Future of Oil
Is the world on the brink of an oil crisis? I decided to look into this possibility, because it seems like a rather serious question, one that I would feel more comfortable about if I had enough information to at least form a fairly justifiable position. After all, the little I knew about the situation before conducting any research yielded one undeniable result: the issue is an extremely divisive one, with plenty of proponents on both sides of the argument.
I decided to look first at the arguments of those who claim that a crisis is looming. George Monbiot summarizes the problem in the following succinct fashion:
“The world's problem is as follows. We now consume six barrels of oil for every new barrel we discover. Major oil finds (of over 500m barrels) peaked in 1964. In 2000, there were 13 such discoveries, in 2001 six, in 2002 two and in 2003 none. Three major new projects will come onstream in 2007 and three in 2008. For the following years, none have yet been scheduled.”
This, at first, seems like a rather startling discovery, but it’s its significance is somewhat obscure. True it indicates that there has been a gradual dropping off in terms of the finding loci for previously unknown oil reservoirs, but what about those areas from which we are already drawing oil? Do we know how much oil remains in those?
Kevin Kelleher counters, in an article for Popular Science, that the oil expiration date is something that is uncertain and those who claim it is approaching simply do not have the evidence to back up such a prognostication. “If there is an end to the debate,” he writes, “advanced oil-recovery technologies will most likely find it.” Kelleher then elaborates on some of these technologies, including new drills that soak up oil horizontally as well as vertically, thus increasing the amount of oil harvestable per well from 35 to 60%. This is a great technology to be sure — one that will undoubtedly salvage billions of barrels of oil over the next several years if it works as well as Kelleher claims. The problem is that this too ignores the issue of when will the totality of the oil...