Afterlight

Acknowledgements

This book required a lot more research than I expected it to. The person to whom I’m most indebted is Chris Gilmour, a man with a lot of experience in the North Sea and knowledge of the oil and gas rigs out there. Without his help this would have had to be a very different book.

I also owe a big thanks to my hardcore team of beta readers; John Prigent, Robin and Jane Carter, and Mike Poole, who waded through my first draft and returned copious notes of feedback.

Finally, as always, Frances, for the many thorough read-throughs and attendant margin notes that help me turn my unintelligible ramblings into ‘books’.

Prologue

There are many names for what happened in 2010: The Big Die Off, The Crash, The Long Darkness, The End of the Oil Age. It was the week that crude oil was stopped from flowing and the world catastrophically failed.

My head still spins when I recall how quickly it all happened. A complete systemic collapse of the modern, oil-dependent world within the space of a fortnight. Events chased each other around the globe like a row of dominoes falling. It started with a series of bombs in the Middle East. Bombs deployed in the holiest of places that set the whole of the Middle East on fire with a religious civil war; Shi’as fighting Sunnis fighting Wahhabis. Then, later on that first day, I remember there were other explosions; an oil tanker scuttled in the busiest shipping channel in the world, a gigantic South American refinery, an oil processing hub in Kazakhstan . . . and a dozen more. By that evening, something like ninety per cent of the world’s oil production capacity had been disabled.

What we were spoon-fed by the news on the first day was that oil prices were going to skyrocket, and that . . . yes, we’d be in for a sharp and protracted recession.

It was on the second day, or maybe the third, that everyone began to wake up and realise that billions of people were very quickly going to starve . . . and that was in the western world, not the Third World.

The moment people collectively understood what ‘no oil’ actually meant, that was the tipping point; the point of no return. Panic and rioting swept like wildfire through every city and town in every country. No nation was immune. At the end of the first week of anarchy, as cities smouldered and streets lay quiet, littered with shattered glass and looted goods, broken and spoiled things, most of the tinned, preservable food was gone. Around the world, ready-to-harvest crops that might have been speedily gathered, processed, tinned and shipped to provide emergency supplies to feed us as the dust settled and we picked ourselves up . . . well, all of those crops rotted in the fields because tractors were sitting with empty fuel tanks . . . the Big Die Off began.

For a long time after the crash, the world really was dark. With no generated power, there were no lights at night except for the flickering of campfires, candles and oil lamps; the pinprick signs of life of small communities dotted here and there that had found a way to keep going. The UK resembled some collapsed east African state; a twilight world. Empty towns, burned-out farms with gone-to-seed fields, empty roads, abandoned cars.

And I must admit, I’d completely lost hope. I was ready to face the fact that where I was, I was going to slowly starve until my weakened immune system finally succumbed to a minor cut or a cold