I shot the following (without links) to the local paper. I got a phone call from them just now; they’re going to print it.
Hurricane Rita notwithstanding, it looks like refineries and pipelines are getting put back together and gas stations almost always have fuel to sell now. Things seem to be getting back to normal.
At least for now. The International Energy Agency, the official energy watchdog for Western nations, is now predicting non-OPEC oil production to peak in about 5 years. How much longer to OPEC’s peak is in question. By “peak oil,” the IEA means that those producers simply won’t be able to increase production anymore: there’s still oil in the ground, but we’ve nearly exhausted all the easily-extracted oil even when taking new discoveries and advances in technology into account. What oil is left will simply require more and more effort for less and less return.
Couple this fact (and even the big oil companies like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron admit it) with increased demand in Asia, as the economies of China and India expand, and we’re going to reach a point — probably sooner than peak oil — where demand grows beyond supply. Even the biggest fish in the pond, Saudi Arabia, is already nearly producing at maximum capacity, so saying “pump more oil” isn't going to do us any good. It will be obvious when we reach this point: we’ll see shortages and price spikes like the last three weeks, but they won’t go away. Ever.
We’ve built our whole lives around an assumption that we can simply drive anywhere we want, without worrying about the availability or price of fuel. Perhaps as early as next year, probably within five years, almost certainly within ten, that era will be over for good. Fortunately, we have some time to make some basic lifestyle changes and develop habits to help us cope. The aftermath of Katrina has shown that we can’t depend on our government to do much more than get in the way — it’s up to each of us to help ourselves, our family, and our neighbors deal with the coming changes.