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The CILT(UK) Scottish Region Annual Sustainable Transport Event: "Peak Oil and Transport" by David Spaven, Principal of Deltix - Edinburgh meeting of 12 February 2008

The 2008 Scottish Region Annual Sustainable Transport Event was addressed by David Spaven on the subject of "Peak Oil and Transport". Mr. Spaven began his presentation by asking the audience to indicate who knew what "peak oil". Most of the audience knew and Mr. Spaven said that this was in marked contrast with a couple of years ago. He then proceeded to look at the impact that peak oil will have on Scottish transport.

David Spaven, Principal of Deltix, adddressing the Scottish Region Annual Sustainable Transport Event in Edinburgh.d

David Spaven, Principal of Deltix, adddressing the Scottish Region Annual Sustainable Transport Event in Edinburgh.

© John G. Fender 2008

As an example he cited the case of the Japanese shipping line, NYK, which has announced that it intends to cut vessels speeds by 10 per cent across its fleet of 700 and 40 ships and this will save 25 per cent of the fuel oil consumed and will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The shipping line has stated that fuel oil accounts for 50 per cent of its costs. Such a measure is a drastic change from marine transport and has other impacts such as the effect on just in time transport.

Recently oil prices have spiralled ever higher and Are unlikely to drop back to their former levels. Peak oil is the point when global oil production reaches a peak, then declines. It is not a matter of running out of oil but how much is available in relation to demand. In 1956 a complex computer model predicted that the domestic oil production would peak in 1972, but the prediction was wrong. It peaked in 1970.

Current predictions are on a global basis by but these vary widely, especially as OPEC will not give a clear answer when asked about the its members oil reserves. Predictions vary widely with some suggesting that peak oil will be reached in 25 to 30 years, whilst others predict that peak oil will not occur at all. However there is clear evidence that seven of the leading oil producers have already peaked and some commentators have suggested that Saudi Arabia may also have reached its peak. It has been suggested that the global peak oil may occur as early as 2011.

The global oil situation is compounded by the relationship between demand and supply and in January 2008 the chief executive of shell stated that his company estimates that after 2015 it will no longer be able to keep up with current demand. This has implications not just for transport, but for society in general. In particular manufacturing and agriculture will be affected, for example, manufacturing users plastics that are derived from oil whereas agriculture relies on oil for the manufacture of fertilisers in addition to transport.

Around 75% of oil is consumed by transport and 95% of fuel by transport is oil. The chief user of oil is the car. Rail transport is also dependent on oil, although it is more fuel efficient. Electrification of the railways is one solution and at present around 23 per cent of Scottish railways are electrified and in the UK as a whole the figure is around 40 per cent. Maritime transport is likely to be particularly affected especially following NYK's announcement that it intends to reduce the vessel speeds. Mr. Spaven posed the question of how that would affect Scotland. He then looked at alternative forms of transport and considered walking and cycling for local transport. He thought that modal shift would help the situation, but this is not a panacea. Looking at food production, he suggested that instead of transporting food for long distances, growing it locally would have advantages by reducing the carbon footprint.

Mr. Spaven thought that in time there would be less travel and transport generally, and instead of just in time logistics we would have just enough. He looked at by adverse effects of modern transport, and pointed out that cars have become heavier as more and more gadgets are fitted, trains are also heavier as the have air conditioning, power operated doors, and this has an impact on fuel efficiency. High speed travel also has an impact on fuel efficiency and he questioned whether or not it might be better to settle for lower speeds to gain the consequential fuel saving.

There are other measures which society to take to reduce its dependency on oil for example reduce dependency on escalators and lifts, as these use energy or by making use of energy efficient light bulbs more widespread. On the roads, driving more smoothly will save fuel as well turning engines off at traffic lights on in traffic queues. Reducing vehicle speeds will save fuel, and Mr. Spaven pointed out that the most efficient speed for a car in terms of fuel consumption is around 45 miles per hour. From a transport perspective, reaching peak oil may result in the end of globalization as there will be more emphasis on local production. It is a case that it will not be if peak oil a covers but when and we need to start preparing for this now. Even if oil peaks in 20 years' time, that does not give us much time for change.

After Mr. Spaven's presentation there was a lengthy and interesting debate on the subject with many members present putting forward their views and making salient points. These ranged from conservative to radical and covered local, national and international aspects of transport. How the economy would be affected attracted much debate and other main areas discussed included railways, public transport, the common agricultural policy, by all fuels, and taxation.

At the end of the debate, Mr. Spaven was presented with one of the Scottish regions engraved quaichs by the chairman who thanked him for his presentation and participation in the debate that followed.

Report by John Fender.


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