So why is it so hard to discuss peak oil in today’s news stories? One of the main reasons may be mixed signals coming from the scientific and oil communities. At a London conference in October 2007, chief executives from Total SA and ConocoPhillips announced that they believe oil production cannot go above 100 million barrels per day because of supply and technology limitations. The former head of exploration and production for Saudi Arabia, Sadad Ibrahim Al Husseini, agreed with the industry executives. However, other industry leaders from BP and ExxonMobil Corp. continue to deny supply limits. Within the science community, controversy surrounds when we will hit peak oil and what production rates will be at the time.

What is a journalist supposed to do with such a topsy-turvy issue? How soon is too soon for the press to really dive into peak oil? Can we learn anything from how reporters handle other unsettled environmental issues, like the rising sea levels? Odland thinks so:

Peak oil is going to drive many of our economic choices and our foreign policy over the next few decades. Sure, much of last year’s price rise is due to monetary inflation and depreciation of the U.S. dollar. But it still comes down to too much money chasing a relatively fixed amount of yearly oil production.

The oil industry is a tough beat. In order to fully comprehend the story, it seems one must be an expert in economics, science, and international relations. Synthesizing all these relationships and explaining them to a general audience is a lot to ask. A couple of notable projects have accomplished this - in particular, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Crude Awakening series, which began in 2005. Still, peak oil is an extremely important piece of the modern oil story, and we need more journalists to sort through the competing claims and help us understand it.

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Katherine Bagley is a science, environment and health journalist based in New York City. She is currently working as a reporter for Audubon Magazine.