Oil expert: Conservation key
By COLIN HICKEY
WATERVILLE -- Geologist Elizabeth A. Wilson planned on studying languages decades ago as an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
Her goal was to earn her degree and get a job as an interpreter for the State Department, but her career ambitions changed after she took a geology class to fulfill her science requirement.
Wilson, who went on to have a 25-year career in the oil industry, came to Colby College on Wednesday to give students in professor Leonard Reich's Biography of Oil class her interpretation of the world petroleum situation, especially the question of supply and depletion.
"I started in the oil business in 1977," Wilson said, "because everybody then was saying we were running out of oil. We are not there yet. It may happen. It will happen -- but who knows when."
Despite the uncertainty of the oil-depletion timetable, Wilson, now an adjunct professor at the University of Maine and a visiting professor at Mount Holyoke, stressed that the world must strive to achieve better energy efficiency and conservation -- and the sooner the better.
That is a must she said given the United States' huge appetite for oil. Americans, she said, consume 25 percent of the world's petroleum each year despite representing only 41Ú2 percent of the global population.
Add to this the dramatically increasing energy consumption of China and other developing countries and the implication could not be clearer: Oil, however much might still be left, is a finite resource being devoured at an alarming rate.
This said, Wilson presented an insider's view -- she calls herself an oil explorer -- of an industry that produces what may be the world's most vital commodity.
Oil, by some estimations, supplies about 50 percent of the world's energy needs and this does not include coal, another petroleum product, that accounts for at least 11 percent.
Most of that oil, meanwhile, sits in the Middle East, home to about half of the world's known reserves.
Saudi Arabia is the kingpin of those Middle East holdings, boasting more than 40 percent of the total.
Much of that stock is found at Ghawar, an oil field about the length of Louisiana.
"This is the largest known concentration of oil in the world," she said. "It is huge."
Wilson said Saudi Arabia's goal is to produce 15 million barrels of oil per day for the next 50 years. The United States, in contrast, produces less than 6 million barrels per day.
"Are we going to find another Ghawar?" Wilson said. "I doubt it, but if we find another 100 to 1,000 oil fields that will make up for it."
Despite the petroleum riches of the Middle East, Wilson said world demand for oil is too great to be sustainable for much longer.
Wilson said the United States and the rest of the world must move to a more diversified portfolio when it comes to energy sources.
The idea -- at least in the short run -- is not to replace oil with another energy source, she said, but to take incremental steps to reduce the petroleum portion size.