The petroleum age has only just begun

April 11, 2012

Nine years ago in OCPA’s Perspective magazine (“Are We Running Out of Oil?” May 2003), geologist David Deming predicted that the petroleum age had only just begun. He was right.

Deming, an associate professor of arts and sciences at the University of Oklahoma, had an excellent follow-up piece last week in The Oklahoman (“The petroleum age is just beginning”). Technological innovations are allowing us to find natural resources in ways Colonel Drake never could have imagined, Deming wrote.

We can drill offshore in water up to 8,000 feet deep. We have enhanced recovery techniques, horizontal drilling, and four-dimensional seismic imaging. Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm is turning North Dakota into Saudi Arabia by using hydraulic fracturing technology. U.S. oil production has reversed its 40-year decline. By the year 2020, it is anticipated that the U.S. will be the world's top oil producer.

For at least 100 years, people have repeatedly warned that the world is running out of oil. In 1920, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the world contained only 60 billion barrels of recoverable oil. But to date we have produced more than 1,000 billion barrels and currently have more than 1,500 billion barrels in reserve. World petroleum reserves are at an all-time high. The world is awash in a glut of oil. Conventional oil resources are estimated to be in the neighborhood of 10 trillion barrels. The resource base is growing faster than production can deplete it! …

Petroleum is the lifeblood of our industrial economy. The U.S. economy will remain stagnant and depressed until we begin to aggressively develop our native energy resources. As Hamm has said, “We can do this.” What's stopping us isn't geology. What's stopping us is ignorance and bad public policy.