GAO: USA Needs a Peak Oil Strategy

The Government Accountability Office is the closest thing we have to a neutral, non-partisan research body in the federal government. They are the government’s auditors, and are one of the few bodies that seem to regularly rise above the usual partisan BS that inundates Washington D.C. to deliver factual information regardless of it’s content or political sensitivity.

Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) asked the GAO to investigate the theory of peak oil, and to see how well prepared the United States is for the ramifications of a permanent decline in oil production. Well, the GAO has finished their investigations, and their conclusions will dismay cornucopians and techno-optimists. Peak oil is a real threat, and while they don’t know when oil production will peak, once it does, it could be very harmful to the US economy and way of life. The closer peak is, the worse the effects will be.

Here’s a few choice quotes from their report offered up by the good folks at Energy Bulletin:

  • Most studies estimate that oil production will peak sometime between now and 2040
  • The timing of the peak depends on multiple, uncertain factors that will influence how quickly the remaining oil is used, including the amount of oil still in the ground, how much of the remaining oil can be ultimately produced, and future oil demand.
  • The amount of oil remaining in the ground is highly uncertain, in part because the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) controls most of the estimated world oil reserves, but its estimates of reserves are not verified by independent auditors.
  • Under these circumstances, an imminent peak and sharp decline in oil production could have severe consequences, including a worldwide recession. If the peak comes later, however, these technologies have a greater potential to mitigate the consequences.
  • While the consequences of a peak would be felt globally, the United States, as the largest consumer of oil and one of the nations most heavily dependent on oil for transportation, may be particularly vulnerable.

There’s plenty more where that came from. The GAO hasn’t officially released the entire report on their website yet, but you can get a copy here. The whole report is 82 pages in length, so it’s not light reading.

It will be interesting to see how much mainstream media attention the report gets. If you have been following the recent articles at the Oil Drum regarding Saudi Arabia’s oil production capacity, we may be at peak or very close to it. If that’s the case, then all of us in the USA (and elsewhere) will be in for a bumpy ride both economically and socially as all of our support systems become hampered by rising energy costs. My guess is that this report will be more or less squelched by the big papers, TV News, and large internet news sites, and that’s doing a disservice to the millions of Americans who are still blissfully ignorant of this whole issue. Perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised and the media will do it’s job of reporting the news instead of obsessing over the latest celebrity scandals and trumpeting ersatz stock market highs. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

I’m not surprised at all by the report’s findings, and I’m continuing to prepare for rougher times ahead. I hope you’re doing the same.

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