2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 3:30 PM


FINLEY, Robert J., Illinois State Geol Survey, 615 E Peabody Dr, Champaign, IL 61820-6918, finley@isgs.uiuc.edu

Non-renewability of the fossil fuels that have powered world economic development over the last 150 years leads to pressing technical, environmental, and policy issues with respect to their continued use. Especially for oil, concerns arise regarding growth in demand in the developing world and the resulting duration of supply (and levels of price) in a global market. Natural gas has growing prospects for use based on the greater potential of gas resource development, but its current limited adaptability to transportation uses and distribution infrastructure requirements are impediments to oil-natural gas substitution. Coal combustion for electric generation raises concerns over multiple types of emissions and global climate change, but coal gasification with carbon dioxide sequestration is an alternative. How quickly we creatively address fossil fuel depletion is a function of economics, policy, and technologies for use of the specific fuel.

Predicting that depletion brings up the question of accuracy of resource assessments, especially for oil, whose proved reserve base is the smallest in terms of years of future consumption. In 2003, oil represented 42.5 percent of world fossil fuel usage. Global dependency, the concentration of conventional oil supplies in politically unstable regions, and limited ability to substitute other fuels in near-term transportation applications thus represent potential societal vulnerabilities. Predictions of peak oil deliverability in this decade and post-9/11 political realities increase concerns. However, other views, based on refined resource assessment methodologies and the development potential of mature petroleum provinces, suggest that we may yet be several decades away from resource constraints on deliverability of conventional oil. Conservation, efficiency gains, unconventional oil resource development, natural gas-to-liquids, and coal conversion may further add to our time frame for developing significant alternatives to fossil fuels.