Parliamentary question debate on Peak Oil in the Swedish parliament

Posted on June 3, 2012


(Go to Swedish version)

Earlier I mentioned the debate on the question on Peak Oil that Per Bolund of the Swedish Green Party addressed to the Finance Minister Anders Borg.

In the end it was not Finance Minister Borg who answered the question rather than the Energy Minister Anna-Karin Hatt (and you can now listen to the parliamentary debate on the question in Swedish).

Below is Minister Hatt’s written answer, that she read, with my comments. The reason that I want to comment on the answer is that Per Bolund mentioned me and our research in his question.


Madam Speaker!

Minister Hatt: Per Bolund has asked the Finance Minister if he is considering investigating how Sweden’s economy will be affected by a strong rise in the price of oil or disrupted oil deliveries. Per Bolund has also asked what measures the Finance Minister is considering taking to ameliorate the effects of Peak Oil on the Swedish economy.

The responsibilities within the government are distributed such that it is I who will answer the question.

(At the end of 2010 the Finance Minister’s expert group for environmental studies ordered a report on Peak Oil. The report was written by Øystein Noreng and received the title “Peak Oil – An Economic Analysis”. It is therefore quite well justified to ask a parliamentary question to the Finance Minister on the economic consequences of Peak Oil. I hope that a journalist will ask the Finance Minister about Peak Oil. However, it is not incorrect that our Energy Minister should make statements on Peak Oil. Here is a link to the blog on the Finance Department’s report.)

Minister Hatt: The world oil price has certainly decreased in recent months but is still high at over $100 per barrel. Of course this affects the economies of many nations, not the least those that are the most oil-dependent. At the same time high oil prices contribute to accelerating the conversion to more efficient technology and new fuels.

(Ten years ago when we formed ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas the price of oil was around $20 per barrel. It would have been suitable for the Energy Minister to speak of a price rise of 400%. The comment on the high oil price accelerating change would better have been that this price rise shows that there is a shortage of oil and that the government will take measures to ease the conversion from our oil dependency.)

Minister Hatt: Per Bolund refers to the International Energy Agency, IEA and some of its conclusions. The IEA is the most important independent international authority on the oil market.

(The assertion that the IEA is an independent international expert authority shows that the Energy Minister, or her speechwriter, is incorrectly informed about the IEA. The IEA was formed by OECD as a response to the formation of OPEC by the oil exporting nations. The 28 members of OECD come from various parts of the world but to call the IEA “international” when it does not include China, Russia, the nations of the Middle East and, in total, 85% of the world’s nations is, I think, misleading. Many think that the IEA has something to do with the UN but this is not true. The IEA is a special interest organization for the OECD and its statements are not independent. Sweden is a member of the IEA and, as such, has some responsibility for the information that the IEA gives out. Sweden’s representative to the IEA is the Energy Authority’s Urban Bergström. This means that the information issued by the IEA is backed by Sweden’s government though their representative. The question is whether it should not be the Energy Minister’s Assistant Secretary who should represent Sweden when many of the statements made by the IEA are guided by the policies that the OECD wishes to advance. My research group in Uppsala, Global Energy Systems showed in a research article published in 2010 that the prognoses made by the IEA regarding the world’s future oil production are not based in scientific fact. Our research report was noted by, among others, The Guardian in 2009. The report that the IEA released in 2011 did not differ significantly from the report released by the IEA in 2008.)

Minister Hatt: However, unfortunately Per Boland was very selective when he referred to the IEA’s conclusions. The IEA does not think at all that there will be any shortage oil in the foreseeable future. It believes that increased international demand will be met by a combination of common crude oil, production from oil sands and other unconventional sources and through increased production of liquid fuels from natural gas. The IEA judges that this increase in production will occur at prices that are at approximately the same level as today’s. Our own Swedish expert authority, the National Energy Authority makes the same judgment.

(Obviously the government’s authority that has participated in preparing and has approved of the report issued by the IEA will have the same opinion as the IEA. It is precisely this judgment that we have studied as an independent research group and have shown is in error. The paper we published on that matter is titled, “The Peak of the Oil Age”.

