The Future of Oil: Professor Bruce Everett on the Prospects of Fossil Fuels in the 21st Century

Program News | Posted Nov 14, 2008

by Elyse Tyson

Fletcher International Business Professor Bruce Everett spoke to 30 Tufts and Fletcher students Thursday night on the prospects of fossil fuels in the 21st century. Everett, a Fletcher graduate and Fulbright scholar, has worked in the energy industry for almost 30 years, 22 of which were spent at ExxonMobil.

Everett began his presentation by clarifying the difference between resources and reserves, the former being the total amount of hydrocarbons in existence and the latter the hydrocarbons available for extraction with today’s technology and economics. Everett argued that the world has unlimited fossil fuel resources when natural gas, heavy oil, coal, shale and methane hydrates are taken into account. The cheapest resources are the reserves found in the big 5 oil producing countries of the Middle East, but, as technology improves, economically viable resources will become more evenly dispersed across the globe.

Given the current inadequacy of alternative fuel technologies, Everett contended that constraining fossil fuel use in the US would only limit economic growth, restrict mobility and eventually enable China to gain global primacy. Everett warned that government intervention in oil pricing is ultimately detrimental as innovation only occurs when consumers feel price signals. He also warned that it is far too soon to pick winners – the game changing technology will likely come out of left field.
Everett closed his frank discussion with advice for students looking to enter the energy industry after graduation: while oil and natural gas are mature industries, the electric power industry is about to undergo significant reorganization and growth. Despite the technological challenges that must be overcome, Everett predicts that “the transformations in [our] lifetime will be radical.”

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