The report, released Thursday by the investigative arm of Congress, cites estimates as saying oil production will likely peak sometime between now and 2040, depending on a variety of factors including the demand for oil.
"Demand for oil will, in turn, be influenced by global economic growth and may be affected by government policies on the environment and climate change and consumer choices about conservation," the report says.
The GAO report also says the push toward alternative fuels and transportation technologies face challenges, including cost, that may hurt their ability to mitigate the consequences of a decline in production.
"For example, although corn ethanol production is technically feasible, it is more expensive to produce than gasoline and will require costly investments in infrastructure, such as pipelines and storage tanks, before it can become widely available as a primary fuel," it says.
It notes that key alternative technologies supply only about 1 percent of U.S. consumption of petroleum products, and by 2015, they could displace 4 percent of projected U.S. annual consumption.
"In such circumstances, an imminent peak and sharp decline in oil production could cause a worldwide recession," it says. "If the peak is delayed, however, these technologies have a greater potential to mitigate the consequences."
The report notes that federal efforts to study peak oil and its consequences are spread across several agencies and not focused exclusively on peak oil.
"There is no coordinated federal strategy for reducing uncertainty about the peak's timing or mitigating its consequences," it says.
Critics of the peak oil theory, which says the amount of oil under the ground is finite and that once a peak has been reached, production will continue to decline, say that it fails to take into account new technologies that dramatically prolong the life of oil fields.
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