Friday, July 20, 2007

Life Span of Oil

James Petholoukis in his Capital Commerce blog reviews the varying opinions on the life span of oil as a energy resource and offers his opinion that is will become an important political and economic debate in "Are the Democrats the Peak-Oil Party?" Some excerpts follow:

"We have to understand how weak [Iran] is," explained Sen. Joe Biden last month at the Democratic presidential debate in Nashua, N.H. "They import almost all of their refined oil. By 2014, they are going to be importing their crude oil." If Biden really meant to say what he said, that places him firmly in the camp of those analysts who believe in "peak oil" and predict that global oil production will soon decline even as demand continues to rise, with the results being ever higher oil prices and shortages.

Peak oilers contend that the Middle East oil reserves are vastly overstated. Some, the minority to be sure, even think that global oil production will fall so far, so fast, that western civilization will have to return to some sort of pre-industrial way of life. Here are some choice predictions from one well-known proponent of the theory, James Howard Kunstler:

"One huge implication of the oil peak is that industrial societies will never again enjoy the 2 to 7 percent annual economic growth that has been considered healthy for over 100 years. This amounts to the industrialized nations of the world finding themselves in a permanent depression...The future is therefore telling us very loudly that we will have to change the way we live in this country. The implications are clear: We will have to downscale and rescale virtually everything we do...All indications are that American life will have to be reconstituted along the lines of traditional towns, villages, and cities much reduced in their current scale. These will be the most successful places once we are gripped by the profound challenge of a permanent reduced
energy supply."

Clearly, the members of the National Petroleum Council, a federal advisory group representing the oil industry, are not believers in peak oil. "Fortunately, the world is not running out of energy resources," concludes a new report. "Coal, oil, and natural gas will remain indispensable to meeting total projected energy demand growth. "But the report does advocate that the United States [make many clean and green changes.]

My [Pethokoukis] take: Between fears of global warming and higher energy prices, energy looks certain to be a major issue for the first time in a presidential election since 1980. Democrats already seem to have realized and are formulating specific plans, like Hillary Clinton's idea of a $50 billion
energy research fund, or a similar $10 billion "New Energy Economy" fund that John Edwards is proposing.

The GOP isn't quite there yet as far as addressing this as an issue with specifics. Rudy Giuliani, as part of his website's "12 commitments," merely says, "I will lead America towards energy independence." Mitt Romney advocates spending "more research dollars in power generation, fuel technology, and materials science. It is in new technologies that we will find solutions to our environmental and energy needs."

I strongly agree this will become a much larger issue. I know that Giuliani has promised to flush out in detail each of his "12 Commitments" over the course of the campaign as I suppose they will all. I also know that most energy stock analyst are on the "non-peak" side and watch the energy estimates of the oil companies very carefully, and that watchfulness lead to a shake-up in BP's management not too long ago.

1 comment:

Nathan Tabor said...

Yes, I'm interested to see how this will play out against the backdrop of the general election (whoever the frontrunners end up being). That being said (and I'm no energy expert), the whole "peak oil" thing just sounds wrong to me. Scientists, etc, keep predicting the amount of oil left in the earth, and how close we are to peaking, and they keep getting it wrong. Seems that every time private prospectors take a look at, say, Siberia, or Sunni Iraq, all of a sudden they find oil where no one's thought to look before. I've heard this said before, but I don't think that the switch to renewable energy will be driven by scarcity--it'll be driven by technology, affordability, and demand. When the consumers want it and the markets can provide it, we'll have it.