Cities, states grapple with peak oil

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Global oil production will soon peak, and state and local governments would be wise to prepare for it, experts told members of two House committees.

Members of the House Energy Finance and Policy Division and Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs Committee held a joint meeting to discuss what role peak oil — the point at which global oil demand will exceed production capacity — should play in state and local policy planning.

John Kaufmann, senior policy analyst for the Oregon Department of Energy’s Conservation Division, said that the global oil industry is expected to reach its point of maximum production in as little as five to 10 years, sending energy prices skyrocketing and eventually exhausting the world’s oil supply. He said this looming scenario could have severe negative impacts on the economy, unless preparations are made to mitigate it.

“Peak oil is probably the biggest problem you’ve never heard about,” Kaufmann said, adding that natural gas is also expected to peak in the coming decades.

Adding to the bad news, Kaufmann said there is “no magic bullet” to solve the problem, which will instead require a complex, multi-faceted approach including, a diverse portfolio of alternative energy sources. The problem, he said, is that none of the current alternative and renewable energy sources are an adequate substitute for fossil fuels.

Kaufmann said people will have to learn to consume less energy. Among the solutions he proposed were: expand and improve opportunities for mass transit; produce more food locally; modify building codes to improve energy efficiency; provide incentives for energy-efficient business practices; and plan extensively for short-term gas shortages and other emergencies.

Echoing Kaufmann’s presentation, Daniel Lerch, Post Carbon Cities program manager for the Post Carbon Institute, said state and local government policymakers should not assume that either the energy market or future federal actions will correct the problem.

“Local leaders need to be looking out for their own vulnerabilities,” Lerch said.

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