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Experts Worry That World Oil Production May Soon Peak

Energy experts from around the world have gathered in Houston for a three-day conference on the issue of peak oil, which involves predictions that world oil production will soon reach its peak and then go into decline. This could cause a global economic crisis since demand for energy is not expected to slow, but, in fact, is expanding rapidly. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Houston.

The proponents of the peak oil theory rely on data from existing oil fields around the world that show weakening production in many of the richest fields and increasing difficulty in extracting oil from newer fields. Oil companies, both national and private, tend to dismiss such concerns by citing the size of their reserves and the new technology that allows them to produce oil from areas that would have been bypassed a few decades ago.

But the peak oil theory believers include some of the world's most respected engineers and economists, many of whom have years of experience working in the oil and gas industry. Some of them go so far as to say the world may have already peaked in its oil production and that production will soon go into a steep decline.

What makes this especially worrisome is that demand is going in the other direction. Matt Simmons, an oil industry analyst based here in Houston, is one of the best known advocates of the peak oil idea. He notes that demand for oil on a worldwide basis has grown from ten million barrels a day in 1950 to an estimated 88 million barrels a day projected for next year. He says demand will grow even more in the decades ahead.

"Almost all the long-term forecasts look out to 2020 and then 2030 and see a world that is going to need 115 to 120 million barrels a day of oil by 2020 and 120 to 130 by 2030," said Matt Simmons.

But Simmons says even those predictions may not fully capture the danger ahead. He notes that the fast-growing economies of India and China have reached only one third of Mexico's per-capita consumption of oil. If they were to reach Mexico's level of use, the world would require an additional 45 million barrels a day in output.

"I happen to think that this issue will soon overwhelm global warming as the single biggest threat to sustaining the 21st century," he said. "But I am amazed that it still lurks in the shadows and amazed at the debate as to whether it is even a real issue."

Simmons says steps should be taken now to reduce demand and to develop alternative fuels.

Among other participants in this week's conference here in Houston are famed Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens, Chris Skrebowski of the Energy Institute in London, David Hughes of the Geological Survey of Canada and a number of academics and independent energy analysts. The conference will conclude with panel discussions on Saturday.