The World Energy Outlook

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The World Energy Outlook for 2012 was released in early November. It is considered the most comprehensive document reporting on global energy investment trends and is widely followed.

In last year’s report, the claim was made that the world will need the equivalent of four times the reserves of Saudi Arabia over the next 20 years to keep up with an expected growth in demand for oil.

In the 2012 report, it was predicted that the United States would become the world’s leading oil producer by 2020.

The re-emergence of the U.S. as a leading oil producer is seen as reducing our reliance on imported energy and providing an economic stimulus and expanded job opportunities.

Since oil is traded globally, the price of gasoline is not expected to drop significantly. There is no assurance the increased supplies will be consumed domestically.

As Michael Klare reports, the emergence of the United States as a leading producer was widely hailed in the United States, but obscures the fact that production by the former leading producers — Saudi Arabia and Russia — is predicted to drop by 2020, contributing to America’s rising oil prominence. To make up for the lost production, new supplies will have to be secured, but uncertainty exists as to the source of the needed oil.

Today’s energy actions have long-term negative impacts that have yet to be adequately addressed. Although industry interests claim they can extract fossil fuels in an environmentally safe manner, experience indicates they often fail to meet that goal.

As we pursue the continuous expansion of fossil fuel consumption, we lock the economy into a carbon-based infrastructure that has been described as destabilizing the climate and leaving a legacy of widespread environmental damage.

The expansion of oil and gas production in the United States increases our environmental risks. Fracking shale for oil and gas adversely affects America’s water supplies. Securing oil supplies in the Arctic runs the risk of a major oil spill, whose adverse impacts are expected to be long lasting. The BP disaster in the Gulf is the most recent reminder of what can and does go wrong.

Increased use of natural gas to generate electricity has reduced coal-fueled generation, but global consumption of coal continues to rise, and the United States continues to ship more coal to global markets.

No matter where the fossil fuels are burned, their combustion contributes to global warming. The events experienced this year fit well with predicted impacts from computer projections of global warming. The extensive summer drought, which ruined crops in the Midwest, and the widespread damage from Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast are vivid examples of some of the predicted consequences of rising levels of carbon releases.

Rather than expanding the infrastructure to increase coal, oil and gas consumption, we should be building the new energy infrastructure and encouraging widespread behavioral changes consistent with a sustainable future. We know what needs to be done and how to do it. While appropriate local examples exist, they fall far short of what is needed.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the Dec. 12-18, 2012, issue

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