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Petroleum engineer to discuss peak production

As a high school student in Southern California in the late 1950s, Ted Bezzerides worked part time pumping gas.

"I remember s pilling some gas on the ground when it was 18 cents a gallon — the guy in the car was very unhappy," he said. "He accused me of spilling at least a dime's worth."

With gasoline hovering at around $3.50 a gallon today, Bezzerides, now a semiretired petroleum engineer living in Brookings, knows that a dime's worth of petrol wouldn't get you around the block.

He also knows that the world is nearing its peak oil period — when the maximum rate of global petroleum production has been reached and production begins to decline.

"It's in our country's best interest to become energy independent as fast as we can," he said, adding, "We have already reached peak oil production in the U.S."

Bezzerides, 67, who spent his career looking for oil in the states, will address peak oil production and energy needs Thursday evening in Medford.

The free presentation, sponsored by the Rogue Group Sierra Club, will be from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Jackson County Courthouse auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

After earning a master's degree in engineering from the University of Oregon in 1967, Bezzerides took a job with Shell Oil Corp. in New Orleans, eventually working in the Gulf Coast, Colorado, California and Texas. He later took a job with a company exploring for oil.

After more than 40 years as petroleum engineer, he began working as an energy consultant. He is still involved in some drilling projects, including in Eastern Washington.

Shortly before Bezzerides spilled the gas at the service station, Shell's chief geologist M. King Hubbert predicted the United States would reach peak oil production in 1970.

"He was spot on — it peaked in 1970," Bezzerides said.

While it took decades for oil production to reach current levels, the decline in production will likely be swifter, he predicted, noting the decline is not symmetrical with the increase.

"It tends to decline faster than it increases," he said of production. "There is a certain amount out there. And we use it a whole lot faster than it's being produced by Mother Nature. We also tend to go to the low-hanging fruit first."

There is no consensus among experts as to when global peak oil production will be reached, or whether it has already, he said.

"People who have gone out and looked at the earth, taking the same approach as Hubbert, say it may have happened on Thanksgiving of 2005," he said. "In 2006, we produced less than we did in 2005. Not a lot, but a little bit."

But the more optimistic experts believe the global oil peak won't be reached until about 2020, he added.

"Oil production is a function of geo-politics and consumption and supply," he said. "The thing we have to remember is that oil production is an equation. We produce what we consume. A relatively small amount is in storage or transit. We try not to spill a lot on the ground."

How far gas prices rise depends on how prepared the nation is as oil resources dry up, he said, noting that the nation should be pushing to achieve energy independence.

"What other choice do we have? Absolutely we can do it," he said, noting that alternative sources such as solar and wind would never tap out.

"And we probably will have to increase our percentage of energy we get from nuclear power," he said.

But it will take a concerted effort to achieve that independence from oil, he said, noting that vehicles powered by electricity or other sources can vastly reduce gas consumption.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.