Global supplies of crude oil will peak as early as 2010 and then start to decline, ushering in an era of soaring energy prices and economic upheaval, according to an international group of oil specialists. They hope to persuade oil-dependent countries like the United States to stop wasting the Earth's limited amount of fossil fuel. Americans, as the biggest consumers of energy, could suffer a particularly harsh lowering of their lifestyle.
"There is no factual data to support the general sense that the world will be awash in cheap oil forever," says Matthew Simmons, an investment banker who helped advise President Bush's campaign on energy policy. "We desperately need to find a new form of energy."
Colin Campbell, a retired geologist, says governments are too caught up in short-term issues to focus on the long-term threat of depleted oil reserves. Oil companies don?t want to talk about it for fear of upsetting their investors. This warning contradicts the widely held belief that global crude reserves will remain plentiful for decades.
Critics say similar predictions of scarcity at the time of the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo didn't come true. "There's a lot of phony baloney in there," says economist Michael Lynch of the U.S. business forecasting firm DRI-WEFA. "A lot of prominent geologists just laugh at this. There are wolves out there, but if you keep crying wolf and no wolves show up, you start to lose credibility."
The dispute centers on the precise timing of what is variously described as "peak oil" or "the big rollover" - the predicted date when existing oil production, together with new discoveries of crude, can no longer replenish the world's reserves as quickly as consuming countries are using them up. Roger Bentley, head of The Oil Depletion Analysis Center in London, says the predictions made in the 1970s were basically correct. About 50 countries, including the United States, have already passed their point of peak oil output.
The world's total reserves of crude, excluding oil found in shale and tar sands, have been estimated to exceed 3 trillion barrels, according to the U.S. Geological Survey and other conventional sources of data. Campbell says the real figure for reserves is closer to 2 trillion barrels, due to what he describes as overstated reserves reported by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations.
He discounts the significance of new oil discoveries in the Caspian Sea region of central Asia and in deep waters off the coasts of Brazil and West Africa and in the Gulf of Mexico. Now that geologists have effectively surveyed the globe for crude, Campbell and other geologists say they doubt that any giant new oil fields still await discovery. Campbell believes that improvements in the technologies used to explore and drill for oil will increase production by only modest amounts.
As a result, Campbell forecasts that oil output will peak by 2010 - at least 26 years sooner than the rollover point predicted in a U.S. government study prepared in 2000. "It's not a cataclysmic event," he says. "But oil will become scarcer and more expensive. That's undeniable."
Simmons predicts that the United States will suffer an energy scare even sooner, due to a 10 percent decrease he foresees in U.S. production of natural gas this year. "If it's only 10 percent, we've dodged a bullet," he says. "And 10 percent is a disaster. It could be 20 percent." He thinks Americans will have to use coal and even nuclear power once fossil fuels pass their global peak in production. Higher and more volatile prices are sure to accompany this transition period. He believes we?re unprepared for the change and says, "You couldn't get serious people focusing on this issue, and we're going to pay dearly for it."
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Is nuclear power the answer? Experts now believe that people may be exposed to twice the level of a carcinogenic nuclear pollutant from power plants than previously thought.But despite their revised estimates, experts still say the health risks are low because even the higher dose is well within international safety limits.
Tritium an - isotope, of hydrogen - is produced by hydrogen bomb tests and nuclear plants and factories. The National Radiological Protection Board in the U.K. decided to re-examine tritium exposure levels after it was discovered in the late 1990s that levels in fish near the Nycomed Amersham plant in Cardiff, which makes isotopes for the drug industry, were hundreds of times higher than expected. The NRPB then looked at how much radiation people are exposed to when they ate fish caught in the Severn Estuary nearby and discovered that the dose was twice as high as they previously assumed.
Animal studies have shown that tritium-carbon compounds can stay in the body for much longer than previously thought and that the biological effect of tritium in water can be very damaging. This means there is a higher chance that the radiation will trigger the growth of cancerous tumors.
Nuclear plants such as Savannah River in South Carolina, Sellafield in Cumbria and Chapelcross in southern Scotland still emit enormous amounts of tritium each year. Dr. John Harrison of the NRPB says international standards assumed that different types of radiation were the same. Now they?ve discovered that tritium is much more dangerous.
Harrison says, "Why the risk seems to be higher is because we're taking into account the fact that beta radiation produced from tritium can cause more damage per unit, per dose, than gamma rays. But even with this recalculation, for the most exposed people, we're talking about a dose which is about a tenth of the dose limit. Tritium is a weak carcinogenic. In terms of radio toxicity, it's a thousand times less than something like strontium and tens of thousands times less than plutonium 239. People should not be particularly concerned about this".
But Barrie Lambert, a radiation expert from St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, says the NRPB's finding could have significant implications for people who eat a lot of fish from around the Cardiff plant. Their radiation dose could double to 133 microsieverts a year and that the dose could have been twice as high when discharges of tritium were at their highest. International standards say the maximum dose should be no more than 300 microsieverts a year.
Oil supplies are a major factor in our war plans against Arab terrorists, and you can bet a lot of this information is classified. Read hundreds of classified documents on the CD-Rom by John Greenewald,click here.
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