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Bartlett's Peak Oil Crusade

July 30, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

The House and Senate are spending all their time these days squabbling over whether or not to allow more oil drilling, but at least one member of Congress has been thinking way beyond the boundaries of the this debate for many years.

Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) is Congress’ leading proponent of peak oil theory. The basic ideas of peak oil are that the world’s supply of oil is finite, that at some point the rate of oil production will peak and enter terminal decline, and that when it does, oil prices will rise suddenly and exponentially, completely obliterating the economy. Nobody knows exactly when the point of peak oil will occur – based on a review of all the estimates, Bartlett believes it’s only a few years off – but it is something that must be acted on preemptively, perhaps decades in advance, in order to protect the economy.

“The market will, indeed, signal the arrival of peak oil,” Bartlett has said on the House floor. “To wait until it does, however, is like waiting until we see a tsunami: by then it may be too late to do anything.”

Since he first spoke about it in 2005, Bartlett has given about 48 hourlong floor speeches on the subject, often times to an empty chamber. The Politico recently ran a profile of Bartlett explaining his mission and the reception it gets from his colleagues in Congress:

>“They don’t particularly like what I say, and so they ignore me,” he concedes — but he continues to say it anyway. “This ‘drill here, drill more, pay less’ is a great mantra, and it’s hurting the Democrats. But you need to finish that: ‘And screw your kids and your grandkids,’ because that’s what we’re doing.”
>Bartlett backs up his talk with four reports paid for by the federal government on the consequences of peak oil. One of them, done by the Scientific Applications International Corp. in 2005, concludes that the “peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.”
>But it’ll take a crisis, Bartlett says, for Congress to move. “My hope is there’ll be a wake-up call, a teachable moment where not only is gas $5 a gallon but there isn’t any at the pump,” he says.

He has even introduced a non-binding resolution to Congress calling on the U.S. to “establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency of the `Man on the Moon’ project to develop a comprehensive plan to address the challenges presented by Peak Oil.”

You can watch one of his most recent talks before the House in seven parts on YouTube – just click “more info” in the information box for links to parts 2 – 6. In Part 3 he shows this chart that illustrate where we’re at with the world’s oil:

He explains: “If you had only one chart to look at, only one chart to use for informing yourself and talking about this subject, this would be the chart. This chart shows in the bars here going back as far as 1930 the discoveries of oil, and, boy, it was up and down. We found some big fields in some of these years, so we got some huge spikes. But notice the general trend of this. Since about 1970 it has been down, down, down, down, and that is in spite of evermore aggressive and better techniques for finding the oil.”

Interestingly, Bartlett has voted in lock step with Republicans in the House to block all energy legislation that does not open up more areas to drilling.

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