uncle-sam-oilThe United States Joint Forces Command goes by the slogan “Ready for today. Preparing for tomorrow”.

But the military planners are certainly getting worried about tomorrow.

They argue that “Fossil fuels will very likely remain the predominant energy source going forward,” but then warn that “a severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity.”

The US Joint Forces Command’s report called the Joint Operating Environment, argues that to meet conservative growth scenarios, global energy production needs to rise by 1.3% per year.

By the 2030s, demand is estimated to be nearly 50% greater than today. To meet that demand, even assuming more effective conservation measures, the world would need to add roughly the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s current energy production every seven years. But this is not going to happen.

Even assuming the most optimistic scenario for improved petroleum production through enhanced recovery means, the development of non-conventional oils (such as oil shales or tar sands) and new discoveries, the military planners argue that “ petroleum production will be hard pressed to meet the expected future demand of 118 million barrels per day.”

Therefore by as early as “2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels a day”.

The military have looked around at what they see will fill the shortfall and they are left scratching their heads:

For non-OPEC oil they argue that new sources (Caspian Sea, Brazil, Colombia, and new portions of Alaska and the Continental shelf) could offset declining production in mature fields over the course of the next quarter century. However, “without drilling in currently excluded areas, they will add little additional capacity.”

The planners also argue that the tar sands may not make up the shortfall, due to “legal constraints”. They say: “Production of liquid fuels from oil sands could increase from 1MBD to over 4 MBD, but legal constraints may discourage investment.”

Water will also become an issue: “the diversion of already scarce water resources needed to extract energy from these formations will further limit supplies for agriculture and other human purposes.”

The gas situation is not much better, especially for Europe. “Europe relies on Russia for one third of its natural gas imports.”

They continue: “Uncertainty about Russia as a reliable supplier will encourage Europe to diversify sources of supply and support the construction of pipelines to access Central Asian gas reserves.”

Biofuels won’t step up to the plate as they are “unlikely to contribute more than 1% of global energy requirements by the 2030s, however even “that modest achievement could curtail the supply of foodstuffs to the world’s growing population”

Nor will renewables, they argue: “Wind and Solar combined are unlikely to account for more than 1% of global energy by 2030.”

Predictably they argue that nuclear “offers one of the more promising technological possibilities”, although they do note that “the expansion of nuclear plants faces considerable opposition because of public fears, while the disposal of nuclear waste remains politically controversial.”

But even if these fears are overcome “ their construction in substantial numbers will take decades.”

Even OPEC will not cut the mustard. “OPEC will have to increase its output from 30 MBD to at least 50 MBD. Significantly, no OPEC nation, except perhaps Saudi Arabia, is investing sufficient sums in new technologies and recovery methods to achieve such growth.

No wonder they end with a gloom and doom message.

The forced economic slow-down “would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment.”

They finish by stating that “One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.”


  • I was the first Air Force public affairs officer assigned to temporary duty (three months in my case) to a joint forces operation known as ELF-One (European Liaison Force) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the early 80s. I was stationed at Tinker AFB, Okla., at the time, with the AWACS unit there. The mission of ELF-One was to patrol northern Saudi Arabia with e-3 AWACS aircraft, watching for potential enemy aircraft from the oil-rich countries to the north. Anyway, ELF-One was all about protecting the Saudi oil fields. Period.

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