Fill 'er up?

Let me nominate the following as perhaps the most important comments made in the year 2004: Kenneth S. Deffeyes, a Princeton University geologist, speaking at the American Chemical Society meeting said, for Thanksgiving 2005:

“Give thanks for a century of cheap and plentiful oil…The exploration game is essentially over…We are unable to find new oil at the rate society or chemical engineers would request…The reality is that no unused surplus production capacity exists anywhere in the world. “

Deffeyes predicts 2005 is when global oil production will peak. If he’s right, that’s not good news. I’ve heard it said that, after production peaks, the price of oil will skyrocket because supply will diminish at the same time demand is increasing. A double-whammy.


I remember reading an article in Scientific American about 10 years ago by oil geologists saying that oil production would peak in 2010 and that the consequences would be serious. Later I heard oil company executives saying, “Nah, there’s plenty of oil left.” But even more recently I read that the SEC is investigating oil company executives for lying to their investors about oil reserves. They don’t want investors to abandon an industry that’s running out of its basic resource.

Another chemist at the ACS meeting, Richard Smalley, said: “I believe this is the biggest challenge any of us will face in our lifetime. This is the big one.”

I agree. We’ve got a world with billions of people in developing countries with middle-class aspirations. Just as their economies are taking off, boom!, the “light sweet crude” runs out. What’s left is nasty hydrocarbons that wreak havoc on the environment and economies.

The article concludes:

Even if Deffeyes is wrong about global production, as some critics say, the world economy faces an upsurge in energy demand that oil alone cannot meet. Smalley said he expected global energy consumption to more than double, and perhaps increase by a factor of four, by 2050.

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