O informe do Pentágono sobre o Peak-oil e a inminente crise do petróleo

Hai uns días dabamos a noticia de que o Pentágono estaba a recoñecer a inminencia dunha crise do petróleo. Extraemos aquí polo seu interese o texto completo da sección enerxética (para ver as gráficas mellor consultar o PDF co informe orixinal Joint Operating Environment)


To meet even the conservative growth rates posited in the economics section, global energy production would need to rise by 1.3% per year. By the 2030s, demand is estimated to be nearly 50% greater than today. To meet that demand, even assuming more effective conservation measures, the world would need to add roughly the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s current energy production every seven years.

Absent a major increase in the relative reliance on alternative energy sources (which would require vast insertions of capital, dramatic changes in technology, and altered political attitudes toward nuclear energy), oil and coal will continue to drive the energy train. By the 2030s, oil requirements could go from 86 to 118 million barrels a day (MBD). Although the use of coal may decline in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, it will more than double in developing nations. Fossil fuels will still make up 80% of the energy mix in the 2030s, with oil and gas comprising upwards of 60%. The central problem for the coming decade will not be a lack of petroleum reserves, but rather a shortage of drilling platforms, engineers and refining capacity. Even were a concerted effort begun today to repair that shortage, it would be ten years before production could catch up with expected demand. The key determinant here would be the degree of commitment the United States and others display in addressing the dangerous vulnerabilities the growing energy crisis presents.

That production bottleneck apart, the potential sources of future energy supplies nearly all present their own difficulties and vulnerabilities. None of these provide much reason for optimism. At present, the United States possesses approximately 250 million cars, while China with its immensely larger population possesses only 40 million.

Peak Oil

As the figure at right shows, petroleum must continue to satisfy most of the demand for energy out to 2030. Assuming the most optimistic scenario for improved petroleum production through enhanced recovery means, the development of non-conventional oils (such as oil shales or tar sands) and new discoveries, petroleum production will be hard pressed to meet the expected future demand of 118 million barrels per day.

Possible Future Energy Resources

  • Non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil: New sources (Caspian Sea, Brazil, Colombia, and new portions of Alaska and the Continental shelf) could offset declining production in mature fields over the course of the next quarter century. However, without drilling in currently excluded areas, they will add little additional capacity.
  • Oil Sands and Shale: Recently, shale gas has been the primary source of growth in technically-recoverable natural gas resources in the U.S. Production of liquid fuels from oil sands could increase from 1MBD to over 4 MBD, but legal constraints may discourage investment. Additionally, the diversion of already scarce water resources needed to extract energy from these formations will further limit supplies for agriculture and other human purposes.
  • Natural Gas: Europe relies on Russia for one third of its natural gas imports. Uncertainty about Russia as a reliable supplier will encourage Europe to diversify sources of supply and support the construction of pipelines to access Central Asian gas reserves. Russia, meanwhile will seek to ensure that Central Asian gas flows across its own pipeline network. Furthermore, Russia will diversify its own network to bypass Central Europe and provide gas more directly to Western Europe – allowing it greater freedom to decouple the interests of its rich customers from its close neighbors.
  • Biofuels: Production could increase to approximately 3 MBD– equivalent, but starting from a small base, biofuels are unlikely to contribute more than 1% of global energy requirements by the 2030s. Moreover, even that modest achievement could curtail the supply of foodstuffs to the world’s growing population, which would add another National Security challenge to an already full menu.
  • Renewable: Wind and Solar combined are unlikely to account for more than 1% of global energy by 2030. That figure assumes the energy from such sources will more than triple, which alone would require major investments.
  • Nuclear: Nuclear energy offers one of the more promising technological possibilities, given significant advances in safety since the 1970s. In particular, it could play a major role in replacing coal-fired plants, and a greater supply of cheap electricity could encourage electric–powered transportation. Nevertheless, the expansion of nuclear plants faces considerable opposition because of public fears, while the disposal of nuclear waste remains politically controversial. Although the U.S. seems to be committing to the development of new nuclear plants, their construction in substantial numbers will take decades.
  • OPEC: To meet climbing global requirements, OPEC will have to increase its output from 30 MBD to at least 50 MBD. Significantly, no OPEC nation, except perhaps Saudi Arabia, is investing sufficient sums in new technologies and recovery methods to achieve such growth. Some, like Venezuela and Russia, are actually exhausting their fields to cash in on the bonanza created by rapidly rising oil prices.

