This Oil Drum post goes a long way toward explaining why oil prices have risen so sharply over the last couple of years. According to international oil agencies, global oil production has been fairly flat since the middle of 2004, even as economic growth around the globe has boosted demand. The chart below, derived from U.S. Energy Information Administration figures, shows OPEC production only, but world figures are much the same.

"The Oil Drum" OPEC oil production

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Of course, the global petroleum system is so huge, and some production poorly enough tracked, that there’s a lot of uncertainty in the graph above. But it’s hard to escape the notion that high prices are being caused by actual global supply limitations, not by oil-company malfeasance or somesuch.

The potential that we’re nearing some sort of production peak or plateau is something state and provincial transportation agencies, in particular, aren’t facing squarely. There’s still a presumption out there, even in the supposedly eco-friendly Pacific Northwest, that the big highway projects deemed smart in the 1950s will remain smart through 2050 — a presumption that’s harder and harder to justify.

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