Fossil fuels future: feast or fantasy?

If you caught Clifford Krauss’s very optimistic report in the New York Times on the growth in global fossil fuels supplies, don’t miss the rebuttal by J. David Hughes in Renewable Energy World.

Mr. Krauss largely quotes dirty-energy boosters in his bullish account of oil and gas as far as the eye can see, while Mr. Hughes, a geologist and fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, sticks to some numbers (and opinions) that undercut the rosy scenario, especially as it pertains to future U.S. energy supply.

Responding to a quote from a Credit Suisse commodities analyst that recent oil and gas trends, taken together, add up to “something that very closely approximates energy independence,” for example, Mr. Hughes points out that the U.S. today imports one-third more oil than China’s total oil usage, even though it has only 1/5 of China’s population—a situation that clearly in no way approximates energy independence. (It’s also worth noting that the Credit Suisse spokesman’s statement hinges on a quadrupling over the next 14 years of our nation’s use of ethanol, a renewable fuel.)

I don’t pretend to have the expertise to say who is right, but I do remember the global oil “glut” of the 1980s that resulted from a runup in energy prices in the 1970s. It took the air out of the renewable energy industry here in the U.S., and European countries like Denmark and Germany forged ahead in the development of wind turbine technology. Yet within another 15-20 years, surging global demand had burned off the glut and energy prices were rising again. If we are indeed heading into another short-term oversupply situation, it may be well to remember that a short-sighted policy response to the last one cost America its leadership in what is today one of the world’s fastest-growing new manufacturing industries.

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