The truth about ‘Peak Oil’ 

The future revisited from a past that never happened

William Bowles • 6 December 2004
  
‘Control energy and you the control nations’ – Henry Kissinger

Strange how things connect but I was in the middle of writing this piece on the ‘Peak Oil’ scam when Pluto Books sent me a book to review, a new edition of ‘A Century of War’ sub-titled ‘Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order’ by William Engdahl, which fortuitously sets the stage for unpacking the illusion that is ‘Peak Oil’. I plan to write a complete review of the book shortly but just dipping into it reveals the absolute centrality of oil to the Anglo-American empire for the past century or more, that in turn goes a long way toward explaining why the corporate press shit a brick every time the subject of oil and USUK policy in the Middle East comes up and why they relegate the subject to ‘conspiracy corner’ with an indecent haste.

The issue for most of us is how to disentangle the bullshit from the real deal for as Engdahl’s book makes perfectly plain, since the dying days of the 19th century, a handful of corporations along with literally a handful of individuals in key positions in the US and UK governments have played the planet and its resources, to use their words, as a part of ‘The Great Game’ and they’ve played the same ‘Game’ through four successive generations! They have moreover, gotten away with it largely because—with the complicity of the media—the machinations of immensely wealthy and powerful people has remained hidden from public view and their actions obscured by a sophisticated process of disinformation, ‘Peak Oil’ being latest in a long line of lies about the reasons behind the policies of the US and the UK.[1]

Let me say that it is impossible to over emphasise the role of oil in the ‘Great Game’ not in and of itself but as the single indispensable product that makes everything else possible. It literally and metaphorically drives the motor of capitalism.

A Century of Oil – A Century of Cartels
The period we are living in is the culmination of over one hundred years of economic expansion and the creation of a worldwide energy cartel upon which the future of capitalism entirely depends. It is simply inconceivable, nor does it make any kind of economic sense that the big oilcos who also own the distribution networks, right down to the retail outlets are not in possession of data about the future supplies of oil.

Over the past century, an unbroken chain of closely linked individuals and the resources they command have been able to control events at the highest levels of state policy in the interests of a handful of powerful corporations whose operations collectively determine the fate of nations and literally tens of millions of people.

The other day I got an email from a reader who had come across an essay of mine on Global Research in which I’d commented in passing on the illusion of ‘Peak Oil’ and he wanted to know what I based my opinion on, so I directed him to a few Websites where the authors do a commendable job of dismantling the idea.

Briefly, the ‘Peak Oil’ idea rests on an assessment of the total known recoverable reserves of the stuff and as the critics point out, the two main advocates of ‘Peak Oil’ have over the decades been forced on a regular basis to revise their estimates upwards and push forward the date at which it would ‘Peak’ or effectively, the oil reach a peak of production and from there on, go down. Specifically, it’s the point at which we reach the top of the curve or halfway, beyond which recovery starts to diminish, the so-called Hubbert Curve.[2]

“In 1997 and 1998, C. J. Campbell published a book and two Oil and Gas Journal articles which argued that the price of oil is about to increase, since most major oil producing nations outside the Middle East are reaching their depletion midpoints, after which production will decline, and decline sharply. Essentially this is the same argument from his 1989 and 1991 work, namely that oil production will imminently peak in all major countries outside the Middle East and global production cannot go much higher than the present amount. Since he is clearly using precisely the same methodology, and does not explain the failure of his earlier predictions, it appears that all he has done is update his data, increase his resource estimates and production forecasts, and move his production peaks higher and further out, exactly as Lynch (1996) contended would be necessary with this method.”[3]

However, the originators of the idea use only the tiny percentage of the world that has actually been surveyed for oil upon which to base their theory nor have they ever made public the sources upon which their assessments are based (well that’s not entirely true, you can read their prognostications if you cough up $32,000 for the report and promise not share its contents).[4]

So who are these two oil ‘futurologists’ upon whom the fate of capitalism and the ‘free’ world depends? Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrere are their names.[5]

This I not to say that at some point in the future (around a 100 years or so) we couldn’t use it all up but by then one would assume that by then alternative energy sources will be developed (a reasonable assumption when one looks at history of energy sources: > wood > coal > oil). More pressing is the climate issue that is most definitely connected to our carbon-based economy but this is not an issue the Peak Oil advocates address. Indeed, the best advice the ‘experts’ can offer their corporate clients on climate change is prayer![6]

