The problems of depending on petrol
The International Energy Agency has released figures stating that in 2030 it looks like the world will still rely on fossil fuels for 80% of its energy needs.ENVIRONMENT looks at the global dependency on oil and the problems it presents.
It’s a primary product that has powered the past century but reserves of oil are running out. The search for the black gold is going ever deeper and now tar sands in Canada are gaining interest. The world’s second largest reserves of crude oil are to be found in Alberta but extracting oil from these sands produces two to three times as much CO2 as conventional methods, making it the dirtiest petrol on the planet. What’s more, the tar sands are generally to be found under boreal wilderness, and the mining for the oil has put the forests ecosystem under pressure. "To find the tar sands, you have to cut down the trees. Then you have to dig up about 50 meters of earth and forest, because it's not prairie land there. It's all forest. And then you have to dig down another 25 meters to get at the tar sand. That needs to be transported and heated with steam to get at the oil," notes Normand Mousseau, a physics professor at Montreal University.
The industry defends the practice saying that oil production spurs economic growth, and the environmental damage is limited. "The oil sands area underlies an area, 4 percent of that boreal forest that you saw. It is a very vast resource in Canada. The mine-able portions of the oil sands, is 0.1 percent of the boreal forest in Canada," says Don Thompson, President of the Oil Sands Developers Group.
Despite environmental groups' concerns, the pace of production is increasing under pressure from the United States, India and China. Exploitation of tar sands has already destroyed three thousand square kilometres of forest in Canada.
Transportation is one area where the world is still heavily dependent on oil, indeed it is responsible for 50% of the total consumption of petrol. In countries like Venezuela where the local resource costs less to consume then water, cars abound and few, as yet, think about the environmental consequences.
So what are the alternatives? Biofuels have taken off in many areas but the first generation have been hit with hard criticism, notably the destruction of rain forests or the fact that they eat up potential food resources. One tank full of biofuel, it is said, uses the equilivant of 200 kilograms of corn which is estimated to provide enough calories to feed someone for a year. The search for a second generation of biofuels which would not eat into food production has begun: with manufacturers are working with wood, organic waste and non-edible plants in a bid to find a more suitable source.