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Sierra Daily

Mar 06, 2013

Every Country Becomes the Saudi Arabia of Oil

Oil rig in north dakotaRemember Peak Oil? The idea that we were running out of fossil fuels as early as, er, now -- which made it particularly critical that we ramp up renewables? Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, and deepwater drilling techniques, the world is facing a “deluge” of fossil fuels.

“Contrary to what most people believe, oil supply capacity is growing worldwide at such an unprecedented level that it might outpace consumption,” states Oil: The Next Revolution, a 2012 report by Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In a recent CNN op-ed, writer and former special assistant to President George W. Bush David Frum notes: “The International Energy Agency predicts that the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become (again!) the world's leading oil producer by 2017. If the agency's estimates prove correct, the United States and Canada together will become net energy exporters by about 2030, and the U.S., which uses 20% of the world's energy, will achieve energy self-sufficiency by the mid-2030s.”

And in Pacific Standard, a publication of the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy, author Vince Beiser offers up a more-than-harrowing tour of oil and gas fields in North Dakota, Southern California, and Brazil, and gives us a hint of what’s in store for Argentina, Australia, Tanzania, Mozambique, China, Israel, several countries in Europe, the Gulf of Mexico, and elsewhere. Consider it a round-the-globe tour of glop.

Which reminds us that the issue of climate change will be tackled successfully (or not) on its own merits and political will, not because of fears of dry wells and apocalyptically empty fuel tanks. As Frum puts it, “Our oil problem is not that ‘we're running out.’ Our oil problem is that we're producing so much of the stuff that we are changing the planet's climate.” Beiser finds surprisingly helpful voices within the energy industry: “’There’s enough oil and gas out there to last us right through to the end of the next century, without much doubt,’ says David Eyton, head of research and technology at BP. The real problem, Eyton says, is that ‘we’re running out of the carbon-carrying capacity of the atmosphere.’”

Image of oil rig in North Dakota by iStock/mellypage.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

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