We Are Not Running Out

June 1st, 2012 - J. Hodgson 

"By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate...that there won't be anymore crude oil." - Kenneth Watt, ecologist 


The above quote was made by the same Earth Day ecologist who predicted that global cooling was going to be the hysteric problem of the next century. You know, global cooling...because of all the pollution.

Nevertheless, crystal ball predictions are constantly made and constantly fail. One of the favourite topics for soothsayers to ponder is when the world will run out of oil. The professional pundits like to scare people with shortage talk and then promptly disappear from sight. This allows them to cash their cheques while the rest of us slowly fail to remember the details of their predictions. Years later they can do it all over again.

Even the most cynical among us would have to admit that oil is a finite natural resource and it will eventually run out, however, the environmental alarmists would have us believe three things.

#1. "Running out of oil" means we'll all be living in a Mad Max scenario in which civilization will collapse and we will be fighting for food in the ditches of empty highways.

#2. We must do WHATEVER IT TAKES in order to stop this scenario from happening.

#3. 'WHATEVER IT TAKES' means destroying the oil industry now and building an energy infrastructure using green sustainable energy (Or Unicorn farts...whichever works best I suppose).

Setting aside points #2 and #3, this essay will focus only on the first point. My argument against the first point can be summed up with two words.

Julian Simon.

"The main fuel to speed the world's progress is our stock of knowledge, and the brake is our lack of imagination." - Julian Simon

In 1981, Julian Simon penned The Ultimate Resource. The ultimate resource referred to in the title is people. People are the ultimate natural resource. Due to people's innovation, creativity and hard work, civilization has blossomed. If we continue on our path, he surmised, we would not only flourish in the future, but the threat of natural resource depletion would vanish. In other words, natural resources are essentially infinite.

There are two main reasons we will never run out of oil:

#1. Human innovation will design and develop new ways to extract oil. Since necessity is the mother of invention, human ingenuity will be rewarded with profit if new solutions for extraction are found. When the price of oil goes up, the incentive to get creative and find more oil increases.

#2. If oil becomes too difficult to extract, then new sources of energy will be substituted and the need for oil will lessen. Our energy use will remain constant or even increase, but oil will be less important.

Leftists in this day and age both worship the environment and vilify capitalism. They don’t want to find more oil so that leaves energy substitutes. Simon predicted that substitutes would develop naturally when the human spirit was unlocked with economic and political freedom. He cites England’s coal scare as an example.

In 1865, W. Stanley Jevons warned that coal was being used up at such a rate that it would soon be gone from English soil. His solution? Population control of course! But what actually happened? Innovation happened and more coal was mined as it was needed. Energy substitutes were also developed as natural gas and oil based fuel was invented. Today, England still produces 18 million tons of coal, but it’s not as important as it used to be since hydroelectric, nuclear and oil/gas has replaced the need for coal.

As of the writing of this article, oil is about $91 a barrel. Nearly a seven month low, or roughly where it was four years ago. The world uses about 85 million barrels of oil a day. Proven reserves currently stand at about 1.5 trillion barrels. For the non-math fans out there, this equates to about 50 years worth of oil without worry. Consumption will probably increase as economies grow and populations go up, but so too will proven reserves as new oil is found and developed. For example...

-China added over 1 billion tons of oil to their reserves last year alone due to offshore drilling projects.

-The Brazilian coast line is loaded with oil underneath the ocean floor. Spanish oil giant Repsol just announced that they have discovered an oil field with 800 million barrels of light sweet crude and 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

-Underneath the jungles of Africa, new discoveries are being made. Nearly 2.4 billion barrels is thought to lie under the jungles of Uganda, and neighbouring Kenya is estimated to hold even more.

-After generations of being crushed by the iron fist of Saddam Hussein, northern Iraq's Kurdistan region is quickly developing. Estimates of oil reserves for this area are 45 billion barrels.

-The Green River Formation borders Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. This shale oil reserve is thought to contain 3 trillion barrels of oil.

-The mighty Athabasca oil sands of northern Alberta are constantly being developed and contain a grand total of 98 billion barrels of oil! Currently the sands produce about 3 million barrels per day. Lot's of room for growth.

When leftists wring their hands about "running out of oil" what they're really doing is indulging in an eco-apocalyptic fantasy in which mankind pays the price for progress through devastation and decline. The eco-Marxists of the 21st century are just a secular version of failed fringe religious leader, Harold Camping. They look forward to a time when the world will be set right according to their anti-humanity views and mankind will suffer for the audacity of ambition. They're betting on failure in order to justify their own failed lives. Until everyone goes out of business, they themselves can't be happy due to their inability to stand amongst the rubble saying, "I told you so."

Julian Simon warned us against betting on failure and being negative and losing our inspiration, because in the end, the man who says it can't be done shouldn't interrupt the man trying to do it. History has shown that the man trying to do it, frequently does do it and the privilege of modern civilization is the result. Endless oil is what most of us can expect for the rest of our lives. We should use it, enjoy it, and maximize it and leave the hand wringing to the worrywarts on the left. Julian Simon would be proud.