(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – If the United States does not begin to wean itself from its dependence on oil within the next several years, limited supply and increasing demand by countries like China and India could spell economic disaster, a UNR professor said today.
The grim scenario was presented by UNR adjunct professor John Anthony Scire to the National Security Forum, an informal group that meets regularly to learn about international issues affecting the United States. Scire, who has a doctoral degree in political science, presented his talk, called Global Energy Insecurity: Oil Dependency and National Security, to about 100 members of the group.
About 4.7 billion barrels out of the 7.1 billion we use annually comes from other countries, some of which are unstable and do not care for us, he said.
Motor fuels account for 65 percent of the oil consumption in the U.S., and that demand is expected to increase by 30 percent by 2030, Scire said. And world demand for oil is expected to grow by 57 percent by the same date, he said.
This despite the fact that global peak oil production may be only two decades away or even sooner, Scire said. All the major oil fields are believed to have been discovered already, he said.
The net result of this collection of facts is that oil dependent countries such as the U.S. are vulnerable to economic catastrophe. The entire country, from agribusiness to the delivery of all goods and services, is dependent on oil, he said.
Action needs to be taken now, years before peak production is reached, to avoid potentially severe economic consequences, Scire said.
“If peak oil is tomorrow, where is the United States going to be,” he said. “Well, we’re going to become impoverished relative to a lot of other countries.”
But problems could emerge even sooner, Scire said. Before last year’s economic collapse, demand for oil exceeded supply, pushing prices up to such levels that the national and world economies were severely affected, Scire said.
Other countries that compete with us, such as Germany and Japan, are already far ahead on eliminating oil dependence, which makes the U.S. less competitive, he said.
Military consequences include huge expenditures to protect oil producing countries and routes and the increased likelihood of conflict over the limited supplies, Scire said. The military is the single largest user of petroleum products in the U.S., he said.
We also end up supporting repressive regimes because we need their oil, he said. This results in disaffected residents of these countries targeting the U.S. because of this support, Scire said.
Heavier reliance on natural gas or coal are options, but supplies of these natural resources are limited as well, Scire said. Nuclear power production needs to be a part of the solution to ending this dependence, he said.
But a major shift to plug-in and hybrid vehicles would greatly reduce our oil dependence and is an attractive option, he said. Other options include increasing vehicle efficiency, an expansion of mass transportation and smarter urban planning to reduce our reliance on vehicles, Scire said.
“Dr. Scire’s presentation illustrated the harsh fact that oil production has likely peaked, but demand will increase significantly in the absence of serious efforts to wean ourselves off our addiction to oil,” said event organizer Ty Cobb. “What concerns me is that our friends in Europe and Asia are even more dependent on imports to quench their oil requirements. This will likely lead to increased conflicts over access to dwindling sources.”