ASPO is a network of concerned scientists in European Universities and Government Departments with the following declared mission:
- To evaluate the world's endowment and definition of oil and gas;
- To study depletion, taking due account of economics, demand, technology and politics;
- To raise awareness of the serious consequences for Mankind.
It has been in existence for four years, putting out a monthly newsletter, operating a website www.peakoil.net
and holding annual conferences. It is by all means a Network, lacking a formal establishment, but that adds to its strength allowing the national committees to do what is appropriate in their own countries.
It is said that from small acorns, large oak trees grow, and from a small beginning ASPO has certainly enjoyed a remarkable success, with its voices now being heard throughout the world. This year is the turn of Lisbon to host the conference with the generous support of the Gulbenkian Foundation.
In large measure, this success is due to events beyond its control, for the notion of Peak Oil, which has been obvious to the scientist for so long, now captures popular imagination and rises to the head of political agendas everywhere.
The Concept of Peak Oil can be explained in a few words:
Oil was formed but rarely in time and place in the Earth's geological past, meaning that it is a finite resource subject to depletion. It has to be found before it can be produced. The peak of discovery in the 1960s therefore heralded a corresponding peak of production. The larger fields were found first in most areas. Production is also constrained by the physics of the reservoir. The production profile in a country or region with a large population of fields is normally symmetrical, with peak coming when half the total has been produced. Gas follows a different trajectory with a steep terminal decline, with the World peak coming a few years after oil.
Public data on oil and gas reserves are grossly unreliable, subject to both over- and under-reporting in different countries, which allows economists to argue that production is simply a function of investment and technology. The true state of affairs would otherwise be almost self-evident.
The World is in fact now very close to Peak, spelling the End of the First Half of the Oil Age. It lasted 150 years and saw the growth of industry, transport, trade, agriculture, and financial capital, made possible by an abundant flow of cheap oil-based energy. The Second Half now dawns, and will be characterised by the decline of oil and all that depends upon it. Peak Oil is accordingly an unprecedented historic discontinuity with grave consequences.
This Conference brings together participants from many countries to dig behind the many veils of confusion and misrepresentation in an effort to identify the contributions of all the different categories of oil and to identify the regional issues. It moves beyond the simple acceptance of the reality of peak oil as imposed by Nature, to model more exactly the depletion profiles and political impacts, which may also affect demand.
A panel of prestigious politicians evaluate the scope for new initiatives to put demand in better balance with the supply as constrained by Nature. The transition to decline will undoubtedly be an epoch of grave tension and geopolitical conflict as consumers vie with each other for access to supplies. With about half of what is left lying in just five countries bordering the Persian Gulf, the Middle East is an obvious flashpoint. But in the longer term, there are hopes for sensible responses putting people into a better relationship with themselves, their neighbours and the Environment within which Nature has ordained them to live.
The Conference gives people the chance to come together in the ancient city of Lisbon that has experienced many vicissitudes during the long history etched into the stones of its fine buildings. The formal programme sets the scene, but much is also achieved in informal meetings and discussions.
The World's media has cast a serious eye on the previous ASPO conferences in Uppsala, Paris and Berlin, and will no doubt follow the proceedings in Lisbon with a sharpened interest as the storm clouds gather above an uncertain world.