A San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee today took up the subject of dwindling worldwide oil and natural gas supplies, and what San Francisco can do to prepare for a radical shift in its energy procurement and use.

The Government Audit and Oversight Committee heard from the authors of a city-commissioned report on “peak oil,” referring to the time when the total amount of available oil and gas worldwide reaches its halfway point.

At that peak, when production declines and becomes more expensive, oil and gas prices are expected to further increase, with potentially disastrous consequences for local, regional and national economies.

There is no universal consensus on the reality of peak oil or when it is likely to occur. Some have warned it has already occurred.

According to a 128-page report from the San Francisco Peak Oil Task Force, released earlier this year, San Francisco can also expect rising food prices, possible food shortages, greater poverty and declining revenue, particularly in the tourist sector which is dependent on the cost of airplane and automobile travel.

Oil and natural gas represent 84 percent of the energy consumed in San Francisco, the report said.

“Dwindling energy supplies combined with continued growth in population and energy consumption will have catastrophic consequences on our economy, infrastructure and personal lives if we do not begin preparing for these major changes,” Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who initiated the task force, said today.

Task force chair Jeanne-Marie Rosenmeier said that the concept of peak oil, which she noted is considered controversial by some, “is not just a few voices crying out in the wilderness.”

Rosenmeier said similar reports have already been produced in other U.S. cities, as well as in Great Britain.

All the reports concluded, Rosenmeier said, that whether peak oil has already occurred or will occur in the coming years, the threat is real and governments need to start preparing.
“We should take control of our own energy here,” Rosenmeier told the three-member committee this afternoon at City Hall.

Among the report’s suggestions, is for planning by city agencies and departments to include an energy decline scenario. It also recommends the city’s energy buying cooperative, Community Choice Aggregation, be implemented, as well as the continuing development of renewable energies, and the conversion of the electric system to a smart grid.

Vacant and underused lots could be converted to food gardens, and local buildings could be retrofitted for greater energy efficiency and on-site energy generation, the report said.
Ben Lowe, another task force contributor and regional transportation advocate, said today that while San Francisco’s public transit compares well against other U.S. cities, more was needed.

Lowe suggested expanding and diversifying the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority’s funding, and continuing to promote bicycle transportation and local passenger and freight rail projects, including the planned high-speed rail.

“San Francisco’s got to take the lead in regional planning,” he said.

“To me, peak oil is another reason to do the things we’re already doing,” said Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment.

Blumenfeld said peak oil needed to move from “a fringe issue” to one that is widely understood.

City officials considering new projects, Blumenfeld suggested, need to ask, “Does this make us more reliant on fossil fuel, or less reliant on fossil fuel?”

Blumenfeld said he would support a regional gasoline tax in the Bay Area.

The peak oil report also recommended a plan to educate the public about peak oil and its implications.

Mirkarimi said at the conclusion of today’s hearing that he hoped the report would not gather dust, as so many other city reports over the years.

“It’s very important information, that I believe is going to be highly instructive, for months and years to come,” Mirkarimi said.

To view the full report, visit www.sfenvironment.org/peakoil.

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