Mistaken world oil reserves estimate will undermine carbon dioxide actions

15 June 2007

A drastic miscalculation of global oil reserves publicised yesterday will lead to complacency and inaction to tackle the carbon dioxide threat to the world, says the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

A report by the London-based Oil Depletion Analsis Centre yesterday said that previous estimates that oil reserves will expire in about 40 years were wrong and that they will run out much more quickly after peaking in four years time.

But Dr Richard Pike, of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a former international manager in both the petrochemical and oil industries, says that oil production might last another 100 years, meaning that the world should anticipate a much more protracted threat from the resultant carbon dioxide emissions.

Even within the energy sector there continues, he said, to be confusion between the highly conservative figures for "proven" reserves and what will actually be produced.

Dr Pike said today: "If institutions and the general public accept the warnings now being offered that oil will run out sooner than previously thought, then there will be an inevitable relaxation and complacency over the problem of carbon dioxide generated in consumption of the oil.

"We should now be working out best methods of capturing and storing the carbon dioxide to reduce global warming which will depend upon innovation in chemistry. When earlier estimates said, wrongly, that oil reserves would last another four decades or so it was already underplaying the carbon dioxide threat. 

"Now, if people think that the oil will be there for only 10 or 20 years then the determination and commitment to develop capture and storage technology will ebb away and that would be a disaster."

Dr Pike warned last year, in a paper in the respected journal Petroleum Review that oil industry analysts had misinterpreted international reserves and that oil would be available for much longer, raising the issue of fossil fuel emissions over most of the 21st century.

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