Geologist speaks on future of oil
By Dan Hopmann
Nearly all the seats were filled at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater Wednesday night in anticipation of Richard Heinberg's presentation titled "Peak Oil: The Challenges and Opportunities of Petroleum's Waning Days."
Heinberg's presentation served as the keynote address to kick off the seventh annual Simply Living Fair. The fair is 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at Third Street Park. The fair offers free seminars and workshops on topics that range from food and wellness to transportation and eco-spirituality.
Since 2003, Heinberg, a professor at the New College of California in San Francisco, has traveled worldwide to speak and raise awareness about the issues facing domestic and international oil depletion. Danise Alano, assistant director of economic development for the City of Bloomington, pointed to City Councilman Dave Rollo as the one who secured Heinberg's visit.
"Dave is really versed in the peak oil issue and (he) knew (Heinberg) was one of its first and foremost supporters," Alano said.
In 1956, the famous geophysicist M. King Hubbert predicted U.S. oil production would reach its peak in 1970. Peak oil has been a controversial topic in the oil industry for more than half a decade.
As Heinberg exhibited graphs of a bell curve in which the domestic oil production began declining in the early 1970s, he confirmed Hubbert's theory.
"Everyone is used to the U.S. being a bottomless reservoir," Heinberg said. "Before 1970, our country was one of the world's highest exporters of oil. Now we're producing about the same amount as we did in the 1940s."
Heinberg demonstrated in his presentation that although oil production has been decreasing since 1970, domestic oil usage has been on a rollercoaster ride.
In 1973, the Arab oil embargo jacked up gas prices by 400 percent, Heinberg said. As a result, many Americans bought smaller cars, and the interstate speed limits dropped from 70 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour, Heinberg said.
In the 1980s, Heinberg said, gas prices decreased to record lows, which in turn brought a "new level of increased dependence."
"Since 1980, oil extraction has passed up oil discovery," Heinberg said. "As a ratio, for every barrel discovered, we extract and use four."
As for the global perspective on the oil industry, Heinberg indicated that it's following the same pattern as the United States.
Currently the world production rate is about 84 million barrels per day, Heinberg said. Another 30 million barrels per day of new production is needed to offset depletion by 2010, but there are only 12.5 million barrels per day of new capacity in development for the next five years.
Heinberg also said other industry problems have occurred within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, a group of 11 countries that produce oil to be exported. Many of these countries, such as Indonesia and Iran, have been decreasing their oil production, and Heinberg said Saudi Arabia is next on the list.
Because this list is dwindling and demand is increasing, OPEC countries have a vested financial interest in keeping some information to themselves, Heinberg said.
"A lot of OPEC global oil reserves have been overstated for political reasons," Heinberg said. "In 1987, Iraq reported having 47.1 billion barrels, but in 1988 that number jumped to 100 billion barrels. And these are all self-reported figures."
Heinberg said that as a result of diminishing oil production, there will likely be two scapegoats: OPEC and oil companies.
"If we wait for the market to work itself out, in about 20 or 30 years it will be too late," Heinberg said. "The plateau when global oil production peaks will be extremely volatile, complete with economic and political disasters."
Heinberg suggested that people try walking or biking instead of driving cars. He also suggested hybrid cars and carpooling.
Rollo echoed his friend's position on peak oil.
"Our society is totally dependent on fossil fuels, and yet few people understand the real implications," he said. "If ever we needed energy literacy, the time is now."