http://www.sina.com.cn 2008年01月08日 10:11
New Year' eve has been and gone, but for oilmen, the party continues. On January 2nd, the first business day of the year, the price of their product topped $100 a barrel for the first time. Oil is now almost five times more expensive than it was at the beginning of 2002.
It would be natural to assume that ever increasing price reflects ever greater scarcity. And so it does, in a sense. Booming bits of the world, such as China, India and the Middle East have seen demand for oil grow with their economies. Meanwhile, Western oil firms, in particular, are struggling to produce any more of the stuff than they did two or three years ago. That has left little spare production capacity and, in America at least, dwindling stocks. Every time a tempest brews in the Gulf of Mexico or dark clouds appear on the political horizon in the Middle East, jittery markets have pushed prices higher. This week, it was a cold snap in America and turmoil in Nigeria that helped the price reach three figures.
No wonder, then, that the phrase “peak oil” has been gaining ground even faster than the oil price. With each extra dollar, the conviction grows that the planet has been wrung dry and will never be able to satisfy the thirst of a busy world.
Yet the fact that not enough oil is coming out of the ground does not mean not enough of it is there. There are many other explanations. For one thing, oil producers have tied their own hands. During the 1980s and 1990s, when the price was low and so were profits, they pared back hiring and investment to a minimum. Many ancillary firms that built rigs or collected seismic data shut up shop. Now oil firms want to increase their output again, they do not have the staff or equipment they need.
Worse, nowadays, new oil tends to be found in relatively inaccessible spots or in more unwieldy forms. That adds to the cost of extracting oil, because more engineers and more complex machinery are needed to exploit it—but the end of easy oil is a far remove from the jeremiads of peak-oilers. The gooey tar-sands of Canada contain almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia. Eventually, universities will churn out more geologists and shipyards more offshore platforms, though it will take a long time to make up for two decades of underinvestment.
The biggest impediment is political. Governments in almost all oil-rich countries, from Ecuador to Kazakhstan, are trying to win a greater share of the industry's bumper profits. The world is facing not peak oil, but a pinnacle of nationalism.