Tuesday, August 24, 2010

peak oil alarm revealed by secret talks

Guardian | Speculation that government ministers are far more concerned about a future supply crunch than they have admitted has been fuelled by the revelation that they are canvassing views from industry and the scientific community about "peak oil".

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is also refusing to hand over policy documents about "peak oil" – the point at which oil production reaches its maximum and then declines – under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, despite releasing others in which it admits "secrecy around the topic is probably not good".

Experts say they have received a letter from David Mackay, chief scientific adviser to the DECC, asking for information and advice on peak oil amid a growing campaign from industrialists such as Sir Richard Branson for the government to put contingency plans in place to deal with any future crisis.

A spokeswoman for the department insisted the request from Mackay was "routine" and said there was no change of policy other than to keep the issue under review. The peak oil argument was effectively dismissed as alarmist by former energy minister Malcolm Wicks in a report to government last summer, while oil companies such as BP, which have major influence in Whitehall, take a similar line.

But documents obtained under the FoI Act seen by the Observer show that a "peak oil workshop" brought together staff from the DECC, the Bank of England and Ministry of Defence among others to discuss the issue.

A ministry note of that summit warned that "[Government] public lines on peak oil are 'not quite right'. They need to take account of climate change and put more emphasis on reducing demand and also the fact that peak oil may increase volatility in the market."