Dark Days for Energy? Not in the U.S…. Yet

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The advent of hydraulic fracturing technology—or “fracking”—has sparked an energy boom in the U.S. as producers unlock new reserves of natural gas and oil all over the country.

Bloomberg reports that the industries thriving on resurgent fossil fuel reserves in the U.S. could add 3.6 million jobs and three percent to gross domestic product by 2020. Domestic fossil fuel production has already reduced natural gas prices and contributed to a 17-percent reduction in crude oil imports since 2005.

While there may be good news domestically, it appears global energy supplies could be dwindling at a far faster rate as suppliers try to keep up with growing demand from China, India and other emerging powers.

Consider this chilling possibility, courtesy of a McClatchy Newspapers analysis of energy reserves:

Using the EIA’s (Energy Information Administration) modest 1.6 percent growth rate, all proved reserves of oil, natural gas, coal and uranium would be gone in 56 years.

At least as unsettling, the McClatchy analysis also showed that if oil consumption around the world continues to increase at the EIA’s average overall growth rate, the world’s oil supplies could be tapped within 36 years.

New reserves might be found to meet the increasing demand for oil, as has happened before. But, as the McClatchy report notes, if oil-producing countries cut exports and start hoarding oil in fear of shrinking supplies, they could drive up oil prices around the world.

And the chances of oil discoveries keeping up with demand get lower all the time. As McClatchy reports:

The U.S. Geological Survey’s first global assessment in a dozen years of yet-to-be-found conventional oil hardly looks bullish. The agency estimated this spring that undiscovered oil, including oil far too expensive to retrieve, fell to 681 billion barrels, 51 billion less than in the year 2000. 

Supplies of oil and other energy resources depend on a number of complex factors, including global economic conditions, which are always in flux.

Complicating the already difficult task of trying to pinpoint the future of global energy resources is the fact that producers and governments around the world aren’t fully transparent in disclosing information about their supplies. Some watchdogs have accused the EIA of providing the public with unjustifiably rosy projections, according to McClatchy.

And if the world is, in fact, on the verge of widespread oil shortages, our best chances for weathering the shock may have come decades ago:

The United States should have begun a crash program 10 to 20 years ago to replace gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles in its fleet of more than 250 million cars and trucks with smaller, more fuel-efficient models, [said Robert Hirsch, a consultant to the Energy Department]. […] If he’s right, the nation has lost crucial time. In May, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report that the United States would have “very few near-term options for responding” to an oil shortage because it lacks spare production capacity and “cannot rapidly reduce its consumption of oil products.”




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