Counting the Cost

Approaching ‘peak oil’?

We look at how much longer oil has to run, and ask if new alternative energy finds have delayed the inevitable.

The idea of ‘peak oil’ – or the point in time when maximum petroleum extraction has been reached – is something that has been around since the 1950s.

These days though, the debate centres on whether oil has or has not yet reached its ‘peak’, given that we have extracted so much of it, and that reserves are declining.

But as new extraction techniques evolve – things like fracking, tar sands, deep water drilling – do we really have fuel that could last for centuries?

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), more than 95 percent of all oil in the world has already been discovered, and half of those total reserves of 2.5 trillion barrels have already been consumed. That’s because we, as an entire planet, consume 85 million barrels of oil every day.

But the IEA also sends a word of caution, that the world should not consume more than a third of fossil fuel reserves before the year 2050, so as to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change.

But still, the hunt for fuels goes on, especially alternative fuels.

And in a world-first, resource-challenged Japan says it has extracted gas from offshore deposits of a substance known as “burnable ice”. The environmental impact of this process is not yet fully understood, but production could be the answer to Japan’s growing energy needs. Gerald Tan reports for Counting the Cost.

One feature of these new discoveries is the new smaller operators who are doing the discovering.

Tethys Petroleum’s a good example. It just uncovered 28 billion barrels of oil in Tajikistan, and its Executive Chairman David Robson speaks to us this week from Dubai.

A few weeks ago, we looked at the falling price of gold, which is great news for some places, but not necessarily for others.

In a country like South Africa, for example, which was essentially built on mining, the buyers will love the lower prices, but for the industry, it is a worrying time. Haru Mutasa tells us more from Johannesburg.

Ethical mining

In keeping with the theme of mining and minerals, the Zambian government is getting tough on international mining companies, accusing many of not paying their taxes.

In fact, it is demanding they return money to the country.

Miles Sampa, Zambia’s deputy finance minister, told the Financial Times: “At the moment the situation is win on one side. Only the shareholders are winning – the people of Zambia are still in abject poverty.”

Zambia is accusing multinational mining companies of using legal avoidance measures to escape $2bn a year in taxes.

Meanwhile, the country’s revenue from mining was only 3.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2012.

If better managed, the mining money could perhaps help the more than 60 percent of the population who live below the poverty line. But as it stands, Zambia’s mineral wealth is not really contributing to the country’s economy.

Zambia is also taking aim at the ethical gemstone company Gemfields. It wants the company to sell the gems it mines in Zambia within Zambia. Currently, they are sold in India and Singapore where most of the demand comes from.

In Zambia, Gemfields owns 75 percent of the world’s largest emerald mine; the government owns the other 25 percent. To discuss ethical mining and the new proposals put forward by Zambia’s government, we are joined from London by Ian Harebottle, the chief executive of Gemfields.

And finally this week, can we invest in our brains?

Of course, we can look after them, do a daily crossword, and eat lots of omega-3 oils, but can we really invest in them?

The European Commission has handed out $1.5bn to build a computer model of the human brain – complete with emotions, feelings and thoughts – and the US is planning to spend over $3bn on brain research in the coming years. Nick Spicer fills us in on whether this Is science fiction or reality.


Watch each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 2230; Saturday: 0930; Sunday: 0330; Monday: 1630. Click here for more Counting the Cost.

Follow Kamahl Santamaria @KamahlAJE and business editor Abid Ali @abidoliverali