Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Project Energy: Our Oil Addiction

(WCCO) When humans first harnessed energy, it was fire, and the fuel was wood.

Industry began to develop when man found coal. And the society we know today developed when we found oil.

Economical, accessible and seemingly endless – oil. But, it is not endless, and it now appears the unthinkable is happening. We are beginning to run out of conventional oil.

The United States was once the largest exporter of oil to the rest of the world. It is now the world's largest importer.

The world is now using more oil, globally, than we are finding.

"Exxon is saying the last year when we found more oil than we burned was 1987. So, the handwriting is on the wall that we are not finding it," said Kenneth Deffeyes. He is the emeritus professor of geosciences at Princeton, a former Shell oil geologist, and author of two books in a growing list on the subject of peak oil.

Oil production follows a curve. In more than 150 years, it has grown to where petroleum geologists say is the halfway point – the peak.

But we demand oil in greater quantities than we can produce. And demand will continue rising with an aggressively growing population, and the burgeoning industries of China and India. When demand for oil increases as supplies decrease, the serious trouble begins.

"I come out with the strong conclusion that the oil fields we have already found contain 94 percent of all the oil we are ever going to find," Deffeyes said.

According to a report commissioned by the Department of Energy, the peaking of conventional oil "… will cause protracted economic hardships in the United States and the world. It is a problem unlike any yet faced by a modern industrial society."

Remarkably, the oil companies themselves are warning us:

"Some say that by 2020 we'll have used half the world's oil. Some say we already have ... ," according to a recent Chevron ad.

One oil company, British Petroleum, has even moved to change its name. BP now means, Beyond Petroleum.

"We might have already passed peak oil," said Matthew Simmons. Simmons is the president of the world's largest energy banking firm.

He says the growing demand in the face of diminishing supplies is really the problem.

"We have a world that's headed towards a need of about 120 million barrels a day in 2020," said Simmons, "And by 2020, if we're on top of peak oil today, our oil supply could easily be only 60-65-70 million barrels a day."

And Simmons says because of depletion, in the next five years, a barrel of oil will cost $180 — three times what it is now.

At that rate, it would cost $150 to $200 to fill your tank.

"It would be extremely difficult," said Betty Albitz.

We sat down with a group of Minnesotans — Betty Albitz, Chad Amon, Stefanie Igtanloc and Al Alexander — to get their thoughts on what happens in a world of less and more expensive oil.

"Tell me how your life changes, Betty, when gas costs $10 a gallon," asked WCCO-TV anchor Don Shelby.

"Probably car pool, try to get more people in a car, that sort of thing," said Albitz. "You just try being more efficient with the energy you're going to burn."

"Maybe walk or bike when I can," said Amon.

"I think we reduce the uses of the vehicles. You take my case, I have an SUV, my wife does not. We'd probably find a way to use my car less," said Alexander.

"But it upsets our reality," Alexander continued, "Our reality is, until you go to the pump and there's no gas, you won't get it."

But it's more than just our cars according to Senator Norm Coleman.

"You're going to lose your job," Coleman said. "You're going to lose your ability to pay for heating when it's very cold in Minnesota. We're talking about catastrophic, we're talking about, and I'm not a 'the sky is falling' kind of guy, but we're talking about cataclysmic impacts upon the American economy."

In the halls of the U.S. Congress, the questions of diminishing supplies, alternative fuels, and sustainability have been carried traditionally by Democrats. But increasingly Republicans — often associated with big oil — are warning the party's over.

"Like kids that found the cookie jar, we just pigged out," said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland. He is the capitol's leading voice on Peak Oil and Energy policy. He is a conservative Republican.

"Future generations are going to look back and ask themselves, how could they have done that?" said Bartlett. "This enormous wealth that they found under the ground and they just pigged it up as quickly as possible with not thought for tomorrow."

Regardless of politics, there's a growing consensus that the right thing to do is prepare for the end of oil.

Even the President of the United States has now begun to talk about the scarcity of oil, its effect on foreign policy and the security of the country.

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy," said President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address. "And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."

We have heard messages like this before from the White House.

"Had we listened to Jimmy Carter, 20 years ago, and taken his advice and started working on conservation, working on alternatives, we'd be in great shape right now. We didn't listen," Deffeyes said.

So, we went to Atlanta to listen.

"My hope is that every person who lives in Minnesota will take on himself or herself a direct responsibility," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

"The American people have been enticed, through false propaganda and accepting extremely inefficient vehicles to propel them from one place to another," Carter said. "And it's up to the government, first of all, which has defaulted in my opinion on that responsibility, and the second responsibility is for the people of Minnesota to say, I'll do it myself, and be proud of it."

"Well it becomes overwhelming in terms of, what can one person do," Amon said.

"I hope I as myself will try to make more decisions," said Igtanloc, "but I think to get the people en masse, it's going to take the government."

"But it all comes back to money," said Alexander, "I mean, you know what I mean, that's not a moral decision, that's an economic decision. What does that say about us as a country?"

"But I think this country," said Albitz, "it is the free enterprise system. The masses will rise given the education, given the opportunities, given the creativity of the human mind for alternatives. I'm still remaining optimistic."

(© MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.) source: http://wcco.com/topstories/Project.Energy.energy.2.372413.html

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