Subject: Post Peak-Oil – Fate of Non-Petro States
What happens to those countries who have no fossil fuels within their borders? What energy alternatives do they have? How long do these countries have to develop their alternatives?
Global Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels are irregularly distributed with no regard for political boundaries. Coal, oil, and natural gas are distributed within geological, not state boundaries. For example, the state of Minnesota has never produced oil but its western neighbor North Dakota is a major oil producer, due to the presence of the buried Williston Basin, a huge dirt-filled depression that slops over into South Dakota, Montana, and Canada but NOT Minnesota. The basin has trapped oil, natural gas, lignite, and coal; giving rise to industry and revenue in the area. Minnesota has had to depend on other activities for industry and commerce. It can be argued that a varied economy is better than a resource-extraction economy but energy supplies must be available for any sort of industry. Minnesota has had the freedom to secure fuels from states near and far as guaranteed by open commerce laws in the US that forbid any kind of restrictions on interstate trade. The same protections are not available to international states who will not export fuels to all neighbors or even to any. As fossil fuels become scarcer and less politically acceptable, total global fuel exports will shrink and disappear, and nations without their own fuel resources will be left to their own devices. Scant fuel exports may continue to be available but prices may be exorbitant in comparison to current global prices.
Similar to the US where few states produce fossil fuels, globally many countries produce little or no fossil fuel. The table attached below (data from the BP Statistical Review of Global Energy, 2016 edition) details those countries of greater than 20 million population (data from the UN 2016 Population report) that are devoid of fossil fuels. Just the eight largest countries (greater than 80 million each) hold over 1 billion people in danger of fossil fuel starvation. Without fossil fuels and alternatives, residents of such countries must live a cashless, subsistence life; we hope residents can raise enough food for their families. Security needs in fuel-less countries will soon eat up what little income the government has but this is frequently inadequate and law and order will likely soon break down.What is the fate of residents of fuel-less countries? Consider two similar such cases – Nicaragua (6 million) and Guatemala (16 million). Both have healthy agricultural economies but produce virtually no fossil fuels. Both countries are dependent upon Mexico for motor fuels, predominantly diesel. However, Mexico’s oil production is shrinking and internal consumption takes more of its own oil – in 2005, Mexico produced 3.77 Billions of barrels (Bbbls) and exported 46.1% of this, in 2010, Mexico produced 2.96 Bbbls and exported 32%, while in 2015 Mexico produced 2.59 Bbbls and could export only 25.6%. Mexico is thus far feeding its own residents but is exporting less and less oil and fuels. By 2020 Mexico’s total production could be as low as 2.0 Bbbls and its exports at zero. Guatemala and Nicaragua (as well as its many other Latin American customers) would be starving for motor fuel. A modern country cannot run without diesel for trucks to haul crops to their customers and material to the farms.
What should be done to stave off this disaster? Solar power can be scaled up in a short period of time and are currently the cheapest new electrical power available. Trains run on electricity in many countries. Cars also run on electricity. Trucks can surely run on electricity but at the present time, few trucks are so equipped. Small electric trucks may be the only option available; these vehicles can be charged during the day with solar power and can be used for transportation during the night. Obviously not much time remains for gearing up the necessary infrastructure.
Bruce G. Langhus, PhD
Director, Saltwater Disposal Institute