The Chinese are laying down approximately 1,000 kilometers of four-lane highway every year, a figure suggestive of how many more vehicles they expect to possess, with the concomitant rise in their demand for oil. The presence of Chinese “civilians” in the Sudan to guard oil pipelines underlines China’s concern for protecting its oil supplies and could portend a future in which other states intervene in Africa to protect scarce resources. The implications for future conflict are ominous, if energy supplies cannot keep up with demand and should states see the need to militarily secure dwindling energy resources.

Another potential effect of an energy crunch could be a prolonged U.S. recession which could lead to deep cuts in defense spending (as happened during the Great Depression). Joint Force commanders could then find their capabilities diminished at the moment they may have to undertake increasingly dangerous missions. Should that happen, adaptability would require more than preparations to fight the enemies of the United States, but also the willingness to recognize and acknowledge the limitations of America’s military forces. The pooling of U.S. resources and capabilities with allies would then become even more critical. Coalition operations would become essential to protecting national interests.

OPEC and Energy Resources

OPEC nations will remain a focal point of great-power interest. These nations may have a vested interest in inhibiting production increases, both to conserve finite supplies and to keep prices high. Should one of the consumer nations choose to intervene forcefully, the “arc of instability” running from North Africa through to Southeast Asia easily could become an “arc of chaos,” involving the military forces of several nations.

OPEC nations will find it difficult to invest much of the cash inflows that oil exports bring. While they will invest substantial portions of such assets globally through sovereign wealth funds – investments that come with their own political and strategic difficulties – past track records, coupled with their appraisal of their own military weaknesses, suggest the possibility of a military buildup. With the cost of precision weapons expected to decrease and their availability increasing, Joint Force commanders could find themselves operating in environments where even small, energy-rich opponents have military forces with advanced technological capabilities. These could include advanced cyber, robotic, and even anti-space systems.

Finally, presuming the forces propelling radical extremism at present do not dissipate, a portion of OPEC’s windfall might well find its way into terrorist coffers, or into the hands of movements with deeply anti-modern, anti-Western goals – movements which have at their disposal increasing numbers of unemployed young men eager to attack their perceived enemies.

A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict. One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.

Energy Summary

To generate the energy required worldwide by the 2030s would require us to find an additional 1.4 MBD every year until then.

During the next twenty-five years, coal, oil, and natural gas will remain indispensable to meet energy requirements. The discovery rate for new petroleum and gas fields over the past two decades (with the possible exception of Brazil) provides little reason for optimism that future efforts will find major new fields.

At present, investment in oil production is only beginning to pick up, with the result that production could reach a prolonged plateau. By 2030, the world will require production of 118 MBD, but energy producers may only be producing 100 MBD unless there are major changes in current investment and drilling capacity.

By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD.

Energy production and distribution infrastructure must see significant new investment if energy demand is to be satisfied at a cost compatible with economic growth and prosperity. Efficient hybrid, electric, and flex-fuel vehicles will likely dominate light-duty vehicle sales by 2035 and much of the growth in gasoline demand may be met through increases in biofuels production. Renewed interest in nuclear power and green energy sources such as solar power, wind, or geothermal may blunt rising prices for fossil fuels should business interest become actual investment. However, capital costs in some power-generation and distribution sectors are also rising, reflecting global demand for alternative energy sources and hindering their ability to compete effectively with relatively cheap fossil fuels. Fossil fuels will very likely remain the predominant energy source going forward.