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World Oil Production Could Peak Earlier Than Expected

Wednesday, May 4, 2005
A retired oil-industry geologist told a group of conservative Swiss bankers last week that while the world’s supply of oil won’t run out for many years, peak production may come as early as next year, the London Guardian reports.

Colin Campbell’s calculations are about 30 years off the U.S. Geological Survey and the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s), but the former Amoco chief geologist explained that while estimating reserves is scientific, reporting them is political, and company and government results are “grossly unreliable.”

Peak oil is the point at which half the total known existing oil in a given area is used up, after which extraction begins to decline. According to a report last year by the U.S. Office of Petroleum Reserves, world reserves are being depleted three times faster than new fields are being discovered.

There is no consensus as to when the peak will occur, but the worldwide increase in oil demand is undeniable. IEA reports that demand rose faster in 2004 than in any year since 1976, and if current patterns continue, world oil consumption would double by 2035. Prevailing wisdom says that can’t happen, as it’s estimated that 90 percent of all known oil reserves are already in production.

The world has been picked over, and current geological knowledge holds that there are no major fields left undiscovered. Rather than racing on toward the last of the world’s oil and inevitable conflict with other nations that desire it, this is a crucial time for American policy to refocus its energy.

For more information on oil and gas in the American West, please see EWG’s report, “Losing Ground.”

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