Guest Column: Where is the media: The problem of rising energy costs, temporary problem or permanent trend?

Dear Absent Media,

Throughout the last century, modern civilization has experienced unprecedented growth. This growth has allowed us to become the prosperous country that we are today. This growth has propelled the human population from a mere 2 billion to a fast-approaching 7 billion. There is only one cause for such rapid growth, oil or fossil energies (coal, natural gas, crude oil, oil shale). Many Americans only correlate fossil fuels with transportation, which, unfortunately, is only the tip of the iceberg. The things in our daily lives that allow us a utopian lifestyle are mainly derivatives of fossil fuels, otherwise know as petrol-chemicals. These petrol-chemicals allow us to do a variety of things that go beyond the scope of transportation, for example:

1. All plastics, rubbers, enamels, paints and Adhesives, are derived from massive amounts of petrol-chemical feed stocks.

2. The pesticides and fertilizers that we use to sustain superior crop yields are derivatives of petrol-chemicals.

3. Each calorie of food that you ingest, takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to get to your mouth1. (i.e., harvesting, plastic packaging, etc..)

4. Construction of buildings and roads: The average house that is built requires thousands of gallons of gasoline to build (i.e., mining, material manufacturing, transportation & machinery usage), the average car requires neary 100 barrels of oil2.

The list goes on, so as you can see, the culture we have developed over the last 100 years is severely dependent on finite fossil fuel energy. Many remain complacent to the peak oil problem with the belief that hydrogen, ethanol, or bio-fuels combined with some dirty alternatives like tar sands, oil shale, coal-to-liquid, and coal gasification will save us from an energy crisis. Unfortunately, most of these technologies still require an abundant amount of energy input to utilize—EROEI-ENERGY RETURN ON ENERGY INVESTED—generating zero net energy—functioning more like energy carriers than producers.3 Conventional crude oil has energy density that is far superior to any energy alternative, requiring only a fraction of energy input for substantial energy output. The so-called “Hydrogen Economy” would be virtually impossible to compensate for oil, due to hydrogen being an energy carrier, not an energy producer. Meaning it takes more energy (electricity & natural gas, which we are currently lacking in spare capacity) to produce hydrogen than is actually given. Additionally, hydrogen cannot fill the demand for pesticides and plastics that we rely on so heavily.

There is good news, though; physicists, geologists and energy investors from around the world are beginning to come to terms with the approaching energy crunch. There is speculation that the world’s global oil production per day may not be capable of growing beyond 90 million barrels (more then 1,000 barrels a second).4 Currently, the global appetite for oil is approximately 84 million barrels per day, with the United States consuming 20.5 million barrels of that allotment.5 An authoritative report funded by the U.S. Department of Energy speaks of significant economic risk tied to a peaking of world oil production.6 Given the potentially powerful financial impact on the United States, we will need proactive responses, and we’ll need them soon.

Throughout the last year, I have done extensive research about this compelling topic. Through this research, I have ascertained vital information pertaining to the economic repercussions a decline in oil will have on America. There is certainly not an argument of if PEAK oil will happen but merely a question of when PEAK oil will happen and what to do to mitigate the transition. One of the first pioneers of the peak oil concept was Dr. M. King Hubbert, well known as geophysist and a world authority on the estimation of energy resources and on the prediction of their patterns of discovery and depletion.He predicted in 1956 that U.S.oil production would peak in about 1970 and decline thereafter. He was ridiculed then but his analysis has since proved to be remarkably accurate7. America did indeed peak as an oil providence in 1970 since then, we have relied more and more on foreign oil imports to satisfy our addiction.

We have created a whole nation of suburban sprawl, completely and utterly dependent on a resource that is certainly finite. Through our cheap oil behavior we have given up traditional civic relationships that once existed in traditional American towns and cities (to save $2 at Wal-Mart). Throughout my research on this topic, it has become clear that we Americans must stand up and start asking questions, before jumping into alternatives that we know nothing about. The media will play a big role on lifestyle changes, possibly more than our government. The American population needs to be woken up, and quick. Otherwise we are sleepwalking into rough waters. We must plan for the next generation!


1 Greene, Gregory & Silverthorn, Barry. ‘THE END OF SUBURBIA: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream”, Award Winning Documentary. Located online at,

2 Ibid

3 Energy Returned on Energy Invested. Accessed online Feb. 16, 2006, at

4 Tertzakian, Peter. “A Thousand Barrels a Second”. Accessed online Feb. 16, 2006, at

5 Energy Information Agency. Accessed online Feb. 16, 2006, at

6 Hirsch, Robert L.. “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management”. Accessed online Feb. 16, 2006, at

7 Hubebrt, M. King. The Coming Global Oil Crisis. Accessed online Feb. 16, 2006, at

For additional questions, please contact me at: (815) 505-4517 or

Matthew E. Coyle is a Northern Illinois University, industrial technology undergraduate.

From the March 22-28, 2006, issue

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