Forecasts vary on future of energy
September 24, 2006
BEAVER CREEK – While some of the world’s leading geologists, physicists and investment bankers are saying a decline in oil production will soon change civilization as we know it, Scott Tinker recently told the Vail Valley there is no energy crisis. “We’re never going to run out of oil,” said Tinker, Texas’ state geologist, as well as the director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Stone Age did not end for lack of stones, and the oil age will not end for lack of oil. We’ll run out of ideas before we run out of oil.”Tinker and 15 others spoke about their views on energy in the region, state and world during Forecast for the Future, an energy forum hosted by the Vail Symposium last weekend at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek.Tinker said methane was forecast to run out in 1997. It didn’t happen, but the same tales of doom surround oil.”We didn’t quit using horses because we ran out of hay,” Tinker said. “Alaska is declining in production, but there’s more they’re not using.”Compared with the stories of impending oil shortages commonly heard, Tinker’s words were comforting to some, ridiculous to others. “Sure, we’ll just all go out and buy SUVs and not worry about how much we’re using,” said one woman who attended Tinker’s speech, the first and longest of the bunch. Much to her horror, Tinker also spoke up for oil companies. “We all love to hate the oil companies,” Tinker said. “But if you want to see the environment get toasted and the economy in recession, then we can get rid of the oil companies.”Colorado: Land of plenty Tracy Boyd, who oversees sustainable practices at Shell Oil, didn’t exactly share Tinker’s rosy outlook. While he doesn’t think the world’s oil supply will dry up any day now, “Easy oil is coming to an end,” he said.”We need to focus on other forms of energy and the not-so-easy-to-find oil,” he said. In 140 countries, Shell is looking to other forms of energy, from wind power to biofuel. In Colorado, Boyd is focused on the Mahogany Oil Shale Research Project in Garfield and Mesa counties. While Eagle County has little in the way of natural resources, surrounding areas have abundant loads, especially of oil shale, which isn’t actually oil at all. Instead, oil shale is limestone infused with an organic material. Colorado also has copious amounts of uranium, a clean source of fuel, according to Fletcher Newton, the CEO of Power Resources Inc., a subsidiary of Cameco Corp., the largest uranium producer in the United States. Unfortunately, the uranium is too expensive to extract right now, he said. Colorado also has abundant coal, a positive to some and not others. “There’s a lot of coal in the world,” Tinker said. “If it weren’t so dirty, it would be a great fuel.”But to Stuart Sanderson, the president of the Colorado Mining Association, coal is an easy and cheap energy answer. It’s also getting cleaner as technology to liquefy and gasify coal is developed, he said. “Mining is in Colorado’s history, and I hope it’s part of the future,” he said. Other options needed But others are looking to kick out the old and bring in the new for the country’s own good. During “How many crises does it take to install a solar panel?” Mark Bernstein, a political science professor at the University of Southern California, said Americans haven’t changed their liberal oil consumption despite increasing prices and low inventories. “The connection between their own consumption and prices hasn’t been made,” he said. “It might take a few more crises for people to make any changes.”At the end of the day, there are no easy answers, all speakers agreed. “The only absolute is there’s a lot of uncertainty for businesses and consumers,” Bernstein said.