Questions about oil – killing sacred cows

Fifteen to twenty years ago many old hippies like me got very vexed about something called ‘Peak Oil‘. Many ‘oil experts’, geologists and environmental pundits were telling us that the planet was rapidly running out of oil and within ten to twenty years our access to the stuff would be greatly restricted, if not non-existent. What happened?

To those who don’t know ‘peak oil’ is the point at which global demand outstrips global supply. From that point on the supply of oil reduces by 2 – 3 % per annum.

This point or date was predicted by an eminent geologist and Chief of researcher at Shell Oil, M. King Hubbert, working in the 1950s. He predicted a global peak between 1990 and 2000. This was updated in the 1990s (when Hubbert’s peak didn’t happen) by a group of eminent geologists – Princeton Professor Emeritus, Kenneth S. Deffeyes; Dr Colin Campbell, a geologist and consultant to many major oil companies and some governments and author of several books on Peak oil, Campbell also founded a leading research foundation – The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas – and Professor Emeritus of Physics at Colorado University, Albert Bartlett. These scientists put the peak at somewhere between 2000 and 2010., most likely 2005/7.

Hubbert’s Peak 1956

Even as far back as 1977 US President Jimmy Carter, in his speech on the energy crisis, said, “…just to stay even we need the production of a new Texas every year, an Alaskan North Slope every nine months, or a new Saudi Arabia every three years. Obviously, this cannot continue.”

Peak Oil was even mentioned on the Simpsons.

There were many books an films released in the noughties about the imminent arrival of ‘peak oil’. Predicting a dystopian future was big business.

Films on Peak Oil
Books on Peak oil

One of these many films was End of Suburbia which I and others premiered in Ireland. in 2008.

Then these books and films were cutting edge. Now they look like a quaint history of bad science and ill-informed punditry, but quaint or not it fooled a lot of people, me included.

One benefit this hiatus served was to make us realise how dependent our society is on oil. Almost everything we use and consume today needs oil from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the transport we use. If it was to come to an end or was even just rationed our society would more or less collapse.

We are also told there is no alternative energy source currently available to do all that oil does; even if we went the nuclear route, with all the risks that that entailed. Besides we don’t have the time to build the power stations and the infrastructure needed to keep the lights on and a billion electric vehicles on the road before oil peaked.

It was this coming collapse that attracted radicals of all kinds. The end of oil would mean the end of capitalism and we would have to go back to a more local way of living which would be medieval in its form. To many old hippies and anarchists who disliked modern society this was eminently attractive, romantic even, in spite of being scary. So we bought the theory enthusiastically and started planning for a ‘post-carbon’ world.

Today the oil flows as freely as ever. Worldwide consumption is now 100 million barrels a day or 3.5 billion gallons, double what it was in 1970. Production has increased steadily at an average by around 2% per year – instead of decreasing by 2-3% as the Peakists confidently predicted.

Since around 2012 all mention of ‘peak oil’ has been dropped from public discourse, even the very web sites that were to the fore in campaigning to raise awareness of peak oil don’t mention the phrase today.

Take the Post Carbon Institute based in the US. They were to the fore in the noughties promoting peak oil. This is what they say today on their About Us page:

‘Our Mission Founded in 2003, Post Carbon Institute’s mission is to lead the transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world by providing individuals and communities with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated ecological, economic, energy, and equity crises of the 21st ‘century.

No mention of ‘peak oil’.

The Transition Town Network founded in the UK and Ireland in 2006 in response to concerns about Peak Oil and Climate Change said this in The Transition Handbook of 2008:

Now their web site does not mention ‘Peak Oil’.

Even the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas founded by Dr. Colin Campbell in 2000 and once the go to place for all things ‘peak oil’, doesn’t talk about peak oil!

Of course there is the introduction of fracking. It’s argued that this has postponed peak oil. But fracking isn’t the story. The oil supplied by fracking has been confined to the US and has not impacted around the globe which still relies on conventional oil production. Fracking has not supplied the oil to support China’s and India’s huge economic expansion in recent years.

