Black gold


THE Western world looks on worriedly as ordinary citizens in the Middle East rise up against the despots and dictators that have ruled countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya for decades. Normally this would be a time for rejoicing in the West as it did when the Berlin Wall tumbled down and the Eastern Bloc self imploded.

Hidden however beneath the sands of these desert countries is the stuff that makes the wheels turn in our industrial society and to which we are still addicted to – Oil!

With revolution comes uncertainty and oil companies evacuate their employees so slowing production.


Jittery commodity Markets means the price of oil rises even though the combined production of the three countries mentioned earlier only accounts for 3% of world production which is less than Norway produces.

The UK produces more oil than Libya yet we are all paying more at the pumps.

The effect on the Worlds’ economy will be to shrink any growth and prolong any recession yet oil companies bank balances will swell as higher prices are paid. Only recently I suggested that we all should try to minimise our energy use and even if people don’t believe that burning fossil fuel helps create  global warming then the reality of more money having to be spent to fill up the car or warm the home should encourage us all to try and minimise our non renewable energy use.

Millions of years ago warm seas teemed with plankton which as they died carpeted the sea bed with their dead bodies, sediments mixed with the skeletons and over millennia these cemeteries were buried deeper underground where heat and pressure did its work turning the mix into keratin.

High pressure over time turned the keratin into natural gas and a lower pressure meant oil was produced.

These fuels then would move through the earths crust until they got blocked by impermeable rock and created fuel reservoirs or the oil and gas fields now being exploited by modern man.

Oil has been used for thousands of years, in ancient Babylon it was used to help build the city and across the Mediterranean and Middle East it was used to provide lighting. 2500 years ago the Chinese drilled for oil and burnt it to produce salt.

The Japanese in the 7th Century called oil burning water and in the 11th century the Chinese word was shiyou or rock oil the term still used today. Both these civilisations used oil and gas for lighting. 9th Century Baghdad had streets paved with tar and Persian scientists distilled oil to produce kerosene for lighting with other products distilled to create products for the military. In the 12th Century Al Andalus gained the knowledge and this spread the use of oil throughout Europe.

In Canada Cree Indians used bitumen mixed with pine sap to waterproof their canoes.

The Athabasca tar sands cover an area twice the size of Ireland and Canada has the largest bitumen reserves in the world.

Even if only 10% is commercially recoverable this gives Canada the same capacity as Saudi Arabia.

A million barrels per day are piped from Canada to the USA to help feed its 20 million barrels per day addiction! We in Europe use about 13 million barrels per day and China uses about 8 million. In modern money Americans use 3.2 billion litres of oil every single day!

There are lies, damn lies and statistics and when oil consumption is converted to a per capita basis Gibraltar comes second in the world using 800 barrels per day per 1,000 inhabitants yet the UK is a lowly 62nd using a measly 29 barrels per day per. The USA is 23rd using 70 barrels per day.

Whatever our beliefs about oil use and the environment modern society is addicted to the black gold and with oil production now declining we must all do our bit to use much less and in the process save a bit of cash and perhaps the planet for future generations.


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