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Oil-supply crisis is inevitable, but when?

Professor: Tipping point in November

VIENNA -- World oil production will peak someday, and supplies will start running out. But when will the tipping point come -- in years, decades, or months?

The oil industry says crude will be plentiful for at least another generation. But some experts argue that reserves are overstated, oil technologies are limited, and demand -- boosted sharply by the needs of China and India -- could soon outpace supply.

European Union finance ministers are asking the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to ramp up production when the Saudi-led cartel meets Sept. 19.

Skeptics say that won't work.

''World oil production is going to peak on American Thanksgiving, with a three-week period of uncertainty on each side," said Princeton professor, geologist and oil maverick Kenneth S. Deffeyes.

Once supply begins to dwindle, the years to follow will see shortages that at best will cause ''global recession, possibly worse than the 1930s Great Depression," Deffeyes said. At worst, he warns of ''war, famine, pestilence and death."

His prediction is clearly controversial. Still, dozens of energy experts and academics say his arguments have merit.

With supply already barely matching demand and prices high, Chevron has begun running ads declaring, ''The era of easy oil is over." But oil companies and governments are betting -- at least in public -- that new discoveries and technology will keep the world supplied for at least the next generation. And there are those who would welcome the tipping point, believing the psychological impact would push the world into a serious drive to wean itself off oil.

The US Geological Survey has predicted that a peak in recoverable oil production won't come until 2037.

Yesterday, oil fell to $64.75 a barrel, as dealers saw mounting evidence of eroding fuel demand.

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