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This op-ed column appeared in the Washington Post on July 31st. FYI:

It's Not the End Of the Oil Age
Technology and Higher Prices Drive a Supply Buildup

By Daniel Yergin

Sunday, July 31, 2005; Page B07

We're not running out of oil. Not yet.

"Shortage" is certainly in the air -- and in the price. Right now the oil market is tight, even tighter than it was on the eve of the 1973 oil crisis. In this high-risk market, "surprises" ranging from political instability to hurricanes could send oil prices spiking higher. Moreover, the specter of an energy shortage is not limited to oil. Natural gas supplies are not keeping pace with growing demand. Even supplies of coal, which generates about half of the country's electricity, are constrained at a time when our electric power system has been tested by an extraordinary heat wave.

But it is oil that gets most of the attention. Prices around $60 a barrel, driven by high demand growth, are fueling the fear of imminent shortage -- that the world is going to begin running out of oil in five or 10 years. This shortage, it is argued, will be amplified by the substantial and growing demand from two giants: China and India.

Yet this fear is not borne out by the fundamentals of supply. Our new, field-by-field analysis of production capacity, led by my colleagues Peter Jackson and Robert Esser, is quite at odds with the current view and leads to a strikingly different conclusion: There will be a large, unprecedented buildup of oil supply in the next few years. Between 2004 and 2010, capacity to produce oil (not actual production) could grow by 16 million barrels a day -- from 85 million barrels per day to 101 million barrels a day -- a 20 percent increase. Such growth over the next few years would relieve the current pressure on supply and demand.

Where will this growth come from? It is pretty evenly divided between non-OPEC and OPEC. The largest non-OPEC growth is projected for Canada, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Azerbaijan, Angola and Russia. In the OPEC countries, significant growth is expected to occur in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Algeria and Libya, among others. Our estimate for growth in Iraq is quite modest -- only 1 million barrels a day -- reflecting the high degree of uncertainty there. In the forecast, the United States remains almost level, with development in the deep-water areas of the Gulf of Mexico compensating for declines elsewhere.

While questions can be raised about specific countries, this forecast is not speculative. It is based on what is already unfolding. The oil industry is governed by a "law of long lead times." Much of the new capacity that will become available between now and 2010 is under development. Many of the projects that embody this new capacity were approved in the 2001-03 period, based on price expectations much lower than current prices.

There are risks to any forecast. In this case, the risks are not the "below ground" ones of geology or lack of resources. Rather, they are "above ground" -- political instability, outright conflict, terrorism or slowdowns in decision making on the part of governments in oil-producing countries. Yet, even with the scaling back of the forecast, it would still constitute a big increase in output.

This is not the first time that the world has "run out of oil." It's more like the fifth. Cycles of shortage and surplus characterize the entire history of the oil industry. A similar fear of shortage after World War I was one of the main drivers for cobbling together the three easternmost provinces of the defunct Ottoman Turkish Empire to create Iraq. In more recent times, the "permanent oil shortage" of the 1970s gave way to the glut and price collapse of the 1980s.

But this time, it is said, is "different." A common pattern in the shortage periods is to underestimate the impact of technology. And, once again, technology is key. "Proven reserves" are not necessarily a good guide to the future. The current Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure rules, which define "reserves" for investors, are based on 30-year-old technology and offer an incomplete picture of future potential. As skills improve, output from many producing regions will be much greater than anticipated. The share of "unconventional oil" -- Canadian oil sands, ultra-deep-water developments, "natural gas liquids" -- will rise from 10 percent of total capacity in 1990 to 30 percent by 2010. The "unconventional" will cease being frontier and will instead become "conventional." Over the next few years, new facilities will be transforming what are inaccessible natural gas reserves in different parts of the world into a quality, diesel-like fuel.

