There is a lot of talk these days about rising oil prices. Most of these discussions revolve around fueling our cars and heating our homes. However, oil is responsible for most of our modern efficiencies (farming, fertilizers, plastics, manufacturing, ...). So is there really a problem?
Consider the following, 2000 to 3000 billion barrels of oil resources probably existed at the dawn of man. By 2004, mankind consumed the first 1000 billion barrels of that oil in about a century. The world is currently consuming 31 billion barrels of oil annually and that rate is expected to growth by over 2 percent annually due to emerging countries like China and India. At that rate, the oil runs out between 2030 and 2050.
However, oil will never run out completely. As production slows demand will not be met. This will probably lead to war unless alternative solutions are found. Mineral right owner (such as the OPEC countries) do not want to wait for war or nationalization of resources, so the oil will not be saved like a resource such as gold.
As for the people who point to Alaska or the Gulf Coast offshore as saviors. Realize that the ANWR and Gulf Coast deepwater discoveries probably represent less than 20 billion barrels of oil. In perspective, 20 billion barrels does not compare well with today's annual crude oil thirst of 30 billion barrels.
Is ethanol the solution? Of course not. Ethanol depends of crops such as corn. Ethanol's use of farm land and food crops will cause all people to pay more for food so many people can drive fuel hungry Sport Utility vehicles. A moral and honest culture would not allow politicians to subsidize ethanol at the expense of the general population.
Large scale production of alternate fuels exist beyond ethanol. The old German Fischer-Tropsch process is used in South Africa to make hydrocarbon fuels from coal or natural gas (A plant in Qatar recently came on line and is converting natural gas to Diesel fuel). This process, which produced the bulk of Germany's liquid fuel requirement during world war two, is overlooked by America in the midst of a mad rush to ethanol in spite of the potential for Fischer-Tropfsch to replace all of the United States' imported petroleum using only its own plentiful coal supply. Ethanol can never perform this task using existing technology and available crop land. The administration's subsidy of ethanol has the unfortunate result of squeezing proven Fischer-Tropfsch technology out of the market in favor of a rival technology which competes with food production and has a negative economic impact.
Use the following energy tool to compare the energy contained in various fuels and to determine when the world will run out of oil (based on your own growth and resource assumptions..although the tool will generate a red box if you assume more than 3000 billion barrels of oil ever existed.)