July 2007

Editorial comment

Al Gore meets King Hubbert

Vol. 228 No.7  

Al Gore bumped into King Hubbert at AAPG’s Annual Meeting in Long Beach, California. They left, arm in arm, content in the knowledge that oil production will peak in the next 15 to 25 years or so, even including unconventional oil such as tar sands; and so, carbon emissions will soon begin to taper off. Al was pleased with this news, so he took King to lunch at a new, upscale California Burger King, where they also sold carbon credits. Al bought a bunch of ‘em to offset his flight home, his mansion, his SUVs and, since they ate hamburgers, a few more to offset
bovine flatulence.

We all know that it will happen. No, I don’t mean that oil will peak sometime in the 21st Century. (Well, that too.) I mean that sometime in the 22nd or 23rd Century, some history student will ask his professor about oil and how it was used, and upon hearing the answer, he’ll exclaim, “You mean they just burned the stuff?” What idiots! What were they thinking? That there was an infinite supply?” Followed quickly by, “No wonder plastic is so expensive!”

While at the AAPG Meeting, I ran into a Hubbertite disciple (a Hubbertite is a rock formation that forms at the top of a dome-shaped oil reservoir that has a distinct peak). He explained that a group of respected geologists had met at something called a Hedburg Conference and determined that oil production could peak in 15 years. He then asked me when I thought oil would peak.

I said, “I don’t know, sometime in the next 60 years, I’d guess, but not necessarily due to shortage.” I told him my view was that it was not about resource, but about flowrates and an array of possibilities that are unknowable. He told me that the findings of the geologists were primarily based on ultimate recoverable resources, excluding coal- and gas-to-liquids.

Geologists and economists often split on the role of prices. Hubbertite geologists often cite the fact that high prices have historically had only a small effect on production. The problem is that oil companies aren’t sure that high prices will be permanent, given their history. And there are enough underexplored areas with good potential to put their money elsewhere. To put it another way: If oil would have stayed at the $12 a barrel that it hit in 1999, then oil production would already have peaked. If oil were to rise and stay at $200 a barrel for decades, then there are ample supplies for more than 50 years.

The geologists’ report included the full range of uncertainty. Amazingly, they said that it might be as long as 63 years before production begins to falter. And they weren’t too keen on predicting an actual peak. This was not the sort of thing that I had expected based on conversations with other geologists—and not a very Hubbertly peak prediction. They predicted more of a plateau that lasted for many years, even decades, as high prices made more technology economic, increased recovery factors and supply, and at the same time dampened demand.

Intuitively, it seems obvious that the amount of world oil reserves is closely linked to peak production timing. But, like the old song says, “… it ain’t necessarily so.” There are many reasons why supply could peak, and some of them have nothing to do with reserves. Even Richard Nehring, Chairman of the group that made the peak findings, said that nationalism, access to prospective areas, wars and civil unrest could play a huge role in the timing of the peak. He neglected to foresee breakthroughs in new energy technology. Especially the unforeseen ones.

In a similar manner, there are many reasons the global warming debate might have nothing to do with climate. An AlGorite (sounds like a new Canadian mineral, eh?) asked me my thoughts on global warming.

“It’s a conspiracy of hidden agendas,” I said. “On both sides of the question.”

The Phar Left plans to use the brouhaha of global warming science as a scare tactic to unleash their real plan—the Five Steps to Global Domination. This unabashed attack on our industry obviously satisfies the liberals’ hatred of Big Oil. The plan is:

First, create abundant energy sources that are not carbon intensive. Presumably, this will come from Vivolium, a new energy source made from human hair, wax and toenails. Second, decrease energy use by increasing energy efficiency, and use the “C” word a lot (conservation). Together, these two are supposed to promote energy independence for all. Third, create less air and water pollution. (Liberals keep beating the clean-air drum, as if they actually liked clean air.)

Fourth, because of all the energy independence, we can eliminate the cost—in both money and lives—of securing Middle East oil supplies. Liberals are, after all, peaceniks left over from the 1960s. And finally, spread vegetarianism by eliminating meat farming. It causes animals to suffer and die, uses more land to create less food and results in bovine outgassing, a terrible greenhouse gas. (Ever hear of a conservative vegetarian?)

The Phar Right’s evil plan is simple: ridicule global warming science to make money and consolidate power, political and otherwise. They want to convince everyone that there’s plenty of oil left, so that they can make huge amounts of money as a finite resource gradually grows scarce. Any effort to power cars with electricity or hydrogen, or change to non-carbon energy sources, is rightfully met with techno-babble ridicule and anti-change advertising campaigns. They want to perpetuate the present. They attack scientists on the UN’s IPPC because, well, they’re from the UN, therefore, they must be lying. They espouse the benefits of a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, through outfits such as The Greening Earth Society. (Ever hear of a liberal hailing the benefits of a CO2-rich atmosphere?)

Finally, for those of you who have formed an opinion about the validity of global warming science, I can prove that, in nearly all cases, the debate has nothing whatsoever to do with science. Just answer this: Have you read the UN’s IPCC First Assessment on Climate Change? How about the Second Assessment? The Third? The Fourth? They’re available on the Internet. OK then, how about just the summary of even one of the first four Assessments? I didn’t think so.

Money, power, politics, clean air, vegetables, energy independence, war—these are the real agendas of the global warming debate. Not the science.

It’s a battle for the future. WO

Comments? Write: fischerp@worldoil.com

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