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Report/Paper: Report of the San Francisco Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force
Snapshot 2009-05-20 11-42-45.jpg
Published 17 March 2009 by City of San Francisco (California) (original article)

This seven-member body was charged with coordinating the assessment of San Francisco's vulnerability to energy price shocks, determining appropriate measures to mitigate municipal vulnerability, and to draft a comprehensive response plan for recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. The Task Force released this report and held its final meeting on March 17 2009.

Published 17 March 2009 by City of San Francisco (California),

» Download the full report.


From the Executive Summary:

San Francisco was born at the beginning of the oil age, and the city has flourished during an era in which fossil fuels became the foundation of our economy and society. Petroleum and natural gas heat our homes and light our offices; they fuel the trucks that bring us our food and the cars and buses that move us around; they drive our industries and power the information technologies that marvel the world. Today, the City and its inhabitants are utterly reliant on fossil fuel energy: 84% of the energy consumed in San Francisco comes from oil and natural gas.

Because petroleum and natural gas are finite resources, this situation cannot last. If San Francisco is to thrive in the 21st century and remain a world-class city, it must begin planning today for how to maintain itself in a post-fossil fuel age.

The rate at which the globe consumes oil is unsustainable. There is about as much petroleum in the ground as has been pumped out and used up to date - which means we are roughly at the halfway point, or the peak, of global supplies. Except during the oil embargoes of the 1970s and their lingering effects, from the 1880s until 2005, enough oil was produced to keep the price of oil between $15 and $30 per barrel (adjusted for inflation, in 2007 dollars). Since 2005, however, worldwide oil production has been on a plateau, leading to a sudden sharp increase in the price of oil to record-high levels, dropping only because of (and contributing in no small part to) a contraction in the economy of the entire globe.

Eventually, this plateau will turn into an inexorable global decline in oil production. A number of major individual producers have already passed their production peak; the United States was once the largest producer in the world, but has seen falling domestic production since 1971 and now must import more than two thirds of its oil. Outside OPEC, oil production is falling about 3 percent a year. Eventually - regardless of much effort is put into extracting oil from their fields - OPEC too will be unable to resist a steady production decline. It is the prospect of this inexorable decline that is referred to as Peak Oil.


As production of oil and natural gas eventually begin to decline, San Francisco will face a painful adjustment - unless it prepares in advance. Experts are divided on exactly when the decline will begin, with some arguing that the peak of production may not occur until as late as the 2030s, and others positing that the peak has, in fact, already happened. Regardless of the exact date of the peak, what is clear is that sooner the City of San Francisco addresses this looming threat and prepares for the difficult transition ahead, the better off the City and its residents will be.

It is the job of the Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force to assess the degree and nature of San Francisco's vulnerability to an eventual, inexorable rise in fuel prices, and ultimately a scarcity in oil and natural gas. Because this report addresses both fuels, it refers to the issue as Peak Oil & Gas.


Petroleum and natural gas have become essential to existence as we know it; their scarcities threaten to severely disrupt our quality of life. The most important impacts of Peak Oil & Gas on San Francisco will be:

  • Violent fluctuations in energy prices
  • Rising food prices; possible food shortages
  • Damage to the overall national and local economy
  • Spreading poverty, as the economy contracts
  • Loss of confidence in the future
  • Increasing cost of travel and freight, especially by air; declining air traffic
  • Increasing pressure on public transit
  • Exacerbation of other problems such as climate change and credit contractions
  • Increasing gentrification as the affluent move to the City from the suburbs, displacing those who cannot afford to stay
  • Declining city government revenue, due to
    • generally lower level of economic activity
    • fewer conventioneers and tourists
    • lower revenue-sharing from state and federal governments


Addressing these impacts will not be easy. The challenges of reducing our overall reliance on energy from fossil fuels and finding new sources of energy are so enormous that they will require an array of adaptive strategies at every level of government. The most important strategies for the City to pursue are:


  • Instruct City agencies and departments that planning must include a scenario of energy decline
  • Implement our city energy buying cooperative, Community Choice Aggregation, and move ahead with the planned efficiency programs and development of electricity based on renewables
  • Encourage the installation of local, renewable, distributed electric generating facilities
  • Pursue the conversion of the electric system to a smart grid


  • Convert vacant and underutilized public and private properties to food gardens
  • Vastly expand urban agriculture programs and services


  • Expand passenger capacity of all mass transit
  • Avoid infrastructure investments which are predicated on increased auto use
  • Convert City equipment, buses, and trucks to 100% biodiesel from reclaimed lipids, as feasible
  • Discourage private auto use by disincentivizing car travel and ensuring that alternatives (walking, bicycling, public transportation) are competitive with driving
  • Expand the potential for rail and water transport, for both passengers and freight


  • Encourage local manufacturing that utilizes recycled material as feedstock


  • Retrofit the building stock for energy conservation, efficiency and on-site generation

Societal Functioning:

  • Begin an education plan, to inform San Francisco residents about Peak Oil & Gas and its implications

And most importantly, with all of these policies, start now. Conditions will be far better in the long run if the City begins addressing this unfolding challenge immediately. The transition cannot be done quickly; the City faces a limited window of opportunity to begin, after which adaptation will become enormously difficult, painful, and expensive. There is no time to lose.

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© 2009 Post Carbon Institute

Post Carbon Cities: Helping local governments understand and respond to the challenges of peak oil and global warming.
Post Carbon Cities is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization incorporated in the United States.