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The 75% solution

In his State of the Union speech, President Bush said "America is addicted to oil" and set a goal of replacing 75 percent of the nation's Mideast oil imports by 2025 with ethanol and other energy sources.

Replace 75% of US oil imports from the Mideast by 2025? Viewed in another way, this is not a "goal," it is a prophesy. There is no way that the US will be importing as much oil from the Mideast in 2025 as it imports today. And there is no way that the nations of the Mideast will be exporting as much oil in 2025 as they are exporting today.

Whether or not the Bush statement is a "goal," in 2025 the US will not be importing much in the way of petroleum from the Mideast, nor from anyplace else. The oil just will not be there for one side to export, nor for the other side to import. Welcome to the future.

As for what is happening in the Mideast, Kuwait has announced that its main oil field, the super giant Burgan, has entered the phase of irreversible decline. At current depletion & decline rates, by 2025 Kuwait will be exporting negligible amounts of oil, and at prices that most nations of the world will be unable to afford.

Saudi's Ghawar field is close to being in irreversible decline. The Saudis are only managing to maintain current oil production volumes by virtue of a massive seawater injection program that pumps more than seven million barrels of salt water per day into its oil fields. This pumping helps to maintain production pressures in the oil reservoirs, but is also the source of formation damage due to the presence of oxygen and bacteria in the seawater. By 2025, Saudi will still export oil, but far less oil than now and each tanker will be of such value as to require its own armed escort.

Iran is not quite at its production peak, but within 20 years even the most optimistic estimates forecast that Iran will cease to be a net oil exporter. (This may also have something to do with Iran's desire to develop a nuclear program.)

And Iraq? By 2025 Iraq may be an oil exporter, not to mention an eastern province of Iran. But considering the looming and inevitable decline in daily world oil production, who will be able to afford whatever gets exported? (Hint, do you speak Chinese?)

The point is, on the other side of Peak Oil the US will be fortunate to receive any oil at all from the Mideast, let alone the Bush goal of only 25% of current (let alone forecast) imports. The planners who are connecting the dots of the past, and mechanistically extrapolating out into the future with no allowance for Peak Oil, are living in a fantasy land. They are planning, if anything, for the failure of the American economy and the attendant decline of American civilization.

Still, our Mr. President raised the subject. To recall an old phrase, "What does the President know, and when did he know it?" If GW Bush is onboard with Peak Oil, he failed to bring up the subject with specificity in his State of the Union speech and give the concept the publicity and credibility that such a speech would merit. Then again, maybe the President saw the movie A Few Good Men. Maybe he is imitating Jack Nicholson's character, the colonel of Marines, who said "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth." Maybe, to Mr. Bush's way of thinking, he is just doing the best that he can.

But if you are reading this, you are probably one of the initiated. We are the few, the proud, the Peak Oil people.

Editorial Notes: Byron W. King has worked as a geologist in the exploration and production division of a major international oil company. He has followed developments in the oil and gas industry for almost three decades. He is currently a practicing attorney in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For more of King's essays, see The Saga of Oil. King's essays appear in Whiskey & Gunpowder, an investment newsletter. -BA

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