During a lecture at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Kenneth Deffeyes, professor emeritus at Princeton University, sounded a dire warning about global oil production and consumption: Major oil-producing nations and energy companies, he said, know that the production and consumption of oil are decreasing oil reserves that cannot be replaced.
World oil production will peak in November 2005, and there is not enough oil to be discovered to compensate for the amount being consumed, he said, regardless of how high the price of oil rises and despite the hope that new technology will lead to the discovery of vast new amounts of oil.
Deffeyes spoke to an audience of about 250 people Monday afternoon in the Campus Center Ballroom at NJIT. The lecture was the first in the university’s 2005 technology and society forum series, designed to explore the connections between the technological expertise that students study in the classroom and the real-world geo-political issues that affect the quality of human life.
The peak in world oil production could, moreover, have severe consequences for developed nations, said Deffeyes. The three major industries that will be most affected are agriculture, automotive and aviation. There is also the potential for international war over oil, he added, with some analysts seeing the possibility of war between the United States and China.
To counter these possibilities, Deffeyes recommended that developed nations engage in conservation and develop energy technologies not dependent on petroleum. With regard to conservation, Deffeyes advocated the use of diesel engines for automobiles rather than gasoline-electric hybrids. It is theoretically possible, he said, to get a hundred miles per gallon cleanly by using new diesel technology. He also advocated nuclear energy and said that waste from nuclear power plants can be processed and stored relatively safely.
In addition, Deffeyes endorsed revisiting older technologies that can greatly improve efficiency while being environmental acceptability. Such technologies include the liquefaction and gasification of coal, a resource that is still much more abundant than petroleum.
Deffeyes left the NJIT audience to ponder whether the global oil crisis will lead to a “hard” or “soft” social landing for the United States and other technologically advanced countries. A soft landing might be achieved through immediate action to conserve oil and implement alternative technologies such as the above. A hard landing could entail a greatly diminished quality of life in a world where competition for increasingly scarce supplies of oil engenders war, famine and disease.