The growing supply of energy should not lead us to underestimate the longer-term challenge of providing energy for a growing world economy. At this point, even with greater efficiency, it looks as though the world could be using 50 percent more oil 25 years from now. That is a very big challenge. But at least for the next several years, the growing production capacity will take the air out of the fear of imminent shortage. And that in turn will provide us the breathing space to address the investment needs and the full panoply of technologies and approaches -- from development to conservation -- that will be required to fuel a growing world economy, ensure energy security and meet the needs of what is becoming the global middle class.

The writer is chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. His book "The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power" received the Pulitzer Prize.

49 Posts
OK... So we're not running out of oil.

But I'm running out of cash! I just paid $3.00 a gallon for V-Power and I think it is safe to say that it's just gonna keep going up.

I have no problem with the price of admission to drive a car like the GTO. I think we all agree that we don't buy a car like ours because we want to save money on our commutes. But the domestic manufacturers (GM, Ford, etc.) appear to have too much riding on light trucks and SUV's and not enough on economical import fighters and hybrid technologies. (There are waiting lists for the Prius and Lexus RX300h and employee discounts for Yukons and Ford 500's.)

If gas keeps going up the market is going to move away from SUV's and further put the big three behind. That means the future of cars like ours becomes doubtful.

There may be more oil out there but if it doesn't get to market soon and satisfy demand it's going to kill the economy and the future of cars like the GTO.

Just my two cents.

76 Posts
OK... since we are doing the education thing today....

three letters for ya... TDP !


Fortunately there does seem to be a solution. Thermal Depolymerization (TDP) is a process which seems to be able to convert any organic material into any product now produced from oil.

Organic materials include wood, leaves, grass, food, paper, plastic, paint, cotton, synthetic fabrics, sludge from sewage, animal parts, bacteria, any carbohydrates, or hydrocarbons. These are all materials which we now send to landfill with the exception of metal, ceramics, and glass. Also included is all agricultural waste which is now burned in the fields or buried.

Products currently produced from oil include natural gas, propane, kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, home heating oil, and lubricating oil. With further processing, plastics, paints, refrigerants, and thousands of other chemicals used in industry are produced.

So, it turns out that TDP will convert our landfill and agricultural waste into the same products which are currently produced from fossil oil. All of our existing equipment can be powered in the same way and landfill will be eliminated.

Seems too good to be true right? Wait, there's more.

TDP is a form of solar energy. Sunlight converts H2O and CO2 into carbohydrates in living plants and also gives off Oxygen in the well know process of photosynthesis. In a completely TDP based economy the amount of CO2 produced when fuels are burned is exactly balanced by the plants grown to be used for TDP feedstock. In other words, it is a closed system, there is no net gain in CO2 levels, regardless of how much fuel we produce and burn. In fact, TDP could theoretically be used on the Moon, Mars, and maybe even to maintain a habitat during space travel to other stars.

There's still more. The amount of energy hitting the Earth is about 5000 times more than the entire amount of energy used by all human activity. Even at a 1% solar energy efficiency rate there is the potential for many times our current energy use. With optimum use and a mature TDP technology, the Earth might comfortably support 10 times its current population at a high standard of living. There is enough biomass existing now accessible on the surface of the earth to provide 100 years of human energy use.

Even more. TDP occurs under conditions of temperature and pressure absolutely guaranteed to kill all living things including any microbe or virus. In turn, diseases such as mad cow are eliminated.

TDP energy farms can be used as a habitat for other species and as recreational space for people. TDP plants can be located near agricultural waste, landfills, and markets reducing transportation cost and risk.

TDP based energy can be produced anywhere the sun shines.

Again, it all seems to good to be true. What are we waiting for? What is the catch.

I don't think there really is a catch.
TDP was invented, and the first patent was filed in the mid 90’s.
A bench scale proof of principle was done by Changing World Technologies (CWT) about the time of the first patent.
In 2000 a small scale plant was built in Phildelphia and used to test the whole range of feedstock
In 2003 a full scale plant was started up in Carthage, Missouri and is now (April 2004) running at full capacity
5 larger plants are under construction.
Great, let's go gas up the SUV, it seems like these guys have this thing handled.
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