For Sound Energy Policy, Don't Look to Congress

By Warren Brown
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Congress thinks we're stupid. Maybe we are. We, most of us, refuse to accept that we are living in a world of rapidly increasing demand for declining fossil fuel resources.

We believe more oil is to be found around the corner, in the next country, beneath the ocean, under or in the next rock. Maybe it is.

But people who have spent much of their professional lives looking at this issue say it really does not matter that more oil is waiting to be found somewhere. They believe there will never be enough of the stuff to fuel, feed, clothe, house and move a constantly growing global population.

Those people include Vice President Cheney, White House energy adviser Matthew Simmons and, believe it or not, President Bush.

For some time now, Cheney and Simmons, an energy investment banker, have been telling Bush that oil as we know it is about to go away. Their advice largely is why the president in his State of the Union address in January warned that America has become "addicted to oil." That is why the president, a scion of the Texas oil patch, uncharacteristically chided his fellow Republicans in Congress for offering yet another tax break for the nation's oil companies, this one facilitating quick write-offs of the costs of resource exploration.

"Record oil prices and large cash flows also mean that Congress has got to understand that these energy companies don't need unnecessary tax breaks like the write-offs of certain geological and geophysical expenditures," the president told the White House media corps.

That does not mean Bush is no longer a bosom buddy of Big Oil. It does mean, at least on this issue, that he is significantly smarter than Congress.

People enjoy poking fun at Bush, portraying him as something of an errant fraternity boy. But this president is nobody's dummy. He fully understands the concept of "peak oil," the high point of the bell curve at which 50 percent of the provable reserves in any oil field have been recovered.

Oil is plentiful on the upside of the curve. It is less available, substantially more difficult and enormously more expensive to retrieve on the downside.

Experts contend that peak oil production in North America actually was reached as far back as 1970, forcing the United States, for one, to rely more heavily on foreign sources of crude, a decidedly dangerous and extremely costly way of fueling our economy.

One of those experts is Robert L. Hirsch, senior energy program adviser at San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), which conducts a variety of scientific studies for governments and global corporations.

Hirsch and his colleagues last March completed a study for the Department of Energy. Maybe it was too difficult for Congress to read. Certainly the title was forbidding: "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management."

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