Running on empty - Page 3

The San Francisco Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force explores life after fossil fuels — an era that may be coming sooner than most people think

Considering the widespread role petroleum plays in the general day-to-day functioning of our society, an impending decline in overall global production is — to put it mildly — severely worrying.

"People assume that the other side of the peak will be an orderly transition," Lundberg tells us, "but we have no other experience to compare it to."

In 2005 the United States Department of Energy completed a study it had commissioned on the topic of worldwide petroleum depletion titled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management. Popularly known as the Hirsch Report (for principal author Robert Hirsch), the study consulted a wide range of scientific and oil industry experts.

It painted a startling portrait: "The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking."

"It is one of the most important government reports of the last half century," Heinberg explains, "because it clearly indicates that this global event of peak oil is going to change everything."

Unfortunately, the Hirsch Report has been mostly ignored by Congress, the George W. Bush administration, and the DOE itself (which did not even publish the study for more than a year after its completion). However, the most troublesome aspect of the report is the fact that a sizable selection of the scientists and activists concerned with the topic believe that we've already hit the peak. They believe peak oil is happening right now.


"Most people in this country are energy illiterate," David Fridley says. "We can't substitute millions of years of fossil fuels with something that we can manufacture in a factory, like biofuels. So most people don't get this sense of anxiety about the situation we're in."

Fridley knows a fair amount about energy. Currently a staff scientist leading the China Energy Group of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he has spent a large portion of his career working in the Asian oil industry. His deep concern over the implications of peak oil incited him to play a key role in the formation of San Francisco's task force.

"Having spent a year just thinking about this on my own," Fridley tells us, "and everyone around me telling me I was nuts, I decided to join a local group where I could at least meet up with others and see if we might educate people rather than just talking amongst ourselves."

In 2005, Fridley met Dennis Brumm — a veteran San Francisco activist with an address book containing an A-list of the city's prime political players — who was looking to raise the city's awareness of the issue.

Together with local activists Jennifer Bresee and Allyse Heartwell, they set their sights on bringing the issue of peak oil before the Board of Supervisors.

"Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee is a friend of mine," Brumm explains, "so I invited him over to my house one night and had him discuss with us the personalities and quirks of the supervisors and their aides."

Having charted the terrain, Brumm's small group soon began spending its Thursdays and Fridays for the next six months lobbying the supervisors at City Hall. When technical questions were asked, the group referred to Fridley's decades-long experience in the industry for expert scientific analysis.

In April 2006, with backing from District 5 Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and District 1 Sup.