Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After BP Oil Spill, 'Peak' Oil Seems Nearer Than Ever

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

After BP Oil Spill, 'Peak' Oil Seems Nearer Than Ever

Article excerpt

Without alternative supplies of energy to offset it, a decline in oil production would send shock waves through the world, rattling economies and politics alike.

The oil that's flooded into the Gulf of Mexico has created big concerns about the environmental and economic damage. Another serious outcome has gotten far less attention: peak oil.

By prompting President Obama to suspend deep-water drilling in US offshore waters, the Gulf oil spill is pushing up the date at which the world's conventional oil production peaks.

By itself, the United States suspension would bring forward that date only a little. But if other nations with offshore oil output or potential also stop risky offshore exploration and drilling, it could speed the arrival of peak oil at a more alarming rate.

Without alternative supplies of energy to offset it, a decline in oil production would send shock waves through the world, rattling economies and politics alike. Competition for resources could be fierce.

In a geological sense, the world is still awash in oil. The US Geological Survey estimates 3,000 billion barrels of conventional crude are buried in the world, about a 46-year supply if no more oil is found, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis, a public-policy research firm in Dallas.

The problem is getting oil out of the ground. Much oil is inaccessible - or so expensive to drill that it's not feasible even if oil prices surged. Sometimes the environmental risks (think BP's Deepwater Horizon fiasco) may be too high.

Estimates vary on when oil production will climax. Take your pick. Peak oil:

- Happened five years ago, holds Matthew Simmons, chairman emeritus of Simmons & Co. International, a Houston investment- banking firm for the energy industry.

- Will be reached within five years - or "we may have already reached it," says Richard Miller, a London consulting geologist who up until 2008 worked for BP preparing private reports on prospects for peak oil. …

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