Transportation Chief Says Oil Supply ‘Unlimited’

February 1, 2012

By Kristine Hadeed and Jalisa House, VCU InSight
and Claire Porter, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In remarks that raised some eyebrows in the audience, the nation’s top transportation official said this week that there is an “unlimited supply of oil” in parts of the world.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made that statement Wednesday at Virginia Commonwealth University at the end of a town hall meeting attended by about 75 students, staff and faculty members.

In the last question of the hour-long meeting, Vicente Gonzalez, a junior majoring in social justice at VCU, asked LaHood about a previous statement he made regarding future standards for automobile efficiency.

“I was wondering,” Gonzalez said, “you said that by 2025, the deal is to have 50 mile-per-gallon [vehicles]?”

“Fifty-four, yeah,” LaHood said.

“Well,” Gonzalez asked, “if we’re expected to exhaust all the world’s oil reserves within the next 25, 30-ish years, then why is gasoline being discussed in these negotiations at all?”

LaHood responded, “There’s an unlimited supply of oil in many countries around the world.”

(Note: HD video on YouTube below. Media outlets wanting original HD video for broadcast [NTSC, 1440x1080, .mp4 HQ] contact Dr. Tim Bajkiewicz, tbajkiewicz [at] vcu.edu.)

Gonzalez questioned that, saying, “Unlimited?”

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” LaHood replied. “Now, some of these countries aren’t our friends, others are.”

As the audience chuckled, Gonzalez said, “So you’re saying the supply of gasoline will never end? That it’s unlimited?”

LaHood pointed at Gonzalez and said: “Not in your lifetime. Not in my lifetime. How else do you want me to say it? … We’re not going to run out of gas, we’re not going to run out of oil for a long, long, long time. Many countries have an unlimited supply.”

LaHood’s comments appear to contradict statements by President Barack Obama about the world’s oil supply. Obama has repeatedly called oil a “finite resource” in urging America to shift from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources.

In a recent article in the journal Nature, James Murray and David King wrote that global oil production has hit a ceiling and that, “We are not running out of oil, but we are running out of oil that can be produced easily and cheaply.”

The transportation secretary, a former congressman from Illinois, came to VCU to hold a town hall meeting the day after Obama gave his State of the Union speech.

While in Richmond, he met with local and state officials and reviewed the progress on a four-year, federally funded project to restore bridges on Interstate 95. The Virginia Department of Transportation is picking up $16 million of the $106 million total cost.

At the meeting in the VCU Student Commons, LaHood said federal transportation spending was key to creating jobs. He said his talk offered an opportunity to prod Congress to pass a bill promoting highway and commuter rail construction.

“What we do at the Department of Transportation is put Americans to work,” LaHood said.
Nine of 11 bridges in the I-95 project are in Richmond. LaHood estimated that replacing the steel to increase safety and longevity of the bridges created 130 jobs.

LaHood expressed enthusiasm for alternatives to cars, such as light rail. He said communities are more supportive of mass transit developments such as light rail because of traffic congestion on roads.

“The future of the light rail is very bright. It’s coming to America; there’s no stopping it,” LaHood said. “People want to get out of their cars.

“We’ve probably built about all the roads we’re going to build. We’ve probably increased the capacity, and that’s why a lot of communities are looking for other forms of transportation.”

LaHood also lauded the administration’s initiatives for more cost-efficient vehicles.

“Because of President Obama’s vision, what we’ve done in the past three years is that we’ve persuaded car companies that by 2025, all new vehicles must raise their gas mileage standards to 54 miles per gallon.”

Kristine Hadeed and Jalisa House are reporters for VCU InSight, a television news program produced by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University. Claire Porter is a reporter for VCU’s Capital News Service.

Full transcript of the student question and LaHood’s response:

Vicente Gonzalez, a VCU junior majoring in social justice:  “I was wondering, you said that by 2025 the deal is to have 50 mile-per-gallon [automobiles].”

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood: “Fifty-four, yeah.”

Gonzalez: “Well, if we’re expected to exhaust all the world’s oil reserves within the next 25, 30ish years, then why is gasoline being discussed in these negotiations at all.”

LaHood: “There’s an unlimited supply of oil in many countries around the world.”

Gonzalez: “Unlimited?”

LaHood “Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, some of these countries aren’t our friends, others are.”

(Laughter from audience)

LaHood: “We have–”

Gonzalez: “Seriously? So you’re saying the supply of gasoline will never end? That it’s unlimited?”

LaHood: “Not in your lifetime.”

Gonzalez: “So we will run out in this lifetime?”

LaHood: “Not in your lifetime.”

Gonzalez: “Not, not in this lifetime? Ok.”

LaHood: “Not in my lifetime. How else do you want me to say it?”

(Laugher and murmuring from audience)

LaHood: “If you want me to give you a year. We’re not gonna run out of gas, we’re not gonna run out of oil for a long, long, long time. Many countries have an unlimited supply. Lots of great questions, thank you all very much.”

(Applause from audience)