Peak Oil News: Are we really at the beginning of the end of the oil age

Monday, December 06, 2004

Are we really at the beginning of the end of the oil age

Salt Lake Tribune - Opinion

Planet Earth does not contain an infinite amount of oil. Oil resources are finite and depletable, but we do not know exactly how much oil exists or how much we will produce and consume in the future. We can only estimate, but our estimates are not absolute truths for foretelling the future of humanity.

The geological lowdown has not played a role in oil prices yet. Nevertheless, if the production of regular liquid oil from existing fields declines in the near future and oil prices increase, two mechanisms - increased energy efficiency and utilization of nonconventional hydrocarbons - will figure prominently.

Energy efficiency is applicable to both consumption and supply. There is so much we can do to decrease energy use by developing energy-efficient automobiles, buildings and public transportation systems. Our efficiency of oil recovery from most fields is 35-40 percent. Thus about 60 percent of reserves still remain underground; some of these can be extracted with more advanced techniques.

What are unconventional resources today may become conventional tomorrow. We can extract hydrocarbons from natural gas, coal, heavy oil, tar sands, oil shale and sea floor methane hydrates.

If the idea of an imminent peak in oil is taken for granted without critical examination, it may have dangerous ramifications for the world ranging from justification for the politics of international conflict over oil resources to our unwillingness to address the global climate warming due to the emission of carbon dioxide gas from burning petroleum because we may think that oil will soon be gone anyway.


That there is still much oil on our planet should not prevent us from utilizing other energy resources as well. In fact, we should conserve oil, not because we are soon running out of it but because it is too precious to waste.

Petroleum provides about 90 percent of the organic chemical we use in plastics, agricultural chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Once oil is depleted, other energy sources can provide us fuel and power but will not provide future generations the thousands of petrochemical products we are privileged to use. From this perspective, the end of oil is not a happy end.


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