are quite right to highlight the massively disproportionate environmental consequences already being seen from such ‘unconventional’ oil production (one could also mention the pitiful EROEI of such projects), but even without that, there are good reasons why CTL, shale oil etc cannot resolve our energy flow challenge.

    Hope that’s helpful.

    All the best,

  4. Debty

    Ahaan… I will follow.

  5. Jeff

    Dear Shaun,

    My thanks as well for uploading this file. One thing they touched on was the lack of honest information coming from our governments. Perhaps this is due to a a lack of scientific evidence, lack of leadership, lobbyists that influence the US Congress, and/or a desire not to cause ‘chaos’ which was mentioned. However, the uninformed citizen is an unmotivated citizen.

    Charlottesville, Va.

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