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The New Energy Crisis


Thinking beyond peak oil.

Editor's Note: James Quinn is a senior director of strategic planning for a major university. James has held high level financial positions with a retailer, homebuilder and a university in his 22-year career.

Matt Simmons has been a lone voice in the wilderness warning Americans about the impending peak-oil crisis. His prediction of a global peak in crude-oil production at 73 million barrels per day in 2005 has proved correct. Worldwide total liquids production peaked at 86 million barrels in 2008.

All the "easy" oil and gas in the world has been found. Additional supplies will be found deep below the ocean, in challenging arctic regions, in tar sands, and shale. It will be dramatically more expensive to extract oil from these sources. Oil discoveries have been in a steady decline since the 1970s.

The United States has been dependent on 600 million barrels of oil from Mexico every year. By 2012 Mexico will become a net importer of oil, so 600 million barrels of oil will need to be replaced. Iran's oil production is in decline as capital investment has been ignored for years. Russia's production has peaked. Saudi Arabia continues to dissimulate about its ability to ramp up production. Their oil fields are 40 years old and in terminal decline.

By 2012, the world will only be able to produce 80 million barrels per day. There's no doubt that demand in 2012 will be higher than today's 85 million barrels per day as China, India, and other developing countries continue to grow. Even a Wall Street economist could predict what will happen to prices.

Peak oil will have the most dramatic effect on America. We have 5% of the world's population, but use 25% of the world's energy. Practically 85% of the world barely uses energy. The world population will likely grow to 10 billion by 2030. Both China and India are selling more cars annually than the US.

As people throughout the world enter the middle class, they want cars, TVs, and modern appliances. Energy demand cannot be reversed. Infrastructure constraints will exacerbate the coming energy crisis. The NIMBY crowd has managed to keep any refineries from being built in the US since 1976. Our energy infrastructure is made of steel and is rusting away. It would take trillions to upgrade the energy system and these investments won't be made. Geologists and other experienced oil people are retiring -- and no one is replacing them.

The green agenda -- fully supported by the Obama Administration -- is sweeping the country and will be the final nail in the coffin. And the key to the success of the plan? Ethanol. The government subsidized a fuel that required more energy to produce than it provided. The ill-advised investment in ethanol plants led to a boom -- and the requisite bust when government interferes in the free markets.

The use of corn for fuel caused prices to rise for other food crops and meat. With the crash in oil prices, ethanol plants have been going bankrupt at an accelerating rate.

"Renewable energy" and "green jobs" are the catchphrases currently in use. But the real inconvenient truth is that the United States depends on oil (see USO), natural gas (see UNG), and coal to supply 87% of its energy, with nuclear power providing another 7%. Solar, wind, and geothermal sources supply only 1.5% of our energy needs.
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