Letter: Keeping energy in mind

By The Daily Illini

I’d like to elaborate on a point made by Mr. Futrelle in his letter printed on Dec. 1.

The high standard of living that we enjoy in the United States comes at a substantial cost in resources, particularly of energy. About 40 percent of our total energy needs, including almost all of the energy used in transportation, is supplied by oil. Oil is the major, raw material for many everyday products, such as most plastics, and oil fuels our agricultural production. In fact, more than 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel alone were sold for farm use in 2000.

The United States is the second-largest producer of oil, and yet is also the world’s largest importer. The Department of Energy projects that, between 2001 and 2025, our demand for oil will increase by roughly 40 percent. And we’re not alone. Over the same time period, worldwide demand for oil is expected to increase by about 55 percent as developing countries become increasingly industrialized.

Even putting aside environmental considerations, we have good reason to be concerned about our oil dependence.

The world’s oil supplies are finite, and not being replenished at any meaningful rate. As oil is extracted from a reservoir, the remaining oil becomes increasingly difficult to extract, therefore only part of the oil in known deposits is accessible. For any given reservoir, there comes a point at which the energy extracted in oil is less than the amount of energy required to extract and process that oil.

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The amount of known, accessible oil has held fairly steady over the last 20 years or so – even as our technology has improved. Because improved technology has allowed us to search more efficiently for new oil deposits and to extract greater amounts of oil from reservoirs, this suggests that new oil reserves are becoming more difficult to find or tend to be less productive than those previously discovered.

Scientists have long anticipated a time at which global oil production will peak and begin to fall. Coupled with a rising demand for oil, this turning point could have serious economic consequences. The discovery of new oil deposits and improving technology merely buy us time. If we do nothing with that time, we’ll have gained only short-term profit.

So, as I see it, on the one hand, we can take the initiative by seeking out alternative energy sources, accepting relatively mild increases in energy costs, and by consuming energy more efficiently by making changes in our lifestyles. On the other hand, we can happily ignore the problem and wait for market forces to “correct” us. A nice idea in theory, but not a reality that I’d like to face.

So I urge you to put pressure on your representatives and the companies with which you do business. We’ll have to accept higher prices in the short term, and maybe some legislation to keep us honest. Keep energy efficiency in mind, especially when considering transportation. Take a careful look into the systems that support your day-to-day life. One place to start is the Department of Energy’s Web site at www.doe.gov, the source for all of my figures. You’ll find that oil isn’t the only thing that we have to worry about.

Kenneth Higa

graduate student