How Much Oil in Earth, Newscaster Quirks

Hey, Matt: There must be an end to the earth’s supply of oil. Has anyone predicted when that will happen? — Just Wondering, via email

By now you must recognize the background music to this week’s puzzler. Hear it? The sharp tones of science guys arguing. They do agree that dead dinos and such created our oil reserves hundreds of millions of years ago. It apparently took 10 million years to create that oil. They do agree we’re not likely to have another dino invasion; ergo, gas and oil are not renewable. What we got is what we got, and eventually we’ll have none. They mostly agree the world uses 84 million gallons of crude oil a day; the U.S. uses 25 percent of that. But that about ends it.

Despite advances in oil-finding technology, we basically have no real idea of how much oil and gas is hidden in Earth’s mantle. We don’t even have a precise measure of the size of the reserves that are presently being pumped. Back in the 1950s, a Shell Oil technician developed what’s now known as the Hubbert Curve, based on the pumping history of depleted oil wells. He claimed it can predict the point at which a well stops giving up the easy-to-get-at crude (“peak oil”) and production declines, then stops. Applying Hubbert’s Curve to present-day wells, believers in the truth of the Curve estimate that we might be out of oil and gas between 2050 and 2100, assuming usage continues its 1–2 percent annual increase. U.S. estimators say our peak oil came in the 1970s; the big ole North Sea peak oil came in 1999.

Big-oil bully BP once estimated that the earth holds a total of 1.23 trillion barrels of oil, with our gas gauges hitting empty in 2040. The U.S. Geologic Survey in 2000 offered the more optimistic 3 trillion barrels worldwide. But no matter which estimates you believe, they all fall within the next 100 years. But again, we can’t actually see the reserves, so we don’t really know.

An extension of your question should be, how much are we willing to pay for oil? Considering how crucial oil is to the world’s economy, it’s relatively cheap. But once the “easy” oil has been pumped, the rest requires more effort and more $$$. Have we found all the “easy” wells? Science guys agree that the future of oil will rely more and more on difficult and expensive locating, pumping, and processing methods — deep-sea, oil sands, the ecologically nightmarish oil shale...

Matt: Two questions about local newscasters: (1) When they speak about current weather conditions, WHY have they started comparing them to “where we SHOULD be”? How can “should” enter into a discussion about weather conditions? Who decided what our weather “should” be? Perhaps they mean to compare current conditions to what has been AVERAGE OR STANDARD over a period of years? If so, why don’t they say so? (2) Why do they start nearly every dialog with the word “And”? SO DARN ANNOYING! I listen to Channel 10 news in the morning when getting ready for work (but I hear it on ALL the stations), and not only do the newscasters and weather forecasters do it, but they’ve got their CHP road conditions guy doing it too? I find it tremendously boring, repetitive, uncreative, unnecessary, a grammatical mess, and WEIRD!!! AND — PLEASE RESPOND — I don’t know who else to write to — the TV stations don’t respond. — DM, via email

They didn’t respond? You’re surprised? We once tackled a similar newscaster question having to do with the expression “when something went terribly wrong.” You know, like, “Sam was washing his cat when something went terribly wrong.” “Ben was evening up his sideburns when something went terribly wrong.” I guess I answered the question because I’d noticed the same annoying thing. Less than a week later, I was idly watching the news when I heard a ’caster launch into a story with, “Mr. Sutton was simply driving to day-care to pick up his child, when some — uh, when this incident occurred.” I was thrilled! I took full credit for stopping one more script-reader from saying that dry, old phrase. Did someone post my column on the bulletin board in the newspeople’s breakroom? Anyway, I still take full credit for that.

As for your annoyances, remember weathergangs and highway patrollers have only a minute or two to make their point. Can’t go into long explanations each time they put up a number. Somehow the shorthand for “based on the averages calculated from historical temperature/rain/whatever data, this is where we should be” has become “where we should be.” Live with it. Weatherbeings’ vocabularies are actually fairly limited to quasi-techie talk, the same stuff over and over. The nature of the job. Speech habits flourish in this environment. As for “and”? Years ago it was verboten to begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” But (got that?) these days even stuffy old newspapers have dropped the convention and begin sentences willy-nilly.

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It's 84 million barrels, not 84 million gallons.

The man is right. Proofreader elves on restriction. No pie for them.

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