Thursday, October 13, 2005

The peak oil problem We may be running out sooner than we think

Rutland Herald: Rutland Vermont News & Information

In recent months the term "peak oil" has begun to enter the mainstream vocabulary for the first time, yet most people are not familiar with what it really means. This is an issue that I have been deeply concerned about for a number of years, both as a writer who has focused primarily on renewable energy, and in my work with the Vermont Biofuels Association. Peak oil deserves our immediate attention. Here's why.

Peak oil is now viewed by a growing number of observers as a more imminent danger to human society than global warming. That doesn't mean that global warming isn't a serious problem. It is. But peak oil is such a threat because the modern global economy is now almost totally dependent on enormous quantities of (still) relatively cheap petroleum products or their derivatives. Anything that seriously disrupts the supply or price of oil means big trouble, and the current extreme volatility of oil prices caused by tight supplies and rising demand is already causing problems that are beginning to ripple through the national and global economies. This is just the beginning.

OK, so what does peak oil really mean? When we arrive at peak oil, we will have consumed half of the total recoverable global reserves of oil. That might not seem like such a big deal, since half the total reserves are still available. But what many people don't realize is that the first half was the easy part to find and exploit and also represented the highest quality. While the remaining half is still in the ground, it's generally much lower in quality and located in much smaller fields in, shall we say, inconvenient places like the Arctic, or under deep water. Consequently, what remains is going to be much harder and more expensive to extract and produce.


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