It seems therefore that the illusion of Peak Oil is extremely persistent especially and disappointingly so on the part of a segment of the ‘Left’. So what prompts the ‘Peak Oil’ idea to be accepted by a section of the Left? Partly I think it stems from wishful thinking in a misguided attempt to attack the insanity of unrestrained capitalist growth (about which there can be no doubt). It’s also an extremely simplistic answer to a complex problem and, perhaps most depressing of all, it plays into the hands of those in the developed world who think that development is something reserved solely for those who already have it, hence the associated ideas of ‘over-population’ and that of ‘rationing’ energy use. How many times do we hear the cry about ‘what happens when the Chinese all have cars and refrigerators?’ like these are things only we in the West have the right to possess (at least in large numbers).

First let’s dispose of the notion of ‘over-population’, an idea that was discredited back in the 1960s not long after it was promoted in the West (remember ‘Soylent Green’?) but its roots go back to the totally false math of Malthus in the late 18th century that proposed that population growth would outstrip our ability to produce food. And of course it’s not surprising that the idea of over-population is found in the same company as ‘Peak Oil’ for one ‘solution’ to the alleged energy crisis would be to reduce the world’s population thus reducing demand and of course consumption (leaving more for ‘us’). But what is the ‘ideal’ population size? Ask and you shall not be answered. And note that those who advocate what is at heart a deeply racist view never include themselves, as conveniently it’s always the poor of the planet who are ‘surplus to requirement’. If the advocates of ‘too many people’ were to volunteer themselves first for the chop, one might be more sympathetic at least to their sincerity and commitment if not their hypothesis.

Suffice to say, that there is no such thing as exponential population growth and the statisticians long ago showed that the world’s population would, to use the word in its correct context, peak at around nine billion and then start to fall. Now nine billion is a big number but again, what’s the right number and who decides? So the issue is moot as they say and not up for debate. In any case, the original debate (if that’s what it can be called) around the ‘over population’ issue occurred when Western capitalism was in the middle of a massive recession that kicked in around 1873 and it was deemed that there were just ‘too many people’, all poor of course. If there’s going to be nine billion people on the planet then it behoves us all to make sure all are properly fed, clothed, housed and educated just as we should do the same for four billion or four million for that matter. A study of history reveals that no matter what the population size most have starved regardless of the resources available.

More often than not, such ideas as ‘over-population’ are hauled out of storage when capitalism faces yet another crisis of over-production, economic downturn or the failure to face the reality of the consequences of its own actions.

Not surprisingly, the environmental movement has taken the Peak Oil myth onboard big time as it fits well with the idea that the problem resides with ‘over-population’ in the poor countries of the world and over-consumption in the rich countries, not that the rich world doesn’t over-consume but as with all single issue campaigns the purely environmental approach is reductionist for it omits all references to political economy and the need for an alternate and rational approach to resource distribution and allocation.

The Rising Oil Price and Peak Oil
The other myth about Peak Oil is the issue of the rising price of oil as the ‘Peak Oilists’ contend that the rising price is somehow connected to the alleged depletion of the black stuff but nothing could be further from the truth. The on-going global economic recession that kicked in during the mid-nineties has seen a steady decline in the demand for oil that even the rising demand in China has not fundamentally altered. Shortages are therefore caused not by depletion but by other more transitory events that include a lack of refinery capacity and the lack of double-hulled tankers (brought about by an international agreement to replace the aging single-hulled tanker fleet) and of course the inevitable manipulation of the market by the oil majors fuelled if you’ll excuse the pun, by the disaster that is Iraq. Hence oil price fluctuations are, as with most aspects of the capitalist market mainly the result of speculation in the futures market and hedge funds and deliberate shortages created by the oil majors by restricting distribution.[7]

The Geo-Politics of Oil
That oil is central to geo-politics is obvious from a study of the past one hundred years or so aqnd whose beginnings can be traced back to the late 19th century when Her Britannic Majesty’s Royal Navy switched from coal to oil to power its fleet. For oil-fired ships extended the reach of the Royal Navy to embrace the entire planet without the necessity to refuel so often as well increasing the speed of its ‘dreadnoughts’ significantly. Hence it became imperative that the sources of oil be owned and controlled by the British Empire and that the sea-lanes connecting its far-flung empire be secure, which also involved securing key routes and locations for example, the Suez Canal, the short cut to India. It explains the importance of Palestine and of course the entire Middle East to the British political establishment of the time, the results of which we are living with to this day.

