NEW YORK —
“It has made possible things that were unthinkable 10 years ago,” says Claudi Santiago, managing director at First Reserve Corp., a private-equity firm that invests in energy companies.
Now, drillers are finding oil faster than the world is using it. At the end of 2001, the industry had enough “proved oil reserves” to satisfy world demand for 45 years, according to BP’s annual statistical review, a closely watched study. By the end of 2011 that had grown to 51 years — even though a decade’s worth of oil had been used and daily demand had grown 14 percent. And “proved reserves” refers to oil that can be economically tapped using today’s technology. Tomorrow’s methods could yield even more.
This is good news for a global economy that remains dependent on fossil fuels, but it’s terrifying to climate scientists.
“If we’re willing to go down this road of squeezing whatever petroleum we can out of the earth, we can easily get carbon dioxide levels up to unfathomable levels and put in motion what would be dramatic or catastrophic changes in our climate system,” says Michael E. Mann, a geophysicist and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.
RENEWABLES PROGRESS, BUT NOT FAST ENOUGH
Renewable technologies have had their successes. The average cost of a solar power system has fallen by 31 percent in the last two years. Solar now generates six times more electricity in the U.S. than it did a decade ago, and wind produces 14 times more. Most major automakers offer some type of electric vehicle.
And this success has come despite the fact that renewable energy’s major benefit — that it doesn’t pollute — is given little or no value in the marketplace because most governments haven’t adopted taxes or penalties for fossil fuel pollution.