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Why 'peak oil' may soon pique your interest

World oil production peaked in 2005, says one expert, and that presents serious problems in the future.

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Do a Google search of the Web on "global warming" and it calls up more than 80 million references. Search for "peak oil" and the number exceeds 10 million.

In two years or so, world concern over crude oils supplies should be so great that a Google search on that subject probably will top that of global warming, predicts Matthew Simmons, chairman of Houston-based Simmons & Company International, an investment banking firm for the energy industry.

Peak oil refers to the time when production of crude oil in the world (or in a country or in an oil field) reaches its peak and starts to slide. It doesn't mean the world has run out of oil – only that the supply of oil isn't rising to meet growing demand. That change could be reflected in even higher prices, if the demand for oil doesn't stall or fall.

Last Tuesday, the price of oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange set a record, rising as high as $78.40. That exceeded the previous high of $77.03 set in July 2006 at the onset of Israel's war in Lebanon.

The world output of oil actually already peaked in May 2005 at 74.2 million barrels a day, says Mr. Simmons. Since then, production has fallen about 1 million barrels a day (MB/D). If that trend continues, the results for the world economy will be "so real, so devastating" that peak oil concerns will overwhelm slower-moving global warming in grabbing world attention.

That's because today's civilization hangs heavily on an adequate supply of oil. It, for instance, fuels most vehicles, heats many homes and businesses, and is used in many chemicals and plastics. Oil and natural gas now meets some 60 percent of the world's primary energy needs.

Oil shortages, warns Simmons, could lead to war.

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