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Virgin’s Whitehorn burns with fury

August 10, 2009

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now, for poor old Will Whitehorn. Not only is the government taking no notice of his apocalyptic warnings over falling oil supplies, he complains in the FT that the UK Department of Energy review “ignores not just our conclusions, but our very existence.”

Whitehorn used to be Richard Branson’s bag-carrier, but he’s moved on to greater things in the Virgin empire. He’s also chairman of ITPOES, a frightfully grand-sounding outfit which says, roughly, that we’re all doomed because peak oil is less than four years away.

Oddly, I remember peak oil being just a few years away in the 1970s, during the first oil crisis, but this time, says Whitehorn’s “taskforce” (it sounds so much more businesslike than committee) it’s serious, and we’re all in denial, the way the bankers were before the crisis ovetook them last year.

Well, maybe. Unfortunately, Whitehorn is hardly the man to lecture us about using less energy. His current day job is president of Virgin Galactic, a ridiculous Branson venture which describes itself as the world’s first spaceline. Whatever else it may do, Virgin Galactic is guaranteed to burn an awful lot of fuel.


Remember that in the fairy tale the wolf did come in the end!

Posted by David Ede | Report as abusive

Wicks report was light weight, even deceiving. Peak Oil is a risk management issue that deserves serious attention, especially by government.

All governments clearly avoid the issue, most likely for ideological reasons. After all, once you acknowledge Peak Oil, what do you say next? “Economic growth is over folks” probably will not go down too well.

Disturbingly, the view that Peak Oil is not serious is based on a belief system, that is the price mechanism, by itself, will create more oil, deliver efficiencies and do all things necessary to ensure the human species has sufficient energy. The view is overly sanguine; and normal risk management principles demand a different approach.

The belief in the price mechanism, like a belief in God, cannot be refuted. Instead of ridiculing PO and its adherents, Reuters would do well to begin to take PO seriously itself. It should at least demonstrate that it understands the major basic concepts.


The 1970s so called peak was political,induced by the OPEC boycott.the West was rescued from that so called peak by North Sea Oil and Alaska.
Sadly no such cheap oil discoveries are around today.
As for Virgin Galactic,a new technology space launch system which is highly energy efficient and capable of revolutionising the cost of human science and satellite launch can only be described as ridiculous if ignorant of its business plan and techjnology.Oh and by the way the rocket motor does not even use conventional fossil fuel.

Posted by Will Whitehorn | Report as abusive


Peak Oil is NOT oil running out … it is the FLOW RATE of extraction becoming limited for geological reasons … and then steadily falling.

This will increase competition for oil thus causing major price increases.

Substitution (coal and natural gas) will help the situation – but in view of the sheer amount of oil we consume I doubt that we can simply forget the issue of Peak Oil.

The UK context is especially difficult: our own stocks of oil and gas are declining VERY rapidly, and I believe that our coal stocks are also close to exhaustion. We will soon be importing almost ALL our fossil fuel requirements.

Even if the supplies are available, they will nevertheless need paying for … so our Balance Of Payments situation will become dire.

I dread what these increased import costs might do to the UK economy over the coming 10 or 20 years.

Posted by Richard Hathway C.Eng | Report as abusive

In the 1970′s, the US passed “Peak Oil” for its reserves. That might be the poorly researched bit of information the article author is recalling.

Space Ship 2 is fueled with Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) and HTPB rubber. It does not use petro-chemical fuel. Virgin is also working to develop and test biofuels for aircraft.

Governments should be actively promoting and participating in the development of non-oil energy sources. This task will take some years to mitigate some of the worlds reliance on oil, but when the oil runs out, we will be short on the energy we will need to pursue alternative methods.

Posted by Ken | Report as abusive

For the record, I’d rather have commercial space travel than Reuters news service.

Posted by John Smith | Report as abusive

I wasn’t aware that the storied institution “Reuters” was taken over by the Murdoch Empire. Were the fact checkers let go in the recent downturn?

Ignorant angry frustrated blather best for entertainment
columns should not be passed off as educated opinion.

Is Neal Collins the Rush Limbaugh of the UK?

Posted by mgvisions | Report as abusive

Space launch is no more wasteful than air travel. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket uses about as much energy to achieve low-Earth orbit (LEO) as a 747 takes to fly across the ocean. The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicles are simple suborbital spaceplanes, they will use even less energy – essentially some JetA for the carrier plane and a tube of asphalt and some nitrous oxide for the little space plane.

Posted by Josh | Report as abusive

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