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Mobility Choices for Energy Security

The Future of Oil

Oil was first discovered in the U.S. in 1859. At the beginning of the 20th century it supplied only 4% of the world’s energy; decades later it became the most important energy source.
Today oil supplies about 40% of the world’s energy and 96% of its transportation energy. Since the shift from coal to oil, the world has consumed over 875 billion barrels. Another 1,000 billion barrels of proved and probable reserves remain to be recovered.

From now to 2020, world oil consumption will rise by about 60%. Transportation will be the fastest growing oil-consuming sector. By 2025, the number of cars will increase to well over 1.25 billion from approximately 700 million today. Global consumption of gasoline could double.

The two countries with the highest rate of growth in oil use are China and India, whose combined populations account for a third of humanity. In the next two decades, China's oil consumption is expected to grow at a rate of 7.5% per year and India’s 5.5%. (Compare to a 1% growth for the industrialized countries). It will be strategically imperative for these countries to secure their access to oil.

Where are the reserves?
Proved oil reserves are those quantities of oil that geological information indicates can be with reasonable certainty recovered in the future from known reservoirs. Of the trillion barrels currently estimated, 6% are in North America, 9% in Central and Latin America, 2% in Europe, 4% in Asia Pacific, 7% in Africa, 6% in the Former Soviet Union. Today, 66% of global oil reserves are in the hands of Middle Eastern regimes: Saudi Arabia (25%), Iraq (11%), Iran (8%), UAE (9%), Kuwait (9%), and Libya (2%).

"It's important for Americans to remember that America imports more than 50 percent of its oil -- more than 10 million barrels a day. And the figure is rising. [..]this dependence on foreign oil is a matter of national security. To put it bluntly, sometimes we rely upon energy sources from countries that don't particularly like us." - George W. Bush, February 25, 2002
Following 9/11 and in light of the rise of radical Islam many have called for reduction of the dependency on Middle East oil. To offset the growing influence of Middle East producers, non-OPEC countries in Africa and Former Soviet Union have increased their production considerably. Many have even suggested that Russia could take on OPEC and help shift global oil supply away from the Middle East. The Washington Post even claimed that Moscow is "on its way to becoming the next Houston—the global capital of energy." And indeed, Russia’s oil production increased to the point that it became the second largest exporter behind Saudi Arabia. But Russia’s prospects of being a key player in the oil market in the long run are dim. Russia ranks seventh in proven oil reserves, holding only 5%. Its oil production peaked around 1999 and its reserves have been steadily declining since. That means that at current production rates, Russia will be out of the running by 2020.
Washington's search for reliable oil suppliers outside the Middle East has brought about an oil boom in many African countries like Angola, Nigeria, Guinea and Chad. But like Russia, Africa is hardly a bonanza. Its total reserves amount to 7% and its largest producer, Nigeria, will peak by the end of the decade. Africa will be out of the running by 2025.

Because reserves in non-Middle East countries are being depleted more rapidly than those of Middle East producers, their overall reserves-to-production ratio -- an indicator of how long proven reserves would last at current production rates -- is much lower (about 15 years for non-Middle East and 80 years for Middle East producers). If production continues at today's rate, many of the largest producers in 2002, such as Russia, Mexico, U.S., Norway, China and Brazil will cease to be relevant players in the oil market in less than two decades. At that point, the Middle East will be the only major reservoir of abundant crude oil. In fact, Middle Eastern producers will have a much bigger piece of the pie than ever before.

Projection of reserves worldwide
Based on projection of 2002 production levels, BP Statistical Review of World Energy

Projecting 2001 production levels, by 2020 83% of global oil reserves will be controlled by Middle Eastern regimes.

The energy security and national security concerns that stem from reliance on a single energy resource that is unevenly distributed throughout the world will be intensified as demand for oil grows. The result will probably be:
  • A handful of Middle East suppliers will regain the influence they had in the 1970s and once again be able to dictate the terms on world oil markets and manipulate oil prices and world politics.
  • Middle Eastern producers will continue to use their oil revenues to increase their military expenditures, fuel an arms race and undermine regional stability.
  • Corrupt, oppressive regimes will continue to use oil revenues as a means to maintain their power.
  • Wealth generated by oil rich Middle Eastern countries will continue to flow into terrorist organizations and organizations promoting radical Islam.
  • The U.S. will need to keep increasing American military presence in the region to ensure our access to the remaining oil. This will mean further U.S. embroilment in Middle East conflicts, more anti-American sentiment, and a deepening rift between the West and the Islamic world.
  • Tension between the U.S. and China due to growing Chinese intervention in the Middle East to ensure its own access to oil and Chinese arming of Middle Eastern countries hostile to the U.S. and its allies.
  • Further drain on economic resources caused by imports of expensive oil.
Such an international system is not sustainable.

It is in our best interest to preemptively embark on a revolutionary change that will lead us away from oil dependency rather than drag our feet and suffer the ramifications of becoming growingly dependent on a diminishing resource.

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