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StatesmanJournal: U.S. must develop oil alternatives


June 7, 2006

The year was 1956, and the head of Shell Oil Companies’ research lab, M. King Hubbert, made a prediction that peak production of oil in the United States would occur in the year 1972. He was wrong. Peak oil production in the United States occurred in 1970.

Kenneth S. Deffeys in his 2005 book “Beyond Oil” has utilized the same techniques that Hubbert used, and predicted that global oil production would peak in late 2005. Whether the year is 2005 or 2010 at the latest, the fact is oil is a nonrenewable resource and global production will peak one day. There is a crisis because as production declines, demand continues to grow at a rapid rate.

Nearly midway through 2006, the situation is that global oil production is roughly 86 million barrels of oil per day, and global demand is nearly the same. Global demand continues to increase and the big question becomes whether global supply can keep up with demand.

The most optimistic forecasts say that supply can meet demand until roughly the year 2025. The most pessimistic say that we are close to decline or even in decline as you are reading this.

Remember, not if, but when! It’s not a matter of the jar being half-full versus half-empty — the fact is that we have used up roughly 50 percent of the easily recoverable oil on the planet and the rest will be produced at much lower rates than are enjoyed today.

The economy of the United States is based on energy, largely fossil fuels. We enjoy the highest standard of living that has ever been achieved anywhere and we run a significant risk of seeing a decline in this standard of living.

The United States has roughly 5 percent of the world’s population, and consumes roughly 25 of the global oil production. The United States currently consumes over 20 million barrels of oil per day and produces less than 8 million barrels of oil per day, which means that we import nearly 60 percent of our domestic fossil fuel needs.

Nearly 3 million barrels of oil per day comes from Canada and Mexico, but still roughly half of our energy needs come from areas outside of North America. As oil production goes into decline, we can expect our standard of living to do the same unless action is taken now.

We must start to make planners and government officials aware of the problem so we can transition to other sources of energy. There is much discussion, pro and con, about “peak oil.” Remember that the question is not if, but when. This writer thinks that the evidence strongly suggests that the “when” is upon us.

While energy independence from fossil fuels is not a possibility for this country, energy independence is. In order to achieve this, we must start making decisions now, and we must start the process of developing these alternate energy sources.

Robert D. Stensland of Salem is a retired geologist with more than 33 years experience in the oil industry. He can be reached at [email protected].

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