Ready for "Beyond Petroleum?".

Author:Robertson, Henry

The sea is no longer burning. The plague seems to have passed, leaving the Gulf and its coastal people to their slow regeneration. In the age of statistics bureaucrats tried to corral the blowout with numbers, but there is no suppressing the images of oily death and desolation. We cried for BP and the government to stop it. We cast blame and file lawsuits, anything but face the real question: What was that rig doing in 5,000 feet of water?

Floating rigs like the Deepwater Horizon can sink a well through 10,000 feet of water and another 30,000 feet below the sea bed. The engineering challenges are enormous. The pressure at such depths is so great that poking a hole in the sea floor risks an explosive release of gas and oil--exactly what happened. BP unleashed forces it couldn't control.

"Drill, baby, drill," the right wing chants. They blame those damned environmentalists who stopped the oil companies from drilling onshore. But oil independence is an illusion. The fact is, we're tapped out in the lower 48.

Meet JOE

Peak oil is the story that never quite seems to crack the mainstream media. Peak oil is the moment when half the natural endowment of oil is gone. There's still plenty of oil left, but production will start an inevitable decline even as demand, especially from fast-developing countries like China and India, keeps rising. The oil that's left is less accessible and more expensive to extract. The law of supply and demand will then dictate inexorably rising prices and the end of the world as we've known it.

Some analysts think the world peak has already arrived. We won't know it immediately because extraction can plateau along for a while--as in fact it has been doing since 2005--before dropping. "Optimists" like the statisticians at the US Geological Survey and Energy Information Administration think the world peak won't come until 2030-40. So not to worry--as if 20 or 30 years is plenty of time to make a transition of historic magnitude. We'll have to find new ways to make and move our food and goods, and our cherished mobility will be curtailed.

Early this year the US Joint Forces Command raised some eyebrows with its Joint Operating Environment report (JOE), an assessment of world economic, demographic and other trends and how they will affect the military's ability to wage war in the face of new threats.

"By 2012," says JOE, "surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output...

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