End of oil by 2050 ‘a fantasy,’ says World Energy Council Secretary General

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Oil will not stop being used any time soon, the Secretary General of the World Energy Council Dr Angela Wilkinson told Al Arabiya Sunday.

For decades experts and commentators have been proclaiming the end of the oil era is nigh, or that ‘peak oil’ production had been reached. However, as new technologies, such as shale oil extraction techniques, have been developed, production of oil has continued to climb, albeit with a tumultuous dip in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I'm on record with the [Financial Times] for saying the end of oil at some point in time, maybe, the end of oil by 2050? Absolutely not. It's a fantasy,” Wilkinson said.

Oil is used for far more than just creating energy and fuel, with the world’s “black gold” a key ingredient in the production of many everyday materials, such as plastics, dishwashing liquid, cosmetics, and clothing.

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“We don't just use oil for energy. We also use oil for petrol cars, petrochemicals, for medicines, for materials, for so many other uses … I think that we will not see the end of oil anytime soon. We certainly will leave the oil era before we run out of oil, but we are creative human beings, and we will increasingly find new and innovative ways to use oil responsibly, both socially and environmentally, I'm sure,” Wilkinson explained.

The coronavirus pandemic caused an unprecedented decline in the use of petroleum products this year, as governments and health authorities put stay at home and lockdown orders in place in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading.

While some climate activists have welcomed the decline in carbon emissions, Wilkinson noted that lockdowns and clamping down on economic activity is not a sustainable practice in order to reach climate goals.

“I think the first thing to notice that this current global health emergency reminds us all of just how important energy is in our everyday lives, and that the only issue affecting energy and the future of energy is not just the climate change issue,” she said.

“Of course, the need to manage global carbon emissions is central to the future of everybody on this planet. But it's unrealistic to think that we can just lock down our economies not have any jobs and not have any livelihoods for anyone,” Wilkinson added.

Wilkinson, the head of the World Energy Council, a network of members of the global energy industry, noted that among members she had seen a shift to a more progressive response to the challenge of climate change.

“What we're seeing from the oil sector is a much more progressive response than we saw 20 years ago, we're seeing recognition that there's the need to continue to use oil, but also to do so in a way which is socially and environmentally responsible,” she said.

Middle East developments

Major players in the Middle East energy industry have already invested heavily in changing the nature of the region’s energy mix.

A report published earlier this year found that the Middle East is the second most popular region for renewable energy investment after North America, with the region home to some of the largest single projects in the world. The UAE, for instance, is currently developing the Mohammed Bin Rashid Solar Park, the world’s largest concentrated solar power project in the world.

“We should also celebrate and look to the Middle East and Gulf states region. If we do that, we see our members, we see the first nuclear power plant in Dubai being built. That's a net zero contribution. We see the tallest solar tower in the UAE as well. We see ACWA Power with its green hydrogen push in the Middle East, we see lots of clean and net zero carbon energy developments coming from the region,” Wilkinson highlighted.

“We look at Saudi Aramco’s impressive record of taking 10 percent of emissions out of the barrel. We also look at the new and exciting narrative around the circular carbon economy that's coming out of the region,” she added.

In June, Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz said for his outlook for the oil market in 2050 that the Kingdom would continue to remain the world’s biggest oil producer even then.

“I can assure that Saudi Arabia will not only be the last producer, but Saudi Arabia will produce every molecule of hydrocarbon and it will put it to good use … It will be done in the most environmentally sound and safe way and the most sustainable way,” Prince Abdulaziz said at the time.

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