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Armstrong Siddeley Car Club of Australia - President's Report

May 2014

Fuel Supplies in Australia

A while ago I was listening to an interview on radio. The interviewer’s name escapes me however the interviewee was Air Vice Marshall John Blackburn AO (Retd) and the topic concerned Australia’s Liquid Fuel Security. Like many listeners, I found the topic disturbing and then went about my business of the day.

Then I received my copy of ‘Open Road’ the NRMA Members magazine for March/April 2014.  It contained an article on ‘Fuel Security is Vital for Our Future’ by Director Graham Blight. Several quotes from the ‘Open Road’ are worthy of reprinting here as I expand on this topic.

“Australia’s dependency on imported fuel and oil for transport has grown from 60% in 2000 to over 90% today.”

“If tankers stopped entering Australian ports tomorrow, the nation would lose its capacity to transport food and medicine supplies very quickly. Australia has just:

  • three days of petrol in our service stations
  • seven days of pharmacy supplies in retail pharmacies
  • seven days of chilled and frozen goods in our supermarkets.”

I think selective quotations are often dangerous particularly when commenting on an issue where on strict analysis one’s knowledge is limited to that of an industry casual observer and consumer. However even on that limited basis some thoughtful comment would not appear to be unseemly.

In 2012, I was invited to give the keynote address to the President’s Dinner at the ASOC Rally in England and below is a short quote from that address.

“Energy availability in the form of petrol and oil will continue to be more expensive. My Director of Technical Services, Sandy Cameron advises me that:-

  • The internal combustion engine will be with us for at least the next sixty years. There is no “silver bullet” from electric vehicle, from hydrogen cells, from bio-fuels, or even from diesel application to light passenger vehicles. Petrol remains the greatest source of practical transport energy on a kilogram for kilogram basis.
  • Petrol will remain the most significant contributor to the transport fuel mix, with diesel taking a higher profile, and surprisingly L.P.G. usage waning after some growth to 2020.”

Australia’s oil refinery capacity has been undergoing change this century in response to the growth of large refineries in the Asia-Pacific region. A number of reasons can be given for our smaller refineries becoming uncompetitive. At the bottom end of the chain the consumer also undergoes behavioural change driven by market forces.

As many know, I enjoy living in a rural community and over the past twenty five years have noted fuel costs and the change to consumer behaviour. In 1989 petrol cost 55 cents a litre or $2.50 a gallon. The local pump price presently is $1.599 a litre or $7.27 a gallon. In 1989 local Fuel depots carried three weeks stock and it was common for farmers to carry a further three weeks fuel supply on farm. Now local fuel stocks at depot and on farm are minimal. Although fuel and oil are essentials consumers rely on product availability and devote scarce dollars to more immediate demands.

It is surprising to think that in the era when our post war Armstrong Siddeley cars arrived on the Australian market energy sources were quite diverse. Our railways in the country were serviced by coal powered steam engines and carried much of the freight. Horses were still used regularly. Electricity powered trams and metropolitan trains. Refrigeration methods were many and varied from drip safes to iceboxes. Cars were limited in number. Wood, coke, coal and gas provided energy for cooking and heating in our homes. Farm water was predominantly pumped by Windmills. On farms and in towns small stationery engines performed all manner of tasks - driving hay making machinery, shearing equipment, powering chaff cutters, grain grinders and pumping water. These noisy servants with many familiar names such as Bamford, Hornsby, Lister, Southern Cross and Armstrong Siddeley powered concrete mixers, air compressors, irrigation pumps and lighting plants. But their demands on fuel oil were relatively small as they puttered and spluttered away performing their tasks.

Today we rely principally on oil and electricity in our everyday lives with some utilization of alternative energy. Our trade and international transport also relies on oil. There is little argument that we have convenience and enjoy the benefits of an information age. However we also live in a system of immediacy where ‘just in time theory’ predominates in business stock shelf management and energy resource supply. Power failure in traffic lights in cities at peak periods cause havoc. Disruption to public transport systems throw us into disarray, rumour of petrol shortages produce long queues of anxious customers at retail service stations. As citizens and people engaged in a classic car hobby, we have direct interest in the Australian Government taking responsible action to manage this situation and actively develop strategy, promoting alternative energy resources and retaining oil refining capacity. It is a very large challenge.

Until next time,
Happy Motoring.

Tony Carter
ASCC President