Oil: How Bad Do You Want It? George Will
In 1977 President Carter said we "could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade." But today known reserves are larger than ever. Reserves and production outside the Middle East are larger than they were 31 years ago, when a State Department report was titled "The Oil Crisis: This Time the Wolf is Here."
In 1971, a year before Texas output passed its peak, U.S. production met more than two-thirds of the nation's needs. Today the nation imports 54 percent of the oil it uses. M.A. Adelman of Massachusetts Institute of Technology notes that in 1971 non-OPEC countries had about 200 billion barrels of proven reserves. In the next 33 years they produced 460 billion "and now have 209 billion 'remaining.' " Note Adelman's quotation marks. To predict actual reserves would require predicting future exploration and development technologies.
However, the rate of discovery has been declining for several decades. Of course, oil supplies are, as some people say with a sense of profound discovery, "finite." But that distinguishes oil not at all from land, water or pistachio nuts.
Russell Roberts, an economist, says: Imagine that you love pistachio nuts and are given a room filled 5 feet deep with them. But you must eat them in the room and must leave the shells. When will you have eaten them all? Never. Because as it becomes increasingly difficult to find nuts amidst the shells, the cost of the nuts, in time and effort, will become too high. You will seek a substitute -- pistachios from a store, or another snack.
(The assumption is the market and technology will respond with a solution. This often works, but it is not a certainty. There is a market for cures for obesity, cancer, AIDS, and the common cold, but these problems persist.)