Peak Oil: Here’s what’s going to happen

If you think Americans are angry now, and ready to throw the bums out, then just wait till we get the mother of all oil shocks in a year or so.  We’ve already had one in this country, in the early 1970s.  Back then, the US had gone from being the world’s largest oil exporter to being a dependent junkie. The years from 73-80 we’re pretty sucky all around.  And it got us Ronnie Raygun, who has had as much to do with the crash we are living through as anyone.  So yes, the oil shocks of the 1970s are still reverberating today.

Back then, we at least had the prospect of Alaskan Oil, and we raced like hell to bring it on line.  Oil started flowing in quantity in 1980 (from the North Sea fields, too, which were developed at the same time as the Alaskan fields for the same reasons) at just the right time to give President Raygun the appearance of having solved all our issues. (Alaskan oil peaked in 1988, coinciding with the end of Raygun’s regime) Plus, we cozied up the the Arabs, who happily sold us  a plentiful supply of their juice.

This time it will be different.  There are no more Alaskan oil fields of any size left (ANWR has enough oil for a little less than 900 days consumption), the North Sea has tapped out, and the only oil finds of any consequence are in very deep water (and they are not that large) or they are locked inside tar sands.  In other words, very expensive.  Too, in the late 1970s, there was no emerging world as we know it today.  Now there are billions of people striving to get in on the “dream.”

So the two pincers in the next oil shock are already in motion:  significantly curtailed supply and exploding demand.  “Well,” our cheerfully optimistic friends will say, “the market will move us to find more oil, or an alternative to oil, thus bringing the price down. All will be well.”

And that’s where the anger and rage from today will kick into high gear.  The public will demand that something be done and both parties will trip over each other to placate us.  “We’ll get the oil flowing again!  We’ll bring prices down!”

But the problem is that there isn’t any way in the short term to do that.  At least in the 1970s we had Alaskan oil and Arab friends.  Today, we have neither.

That won’t stop the Drill Baby Drill crowd of mouth breathers.  They will demand the sacrifice of our country’s environment, (in a moment of hypocritical irony, supposedly given to us by God) and they’re likely to get it. The problem is that it will take several years for any of that oil to come on line.  By then, the shock will be even deeper.  When it does come on line, there just isn’t enough of it to make a difference.

The other option open to American leaders in their effort to soothe the savage oil junkies is military.  We could use our military to “make sure the oil gets to flowing again.”  That is, keep the dope coming to us.

We could station our troops in Saudi Arabia, we could nationalize the Iraq fields for us, we could attack Iran, we could take over Nigeria or Venezuela.   None of those  offers a very appealing thought.  For when we talk about military might to keep the oil coming to us, we’re also talking about pissing off another country that is as thirsty as we are:  China.  Any military intervention to keep the oil flowing to us will lead to a direct confrontation with China.

So then we can drill, with little expectation of much relief, we can fight, but with a real possibility of provoking World War 3, or we can pay more, as the market always requires with a scarce resource.  See why there is no real good solution for our politicians?   But instead of beginning now to make the transition to a less oil soaked life (we should have begun 40 years ago), we will get more partisan political bickering about who’s to blame and who’s solutions are going to work.

None of that will get us more oil.  We’re up against the Laws of Nature.  Unfortunately, Americans have always been told the Nature’s Laws didn’t apply to us. Why there are no limits to being an American! Limits are for wimps.  And Socialists.

So we will be shocked when the oil shock hits.  Let’s hope that we keep some sanity as we exercise our democratic rights.

We must not fear.  We must seek understanding of the issue.  Yet we are so wedded to our way of life, it is vastly frightening to a great majority of Americans who can’t imagine anything else. That failure of imagination has the potential to be our undoing.  But with understanding comes adaptation, and with adaptation a better life awaits.


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