America 'unnecessarily at risk' by looming fall-off in petroleum
The nation has been put "unnecessarily at risk," according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.
The reason: failure of federal agencies to have a "coordinated or well-defined strategy either to reduce uncertainty about the timing of a peak [in oil production] or to mitigate its consequences."
Peak oil is the point at which the production of "conventional" oil reaches the highest level it will ever achieve. After that, it will decline at a fairly rapid rate.
In the absence of alternative fuels, peak oil poses enormous conse quences for our way of life, which is heavily dependent on petroleum to move people and goods.
There is little public awareness of the phenomenon of peak oil and the gravity of its conse quences, potentially making it the sleep er issue of all time. There are, to be sure, any number of supposedly well-informed experts who portray peak-oil believers as alarmist. But as the GAO report points out, the consensus, even among informed skeptics, is that peak oil will occur sometime before 2040.
There are a few knowledgeable experts who believe peak oil already has been reached globally.
The endless calls by politicians for "energy independence" are perhaps the most striking example of how little this issue is understood by the people in charge.
Former oil men George W. Bush and Dick Cheney cannot be among those in the dark on this, though they clearly have chosen not to make it an issue for reasons we may not find out until they publish their memoirs. By then, they may have a lot of explaining to do.
Everyone in the industry knows that the United States cannot drill itself to energy independence. There simply is not enough oil left in the ground.
U.S. domestic oil production peaked in 1970. Not even the subsequent pumping of oil from the large North Slope fields of Alaska was sufficient to bring U.S. production back to where it had been.
Production in most oil producers outside the Middle East also has peaked, including Norway, Great Britain, Mexico and Indonesia.
Complicating the picture is that much of the remaining oil is in countries at high risk of political volatility. In addition, these countries' oil reserve calculations are not transparent or independently verified, and may not be as much as claimed. That may be particularly true for Saudi Arabia, which ostensibly presides over the world's largest oil reserves.
Major oil-producer Kuwait recently dramatically revised downward its remaining oil reserves.
For a variety of reasons, alternative fuels may not be sufficiently available to make up for any drop in petroleum. That's particularly true, the GAO report notes, if peak oil occurs in the next decade or so.
Alternative fuels currently provide only the equivalent of 1 percent of petroleum consumption in the U.S. and are projected to displace only 4 percent of petroleum by 2015. That's why the push for conservation and pumped up investment in alternative energy is so urgent. A transition away from oil can't be accomplished overnight.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., one of the few individuals in Congress who has been sounding the alarm on peak oil, called the GAO report "a clarion call for leadership at the highest level of our country to avert an energy crisis unlike any the world has ever before experienced and one that we know could happen at any time."
But is anyone listening?