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The good news is that British Petroleum just found a massive new oil field in the Gulf of Mexico.

That's also the bad news.

BP's announcement last week that it has discovered what it termed a "giant" pool of oil - they're not sure exactly how giant - 250 miles southeast of Houston comes as a relief to a world whose thirst for crude is on track to outpace production capacity. Oil optimists maintain that new technology and market incentives will spur oil companies to go where no one has gone before to slake global demand.

With the new Tiber field find, BP has certainly done that. Its geologists found oil more than 6 miles below the waterline, using the deepest exploration well ever drilled. Tapping the Tiber is a phenomenal technological feat.

So what's the bad news? That BP had to go to such extreme lengths to find new oil shows how difficult it is to replace fields being sucked dry. Outside analysts say that it will be years before the field will start producing and that the recovery rate is likely to be low. As the science magazine Nature put it: "The term 'giant' indicates merely that the find is greater than 500 million barrels of oil. The world runs through about a billion barrels of oil every two weeks."

Still, every little bit helps - but not if we use these exciting discoveries to avoid conservation and transitioning to alternative sources of energy. At present, nothing comes close to replacing oil - and the International Energy Agency reported last year that the world will have to discover fields as big as six Saudi Arabias every year by 2030 to meet demand. Besides, burning all that crude exacerbates the climate-change problem.

BP's big find buys us time, but not much - and at an environmental cost. It's an ambiguous blessing.