Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

'Peak Oil' -- what we know

Is "peak oil" the real reason behind the "war on terror" and the subjugation of Iraq? Here in the wilderness we have no idea. The theory is not off the deep end on its own merits: All oil wells peak, and eventually production starts declining. According to the theorists, world oil production is facing a "perfect storm" of peaking, and the resulting decline in production threatens to ramp up energy prices stratospherically, leading to economic chaos for those nations that don't have their hands on the spigot, and perhaps war to possess such a spigot.

There are those who insist that the Bush administration has known about this problem and has tried to aggressively pursue by military force a cheap source of oil, starting with Iraq. The "war on terror," they say, is about preventing Osama bin Laden not only from blowing up downtown D.C. but also from blowing up oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia, which sits on a quarter of the world's known oil reserves.

Jeffrey Ball of The Wall Street Journal wrote a piece last September that focused on peak oil and one of its leading proponents, Dr. Colin Campbell of Ireland. Ball's premise was that the theory is attaining more credence in the mainstream:
[S]uddenly Dr. Campbell is receiving mainstream attention. In the past few months, he has spoken before a joint committee meeting of the British House of Commons and addressed about 200 J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. investors by conference call from Ballydehob. This month two officials from AB Volvo, the truck and engine maker, visited from Sweden. His theory, if right, would force vehicle makers to revamp their lineups.

Also this month, PFC Energy, a respected Washington energy-consulting firm, released a report essentially endorsing Dr. Campbell's gloomy prediction. PFC puts the peak a bit further out than Dr. Campbell does -- sometime between 2010 and 2015. But Michael Rodgers, the PFC senior director who coordinated the report, agrees with Dr. Campbell that the precise year of the peak is less important than the conclusion that it is coming.

Mr. Rodgers says PFC officials debated whether to stake their reputation on the side of those whose pessimistic predictions have been wrong before. But they concluded that the decline in global oil discoveries has become so pronounced that the industry can't count on technological breakthroughs to bail it out in time.
Also taking this seriously is the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a think tank focusing on energy security, with a roster of advisers that includes former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, and Robert McFarlane, former national security adviser to President Reagan.

Farther left, Michael Klare, a professor of world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., came to the same conclusion in a recent article in Mother Jones magazine:
The onset of this new energy crisis was first signaled in January 2004, when Royal Dutch/Shell -- one of the world's leading energy firms – revealed that it had overstated its oil and natural gas reserves by about 20%, the net equivalent of 3.9 billion barrels of oil or the total annual consumption of China and Japan combined. Another indication of crisis came only one month later, when The New York Times revealed that prominent American energy analysts now believe Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, had exaggerated its future oil production capacity and could soon be facing the wholesale exhaustion of some of its most prolific older fields.
But Klare's analysis turns dire, noting that the Bush administration, at least publicly, is taking a rather odd turn on this issue:
It is here that the performance of the Bush administration should come in for close scrutiny. In response to the earlier energy crisis of 2001, the President appointed a National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, to analyze America's energy predicament and devise appropriate solutions. The NEPDG issued its final report, the National Energy Policy (also known as the Cheney Report), in May, 2001. How the group arrived at its final assessment is a matter of some speculation, as the administration has refused to make its deliberations public, but its conclusions are incontrovertible: rather than stress conservation and the rapid development of renewable energy sources, the report called for increased U.S. reliance on petroleum. And because domestic oil production is in an irreversible decline, any rise in American oil usage necessarily entails an increased reliance on imported petroleum.
Klare expounds on this in his book "Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum (The American Empire Project)".

There is no shortage of self-described whistle blowers on the left who believe that the war on Iraq is the first step in a strategic global plan: secure the oil facilities of what was the leading anti-American oil producer in the Middle East (although, as every American should know, Saddam Hussein was a dear friend when he was fighting Iran). But mainstream journalists -- even investigative journos such as Greg Palast, Seymour Hersh and Michael Moore -- have not come forth with any treatise on this issue.

Nor is there a "smoking gun" -- the neocon think tank known as the Project for the New American Century urged President Clinton to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 1998 for security reasons, but mentioned oil only once.

The only grist for this conspiracy mill is the supersecret conference on energy that Dick Cheney organized in the spring of 2001. Were the assembled oil executives told that the U.S. was considering an war on Iraq as a military response to peak oil? That this war would be precipitated by a pretext that might include a terrorist incident? That authorities would look the other way when they had intelligence that such an attack was imminent?

Here in the wilderness, we have no idea about the answers to any of these questions. What we do know, however, is that they exist. And they would seem to merit at least as much investigation from our watchdog press as a third-rate land deal in Arkansas.

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