We are Running Out of Oil and Natural Gas and the Government Doesn’t Want You to Know!

Hi Folks. Late last year I read a review in Scientific American (October 2001 issue Reviews: The End of Oil, by Paul Raeburn) on a book by Kenneth Deffeyes called “Hubert’s Peak, the Impending World Oil Shortage”. Before reading this review, I must admit that I had been pretty naive about the state of world oil supplies, although I was concerned about our rate of consumption and about energy conservation and the use of alternative energy.

The basis for Mr. Deffeyes’ research was the work of M. King Hubert, a Shell geologist who in 1956 predicted that US oil production would peak in the 1970’s and then begin to decline. His work was dismissed by many and the US government formally released their own predictions that oil would last well into the 2nd half of the 21st century.

Mr. Deffeyes re-worked Mr. Hubert’s figures using current analysis techniques and arrived at an oil peak production date of 2003 and a steady decline after that. The book went on to predict a world-wide recession of at least 10 years as a result of the shortage (estimated crisis point ~2010-2012).

The US consumes over 19 million barrels of oil a day[1]. The US oil production is nearly 8 million barrels a day. [USGS, L.B. Magoon, 2001]

I started looking into this through various sources and discovered that this wasn’t a fantasy – government agencies and think tanks around the world are publishing similar statistics and dire warnings about the impending economic collapse.

The world's rate of production of petroleum is predicted to start its terminal decline within the next five to 15 years, much sooner than commonly thought. [CSIRO, 2001]

Taking into account the forecasts of the World Model, the year 2000 sits at the peak of world resources availability. It shows that from 2000 the rate of discovery of new resources falls below the rate of their consumption, notably in the case of petroleum, which is of course non-renewable [The Busby Report, UK Survival in the 21st Century]

Ok, so we can find some other form of transportation and this crisis won’t be so bad heh?  Hold on. Most people don’t realize how ubiquitous our use of oil is. I don’t recall the gentleman’s name, but in the late 1800s, a German chemist was the first to examine petroleum chemically. He was fascinated by the complex hydrocarbon molecular chains he found and stated that we should never burn this stuff! What he was seeing was that oil’s complex chemistry could serve as the starting block for the creation of so many beneficial (and not so beneficial) chemicals. His predictions came true as we came to rely on oil to produce plastics, fertilizers (and explosives), pesticides, and so many more critical and fundamental products we as a society depend on…

World agriculture is now highly dependent on oil and natural gas for fertilizers and pesticides. Without these, agricultural productivity would markedly decline. As a base for the production of these materials, oil and natural gas are irreplaceable. Lifestyles and affluence in the post-petroleum paradigm will be quite different from today. World population will have to be reduced if it is to exist at any reasonable standard of living. At that time concern will be much more centered on obtaining basic resources, especially agricultural, by which to survive. [Walter Youngquist, 1999]

So what is the US Government doing about this? Nothing! If they did, not only would the stock value of oil companies world wide crash (and we all know Bush and his cabinet are, by trade, oil men), but so would the stocks of car companies, as well as pharmaceutical, fertilizer, pesticide manufacturers amongst many more. In other words, our economy would be in grave danger.

President Bush did do something rather unusual however. After many months of stating that there was no Global Warming, he suddenly changed face and stated that Global Warming was an undeniable scenario and then came out with a formal policy on addressing and relieving its impact. This policy contained the following, thinly veiled by superfluous statements targeting the reduction of CO2 and other greenhouse emissions:

1) Provisions of tax credits for investments in renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower and biomass), hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, cogeneration, and landfill gas

2) The promotion of the development of fuel-efficient motor vehicles and trucks, researching options for producing cleaner fuels, and implementing programs to improve energy efficiency.

3) And, hidden within the policy was a directive to bring more nuclear energy on-line (the government’s primary solution for energy provisioning). The S517 bill that resulted authorized more than $2 billion in spending for research and development of nuclear fission and fusion power technologies

Does this sound like a policy specifically targeting Global Warming? No, quite the contrary – admitting to Global Warming was much easier to do than to tell the American public that they will not be able to drive their big SUVs and power boats soon (let alone fly anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice). Yet the policies proposed definitely target alleviating the fallout and easing the transition from an oil-based world economy to one beyond. Of course, we are also being led into a war in an oil-rich region under the guise of fighting terrorism but that is a subject I’ll touch on in another rant…

Ironically, as I was looking into all of this I discovered a few more ominous signs emerging.

Contrary to commercials touting the benefits of Natural Gas, there is an impending shortage there as well, potentially even more severe. For decades, Natural Gas was seen as a waste product of oil drilling and was burned off at the wells. Only in the last couple of decades have Natural Gas recovery equipment and pipelines been put in place here in the US. In other parts of the world (e.g., Saudia Arabia, etc.), Natural Gas is only marginally recovered.. The Natural Gas reserves of the US are in rapid decline and we are now focusing on Canada’s reserves to feed our thirst.

