WASHINGTON (October 12, 2010): Over three jam-packed days at the sixth annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO USA), a single, coherent picture of a world unprepared to encounter energy limits began to emerge, articulated by an impressive array of experts on energy, economics and the environment.  From across the political spectrum, Rear Admiral Lawrence Rice, former Carter Secretary of Energy Dr. James Schlesinger, and former Green Party Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader offered up remarkably similar accounts of both the timeline for declines in available oil supplies and the global and national challenges that will accompany a nation that has never fully grappled with either liquid fuel depletion or its implications for a highly oil dependent society.  As Dr. Schlesinger dryly remarked, “Can our political process face up to the challenge?  I see absolutely no reason for optimism.”  All three men expressed concern that our political leadership has thus far failed to grapple with peak oil.  Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (Rep., Maryland), leader of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus, observed that China’s strategic response to energy depletion was considerably more advanced than our own.

There were some signs of hope for a new political engagement with the issue of oil depletion at ASPO’s packed Congressional briefing.  Speakers like former CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin talked about the dangers to globalization and a stable world economy that tight oil supplies represent.  Rubin claimed that “peak oil is not a geological issue, it is an economic issue.”  Petroleum geologist Art Berman argued that U.S. oil shale reserves may be wildly overstated, and human rights and environmental campaigner Bianca Jagger drew connections between climate change and peak oil.  At the Congressional briefing, former U.S. Energy Information Administration Director Guy Caruso noted that peak oil is a top concern at the EIA.

ASPO-USA has historically brought the best of the energy experts together to paint a coherent picture of what we know and don’t know about world oil reserves.  Since world reserves are never publically audited, establishing what portion of our fossil fuel legacy remains is absolutely critical.  As former BP Chief Petroleum Engineer Jeremy Gilbert observed, geological reality may turn the rhetoric of “yes we can” into the reality of “no, we can’t.” 

At a panel on the impact of exports on decline rates, oil analyst Jeffrey Brown used his “export land model” to show how oil consumers in exporting nations are exacerbating declines in oil production.  Speaking on topics explored in his new book, The Impending World Energy Mess, Dr. Robert Hirsch warned that we have not adequately considered the implications of a liquid fuels crisis.  Experts on transportation, food and the economy wrapped up the conference, offering evidence to attendees of how oil dependence and depletion affects every aspect of our society.  ASPO-International President Dr. Kjell Aleklett of Uppsala University, Sweden, ended with a plea to the audience to take their expanded understanding of what’s at stake in our energy future and to use that knowledge as they make decisions about their own lives, and in their efforts to influence policy makers at the local, national and international levels.

3 thoughts on “New Warnings About the Challenges of Oil Depletion”

  1. The situation with peak oil reminds me of the housing bubble that just came quite close to taking down the entire financial system. Very few people, among them, some very bright people, thought housing prices would ever fall much. They did, and we now have 9.6% unemployment, along with an exploding Federal debt.
    Today, the vast majority of people still think that any oil shortage is decades down the road, if ever! The results of believing both faulty assumptions will be the same, only far worse for oil. Unlike the financial crisis, almost no one will escape the pain of the coming peak oil crisis. It will be far more difficult to manage than any financial crisis in human history. Begin planning for it.

  2. The increasing number of recent studies by military and government think tanks raising the real possibilities of a coming “oil crunch” testifies that ASPO’s efforts are starting to have an impact.

    Keep it up – but focus on getting the media to follow the story – you are not going to get politicians to do anything. As Schlesinger said – politicians only have two priorities: 1) getting elected, and 2) getting reelected. And they can’t do either if they they paint a picture of a declining future.

    The media (and therfore the public) should be the focus.

  3. On the one hand there is hand wringing about a lack of response to warnings of the descent from peak plateau, or as many refer to it ‘peak oil’. However, everytime there is an article warning about it, there are other articles that accept the amount of oil that may come out of Iraq and sources of unconventional oil, like the tar sands to say, look how much oil there is for the getting. Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty. But what they are not accounting for is the cost to the consumer for oil coming out of a civil war ravaged Iraq, or the cost of processing unconventional oil. There is evidence to indicate the price of oil will get too high for a well oiled economy to gain much traction, let alone expand its GDP. So there is the battle of the naysayers and the yessayers, of 1/2 empty vs. 1/2 full.

    The same is true for global warming. Whenever there is real data presented by real scientists that helps further establish global warming, there are other articles claiming ‘natural variability’, the hockey stick etc.

    And so the net effect is a muddled message, in which the populace can either decide to take one side or the other. The unfortunate side of this dichotomy is that it makes it near impossible to get a concensus response to either situation, peak oil or global warming.

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