It is very surprising that the Energy Minister should direct our attention to Canada’s oil sands. Few sources of fossil fuel have a greater effect on the environment when exploited. In my book, “Peeking at Peak Oil” I draw attention to the following report that addresses the issue of emissions from oil sand production:

The oil sands industry and its experts assert that they are not poisoning the area. However, in August 2010 a research report was published showing that 13 different forms of contamination resulting from bitumen production could be identified in the environment. The report was produced by researchers from Alberta University and is titled, Oil sands development contributes elements toxic at low concentrations to the Athabasca River and its tributaries.11 Below is a quote from the paper:

We show that the oil sands industry releases the 13 elements considered priority pollutants (PPE) under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act, via air and water, to the Athabasca River and its watershed. In the 2008 snowpack, all PPE except selenium were greater near oil sands developments than at more remote sites. Bitumen upgraders and local oil sands development were sources of airborne emissions. Concentrations of mercury, nickel, and thallium in winter and all 13 PPE in summer were greater in tributaries with watersheds more disturbed by development than in less disturbed watersheds. In the Athabasca River during summer, concentrations of all PPE were greater near developed areas than upstream of development. At sites downstream of development and within the Athabasca Delta, concentrations of all PPE except beryllium and selenium remained greater than upstream of development. Concentrations of some PPE at one location in Lake Athabasca near Fort Chipewyan were also greater than concentration in the Athabasca River upstream of development. Canada’s or Alberta’s guidelines for the protection of aquatic life were exceeded for seven PPE—cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc—in melted snow and/or water collected near or downstream of development.)

Minister Hatt: However, this does not mean that there are not other reasons, and very good ones, to reduce our dependence on oil. Sweden has, since the oil crisis of the 1970s, become less dependent on oil. Today oil is used mainly as a transport fuel and it is that sector in which the greatest challenge exists. It is also there that the government has its main long term priorities – to break our dependence on fossil fuels. For myself and the government the focus lies on breaking this last oil dependency and thereby reducing the environmental impact of our energy use. That is why I wish to focus our work and resources on measures in this area.

(It is OK for the Energy Minister to draw attention to the government’s planned investments. I would simply say that Peak Oil means that the government must take these measures for conversion of our energy system. It would not surprise me if it is just these measures that, in future, they will point to as the reason for our reduced dependence on oil. Peak Oil is the politician’s best friend since it forces the changes that the politicians wish to see.)

Minister Hatt: Regardless of where we live in Sweden we are dependent on efficient transport. What is important for me and the government is to take concrete measures and continue step by step to institute the Alliance’s energy and environmental policies so that by 2030 we can already have a vehicle fleet that is independent of fossil fuels. This will advantage both the Swedish economy and employment.

(The ambitions are high but it is most likely unrealistic to think that we will have a vehicle fleet that does not require fossil fuels by 2030.)

(End of answer)

Of course Per Bolund also had the opportunity to speak and you can listen to his reaction. It will certainly surprise some that the Liberal Party’s Anita Brodén also contributed to the debate. The reason she felt informed in this area was that the Green Liberals, in which Anita Brodén is active, had invited me to give a presentation on Peak Oil the day after the parliamentary question was put to the Finance Minister. I went through some points that I would have taken up if I had been the one to answer the parliamentary question and some of these points were addressed by Anita Brodén in her contribution to the debate.

I have just received an invitation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva (IPU) to participate in their next meeting in Quebec and to be a part of a panel discussion titled, “Peak Oil – What Prospects for Energy Security”. The IPU is an international organization of independent states formed in 1889. Sweden and an additional 156 nations are members of the IPU. It is wonderful that this organization representing the world’s parliaments wishes to raise Peak Oil for discussion. It is now 10 years since I organized the world’s first conference on Peak Oil in Uppsala where we formed ASPO (The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas). I have just been re-elected as the president of ASPO for a further two years. ASPO’s goal is to make the world’s governments aware of Peak Oil. The struggle continues.

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