By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
CNBC
updated 12/20/2004 10:37:16 AM ET 2004-12-20T15:37:16

There’s a new sound you hear when you pull into a gas station. Sometimes it’s a barely audible whimper. Sometimes it's an anxious wail. More often, it's a whining howl.

It’s the sound of all of us SUV-loving Americans reacting to the price of gas. If you find yourself making the sound, get used to it.

This was the year surging prices forced Americans to focus on a problem that has been building for years. Simply put, the world’s thirst for oil is perilously close to overtaking the global energy industry’s ability to satiate.

When will we arrive at the tipping point? Some experts think peak production could come as early as next Thanksgiving . If that happens, expect prices to keep rising. 

For now, higher prices have spurred oil companies to look hard for new supplies. This year, Big Oil ramped up spending on exploration and drilling. And thanks to the work of a new high-tech breed of “Nintendo geologists,” the investment goes a bit further.

But new supplies take years to develop. In the meantime, oil prices continue to reflect the “terror premium” – the cost of Saudi terror attacks; Iraqi pipeline disruptions; Venezuelan political instability; Nigerian labor strikes; and even President Putin's pressure on Russian oil giant Yukos, to name a few.

Still, American drivers show little signs of taking their foot of the gas pedal . And, with winter weather descending on the U.S. and Europe, heating oil supplies will pinch the pocketbook as well, especially for low-income families.

Maybe, just maybe Congress will come to the rescue with a comprehensive energy policy. Even if dreams do come true, analysts say that all of the measures debated thus far have largely overlooked a critical element: a national effort to increase energy efficiency and do more with less.

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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