Sunday, April 15, 2007

No Fair Peaking!

Actually, the good news about oil is that we'll eventually run out anyway. I've said this before and had people tell me that I was an 'extremist', but somehow it doesn't seem too terribly outrageous to argue that a finite resource is finite.

I'm a bit skeptical about the claims as to when 'peak oil' will happen though- we don't seem to have any accurate measurement of the oil available on earth, and so most dates that have been put on the point of peak oil have been educated guesses. It is good news that the latest dates proposed are still before 2050, although that's a long time to wait. Marion Hubbert, who came up with the Hubbert Peak Theory, was right about the US peak of 1970, but I think he might have guessed a bit early for the world peak. On the other hand, I'm not sure it will be obvious when we reach peak oil, and Kenneth Deffeys argues that we've reached peak oil in 2005.

For the uninitiated, oil ''peaks'' when we are extracting as much as we will ever be able to from a particular area. After that, oil production starts to decline, and crude actually becomes harder to extract. The more difficult it becomes to extract oil from the ground, the more expensive oil becomes, and the more scarce it is. The reason people worry about peak oil is that many societies, but North American societies especially, have infrastructures that can't manage a sudden decline in the use of oil. To handle the problem, we probably need a 10-20 year lead time to prepare, and we have so far done next to nothing. The worst case scenario, but a great movie, was seen in The Road Warrior. Another interesting scenario would be a return to provincialism as people work much closer to their homes and the interstate shipping system ends.

The bad news is that people have been warning about the end of the oil age for decades now. The head of the U.S. Geological Survey predicted it would happen in 1919! And, actually, we're discovering new fields all the time. So, the oil age might be far from over. And, even if it does end, I don't see any reason to believe that asking North Americans to change their living patterns will result in widespread riots and chaos. Besides, if the most dire predictions are correct, we'll already be dealing with terrorism, global warming, and the collapse of the U.S. economy anyway, so peak oil will seem like no big deal. Rest easy!

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