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Publication Title | The Future of Transportation

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Future of


Joshua Tickell ©1999 Joshua Tickell

ith gasoline prices as low as 88 cents a gallon in some parts

of the United States, it seems like our supply of oil may never end. The U.S. military recently showed its ability to defend fossil oil deposits in the Persian Gulf by hurling missiles into a Bagdad neighborhood and “removing strategic targets” inside the borders of Iraq. At the gas pump it looks like oil is cheap, and on the television it’s obvious that we’re in control. But, the politics and economics of oil will change during the next five years.

How Much Oil is Left?

At some moment during the next five years, we will have consumed more than one half of the total usable fossil oil on Planet Earth. To date, we have extracted 807 billion barrels of crude oil. Only an estimated 995 billion barrels remain that can be extracted at current production costs.

If the worldwide rate of oil consumption remained a constant 24 billion barrels of oil per year, we would run out of oil in 2040. But consumption is not static—it is increasing by about 2 percent per year. Even our rate of increase is accelerating. Demand for oil will overshoot supply well before 2040. At some point between 2010 and 2025, all fuel from fossil oil will be too expensive for the average U.S. consumer to afford. Exactly when that point comes will depend largely on the actions of Middle Eastern countries.

Natural Gas Supplies Limited

In 1970, worldwide annual consumption of natural gas was 30 trillion cubic feet. Today, annual consumption is

64 Home Power #70 • April / May 1999

Depletion of the World’s Natural Gas Reserves at Different Rates of Growth in Consumption







Constant Use

1.0% Growth

2.0% Growth

3.5% Growth (current) 5.0% Growth

Years of Reserves Remaining

2000 2050 2100


2150 2200 2250

over 70 trillion cubic feet and is increasing at 3.5 percent per year. A 3.5 percent annual increase in consumption will deplete natural gas reserves by 2050. However, the increase in consumption of natural gas is accelerating at an astonishing rate. Cheap supplies of natural gas will be depleted by 2040.

Power companies are building new natural gas power stations to give customers in their area cheaper electricity. New natural gas power facilities will soon supply up to 40,000 megawatts in the Northeast, Texas, and California. Experts believe that by 2010, the supply of electricity from new natural gas power facilities will jump to 100,000 megawatts. Natural gas power plants are attractive to investors. They have an average six year investment turnaround and can produce electricity for a cheap rate of two to three cents per kilowatt-hour.

As city smog laws become more stringent, natural gas cars will be on the rise. The demand for natural gas fuel will increase. Due to the rapid increase in consumption of natural gas for power generation and transportation, we cannot rely on natural gas supplies to provide fuel for our transport infrastructure in the near future.

Scramble for Oil

The United States scrambled to realign itself with OPEC as long lines of cars snaked out of service stations during the ’70s. Arab Nations made a concerted effort to fix oil prices—resulting in mayhem. Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates gained approximately 36 percent of the world’s share of oil production during the early 1970s. A number of factors contributed to this, including simultaneous worldwide demand increase and

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