Monday, June 18, 2007

Peak Oil in the Mainstream Press?????

The following appears in Business Week. Discussions of Peak Oil are not new, but they are not common in the mainstream press. When Peak Oil will occur or if it has already occurred will not be known for some period of time. To reduce of the risk of the effects of Peak Oil, it is time to start a national discussion on the issue. It is not an issue of if, only when it will occur.

Peak oil refers to the point at which world oil production plateaus before beginning to decline as depletion of the world's remaining reserves offsets ever-increased drilling. Some experts argue that we're already there, and that we won't exceed by much the daily production high of 84.5 million barrels first reached in 2005. If so, global production will bump along near these levels for years before beginning an inexorable decline.

What would that mean? Alternatives are still a decade away from meeting incremental demand for oil. With nothing to fill the gap, global economic growth would slow, stop, and then reverse; international tensions would soar as nations seek access to diminishing supplies, enriching autocratic rulers in unstable oil states; . . . .

GIVEN SUCH UNPLEASANT possibilities, you'd think peak oil would be a national obsession. But policymakers can hide behind the possibility that vast troves will be available from unconventional sources, or that secretive oil-exporting nations really have the huge reserves they claim. Yet even if those who say that the peak has arrived are wrong, enough disturbing omens—for example, declining production in most of the world's great oil fields and no new superfields to take up the slack—exist for the issue to merit an intense international focus.

The reality is that it will be here much sooner for the U.S.—in the form of peak oil exports. Since we import nearly two-thirds of the oil we consume, global oil available for export should be our bigger concern. Fast-growing domestic consumption in oil-exporting nations and increasing appetites by big importers such as China portend tighter supplies available to the U.S., unless world production rises rapidly. But output has stalled. Call it de facto peak oil or peak oil lite. It means the U.S. is entering an age when it will have to scramble to maintain existing import levels.

We will know soon enough whether the capacity to raise production really exists. If not, basic math and the clock tell the story. All alternatives—geothermal, solar, wind, etc.—produce only 3% of the energy supplied by oil. If oil demand rises by 2% while output remains flat, generation of alternative energy would have to expand 60% a year. That's more than twice the rate of wind power, the fastest-growing alternative energy. And all this incremental energy would somehow have to be delivered to transportation (which consumes most of the oil produced each year) just to stay even with the growth in demand.

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