Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

By HE Haitham Al Ghais, OPEC Secretary General.

If oil disappeared tomorrow, there would be no more jet fuel, gasoline or diesel. Internal combustion engine automobiles, buses, trucks, lorries and coaches would be stranded. Airplanes powered by jet fuel would be grounded. Freight and passenger rail powered by diesel would halt. People could not get to work; children could not get to school. The shipping industry, transporting both freight and passengers, would be devastated.

There would be no point calling emergency services. The majority of ambulances, fire engines, police cars, rescue helicopters and other emergency vehicles would be stationary. Most phones and computers would also vanish as their plastic components derive from oil, so it would be a struggle to find a way of communicating with the emergency services anyway.

The construction sector would halt, as diesel powered vehicles would be stranded: excavators, bulldozers, dump trucks, cranes, cement mixers, rollers and compact loaders would remain stationary. New homes or buildings could not be built or receive vital maintenance work. 

If oil disappeared tomorrow, petroleum based-products would vanish with it. This would impact the production of electric vehicles (EVs). Aside from the supply chains disruption, the structure of lithium-ion batteries would be affected. A lithium-ion battery has four parts: an anode, cathode, electrolyte and a separator. Separators are engineered microporous membranes, typically made of polyethylene or polypropylene  petroleum-based products. The petroleum-derived synthetic rubber used on car and bicycle tyres would cease to exist.

If oil disappeared tomorrow, food production would be devastated. Many of the vehicles necessary in agriculture  ̶ tractors, mowers, combine harvesters, balers, sprayers and seeders  ̶ would stop working. Food packaging necessary for storage and preservation would not be available. Petroleum coke, a by-product in oil refining, is used as a feedstock in manufacturing synthetic fertilizers, which are important in increasing crop yields. Food shortages and the knock on impacts would likely ensue.

If oil disappeared tomorrow, it would be catastrophic for health services everywhere. Staff would lack mobility, and essential supplies would be stranded. Beyond transportation, petroleum is an essential feedstock for pharmaceuticals, plastics and medical supplies.

Latex gloves, medical tubes, medical syringes, adhesives, some bandages, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, cleaning agents, prosthetics, artificial heart valves, resuscitation masks, stethoscopes, MRI scanners, insulin pens, infusion bags, medication packaging, face-masks, and Personal Protection Equipment are largely derived from petroleum-based materials. The equipment used in medical research such as microscopes, test tubes and goggles usually contain petroleum-derived components.

The chemical synthesis that creates aspirin begins with benzene, which is derived from petroleum. The benzene is converted to phenol, which in turn is converted to salicylic acid. This is then transformed into acetylsalicylic acid, which the world knows as aspirin.

It is difficult to conceive of a modern hospital without this range of essential petroleum-based products.

If oil disappeared tomorrow, the renewables industry would be impacted. The fibreglass, resin or plastic necessary for the construction of most wind turbines, would disappear. The ethylene used in the production of solar panels would vanish. Most of the mining vehicles  ̶ large trucks, rotary drill rigs and rock drills  ̶ necessary to extract the critical minerals upon which the production of solar photovoltaic plants, wind farms and EVs depend, would become stationary.

If oil disappeared tomorrow, homes would be transformed beyond recognition. There is the possibility roofs would collapse, for example, if bitumen was a key product. Other materials used in insulating homes would disappear. If you relied on heating oil to keep warm, that would go. The linoleum flooring and tiling would be impacted. Painting the walls would be a challenge. Furniture, pillows, rugs, curtains, dishes, cups and non-stick pans all are likely to be made from petroleum-derived products too.

It would be a challenge to stay clean or keep homes clean, if oil disappeared tomorrow. Laundry detergent and dish detergents usually derive from petroleum-based products. Soap, toothpaste, hand-lotion, deodorant, shampoo, shaving cream, eyeglasses, contact lenses, combs, brushes; all normally contain petroleum-derived products.

It would be a struggle to get anywhere, as the asphalt that paves roads and footpaths would vanish.

If oil disappeared tomorrow, millions of jobs would be lost. Tax revenues would be depleted. Industrial production would crimp. Economic growth would go into reverse. The plight of the fuel poor would be worsened.

This is not even the full list of everything that would be impacted, in such an unthinkable scenario.

Yet, despite these realities, there are calls saying ‘Just stop oil,’ ‘Keep it in the ground,’ or ‘don’t invest in new oil and gas projects.’

Of course, everybody wants to see greenhouse gas emissions reduced. OPEC believes that technological solutions and efficiency improvements can play a vital role. The oil industry is already proactive in this regard.

We need to be cautious of endangering the present, in the name of saving the future. It is important we all fully understand the immense benefits that oil, and the petroleum products derived from it, continue to provide to people and nations across the world.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of African Energy Chamber.

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