Dr. Robert Hirsh is an energy economist who was commissioned by the United States Department of Energy to examine the problem of peak oil. His 2005 report, "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management" paints a dark picture of our energy future. You can listen David Room of Global Public Media interviewed Robert Hirsch on his report in November 2008. Here is a transcript.
An Executive Summery of the Hirsh Report can be found here.
From the Executive Summery:
Important observations and conclusions from this study are as follows:
1. When world oil peaking will occur is not known with certainty. A fundamental problem in predicting oil peaking is the poor quality of and possible political biases in world oil reserves data. Some experts believe peaking may occur soon. This study indicates that “soon” is within 20 years.
2. The problems associated with world oil production peaking will not be temporary, and past “energy crisis” experience will provide relatively little guidance. The challenge of oil peaking deserves immediate, serious attention, if risks are to be fully understood and mitigation begun on a timely basis.
3. Oil peaking will create a severe liquid fuels problem for the transportation sector, not an “energy crisis” in the usual sense that term has been used.
4. Peaking will result in dramatically higher oil prices, which will cause protracted economic hardship in the United States and the world. However, the problems are not insoluble. Timely, aggressive mitigation initiatives addressing both the supply and the demand sides of the issue will be required.
5. In the developed nations, the problems will be especially serious. In the developing nations peaking problems have the potential to be much worse.
6. Mitigation will require a minimum of a decade of intense, expensive effort, because the scale of liquid fuels mitigation is inherently extremely large.
7. While greater end-use efficiency is essential, increased efficiency alone will be neither sufficient nor timely enough to solve the problem. Production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels will be required. A number of commercial or near-commercial substitute fuel production technologies are currently available for deployment, so the production of vast amounts of substitute liquid fuels is feasible with existing technology.
8. Intervention by governments will be required, because the economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic. The experiences of the 1970s and 1980s offer important guides as to government actions that are desirable and those that are undesirable, but the process will not be easy.
Mitigating the peaking of world conventional oil production presents a classic risk management problem:
• Mitigation initiated earlier than required may turn out to be premature, if peaking is long delayed.
• If peaking is imminent, failure to initiate timely mitigation could be extremely damaging.
From the Interview with David Room.
"There is no question in my mind that peaking is going to occur within the next 10 or 15 years, so if depletion is as high as some people think it is, we are in a very very serious serious problem, much worse than the worst that we considered in the past. This problem is truly frightening; this problem is like nothing I have ever seen in my lifetime, and the more you think about it, and the more you look at the numbers, the more uneasy any observer gets, its so easy to sound alarmist - and I fear that part of what I am saying may sound alarmist - but there simply is no question that the risks here are beyond anything that any of us have ever dealt with, and the risks to our economies and our civilization are enormous and people dont want to hear that, I don't want to think about that...thats a very uncomfortable thing to think about. And I tell you that it took some time, after the realization had set in to be able to emerge and try to be positive and constructive about this problem; this is really an incredibly difficult and incredibly severe problem."- Robert Hirsh
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