Peak oil action plan – Whitehorse City Council

Whitehorse City Council in Victoria has recently released a draft Peak Oil Action Plan (prepared by AECOM Australia). They are to be congratulated for showing leadership in this area.

I found the risk assessment particularly interesting. They considered two scenarios:

  1. “A short-term disruption to oil supplies that severely restricts oil availability and sharply increases oil prices before both supply and prices return to previous trends”
  2. “A longer-term decline in the availability of oil with a corresponding gradual rise in oil prices” (p. 14).

Based on these two scenarios they identified 23 risks to Council and 21 risks to the local community. Using a risk matrix (how likely the risk is and how severe the consequences would be) each of the risks to Council were given a rating of low, moderate, high or extreme under both scenarios. The majority of the risks under both scenarios (31 out of 46) were rated at high with a further two being rated extreme. Six were rated at moderate and seven were rated low  All the extreme, and none of the low, risks were in the longer-term scenario.

Based on the longer-term scenario the extreme risks were:

  1. Increase in pressure on department budget as material and energy costs increase (e.g. transport, heating, catering, meals on wheels, fuel construction materials)
  2. Increase in pressure on department budget as supplier service costs increase (e.g. waste management, aged care)

The high risks were:

  1. Council service delivery inhibited by limited access to fleet vehicles (e.g. planning, home care, community engagement, community laws, inspections – environmental health)
  2. Council service delivery inhibited by inability of staff to get to work
  3. Inability of waste contractors to provide collection services
  4. Raw materials become scarcer reducing Council‘s ability to undertake maintenance and capital works.
  5. Council‘s ability to respond to clean up after emergency events is restricted
  6. Unable to meet current services levels or commitments (e.g. Meals on Wheels, aged care)
  7. Liability issues if public assets (e.g. roads, drains and paths) are not able to be maintained to standard
  8. Reduced service levels and possible service interruptions (e.g. street sweeping, parks maintenance, drainage maintenance, litter and dumped rubbish collection)
  9. Reduction in staff morale due to increased work pressures including difficulty getting to work, frustration with managing workloads and increased demand on Council services
  10. Inability of the community to participate in volunteering, community engagement, information sessions, community events
  11. Reduction in Council‘s revenue as residents cannot afford to pay rates
  12. Reduction in the number of people accessing fee for service Council programs, reducing revenue
  13. Service interruption at the Recycling and Waste Centre (which may lead to health risks if Council are unable to empty the pit as frequently)
  14. Cost increases at the Recycling and Waste Centre
  15. Community pressure to increase the range of services Council provides or alter the method of delivery (i.e. localising provision of all services)
  16. Reduced customer satisfaction due to restricted Council services
  17. Negative public response to the impacts on Council service delivery
  18. Reduced budget for advocacy campaigns

The moderate risks were

  1. Decline in Council‘s service abilities due to Council‘s ability to attract qualified staff (i.e. limited qualified people in the Council area and those needing to travel long distances may expect a higher wage)
  2. Changes to communications methods due to the impact of Peak Oil may impact on reputation
  3. Loss of respect for Council decision-making processes

The risks to the community (which were not rated according to a risk matrix) were:

  1. Emergency Services ability to respond to clean up after emergency events is restricted
  2. Increased community anxiety and stress as Council services are threatened and there is uncertainty regarding contingency or back up plans (e.g. storage of fuel at depot or transfer station)
  3. Vulnerable communities (e.g. elderly or young) become larger in number, more isolated and or more reliant on others
  4. Disruption to or increase in costs of jobs or projects reliant on the delivery materials or access to contractors or suppliers
  5. Increases in the cost of living (e.g. food, materials, energy)
  6. Public health impacts due to reduced access to sporting facilities and programs
  7. Supply chain interruptions and change in patronage for local shops due to increases in petrol price or scarcity of petrol
  8. Increased economic hardship of community members due to increased cost of living leading to health risks
  9. Availability of health based products such as pharmaceuticals may be compromised
  10. Increased crime (e.g. theft of petrol or food)
  11. Residents may have difficulty in getting to places of employment or education if transport disruptions occur
  12. Availability and quality of food may be compromised and/or prices may escalate
  13. Decreased flexibility in employment or education choices
  14. Change in customer base and revenue opportunities for local businesses
  15. Reduction in local tourism
  16. Public discontent due to petrol rationing, stress and isolation
  17. Inequality in society likely to increase
  18. Increased unemployment and changes to employment or job types
  19. Negative economic and social impacts due to decreased ability to import (e.g. reduced consumer choice) and export of goods (e.g. reduced availability of international markets)
  20. Construction industry may be compromised by shortages and/or delays in raw materials and fuel
  21. Air travel increased costs

The plan includes 58 actions (p. 21ff), the majority of which (35) are to be completed within two years. “Key examples” of strategies to be completed within two years include:

  1. Develop external community peak oil communication and engagement strategy
  2. Continue the implementation of the Whitehorse Integrated Transport Strategy and the Whitehorse Waste Management Plan
  3. Continue current community programs including Transition Towns and community gardens
  4. Continue to facilitate community and home gardening, composting and recycling activities
  5. Identify areas vulnerable to increased energy pricing to inform targeted community engagement
  6. Review contracting processes with suppliers to ensure the inclusion of measures to reduce Council‘s exposure to peak oil risks.

“Key examples” of strategies to be completed within three to five years include:

  1. Design and implement targeted strategies to enable people to get to know each other in their local area
  2. Investigate pooling resources with other councils (e.g. maintenance service capability for road upkeep or shared contract arrangements)
  3. Utilise recycled products where possible in construction and maintenance activities in office operations
  4. Consider greater use of technology solutions to enable telecommuting
  5. Increase the diversity of fuel sources powering Council‘s services (e.g. LPG, biodiesel, electricity).

“Key examples” of strategies to be completed within six to ten years include:

  1. Review Council service provision standards (e.g. frequency of service delivery, frequency and capacity of waste collection)
  2. Increase access to volunteers to assist delivery of Council services through training workshops and incentives for (e.g. rates reduction access to council services)
  3. Investigate opportunities to broaden the function of assets (e.g. use of parks and nature strips for food production)
  4. Expand use of technology solutions to enable telecommuting (e.g. working from home, video conferencing, teleconferencing)
  5. Consider the development of recharge power points for electric vehicles using renewable energy
  6. Investigate the viability of centralised collection points to reduce the travel required for waste/recycling collection – such as the end of each residential street
  7. Encourage greater retail diversity in shopping strips to cover convenience retail needs in smaller centres and higher-order requirements in larger centres.

The action plan also includes background information on peak oil and lots more information. It is an excellent model for other Councils as they begin to address the challenges posed by peak oil.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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