The problem isn't that our oil reserves will run out one day because demand will outstrip supply. The problem is that soon we won't actually be using enough of the stuff. And this could have geopolitical implications for the relationship between Russia and the United States, as well as for the internal security of some Gulf States. This is the gist of a leader in the current edition of the Economist which says that oil consumption could be nearing its peak.
Firstly, there is fracking which is revolutionizing the way gas can be extracted from the earth. Shale gas, says the Economist, can be used to power trucks and ships and also employed in heating systems. Secondly, ongoing innovation in the design of the internal combustion engine and in the materials used to manufacture cars is combining to improve fuel efficiency generally.
And even in China, second only to the U.S. in its appetite for oil, the government has imposed tougher fuel efficiency standards on motor vehicles. The paper writes that if the Chinese government decides to reduce its reliance on imported oil still further by gearing its transportation system to hybrids, demand for oil will come under even more pressure.
In the medium term, the shale gas revolution in the US could undermine Russia's political influence in Europe, dependent as this is on the country's massive oil and gas exports. And America's new status as a major gas exporter could lead to even more tension between these two countries.
In addition, diminishing oil income for the Gulf States could make it increasingly difficult for them to keep the lid on simmering social unrest. On top of this, says the Economist, America's drive towards "shale-powered energy self-sufficiency" might spell the end of the unconditional support it has given to some of its Arab allies.
Should we be worried by these scenarios?
Category: Sustainable energy: Nuclear