Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Article: Bringing The Peak Oil Debate Into Focus

Aug 10: The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Economic Review has published a 16-page article entitled, "The Peak Oil Debate." According to an overview of the article, for the past half-century, a debate has raged over when "peak oil" will occur -- the point at which output can no longer increase and production begins to level off or gradually decline. Determining how long the oil supply will last has become even more pressing because the world’s energy supply still relies heavily on oil, and global energy demand is expected to rise steeply over the next twenty years.

The article seeks to bring the peak oil debate into focus. The author notes that a number of factors cloud the energy outlook: Estimates of remaining resources are typically given as a range of probabilities and are thus open to interpretation. Variations also occur in estimates of future oil production and in the ways countries report their reserve data. The lack of a common definitional framework also confuses the debate. The author provides definitions of frequently used terms, delineating types of reserves and conventional versus nonconventional resources. The article also discusses how technological innovations, government policies, and prices influence oil production.

The article concludes, ". . .regardless of the exact timing of peak oil production -- be it this year or fi fty years down the road --
the world faces the challenge of adapting to a new model of energy supply. Although the peak oil literature tends to concentrate heavily on the scenarios of peaking world oil production, the true underlying issue is a fear that the transition from conventional oil to substitutes will be expensive and chaotic, leaving insuffi cient time for supply substitution and adaptation.

"This adaptation process -- which involves using more renewable resources and conservation and developing new technology and processes to better access hydrocarbon deposits and more effi ciently extract and refi ne nonconventional sources -- has already begun. But the road to the future energy balance -- one with dwindling amounts of conventional oil -- is far from mapped out.

"It is possible that the world’s vast endowments of hydrocarbon resources will be heavily relied upon to answer this growing call for substitutes for the conventional oil supply. However, there is also potential for an energy future largely diversified away from hydrocarbon use. Most likely, future energy sources will be a combination of the two. Perhaps the peak oil literature would better serve society by being more solution-oriented, focusing on discovering the best way to transition to a world with less conventional oil rather than locking horns about discrepancies in terminology."

Access the complete article (
click here).