The subject of peak oil seems to hover always at the margin of the national conversation.
Every so often a prominent politician will make a veiled reference to problems with oil supplies. The Saudis will talk about “demand” declining. A mainstream media outlet will do a tongue-in-cheek profile of someone who’s preparing for a post-peak world. Or some country’s military will warn us yet again that oil depletion poses a threat to world peace.
Then it’s up to the peak oil community to read the tea leaves, parse the text and say that, yet again, peak oil is an album that’s on the verge of going platinum.
Yesterday, the International Energy Agency gave us another of those hermeneutic opportunities.
Their World Energy Outlook 2010 concluded that global production of conventional oil (remember that word “conventional”) likely reached its highest point in 2006. For the foreseeable future, the report predicts that production will remain on a plateau of 68 to 69 million barrels a day. In this scenario, conventional oil “never regains its all-time peak of 70 million barrels per day reached in 2006,” said the report.
This sounds serious. National Geographic notes that the peak came without the headlines seen for Darfur, Iraq and North Korea in 2006, but with more more far-reaching consequences than any of those stories.
But don’t worry too much about oil shortages, the IEA seems to imply. Unconventional oil and gas will come (partially) to the rescue. As National Geographic puts it:
The projected flat crude oil production doesn’t translate into an immediate shortage of fuels for the world’s cars and trucks. IEA actually projects that the total production of what it calls “petroleum fuels” is most likely to continue steadily rising, reaching about 99 million barrels per day by 2035.
Yes, oil will get more expensive. But the IEA clearly wants us to take what reassurance we can from the prospect of such unconventional sources as polar, deep water, and oil sands production.
More to the point now: will the IEA report help make peak oil a priority for US political and business leaders?