(Note: Commentaries do not necessarily represent ASPO-USA's positions; they are personal statements and observations by informed commentators.)
On October 5, 2005, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman requested that the National Petroleum Council conduct a study of global oil and natural gas supply. The motivating concern stated by the Secretary was an investigation into the timing of and responses to peak oil-the plateauing and subsequent decline of world oil production. Hundreds of organizations and individuals have contributed input to the process.
During two multi-hour web-cast teleconference calls on February 23 and March 1, the NPC heard comments from Colin Campbell, Jean Laherrere, Robert L. Hirsch, Steve Andrews, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, Matt Simmons, Randy Udall, Roger Bentley, Richard Heinberg, and several others.
A draft of the study is due during April, with the final report ready by late June, 2007. For further information, check periodic postings of informational power-point slides on the NPC’s website (www.npc.org).
In response to the NPC’s summary of their March 1 call, Randy Udall wrote back to emphasize and expand on a number of points.
March 12, 2007
The NPC has a wonderful opportunity to reframe the discussion around peak oil. After thoroughly studying the evidence, I hope that you conclude, as many of us have, that peak oil is
near. If that is your conclusion, I urge you to communicate that finding in succinct, sober language. It's time to speak truth to power. Likewise, if you conclude that peak oil is a chimera, and those of us that were on the last call are grievously mistaken, chronic pessimists, nervous Nellies, please say that, loud and clear.
Personally, I would much rather you say, "Heed Not Chicken Little," than have you try to please both sides with the kind of waffling language that is found in so many reports. Whatever your results, an imaginative communication strategy will be necessary to disseminate them.
More importantly, production has also peaked in ten of the twenty nations that today produce 85% of the world's oil. In some of these nations, including the UK, US, Norway, and Indonesia, geological constraints are clearly the primary cause. In other post-peak countries, including Mexico, Iran, Libya, Venezuela, and Iraq, causation is more complicated. To confuse the calculus, production in some post-peak countries could increase; in Iraq and Venezuela it could, some day, in a safer world, perhaps exceed their earlier highs.
Oil production is increasing in places like Brazil and Angola due to deepwater technology, falling in places like Nigeria, restrained in the UAE due to governmental decisions, close to a re-peak in Russia, at the cusp of peak in China and, Stuart Staniford would argue, in Saudi Arabia. The future course of production in these countries is governed by a complex mix of geology, investment, access, politics, manpower, rigs, war, etc. I would like to stress that, in the last five years, a large number of very competent, analytical people, linked together by the Internet, have brought serious intellectual horsepower to bear on the true state of world oil production. Yes, peak oil has attracted its share of conspiracy theorists and Birkenstockers, but some of the work that is being published at the Oil Drum, Energy Bulletin, in books and blogs, and by consulting groups like PFC Energy and John S. Herold Inc., is more seminal than anything found in World Energy Outlook.
Some final thoughts on the message and the tone: Some oil and gas people have viewed peak oil proponents as dissing the industry. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most of us find it absolutely astounding that gasoline and other petroleum products can be produced so reliably, in such extravagance, with such remarkable technology, and sold at such bargain rates. We see images of offshore production platforms and are dazzled by their complexity. We read about drilling in 10,000 feet of water and celebrate your ingenuity.
Humans have always sought perpetual motion, and for a moment, the petroleum industry has given it to us. The problem is that you have 300 million Americans who take $2.50 gasoline for granted in a country whose architecture, land use patterns, agriculture, prosperity, and cast of mind have been have been built around cheap oil. These oil tribe people, and their political leaders, don't care about peak oil, they care only about price. Meanwhile, the Chinese are where we were in 1910, with car sales doubling every three years.
Henry Groppe has said, "There is no surplus, there is no shortage, there is only price... We ran out of $2 oil a long time ago, $20 oil in 2001, $30 oil in 2003, $40 oil in 2005."
If oil production is going to peak sometime within the next few thousand days, if we are gradually going to run out of $50 oil and then $60 oil, the NPC would be doing a huge service by giving the nation a heads-up call. It sometimes seems that the peak oil movement has been shouting down a well. Your organization has the status, clout, and respect to be heard.
In any case, thanks for doing this study. We appreciate the outreach efforts and the diligence you have brought to bear.
Randy Udall directs CORE (Carbondale, CO) and is one of the co-founders of ASPO-USA.