Oil really came into its own during WWI not only from the perspective of fighting the war but even more importantly, making money out of the slaughter and here the connection between banking and the oil cartels is instructive for one bank based in New York, Morgan Guarantee Trust and closely connected to Standard Oil handled the billions of dollars worth of oil and arms shipped from the US to Europe.[8]

It was during this period that the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ alliance between the UK and the US was cemented as oil, banking and financial services were controlled by a handful of corporations based in London and New York including Morgan Guarantee Trust and the Bank of England, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, Shell and British Petroleum.

The intertwining of government and business is also instructive in unravelling the current situation, for the same people who formulated the geo-political plan for the 20th century moved effortlessly between the highest levels of the state and that of big business thus ensuring the complete synchronisation of thought and action between the two. Continuity of policy from generation to generation is assured with sons following fathers as well as connections via marriage and close business associations with a select group of men in key positions in the government and the boardrooms of global corporations in successive generations.

Oil has been the single common denominator that links the disparate actions of nations, whether in opposition or in collaboration. If the big oil companies (all of whom have think tanks and non-profit organisations working in the field of prediction or ‘futurology’) really felt the oil was running out, aside from assuring that current oil supplies continued, they would be busting a gut to get into something else or even possibly produce new, non-carbon based energy sources that they could make money from.

There is moreover, the issue of where oil actually comes from. The traditional theory is that oil has a biological origin, an idea that is around two hundred years old. However around fifty years ago a Soviet scientist Vladimir Porfir’yev wrote

“The overwhelming preponderance of geological evidence compels the conclusion that crude oil and natural gas have no intrinsic connection with biological matter originating near the surface of the Earth. They are primordial materials which have erupted from great depths.”

and for many years the Russians have been using the abiotic theory for successfully prospecting for oil. The importance of this cannot be overestimated as it completely alters the basis for ‘predictions’ about the future supplies of oil.[9]

References

1. ‘A Century of War': Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order’ by William Engdahl Pluto Books 2004.

2. Crying Wolf: warnings about oil supply by Michael C Lynch.

3. ‘The Global Energy Market in the Long Term: The Continuing Dominance of Affordable Non-Renewable Resources’ by Professor Emeritus Peter Odell. Prof. Odell points out that the fuel of the 21st century is increasingly gas not oil “Natural gas supplies are thus indicated to continue to expand to 2090, when global production is predicated output 5.5 times its year 2000 level. On the other hand, as oil's output is anticipated to start slowly declining from the 2050s, its contribution to the total hydrocarbons supply ultimately falls from its year 2000 contribution of 65 per cent to 44 per cent by 2050 and to under 29 per cent by 2100”. In other words, for roughly the next one hundred years, energy supplies will actually increase.

4. See note 2.

See also ‘Farce this Time: Renewed Pessimism about Oil Supply’ by Michael C. Lynch

5. See the profile of Jean Laherrére and also Colin Campbell on Peak Oil.

6.The Energy ‘Crisis’: Futurology without a future by William Bowles (17/09/03)

7. ‘The New Economics of Oil’ Business Week, Nov 1997. “The progress already achieved through technology is mind- boggling. The average cost per barrel of finding and producing oil has dropped about 60% in real terms over the past 10 years, while proven reserves are about 60% higher than in 1985 (charts, page 140). And these official figures far understate the amount of accessible oil in the ground. Smith Rea Energy Associates Ltd., a London-based researcher, figures that the world's oil producers could add 350 billion barrels to their proven reserves if they counted all the oil that has become affordable to recover because of the latest breakthroughs. That sum is equal to nearly 14 years' worth of worldwide consumption.”

8. See Note 1.

9. ‘Discovering Oil’ by Bruce Bartlett, June 10, 2004. See also the paper ‘Recent applications of the modern theory of abiogenic hydrocarbon’

  
 
  
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