A World Awash in Oil?
There was lots of talk about developing alternatives to oil during the recent congressional campaigns.
But what if it turns out to be unnecessary?
That's the tantalizing proposition offered by a report issued this week by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, which says there may be as much as 3.74 trillion barrels of oil availablemore than three times some other widely publicized estimatesand notes that the world hasn't even reached the point where the supply has peaked.
Why such a huge discrepancy? The answer is that CERA, headed by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and oil expert Daniel Yergin, is counting on improvements in technology to bring forth a greater supply from such hard-to-reach oil deposits as those beneath the Canadian tar sands.
On Capitol Hill, the report's release brought the same kind of partisan debate that has marked other reports suggesting the opposite conclusion, that the world is running out of oil, and quickly.
Maryland Republican Roscoe Bartlett, leader of a bipartisan coalition of House members who for the last year have been beating the drum about declining supplies of oil, reacted with outrage to the CERA report, saying it "is doing a major disservice to our country by implying we don't need to be worried about oil."
Bartlett and colleagues have been pushing for a U.S. energy project "with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency" of the project to land a man on the moon. Their premise is that world oil production will fall off sharply after a high point that is either imminent or has already passed.
However, the report "Why the 'Peak Oil' Theory Falls Down" concludes there is no evidence a peak will occur before the year 2030. After that, the report predicts an "undulating plateau" for one or more decades before a slow decline. The world has already produced 1.08 trillion barrels of oil, and most peakers estimate that only 1.2 trillion barrels is remaining while demand is rising sharply. But CERA says that those estimates do not take into account improvements in technology that squeeze more oil out of the ground, particularly from hard-to-access resources such as deep waters, the oil sands, and potentially the oil shale in the western United States.
But congressional peakers say there's no reason for complacency, citing more pessimistic reports, including one completed last year by a contractor for the Department of Energy. "They're accepting as recovered what is recoverable; what they're not considering is there is going to be enormous cost," says Bartlett. And New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall says the report hasn't changed his view: "We have entered an era of expensive oil, and we are leaving the era of cheap oil, and we need to be prepared."