3/22/2005

Peak Oil

From Michael Klare of TomDispatch:
Just how soon such an energy crunch will arrive and just how severe it is likely to be are matters of considerable debate. To a great extent, this debate hinges on the concept of "peak oil," or maximum sustainable daily output. In the 1950s, a petroleum geologist named M. King Hubbert published a series of equations showing that the output of any given oil well or reservoir will follow a parabolic curve over time. Production rises quickly after initial drilling and then loses momentum as output reaches its maximum or "peak" -- usually when half of the total amount of oil has been extracted -- after which production falls at an increasingly sharp rate. In 1956, using these equations, Hubbert predicted that conventional (that is, liquid) U.S. oil output would peak in the early 1970s. His prediction provoked much derision at the time, but earned him considerable renown when U.S. output did indeed achieve its peak level in 1972. Because of insufficient data at the time, Hubbert was unable to apply his equations to non-U.S. production. He did, however, predict that global output -- just like U.S. output -- would eventually reach a peak level and then begin an irreversible decline. Today, the concept of global peak oil is widely accepted in the energy field, though debate rages over when this moment will actually occur...If the more optimistic estimates of global oil are on the mark, it stands to reason that the major firms should be finding more new oil every year than they are producing; yet the very opposite has been the case for the last 20 years. If this continues to be the case, it is hard to imagine that the approach of global peak oil can be that far in the future. Whether peak oil arrives in 2005, 2010, or 2015, and whether the maximum level of daily oil output turns out to be 90 or 100 million barrels will not matter much in the long run. In any of these scenarios, global oil production will level off and begin to decline at a level far below the anticipated world demand of 120 million barrels per day in 2025...Despite all the optimistic talk from Washington, we are facing a substantial and inescapable threat of global energy scarcity, which can only have dire consequences for our economy and the world's. Indeed, we are beginning to see hints of that today, with rising prices at the neighborhood gas pump and a perceptible decline in consumer spending. This coming scarcity cannot be wished away, nor can it be erased through drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which contains far too little petroleum to make a significant difference even in U.S. oil supplies. Only an ambitious program of energy conservation -- entailing the imposition of much higher fuel-efficiency standards for American automobiles and SUVs -- and the massive funding of R&D in, and then the full-scale development of alternative, environmentally-friendly fuels can offer hope of averting the disaster otherwise awaiting us.

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