31 July 2006

We're at one of those turning points where the future's looking so ugly nobody wants to face it

This excellent in-depth Chicago Tribune series on America's oil addiction is a must-read. Definitely, a piece of journalism work not in the spirit of sound bite journalism. You might need to knock off from work to complete reading it…

Here's a snippet from Part 1:

By now, most Americans realize that something is profoundly awry in the global oil patch.

For the majority of motorists, like the "swipe and go" customers at the South Elgin Marathon, the evidence is painfully obvious: record-high fuel costs that have surpassed last year's infamous price spikes following Hurricane Katrina.

Yet to truly grasp the scope of the crisis looming before them, Americans must retrace their seemingly ordinary tankful of gasoline back to its shadowy sources. This is, in effect, a journey into the heart of America's vast and troubled oil dependency. And what it exposes is a globe-spanning energy network that today is so fragile, so beholden to hostile powers and so clearly unsustainable, that our car-centered lifestyle seems more at risk than ever.

Some other factoids in the article series:

  • In 1940, the United States was the Saudi Arabia of the world. It produced 63 percent of the planet's oil. Today, after years of frenzied pumping, it generates 8 percent.

  • The United States gulps a quarter of the crude pumped on the planet, industry critics point out, yet it sits atop just 3 percent of the globe's reserves. No amount of new drilling will change this. The awesome and costly platforms that stride ever-deeper into gulf waters are symbols of a junkie's desperation, they say, not hope.

  • In its 2005 annual report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says that 58 percent of all the petroleum burned in the United States now comes from abroad. That stark dependency on outsiders, analysts say, will grow even if the last pockets of oil in America are drilled.

  • By 2015, oil experts say, African states will supply a quarter of all U.S. imports, up from 15 percent today.

  • According to the World Bank, 80 percent of Nigeria's staggering $340 billion in oil revenue has been pocketed by 1 percent of the population--a cast of thugs who include the world's most venal politicians and generals.

  • The actual cost of gasoline refined from imported oil — eight dollars a gallon, isolated to the hidden costs of Middle Eastern crude in particular, the price jumps to $11. Consumers don't dodge the bill for all these masked expenditures. Instead, they pay for them indirectly, through higher taxes, or by saddling their children and grandchildren with a ballooning national debt--one that's increasingly financed by foreigners.

  • Iraqi output still sags far below prewar levels despite a recent allocation of $1.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer money to patch up Iraq's decrepit oil fields. The interfactional fighting over oil is getting worse, not better.

  • Roughly half of Venezeula's government budget is funded by sales to the U.S.

Meanwhile, oil companies are enjoying record profits.

Remember, our way of life unravels when trucks don't move and computers cannot function.


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