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Energy expert: World will ‘never run out of oil’

A leading energy analyst believes the world has an endless supply of oil.

Speaking at the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association Oilfield Trucking Convention in Dickinson on Tuesday, Southern Methodist University professor Bernard Weinstein said with advances in technology, fossil fuels may never run dry.

“We’ll never run out of oil,” said Weinstein following an hour-long presentation before an audience of about 70 at the Astoria Hotel & Event Center. “There are five factors that go into the amount of oil that’s available: geology, technology, price, capital and policy. Forever is a long, long time, but producing from shale is not like wildcatting. Shale plays are more like manufacturing plays because you’re not really dealing with dry holes. We don’t really know how much shale oil and gas is recoverable because the numbers keep going up.”

A retired part-time professor, Weinstein serves as the associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute, which operates in conjunction with the Dallas university’s Cox School of Business.

“Will we ever have a peak shale level?” Weinstein asked. “I don’t know. There very well could be but by the time that happens, we’re going to have fusion or something else in the place of fossil fuels. A hundred years from now, we probably won’t be using much in the way of fossil fuels. Certainly for the next century, we have plenty of fossil fuels around the world under any scenario.”

Visiting North Dakota and its booming Bakken shale play for the first time, Weinstein said the state is playing a key role in the U.S. becoming a global “energy superpower,” largely because of a number of thriving shale oil and gas plays.

“North Dakota is the No. 2 oil-producing state in the U.S.,” Weinstein said. “It passed Alaska last year, which is just amazing. This is a state that’s approaching 1 million barrels per day. At that number, that would probably put (North Dakota) in the top 20 in the world. Sure, (North Dakota) is important — it’s an important supplier and an important beneficiary.”

Also an economist and energy news contributor to a handful of national publications and television news outlets, as well as a Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute, Weinstein said environmentalists pose a significant threat to energy development and criticized the Obama Administration for not approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

“The Keystone XL should have been approved five years ago,” Weinstein said. “The Keystone XL is very important for the Bakken and the Williston Basin. Although it’s designed to bring oil from the heavy oil sands of Alberta, it will also cut across parts of the Williston Basin (and gather) produced here and bring it down to the refineries in Texas or over in Illinois. The president has been waffling on this because the environmentalists don’t like it.”

When asked, Weinstein said although he thought passage of the Keystone XL was likely two years ago, he views its ultimate approval as a “toss up” and said he doesn’t expect Obama to make any decision before the 2014 elections.

Though Weinstein said he believes the Earth’s climate is constantly changing, he’s not ready to take a position on global warming, which is a key sticking point of those who are advocating for more renewable energy sources and less reliance on fossil fuels.

“I don’t know if hydrocarbons are bad or not,” Weinstein said. “It doesn’t strike me as unreasonable to argue that human activity contributes to climate change. But I’m kind of agnostic as to how big of a factor it is. But let’s assume (hydrocarbons) are bad — we’re already reducing carbon emissions. They’re lower today than they were 20 years ago, not because of the EPA, but because we’ve been substituting gas for coal and because we’ve been using all fuels more efficiently. I would argue we’ve done more than our fair share to combat emissions that may or may not lead to global warming.”

As broad-range energy sources go, Weinstein said coal is probably on its way out as a major energy source and that renewable energy is an important piece of the pie, but not “base load,” or main, sources. He added that he has believed for years that nuclear energy is the best source of energy in the world, all drawbacks considered.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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