Peak oil: A problem that's not going away
By Bob Duff and Terry Backer
Oil supplies in the world are tightening. Even a small shortage of oil can cause a big tremor in people’s lives. Oil is the life-blood of our society and economy. A reduction in oil supply will push up costs for everything. Just look how far your dollar goes in the supermarket these days. The cost of oil has already hit your pocketbook.
Heating our schools and homes, keeping the lights on in hospitals, and the production and transportation of every product from shoes to medicines has and will continue to cost more. The ugly truth is we either have arrived at or are nearing peak oil.
Peak oil, currently off the public’s radar screen, describes the time when daily oil production hits an all-time high, then levels off before slipping into permanent decline. Back in 1956, geo-physicist M. King Hubbert forecast that the United State’s oil production would peak in 1971. It did. Nearly half of the world’s top-20 oil-producing nations are now past peak (U.S., Mexico, Norway, U.K., Indonesia, Venezuela, Iran) or near peak production (Russia, China). Geology, geopolitics and other factors are pushing us towards peak.
The Cantarell oil field in the Bay of Campeche in Mexico was a national treasure — the third-largest oil field ever found. But after 30 short years the field’s production is petering out. Mexico’s national oil company has informed the United States that the field is in terminal decline and will not be able to export by about 2012. That’s very bad news for us. Cantarell supplies about 12 percent of all U.S. oil. Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, Britain’s North Sea fields, Kuwait’s Burgan field, Russia’s Samatlor field-the list of mega-giants in decline goes on. Sadly, the second half of an oil field’s production is typically harder and slower to extract than the first half.
il and is a super optimist. He believes oil won’t peak for another 20-plus years. From our view, there are equal if not more qualified experts who say Yergin is off by decades and that peak is now or is about happen. Neither scenario should make any of us comfortable. What it means is that we have little lead time, even by the most optimistic projections, to address infrastructure changes.
All of the world’s mega-giant oil fields are in decline and no comparable fields have been found since the ’70s. The world is consuming three barrels of oil for every one we discover. Demand continues growing every year, especially from China and oil exporting countries. We currently use 21 million barrels a day in the U.S. and 86 million worldwide every day. Many experts believe that, for a host of reasons, we’ll never produce more than 90 million barrels a day.
Peak oil is a problem looming just around the corner, one that we have never encountered before and have few ideas on what to do. It is the toughest problem we have ever faced bar none and, though former President Clinton highlighted this problem last year, not one presidential candidate has mentioned it. Due to its immense impact it’s easy for politicians to avoid learning about peak oil or hope it goes away. It won’t.
State Sen. Bob Duff of Norwalk represents most of Darien, Connecticut and state Rep. Terry Backer is from Stratford. The two are members of the General Assembly’s Energy & Technology Committee and co-founders of the Legislative Peak Oil and Natural Gas Caucus.