The latest peak oil news is simply astounding: a whistleblower inside the International Energy Agency (IEA) claiming that “the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves.”
The fact that this report appeared in the Guardian, which has published questionable articles on peak oil, is suggestive.
First and foremost, one is tempted to conclude that this story represents poor reporting, bringing to mind an earlier Guardian story claiming that Fatih Birol, the IEA official in charge of the World Energy Outlook, acknowledged peak oil. It turns out that Fatih was misquoted. And while I might be biased, considering Fatih a friend, the nature of the present story is close to ridiculous, rather than misleading. (Sadly for him, Birol is often a lightning rod for any disagreement about energy forecasts.)
This is a long-standing problem with peak oil advocates, many of whom misrepresent comments as agreeing with them.Colin Campbell often refers to those who ‘acknowlege’ peak oil, and Robert Hirsch mistook concerns about the end of so-called ‘easy’ oil as admitting to looming peak.
In a similar vein, Jeremy Leggett (mistakenly) crowed when asked whether he had expected to win a debate vote on the motion that Peak Oil Is No Longer a Concern. “No way! I thought I’d be lucky to get 10% of the vote,” he said. Of course, what he doesn’t explain is why peak oil’s being a “concern” equates to the idea that peak oil is near or a serious danger. (Someone buy that man a dictionary!)
Shocked to Discover Gambling at this Establishment!
The Guardian‘s implication that the oil reserve data are inflated apparently refers to the breathless discovery in the mid-1990s by peak oil advocates like Colin Campbell that Middle East oil reserve data are less than reliable. In fact, in 1981, M. A. Adelman presented a paper to the National Research Council on the decline in oil reserve data. Economists not familiar with the oil industry sometimes mistakenly assume that such dataseries are reliable, but for geologists to make a similar mistake is almost criminal.
And of course, there is the bizarre implication that the predictions can be more than educated guesses (or judgmental forecasts), no matter how scientific the source or methods. The Guardian‘s (unnamed) source says:
The 120m figure [for 2030] always was nonsense, but even today’s number is much higher than can be justified and the IEA knows this.
As I have shown repeatedly, forecasts have a useful life of somewhere on the order of 2–3 years, and while the 120 mb/d forecast for 2030 might be wrong, to consider it ‘nonsense’ with such authority shows a degree of credulity one rarely finds in these times.
A second, unnamed source goes on to warn “We have [already] entered the ‘peak oil’ zone. I think that the situation is really bad,” which implies a degree of ignorance that is astounding. At present, there is approximately 5 million barrels per day of shut-in capacity in OPEC, owing to the recession and to competition from non-OPEC countries. Nigeria, Iraq, and Venezuela between them are planning upwards of 5 million barrels per day of new production; both East and West Africa are seeing new production zones being appraised; the Brazilian presalt is likely to rival the North Sea; and this excludes the Bakken Shale, natural gas liquids, etc.
How informed is the reporter? Consider his closing comment: “But as far back as 2004 there have been people making similar warnings. Colin Campbell, a former executive with Total of France told a conference: ‘If the real [oil reserve] figures were to come out there would be panic on the stock markets … in the end that would suit no one.'” In fact, Campbell first predicted that 1989 was the peak (in 1989) and has issued numerous warnings of an imminent peak since then, most of which have already been passed.
The real story is that despite a lot of government obstacles, which postpone oil production to the future, we are running into oil, not running out of oil. The hydrocarbon age in a physical sense is still young.