Peak Oil: Houston, we have a problem

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A Houston oil-industry banker who’s served as energy adviser to President Bush is scheduled to address Minnesota legislators next month on “peak oil” and the importance of planning for a post-fossil-fuels society.

Matthew Simmons, author of “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy,” argues that worldwide oil production is near its peak and that the number of barrels we’re able to extract from the ground each day will begin to decline in the decades ahead. The shrinking supply won’t be able to quench our surging demand for energy, which could lead to social and economic chaos.

The argument has plenty of doubters, but Simmons has written that publicly available statistics make those more optimistic viewpoints seem increasingly misguided. Global crude oil production reached 74.3 barrels a day in May 2005 and has yet to exceed that number in the two and a half years since then, he wrote in a November 2007 white paper.

State Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, introduced a bill last year calling for the state to begin preparing for the event of a permanent oil shortage caused by peak oil. Simmons will speak on behalf of the bill at a joint legislative committee hearing on Feb. 4 in St. Paul.

The bill notes that the state is dependent on petroleum for transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and “myriad other parts of the economy.”

Simmons writes that society needs to conserve existing energy sources, develop new ones and plan for disruptions that could be caused by a sudden, sustained spike in oil prices.

“As our global appetite for energy grew, the era of high quality hydrocarbon energy entered its twilight era,” Simmons writes. “The nub of the world’s most singular problem is to insure we can sustain the 21st century without experiencing social chaos and ultimately a widespread geopolitical conflict or war. This, in essence, is embodied in the strange debate about what is known as Peak Oil.”

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