The Why Files The Why Files --

 The science behind the politics: What should the candidates be talking about?
orange skyline
scientist looks into microscope
bald eagle

Questions for candidates:

Spires of smokestacks jut into the twilight,  wafts of smoke let off as oil is refined
With oil supplies tight, fires or breakdowns at refineries can cause price spikes. In the long term, it is the oil supply underground that will determine our energy path.

As oil gets scarce, how should we respond?

Nature of the problem: Although the price of crude oil is receding from a height of about $150 per barrel, global demand is nudging against production capacity. Economists usually say that high prices spur more supply, but even though prices are stuck above $100 per barrel, that has yet to happen. Oil is made by the gradual breakdown of organic matter, so no new oil will appear in time to solve our oil crunch. Humans now use 86 million barrels of oil each day; that level of consumption is expected to grow by 1 percent next year. Most experts expect oil production to peak within 10 to 20 years, and then start to decline.

Scope of the problem: Peak oil, long dismissed as a remote worry, suddenly seems imminent. A 2005 report from the U.S. Department of Energy warned: "The challenge of oil peaking deserves immediate, serious attention, if risks are to be fully understood and mitigation begun on a timely basis." The critical transport sector, which devours two-thirds of oil in the United States, is already feeling the higher prices (have you priced an air ticket lately?), but the effects will ricochet through society, causing inflation and upheaval, perhaps even resource wars. Converting the national fleet to higher-mileage vehicles will take at least a decade, so it would be wise to prepare now. According to the DOE, "Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades."

The big question: Beyond more drilling in the ocean, what are you going to do to deal with declining oil supplies? What role do non-carbon fuels, alternative vehicles, and mass transportation play in your plans?

More reading:

2005 DOE report.

As Oil Giants Lose Influence, Supply Drops, Jad Mouawad, August 18, 2008, The New York Times.

Energy Bulletin

Megan Anderson, project assistant; Terry Devitt, editor; S.V. Medaris, designer/illustrator; David Tenenbaum, feature writer; Amy Toburen, content development executive

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