|For once, Exxon Mobil (XOM) and its green counterparts appear to be on the same page. Both envision a U.S. that uses less energy in the future, although Exxon's estimates may be a bit more conservative and oily than advocates would hope.
The company is now predicting a 5% drop in U.S. energy usage by 2040 and says increased vehicle fuel efficiency should drive the decline. At the same time, Exxon posits that rising reliance on natural gas and renewable energy resources like wind will reduce carbon emissions 25% during that span. By 2040, emissions should be at their lowest level since the 1970s.
However, the energy giant also assumes that North American oil and natural gas production will rise 45% over the same span and turn North America into a net energy exporter by 2025. Now, before Americans get all Gus Van Zant about the impact of "fracking" used to extract natural gas, the U.S. should calm down and understand that it may not even be the country leading North America's energy charge.
Sure, Exxon is eying the Gulf of Mexico for increased drilling, but it's those Canadian oil sands in Alberta that are making the "peak oil" folks revise their numbers a bit. Back in 2005, Exxon Mobil itself admitted that "all the easy oil and gas in the world has pretty much been found." The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas agrees that discovery of new oil is decreasing, but oil companies note that it's conventional oil that's getting hard to find. "Unconventional" oil, like that found in oil sands or oil shales that takes a whole lot more effort to extract, is actually getting more common.
For example, the Bakken shale formation sitting beneath North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba has been estimated to contain anywhere from 4 billion to 150 billion barrels of oil (although current extraction methods provide access to less than 10% of it). And oil sands just beneath Edmonton in Alberta hold an estimated 175 billion barrels, making it the third-largest oil reserve in the world.
Right now, all of that energy is pretty tough to extract, which makes it really costly once it does reach the market. If Exxon is banking on it to bolster future supplies, however, that 5% cutback in U.S. energy use may underestimate the frugal nature of the cash-strapped American consumer.