High prices hint of trouble to come?
With gasoline prices spiking to an all-time high across the country in recent days, consumers are getting a mild preview of the costs to come. The problem: Petroleum is limited — period — and it may be running out faster than anticipated. Gas is averaging $1.74 per gallon in the U.S. This time last year it was $1.22.David Goodstein, in his new book Out of Gas (Norton, 2004), warns that we must find ways to live without fossil fuels. Goodstein uses Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbert’s method to draw conclusions about an impending fuel crisis. Hubbert observed that oil is cost effective and easy to extract from a field at first, but, when half is depleted, the costs begin to outweigh the benefits. Hubbert predicted in 1956 that domestic oil production would peak in 1970, and it did, resulting in long lines at the gas pump and America’s further dependency on foreign oil.
Goodstein applied Hubbert’s method to global oil reserves. The worst-case estimation for a global peak is sometime in the next six years. At best, oil production will peak in 2040. Some believe that a peak in global petroleum production will have devastating consequences — from permanent blackouts to massive food shortages. If supplies run scarce, the world will have nowhere to turn for new oil.
Keith Brown, a senior scientist at Indiana Geological Survey, said it’s possible to do more offshore drilling, but this and tapping reserves in Alaska won’t be enough. “It’s always amazing to me that we have as much as we do,” Brown said.
Maggie McShane is the executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Council. She represents the interests of major oil companies, such as BP, Exxon-Mobil and Shell, in Indiana. She says oil reserves are limited but exactly how limited is debatable. “Technology has allowed us to reach reserves that in the past were impossible for us to imagine we could access,” she said. Consumers, she believes, will drive the decision, and, as renewable-energy sources become cheaper, they will begin to compete more with fossil fuels.
Goodstein estimates that consumer reaction will be too slow to avoid a crisis. Developing and building networks and sources of alternative energy takes time, and, if a crisis occurs in the near future, the world will not be prepared. To escape catastrophe, Goodstein suggests moving ahead with alternative fuel sources.
Hybrid cars are one way that people can help ease the petroleum burden today. Most dealers have waiting lists for the Toyota Prius. Derek Manis, sales manager at an Anderson dealership, said the Prius is an electric car with a gas-powered generator. “The 0-60 is the same as the Toyota Camry,” he said. The car gets 61 mpg in the city because it uses energy from braking to help recharge the battery. The success of hybrids is a positive trend. But the best-selling vehicle in America is still the Ford F-150 series pickup. It averages 13 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway.