The Government Accountability Office released a report recently with a title that says it all: "Uncertainty about Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production."
Are you listening, Frank Busalacchi? Are you home, Gov. Doyle? Legislature?
Wisconsin continues to charge ahead with plans to encourage single-occupancy vehicle use while grossly underfunding mass transit. (Perhaps the guys and gals in Madison are confused about it all and think that they can offset declining oil reserves by increasing greenhouse gases.)
The GAO report says that "Most studies estimate that oil production will peak sometime between now and 2040," although there is a wide range of predictions.
Peak oil is the point at which oil production peaks because most major available reserves have been tapped. Peak oil doesn't mean an end to oil production, but it does signal declining and more expensive supplies.
Alternative energy sources are not a realistic option, at least in the short run. According to the report:
In the United States, alternative transportation technologies face challenges that could impede their ability to mitigate the consequences of a peak and decline in oil production, unless sufficient time and effort are brought to bear. For example:
• Ethanol from corn is more costly to produce than gasoline, in part because of the high cost of the corn feedstock. Even if ethanol were to become more cost-competitive with gasoline, it could not become widely available without costly investments in infrastructure, including pipelines, storage tanks, and filling stations.
• Advanced vehicle technologies that could increase mileage or use different fuels are generally more costly than conventional technologies and have not been widely adopted. For example, hybrid electric vehicles can cost from $2,000 to $3,500 more to purchase than comparable conventional vehicles and currently constitute about 1 percent of new vehicle registrations in the United States.
• Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are significantly more costly than conventional vehicles to produce. Specifically, the hydrogen fuel cell stack needed to power a vehicle currently costs about $35,000 to produce, in comparison with a conventional gas engine, which costs $2,000 to $3,000....
Because development and widespread adoption of technologies to displace oil will take time and effort, an imminent peak and sharp decline in oil production could have severe consequences....If the decline in oil production exceeded the ability of alternative technologies to displace oil, energy consumption would be constricted, and as consumers competed for increasingly scarce oil resources, oil prices would sharply increase. In this respect, the consequences could initially resemble those of past oil supply shocks, which have been associated with significant economic damage.
The federal government has to take the lead in developing the peak energy plan that GAO recommends. Locally, though, the governor and the Legislature need to be realistic about peak oil. It's coming. It may be in seven years, it may be in 20, but it's coming.
The more freeways our elected and appointed officials approve approve and the less transit they fund, the faster they will drive us there.