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"Let's accelerate and stay ahead of oil's peak"

The cartoon depicting the energy crisis as the fault of OPEC Arabs at the controls of the U.S. economy, symbolized by a remote-controlled SUV, sure felt good (June 7, "Gary Locher's View"). It's nice to have somebody else to blame for our problems, particularly grinning, mustachioed foreigners. But I suspect that this cartoon, like some others I see in this newspaper, might be a little over- simplified.

First, Venezuela is an important oil exporter. I suppose it's not politically expedient to depict OPEC as mustachioed Latinos. Same goes for black Nigerians or yellow Indonesians.

Second, I don't recall Arabs - nor Nigerians, nor Venezuelans - forcing Americans into SUVs at gunpoint. Americans enjoy driving these vehicles, auto companies like producing them, and shareholders in the automotive industry simply adore the returns on their investments. We're free, not OPEC's robots.

Maybe the question isn't, "Whose fault is it that we're so dependent on energy sources that lie under other people's real estate?" Maybe it's, "Why won't the media pay attention to something else?"

MEET THE KOOK

So let me introduce you to a kook. In 1956, when U.S. oil wells were spouting like so many Old Faithfuls, a geophysicist named Marion King Hubbert thought he was the prophet Teiresias. He predicted that U.S. oil production would eventually peak and then decline at 3 percent forever thereafter. He based this nonsense on the history of U.S. oil exploration and on the behaviors of individual wells over time. Then, using estimates of total U.S. reserves, he calculated the year of absolute peak of production: 1970.

His findings were ridiculed by his employer (Shell) and ignored by the public. This silly man was wrong, of course - oil production in the lower 48 states didn't peak until 1971. Then we began importing oil, we had an oil crisis, and in 1973 we began waiting in lines. Many of us old-timers actually remember that fiasco. Aren't you glad it's all over?

Since then, other geo-kooks have had the audacity to apply Hubbert's model to the whole world! They say things like worldwide discoveries of major new oil fields peaked in the 1960s and have been declining ever since. They say that demand for oil-based products is growing at an unbelievable rate. And so using Hubbert's model, they calculate that world oil production will peak . . . in 1996. Or 2004, or 2010. Take your pick. These scientists and their flip-flopping figures!

The problem is, you can't actually tell when oil is peaking. You can only look back a few years later and say, "Look! Oil just peaked." Like the United States did in 1973.

GLASS HALF FULL

So what happens if we find ourselves on the downside of Hubbert's worldwide peak, looking back, saying, "Why should I have to pay $10 a gallon for gasoline?" Just don't be a pessimist and say the glass is half empty. It's still half full! And guess where that "glass" is right now? What countries have the remaining half of the world's oil? You've heard of them: Saudi Arabia. Iran. Kuwait. And Iraq. Actually Iraq is No. 2. Isn't it great that we happen to be there spreading democracy? What a coincidence!

And you should take this optimism to its logical conclusion: Thank God for Sept. 11, 2001. Like true Americans, we are making something good out of something awful. Wherever we fight "terror," we happen either to get oil or to exclude others from getting at it. (Russia, France and China had contracts for oil exports from Iraq before we wisely went in and toppled that evil dictator, Saddam Hussein. Guess where their contracts are now?)

This is all very good news. At Peak Oil, the United States is gaining control. This doesn't have much to do with your SUV, either. Keep driving it, because most oil goes to making food: diesel for tractors, petrochemicals for pesticides and herbicides, more diesel for harvesting, processing, shipping. That's why we're blessed with Washington state apples here in Maine.

And don't forget about all those plastics, cosmetics and clothing industries. So pay no attention to that OPEC Arab at the controls. He'll be out of the picture soon anyhow.

- Special to the Press Herald

About the Author

Michael Bendzela is an adjunct professor of English at USM. He can be reached at michael.bendzela@maine.edu.

Editorial Notes: "Your site has been one of my inspirations." Thanks Mike! --AF

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