Jim Baldauf, Texas oilman and environmentalist, began his briefing at the National Press Club in October by citing the BP Gulf oil disaster, drought in Russia at up to 130 degrees, and massive flood-devastation in Pakistan as evidence that this is the worst year for the environment in recent history.
“I would submit,” he said, “that all of these tragedies are due to peak oil. Peak oil will affect every aspect of our life.” Aptly enough, Baldauf was speaking in the club’s Edward R. Murrow Room, named for the late broadcaster now revered for his incisive reports, politically unpopular though some of them were in the 1950s. Baldauf himself is a Texas-based oil executive, life-long environmentalist and president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, USA (ASPO-USA).
Baldauf has been connecting the dots between energy and the environment for three decades. He earned his green stripes with Texans United, a Houston-based group claiming 60,000 members who advocated for clean air and water and protested against polluters and politicians including then-Governor George W. Bush.
What’s new is that Baldauf’s group took a giant step forward in raising the visibility of its warnings by holding its first Washington, DC-based convention, which began Oct. 7 with a standing-room-only congressional briefing on Capitol Hill attracting 150 staff, reporters and experts.
ASPO’s sixth annual convention, held within walking distance of legislative offices, thus brought its important message for the first time to opinion-leaders in Washington, DC. Speakers addressed an audience of more than 300, many of whom are experts themselves, with specifics on the event’s theme: that after 150 years of oil extraction, most major oil-exporting nations are well past their supply peaks, by definition putting world production into peak oil production.
In this coming of age for the peak-oil advocacy movement, speakers included former Nixon and Ford Administration Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, who was also the nation’s first Secretary of Energy under the Carter Administration. Earlier, he had been CIA Director and Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission under President Nixon. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and human rights crusader Bianca Jagger were among other speakers, most of whom are prominent in energy, economics, human rights and academia.
Their thesis, that the world has reached peak oil, requires attention even from those inclined to skepticism or indifference. Because a steep decline in the US economy affects all of us, we risk losing big with the wrong choice.
No more cheap oil
Regarding the business of oil extraction itself, Baldauf says, “The era of low-cost, easy-to-get oil has come to an end, a moment of historic significance and one fraught with danger. The Gulf of Mexico disaster occurred because the quest for new supplies requires that we drill miles beneath the ocean surface.”
(See E&E TV’s Monica Trauzi interview Baldauf.)
Peak-oil advocates are eager to work on solutions, especially because they believe the US economy is already poised for significant new impacts soon until public awareness and mitigation measures increase.
During the conference kick-off at the National Press Club, former CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin predicted oil production declines soon ranging from 2% to 6% annually. This, he said, will double or triple oil prices on the market, creating further economic slowdowns and job losses beyond those of the recent recession.
Roger Bezdek, a former U.S. energy delegate to NATO who briefed the staffs of both 2008 presidential nominees during their campaigns, told the Press Club audience that mitigation of both supply and demand issues can take years, if not decades. Trucks have a 25-year average projected use, he noted this week, and even if nuclear plants are again allowed they would take many years to plan and build. A US Joint Forces command study predicts worldwide peak oil in 2015.
“Just about everyone understands peak oil now, from major oil companies to academics to the environmental community,” Baldauf said. “It’s an endowment of energy that has taken hundreds of millions of years to accumulate and we’ve ripped through about half of it in 150 years.”
To be sure, some are eager to pronounce the peak oil group’s momentum over, even before most consumers and voters have even become acquainted with supporting data. After the pioneering energy industry financier Matt Simmons died suddenly this summer, for example, the Wall Street Journal asked “Without Matt Simmons: Has Peak Oil, Well, Peaked?”
Hey, hands off our oil
Some ASPO speakers predicted gas lines for US drivers similar to those in the 1970s but lasting much longer, along with further job losses as sales of products and services across the economy decline because consumers cut other spending to cover higher energy costs. Adding insult to injury, competition for remaining oil from new drivers in China and India could push US gas prices up to $7 a gallon in the next few years.
Several speakers returned to the recent US Joint Operating Forces study predicting a peak in worldwide oil production in 2015. In general, the concept of peak oil has found more support among the military and intelligence communities, which need fuel for mobility, than among politicians. The latter, of course, are more vulnerable to short-term election pressures from the vast array of lobbyists with narrow and often short-term concerns.
The only elected official at the federal level on the speaker program was Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, the second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. A member also of the congressional Peak Oil Caucus, Bartlett is a former professor with a doctorate in physics. The only elected state official scheduled was Connecticut Assistant House Majority Leader Terry Backer, a Democrat from Stratford who formerly chaired his state assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee. He sent regrets because of illness. An aide spoke for him.
Lots of stimulus, but not enough strategy
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader helped conclude the convention by bringing his lifetime of experience as a political activist to address what the peak oil movement must do to rouse the public from its current energy slumber.
Nader praised $132 billion in US stimulus funds helping to address such problems here. “There’s never been anything like that out of Washington,” he said. But he added that too much of the funding money would inevitably be wasted because the spending was pushed out to stem a recession, and hasn’t been coordinated by the kind of long-term, expert planning needed for optimal efficiency.
As for the mid-term elections and their educational role? Nader attacked what he called, “The complete absence of any serious debate between the candidates” on what he regards as the most relevant energy issues. “I can hardly tell the difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates.”
Regarding the Tea Party movement? “At least it has a pulse,” he said, even though he thinks “the permanent government” of major corporations is manipulating Tea Party anger simply “as fodder for elections.” But on the whole, he said, “I’ll take anything that has a pulse that’s non-violent, even if it’s being manipulated by Fox News.”
Back to you, Jim
I leave the final word to ASPO-USA’s Baldauf:
Without affordable energy to drive our economy, we can expect price spikes and economic crisis to be the new normal. The debate about peak oil is over. It is time for bold action. If we do not change our current approach we will see tremendous global repercussions.