Transcript of radio commentary that aired in January 2004 on KUNM public radio 89.9 fm in Albuquerque. Link to audio at end of page.
By Arjun Makhijani
Oil powers more than engines. For over a hundred years, it’s been driving various versions of a myth. Version 1: The world will soon run out of oil. Version 1.1: the world will soon run out of cheap oil. Version 6: Oil production will soon peak; rising demand will clash rapidly diminishing supply; prices will shoot up. Result: economic catastrophe.
A century of growing world oil production and reserves and a hundred years of being wrong have not stopped the myth-makers. All resources are finite. But some are more finite than others. There is a great deal of oil in the world – with an estimated a trillion barrels of ultimately recoverable reserves in Saudi Arabia alone – that’s about 35 years of global consumption at present rates. One fourth of that is proven reserves. Iraq has a hundred billion barrels of proven reserves and that much more in undeveloped areas. Persian Gulf proven reserves cost less than a nickel a gallon to pump out of the ground.
If the world had higher oil prices driven by true oil depletion, the world would quickly move to using natural gas, gasified coal, liquefied coal, even to hydrogen from wind energy. The hydrogen potential from wind energy in the 12 mid-western states of the United States alone is 50 percent larger than the entire oil output of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and that includes the whole Persian Gulf region.
We will run out environment long before we run out of oil and its equivalents. The capacity of Mother Nature to absorb all the technologically marvelous ways in which we can inject carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already being overwhelmed. That’s not a theoretical problem in the future. There is overwhelming scientific consensus that it is here already. Glaciers are melting, millions of acres of forest are dying, extreme climate events, like severe droughts and floods, are increasing in frequency.
Crying wolf about oil running out is a dangerous pastime. I will argue in my next commentary that panicky focus on the idea that oil is running out diverts attention from really serious problems associated with the entire modern energy system: the severity of global climate change, nuclear power security and accidents, plutonium-related proliferation problems, AND THE PROBLEM OF TOO MUCH CHEAP OIL.
For more information about oil and energy see the website of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, www.ieer.org. This is Arjun Makhijani.
Listen to this commentary (Part 1)