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9.25.2008

Chicken Little Oilman

Like the Rolling Apocalypse of the Fundementalists, predictions of oil supplies' demise are inevitably premature:

Oil prognostication and exploration have come a long way since the first U.S. oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859. At the time, wood and coal were the primary sources of energy and the nation's petroleum supply consisted of crude oil that oozed to the surface. Fifteen years later, when Pennsylvania was the nation's leading oil producer that state's geologist warned of supply depletion, forecasting that only four more years of oil remained to light the nation's kerosene lamps.[1]


Predictions of nationwide oil supply exhaustion soon became regular occurrences, with seven made prior to 1950[2], even though the United States was the world's largest crude oil producer until 1973. Indeed, through the mid-1980's, most oil consumed in the country was of domestic origin. Today, however, the United States imports the majority of its oil and, due to environmental regulations, has not authorized the construction of new refineries since the mid-1970s.


Yet, our country does not lack adequate oil resources. Rather, supply estimate methodologies seriously undercount our true oil resources. This and our lack of political will to use advanced recovery technologies contribute to the myth of no oil. This myth hobbles our ability to draw on our own existing resources and keeps us in a dependent posture, looking to others to provide for us.


I well remember sitting through a riveting lecture in college concerning the imminent failure of oil supplies. The guest lecturer's point was that we insufficiently appreciated the exponential curve for demand in light of fixed supply.

This would inevitably lead to no oil by 2000.

In reality, the lecturer failed to understand that supply is not fixed.

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