"The price of petrol is disgusting, absolutely disgusting…" "It’s just going up and up…" "It’s outrageous…"
"I get so mad – you ever get so mad you can’t even talk about it no mo’?" (Vox populi – motorists in Australia, UK and US)
If, like these motorists, your fury rises with the numbers ticking over on the petrol bowser, get a grip. You may soon look back fondly on the good old days when petrol was $1.40 a litre.
The world is at the beginning of the end of the age of oil, according to a growing body of analysts. It stands at a precipice of "peak oil" – the point at which oil producing countries can no longer keep up with growing demand, where production climaxes and then plunges into irrevocable decline.
This, say the doomsayers, may send national economies spinning into turmoil, up-ending comfortable urban lifestyles that rely on oil for the cheap transport of people and goods and for the manufacture of thousands of mundane household and office items – from mousepads, banknotes and drink bottles to carpets, clothes, cosmetics and deodorants.
The crunch will come some time in the next few years, without warning, they say. "The worst case is that it’s occurring now or very soon because the world is unprepared, it’s absolutely unprepared," says one of the most influential pessimists.
But this is just scaremongering, say many authoritative oil industry voices. While they agree that oil is unlikely to get cheaper any time soon, they insist that oil production will keep pace with demand for decades to come. There is simply no end in sight to the black gold bonanza, according to these optimists.
They check off their list: vast untapped oil reserves claimed by Middle Eastern nations; the prospect of further discoveries; and smarter technology that will extend the life of existing oil fields and make new ones easier to exploit.
Even the optimists concede that massive discoveries of easy-to-reach oil are a thing of the past. But, they say, higher prices will make other ways of producing oil and alternative fuels commercially viable.
Who is right? Four Corners investigates a truly global issue that reaches into every home and every car and touches every human life. This special report* explains why oil prices are high right now and asks how long the world has left to prepare for a day when there is not enough oil to go around.
Reporter Jonathan Holmes goes in search of an answer in the Middle East, the US and Europe, interviewing the key protagonists. He asks if the world is being told the truth about the vast unexploited reserves that are claimed to lie beneath the desert sands of the Middle East. He looks at alternative oil sources and the obstacles to exploiting them. And he explains what peak oil means for Australians who depend so heavily on oil for transport and tourist income.
Reporter: Jonathan Holmes, broadcast: 10/07/2006
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