CHALLENGES

Have we reached "peak oil", the time when petroleum production starts to decline due to diminishing resources?  If not, when is that likely to happen?  When peak oil does occur, how will we meet the demand for oil or an oil substitute?


The massive use of petroleum is one of the principal sources for greenhouse gases, chemicals substantially responsible for global warming.  How much is the use of petroleum harming the planet, and what can be done to decrease its damaging effects?

Oil, more than any other single commodity, drives foreign and, to a considerable extent, domestic politics and policy. The dependency of oil importing countries on the production stability of oil exporting countries reaches into every aspect of the modern global economy.

Oil sand fields in Canada are potentially vast sources for petroleum. The USA imports more oil from Canada than from any other country, and a large portion of that imported oil is from Canadian oil sands. Examine here the potential and the controversies regarding this unconventional but abundant source of energy.

This controversial pipeline would carry synthetic crude petroleum from the oilsands areas of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the USA. Resistance from environmental groups has delayed federal approval of the project.

Petroleum
The Dilemma

The importance of petroleum in modern civilization presents the world with a dilemma.


On one hand, we have come to rely on large, consistent, instantly available supplies of fuel derived from petroleum for almost all our cars, trucks, trains, boats and airplanes. Many homes use oil for heating, and we use petroleum-based chemicals to produce many of the products of our daily life, from our home furnishings to the clothes on our backs. In addition, economic growth in more countries around the world is demanding more petroleum, driving oil prices higher.

 

At the same time, we in the U.S. have been faced for several decades with a disconcerting dependence on foreign sources for oil. We have an increasing understanding that potentially harmful global climate change could result from our massive use of petroleum. And we know that petroleum is finite as a resource. It will eventually have to be replaced by other sources of energy, possibly at considerably higher cost than we are paying today and perhaps sooner than we like to think.

 

Given our current petroleum predicament, how do we successfully transition to cleaner, sustainable fuel(s)?

Know which countries are the top 15 oil-producers now? This CNBC slideshow may surprise you.

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