For example Saudi Arabia produced 10.3 million barrels daily in 1980 and it claims it is still doing so.

So what happened?

Well obviously the scientists and assorted ‘experts’ got it spectacularly wrong. But significantly, instead of adjusting their forecast, as was done previously with Hubbert’s predictions, they binned the whole theory. Eminent geologists, energy consultants and petrochemical engineers realised that they didn’t know enough about the oil business to accurately predict when peak oil would occur.

But there are two issues issue that really intrigue me about this.

Stories in the public mind

One is how an idea can get into the public mind, become a major talking point and then be switched off and never mentioned again. In fact, erased from the public consciousness. It shows how susceptible we are to stories being planted in our heads.

Remember Y2K?

This was when we were in imminent danger of all computer systems switching off because  the year 2000 had not been programmed into their operating systems.

Again, fear of an Armageddon stalked our airwaves.

I know because at that time I managed a computer system for a large wholesaler. I worked through the night on the Millennium when everyone else was out partying to nurse the system through the crisis. There was no crisis and all the consultants who had been brought in to advise on Y2K quickly packed up, got their fat fees and went on to the next scam.

The Y2K idea was quickly dropped from the airwaves and wiped from the public’s memory banks. To be replaced of course by ‘911’, the threat of global terrorism and the daddy of them all, ‘Global warming’ or as it has been rebranded ‘Climate Change’. Peak oil was also introduced around that time too with a close relationship to ‘climate change’.

Finite resource?

The second issue that intrigues me is precisely why we aren’t running out of oil. After all, we’re told it is a fossil fuel made from decomposing organic material over millions of years. So given the science it is a finite resource. Yet here we are doubling supply in the last fifty years with no sign of scarcity.

Oil Platform

Is the confusion caused by a false premise that oil is a fossil fuel and therefore a finite resource that has been made once and once used cannot be re-made? Maybe it’s not made by decaying organic matter millions of years ago. After all if this happens deep within the earth and happened a long time ago how do we know for sure? Is it an assumption that has taken hold and become an unquestioned consensus?

Is there something that we are not being told or just don’t know.

Given that the global elite that govern us need oil to run their military industrial empire and to keep them rich, you would think that if it was in danger of running out they would grab it for themselves instead of continuing to make it so widely available. Either they know something we don’t i.e. that oil supply is infinite or they have an alternative energy source they can switch over to easily once oil becomes problematic.

I know people who work in the oil industry. They tell me the big players such as BP and Shell have no interest in change, in alternative energy sources. It’s business as usual for them. There is no sense of impending doom with oil running out. Why would any large business not plan for the future to ensure their survival? Again do Big Oil at boardroom level know something the rest of us don’t?

Maybe oil is produced in an entirely different way that explains its never-ending supply?

Abiotic Oil

There is a theory of oil production – abiotic oil – that says oil is produced naturally at the earth’s mantle. At a source too deep to be explored, but it replenishes naturally and percolates upwards where it can be extracted. This explains why some dry wells have come back to life.

Abiotic oil

The theory of abiotic oil has been pioneered by Russian scientists principally Vladimir Kutcherov, a professor at the Division of Energy Technology of the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.

This theory of natural abundance is rubbished by mainstream geologists who cling to their theory of fossil fuel. There is a lot at stake here.

These geologists have already lost credibility in not being able to predict how much oil is left in the planet, which tends to suggest they don’t know where it is..

Capitalism is based on fear and on a culture of scarcity, not abundance. It thrives of keeping resources finite so that prices can be maintained and forced up. It does not like a glut. That forces prices and profits down.

The powerful global environmental lobby is strongly wedded to the idea that carbon emissions from ‘fossil fuels’ cause ‘climate change’. If the supply of oil is in fact unlimited it’s going to be even harder to be weaned off it.

A great many people’s careers are connected to maintaining these age-old concepts.

Upton Sinclair, American Pulitzer Prize winning writer and socialist 1878 – 1968

But as earth scientists can be spectacularly wrong on issues such as the amount of oil in the planet ,what else have they got wrong? Do they know how oil is made and do its carbon emissions really cause climate change?



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