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We're running out of gas



Published: Tue, August 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



By LLEWELLYN KING

KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- As agriculture in the United States and Europe matured, the need for fertilizer grew exponentially. Guano, or sea bird droppings, was the answer. There were small guano sites in the Carolinas and other Southern states. But the mother lode was concentrated on the islands off the Peruvian coast, where light rainfall and thousands of years of sea bird droppings made for the best fertilizer.

So it was that guano became a world commodity in the 19th century, and hundreds of thousands of tons were stripped from the Peruvian islands. Then it ran out. Luckily for farming, synthetic fertilizers were developed toward the end of the islands' supply of guano.

Fertilizer

At one time, North Sea cod was so plentiful that it was said that fishermen had walked on the shoals. Indeed, it was so plentiful that it was ground up as a fertilizer and spread on fields. Today cod supplies are endangered and strict fishing limits have to be enforced.

Likewise, the American plains were once home to millions of buffalo. No need to ask about the buffalo herds today.

The facts about resource depletion are incontrovertible, and yet there are those who are in deep denial about the depletion of the world's oil resources.

In fact, it has become a tenet of some conservative thinking that global oil supplies are inexhaustible and not subject to the depletion seen in other natural resources, including copper, gold and silver. It is a heresy in some quarters to suggest that the irrefutable law of depletion applies to oil.

Vice President Cheney has scoffed at the idea. Influential conservative writers, like Irwin Stelzer of The Sunday Times of London and Tony Blankley of The Washington Times, frequently urge people to purchase large, inefficient SUVs.

It is as though the letters S-U-V have been inserted into the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and maybe the preamble as well. Some conservatives apparently read the latter as "the pursuit of happiness in a sport utility vehicle."

As an energy supply-sider for the last 35 years, it saddens me to see the blind rejection of the obvious, when the intimations of oil peaking are everywhere. It also saddens me because for much of the past 35 years, conservatives have led the intelligent approach to energy supply. But when they substitute ideology for fact, one must part ways with them.

The world is consuming 83 million barrels of oil a day and depletion is everywhere at hand: in the contiguous 48 states, on the North Slope of Alaska, in the North Sea and elsewhere.

The world is pumping as much oil as it can to keep up with current demand, which is expected to rise by 3 million barrels a day in a few years, as China and India increase their usage.

Worse. The great treasure trove of oil, Saudi Arabia, may not be in as good shape as we have believed. Matthew R. Simmons, author of "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy," claims that Saudi Arabia's two most productive fields are in decline and that the country is unable to pump much more oil than at present.

Texas oilman

Simmons is not a flighty environmentalist. He is a smart, tough Texas oilman who analyzes oil production data from thousands of technical reports.

Those who believe there is no oil problem tend also to be those who believe in market signals, except for this one signal they do not want to see: that $60 a barrel oil is the market crying out for supply that cannot be met.

Amazingly, the energy bill that has just cleared Congress does nothing to address that reality.

X Llewellyn King is chairman and CEO of the King Publishing Co., publishers of White House Weekly and Energy Daily. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services




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