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Peak Oil Lives, but Will Kill the Economy

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Last Monday's BBC News at Ten broadcast a report by science editor David Shukman arguing that concerns "about oil supplies running dry are receding." Shukman interviewed a range of industry experts talking up the idea that a "peak" in oil production has been "moved to the backburner" - but he obfuscated compelling evidence in his own report contradicting this view.

"There's still plenty of oil - we just haven't got all of it out of the ground yet. There's not a real danger of there being no fossil fuel," one oil company executive told the BBC. "There's enough oil in this country for another 100 years with our present technology and there's more around the world to be found yet."

Following a chorus of industry hype on the wonders of shale gas and fracking, Shukman finally referred in passing to a new scientific paper published by Eos, Transactions - the newsletter of the American Geophysical Union - saying that the paper "supports the assertion that a peak in oil production is 'a myth' but argues that the rising cost of extraction could itself provide a limit, and may act as a brake on economic growth." He then closed his report with the following quote from a leading industry figure: "The era of cheap oil is over, but we're a long way from peak oil - costs will go up but the technology will respond."

The thrust of the message was that peak oil is a myth because we're not running out of oil. Even if costs go up, this will automatically spur the technological innovation that will make continued extraction of expensive oil viable.

But Shukman's characterisation of the new Eos paper is a combination of falsehood and half-truth. Far from describing peak oil as a myth, the paper's conclusions are far more nuanced, and point to an overwhelming body of evidence contradicting the industry hype that the rest of his report parrotts uncritically.     


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