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Oil Will Be Gone in 50 Years: HSBC

Wednesday, 23 Mar 2011 | 2:55 AM ET

There could be less than 49 years of oil supplies left, even if demand were to remain flat according to HSBC’s senior global economist Karen Ward.

AP

"Energy resources are scarce," Ward said in a research note. "Even if demand doesn’t increase, there could be as little as 49 years of oil left."

"Gas is less of a constraint, but transporting it and using it to meet transport demand is a major issue," she said. "Coal is the most abundant with 176 years left, but this is the worst carbon culprit."

If supplies were not constrained, the world would see a 110 percent jump in demand by 2050, equivalent to 190 million barrels a day, to fuel growth in the emerging world, Ward said.

But unless someone finds major new reserves this will not be possible and other sources of energy will need to be found.

"Energy security – defined in this instance as domestic energy production per head of population – will be an increasing concern," she said. "Diversifying to natural gas to ease the pressure on the oil market won’t overcome it since its supply is as geographically dense as oil."

Ward said she believes the most "energy insecure" regions are Europe, Latin America and India and predicts Europe in particular will find its energy situation getting worse.

"Europe is the big loser with many countries falling down or out of the league table of economic size," she said. "They could be losing their influence on the world stage just at the time when they are most vulnerable."

No Fast Cars

The threat of global warming is not going away and its impact will be most keenly felt in the developing world, HSBC said.

"The ‘solution’ requires greater energy efficiency and a switch in the mix of energy as well as using ‘carbon capture’ technology to limit the damage of fossil fuel use," Ward said.

Oil Will Be Gone in 50 Years: HSBC
There could be less than 49 years of oil supplies left, even if demand were to remain flat, according to HSBCs senior global economist Karen Ward.

"We have become terribly complacent in the way in which we use energy," she added. "The lowest hanging fruit is in the transport sector. Smaller, more efficient cars will get you from A to B, just not as quickly."

As the Japanese authorities work around the clock to avoid a nuclear disaster there is a risk that nuclear power generation will see investment cut back at a time when it was expected to play a far bigger role.

"If Fukushima results in a two-decade freeze on plans, as we saw following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, then renewable energy will have to play an even larger role, or efficiency improvements would have to accelerate further," Ward said. "A reduced role for nuclear energy would make meeting carbon limits even more challenging."

"Government foresight on a scale not seen for 40 years will be needed to chart the route for the next 40 – at a time when the public sector in the OECD has perhaps the least capacity in decades to make strategic investments in new infrastructure."

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