The bad news about the oil boom

I’ve written a few times over the last couple years about “peak oil” — the theory that global oil production is at or near its peak and will soon begin to decline, leading to all manner of economic and social upheaval.
So much for that. The latest estimate is that the U.S., thanks to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, may pass Saudi Arabia as the world’s greatest oil producer by 2017.
That’s good news for Obama and Democrats, who will preside over the oil boom and related economic growth.
But it’s bad news for the world as a whole.
For all the dangers the oil peak would (will) bring, it had this silver lining: We’d have to stop burning as much fossil fuels, which would at least slow the rate of climate change. We’d invest in sustainable energy technology because we’d have to.
We’ve proved over the last 20 years that no matter how much we know about how our fossil fuel habit warms the earth, we refuse to change. If we have oil, we’ll burn oil.
Now, with China passing the U.S. as the world’s worst CO2 polluter, the prospects are even worse. (The U.S. is still in second place, and first in per-person emissions.)
And peak oil is still a concern. Eventually we’ll hit it. The new technologies have just pushed it back a few years or decades. Some experts think the increased production estimates are overblown, since fields accessed by fracking tend to produce a lot right away and fade quickly.
I hope Obama uses his position to alert us to these realities and that he makes some difficult decisions over the next few years. The first should be to nix the Keystone pipeline that would transport dirty shale oil from Canada to the Gulf.
My prediction is that he’ll approve it, and that his environmental record will be not much better than Clinton’s or Bush’s — which will make it worse, given the increasing information about greenhouse gas and climate change. No excuses anymore.
I hope he proves me wrong.


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