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Is the oil crisis over?

Created: 10/26/13 (Sat) | Topic: Education

An editorial by Stewart Truelsen

The energy crisis is behind us, right, or is it just taking a breather as it has from time to time? The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the United States is expected to be the largest producer of petroleum and natural gas in 2013, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. is a lot less vulnerable to major supply disruptions like the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973. Domestic oil production is now the highest in the nation’s history, and energy self-sufficiency is just around the corner.

The rise in American production of oil and gas is largely due to hydraulic fracturing or fracking of wells in places like North Dakota, Texas and the Eastern United States. However, the Wall Street Journal quotes energy officials from Russia and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as saying the U.S. shale boom will play out before too long. Sounds like sour grapes on their part.

Gasoline consumption started dropping during the Great Recession in response to the economic slowdown, and it has continued to drop due to the greater fuel efficiency of autos and trucks. Wind energy for power generation is the fastest-growing renewable fuel aside from solar power, which is growing from a much smaller base.

With all these positive signs, what’s to worry about? For one thing, the EIA is predicting that world energy demand will grow by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040. At present most of that growth is from China and India.

Another concern is that despite all the talk about renewable energy, renewables supply only 2.4 percent of the world’s energy, that’s up from about 1 percent in 2002, but a long way to go to offset the burning of oil, coal and natural gas.

Coal is expected to run out within 50 years, but there is little agreement on when oil will run out. The only consensus seems to be that oil will be harder to find and extract, and thus more expensive.

For now, there is no single, obvious successor to fossil fuels. If so, perhaps we could rule out another energy crisis. Robert B. Laughlin, a Nobel Laureate in Physics and author of “Powering the Future,” thinks saltwater farming of microalgae, a sort of green coal, is in our future, but way in the future.

The head of British Petroleum endorses the idea of energy flexibility. Likewise, the American Farm Bureau Federation calls for a comprehensive approach to our nation’s energy needs. AFBF says the nation is best served by a diverse, domestic energy supply including further development and use of renewables such as ethanol, biodiesel, biomass, solar and wind.

Farm Bureau also recognizes that stopping the exploration and development of fossil fuels for whatever reasons cannot be done without severely disrupting the economy. A crisis could easily be triggered by over-reacting to climate change and environmental issues.

The best way to make sure the energy crisis doesn’t return is a comprehensive energy policy that keeps all of our options open and maintains a stable energy market.

Stewart Truelsen is the author of Forward Farm Bureau, a book marking the 90th anniversary of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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