As for nuclear, are you aware that the current nuclear power plant reactor designs use only 3% of the uranium energy content before the fuel is discarded? There are designs on the drawing board that can use over 90% of the energy content but these have not been built. And when the total known reserves of uranium are examined, the world has only a 75-year supply (potentially extended to 150 years if the new reactor types are brought on line soon enough)!

And these are only two of many resources we take for granted that are rapidly diminishing. Another is top soil and it is rapidly being blown away, paved over, or polluted at a rate far exceeding what we can replace to provide an adequate and fertile base for feeding the world population, let alone any one nation’s! And let us not forget the growing fresh water crisis since our supplies are increasingly becoming polluted by pesticides & herbicides, anti-depressants & hormones to name a few…

Did you know that fuel cells are available now to power vehicles that can run on hydrogen extracted from methanol or even from water (in conjunction with solar cells)? The auto makers (bar Toyota) have no impetus to bring them online now… Or that, combined with energy conservation awareness, you could supply all of the power you consume in your home (and car) through solar energy (both thermal and photovoltaic)? And noting that I mentioned water in the last paragraph, that we have the technology to extract fresh water from our oceans through a membrane-based technology called reverse osmosis?

So what should our government (and every other one) be doing in preparation of an impending and irreversible oil shortage?

1) Let the citizenry know through education and conservation programs.

2) Set a transition point such that as oil supplies dip below a certain level, we start prioritizing who gets oil stocks. For example:

Level 1: Increase consumer prices and reduce availability for recreation in favor of trucks that deliver our food and products.

Level 2: Cutout consumer usage (in favor of public and/or cooperative transportation) and reduce truck usage to critical product transport in favor of pharmaceutical, fertilizer, etc. manufacturers and public transportation for workers that operate such critical services.

And so on…

3) Recognize and heavily subsidize the development and mass production (economics of scale) of alternative energy and water desalination technologies.

Unfortunately, chaos in the populace will reign regardless of whatever the government does and the individual must also prepare. I don’t mean by stockpiling fuel to run their SUV, but by moving towards alternative energy sources, alternative means of transportation, and conservation of resources in general.

The important thing is being aware that this is happening and working towards an intelligent solution without mass chaos. And this is why I am bringing all of this together so that you know and so that (hopefully) you will tell others since the government doesn’t look like it will until it is too late.


Some Closing Thoughts

The fifth revolution will come when we have spent the stores of coal and oil that have been accumulating in the earth during hundreds of millions of years.. [Charles Darwin]

Where do terrorists get their money? Not from street drug sales as Bush stated, but from the sale of oil [indirect, Tom Tomorrow political satire cartoon, 4-10-02]

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
[Aldous Huxley]


Further Information

The following are a series of web links should you wish to look at this issue further. I have placed a ‘[***]’ under the ones you should access at the very minimum.

The White House Global Warming Policy (“Clear Skies and Global Change Initiative”):

From the US Geological Service, Known Petroleum Volumes Worldwide:

From Australia’s Murdoch University, a discussion of the rate of new oil discoveries:

Forecasts of Future Oil Production:

From the White House, the long-awaited National Energy Policy (little to no information on the potential of our running out of oil in the near future, with pretty insignificant alternative energy or conservation suggestions):

From the US Geological Service, L.B. Magoon’s summary sheet/poster “Are We Running Out of Oil?”:

From Australia’s Government group, CSIRO, discussing the ‘Big Rollover” (the big rollover being when oil production world wide starts declining):

Walter Youngquist’s discussion of the impact of oil shortages on the world, especially in agriculture, and hence on the populations:

The Busby Report, UK Survival in the 21st Century:

A source of various resources concerning the coming global oil crisis:

Commentaries on the decline of oil and natural gas:

And Most Importantly, here is a list of the repercussions and what you can do…:

Hydrogen power as the next energy boom:
Perspectives on Fuel Cell and Battery Electric Vehicles

Vehicle of Change Scientific American, October 2002; by Lawrence D. Burns, J. Byron McCormick and Christopher E. Borroni-Bird

Lastly -- A New Technology / Process that Could Avert the Crisis?


For further research into our alternatives, look into:

Biodiesel, Solar energy, Wind power, Hybrid vehicles, Electric vehicles, Methane generators, Fuel cells (hydrogen, methanol, etc.), Bio-intensive farming, Sustainable living.


Thank you…

BSC, 1/3/2003 (last rev: 04/29/03)


[1] One barrel is 42 gallons – the consumed daily volume in the US would fill a square kilometre lake over 3 metres deep – think of the void in the earth this is creating!