This week marks the 150th anniversary of the first oil well drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania by “Colonel” Edwin Drake. The commodity would prove essential to the development of modern societies, enabling communications, travel and trade on a global scale.
But its central role is now facing unprecedented challenges.
Governments are concerned about the need for energy security and reliable supplies. The threat of climate change requires shifting away from fossil fuels that currently dominate the world’s energy mix. And fears of “peak oil” — the notion that half the world’s reserves have been pumped and that global production is now on a slow path of decline — have gained followers as prices have soared.
How much longer will the “Oil Age” last?
In our own opinion page on Monday, Michael Lynch, an oil consultant, suggested that the notion of peak oil amounted to uninformed fear-mongering, and that it ignored the realities of the modern oil industry. The bottom line, Mr. Lynch argued, is that the world is not about to run out of oil and that new exploration and drilling technologies continue to expand the pool of global reserves.
He also offered a bold prediction: Growing supplies will push down prices in coming years. “Oil remains abundant, and the price will likely come down closer to the historical level of $30 a barrel as new supplies come forward,” Mr. Lynch wrote.
The piece drew heated responses on The Oil Drum, a Web site that regularly features comments and articles from proponents of peak oil.
Meanwhile, in the journal Foreign Affairs, Edward Morse, a long-time energy specialist, offered his explanation of what led to the price spike of 2008, when oil rose to nearly $150 a barrel. He called on President Obama to pay more attention to oil in the global diplomatic game — a topic that the new administration has so far largely ignored.
Mr. Morse argues the administration should provide leadership for change in the oil market and abandon the chimera of energy independence — that last point echoing a pointed essay by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faysal, about which I wrote yesterday here at Green Inc.
Prince Turki’s argument was included in a special issue that Foreign Policy devotes to oil this month called: “Oil: The Long Goodbye.” But perhaps the emphasis there should be on the word “long.”
As noted in an essay by Daniel Yergin, an energy consultant and historian of oil: “The very future of this most vital commodity is now being seriously questioned, debated, and challenged, even as the world will need more of it than ever before.”
Jad Mouawad is an energy journalist for the New York Times
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Editor's Note: Editor's Note: This commentary was originally published by The New York Times on 08/26/2009. Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers .
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