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Clinton raises alarm about oil depletion

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton has urged newspaper editors to focus more attention on the depletion of the world’s oil reserves. In a June 17 speech to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in Little Rock, Arkansas, Clinton said a “significant number of petroleum geologists” have warned that the world could be nearing the peak in oil production.

Clinton suggested that at current consumption rates (now more than 30 billion barrels per year, according to the International Energy Agency), the world could be out of “recoverable oil” in 35 to 50 years, elevating the risk of “resource-based wars of all kinds”.

During a question-and-answer period, the Georgia Straight asked Clinton if he believed that Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates had exaggerated claims about their proven oil reserves. The four Persian Gulf states are among the six nations with the greatest listed proven reserves. (Canada and Iraq are the other two.)

“I don’t know if they’re overstating their reserves,” Clinton replied. He added that he expects oil prices will reach US$100 per barrel “in five years or less”.

Texas-based energy-investment banker Matthew Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy (John Wiley & Sons, 2005), told the Straight last October that 60 percent of all Saudi oil has come from one field, Ghawar. Simmons said that after the Saudis nationalized the industry, they increased their proven reserves by 100 billion barrels without making any new discoveries. In 1998, retired petroleum geologists Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère wrote an article in Scientific American, claiming that Saudi Arabia and several other Oil Producing and Exporting Countries had also increased their proven reserves. This enabled those countries to export more petroleum under OPEC’s quota system.

At the AAN convention, Clinton delivered a detailed scientific explanation of some of the problems with the Ghawar oil reservoir. Clinton echoed Simmons’s claim that massive amounts of water have been injected into Ghawar to maintain oil pressure. “It implies less oil than we previously thought,” Clinton said.

Clinton also recommended that everyone at the convention read The Empty Tank: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and the Coming Global Financial Catastrophe (Random House, 2005), by Jeremy Leggett, a petroleum geologist and international campaigner for Greenpeace. (For more information on the book, see the Straight’s January 5-12, 2006, edition at www.straight.com/.) Clinton also emphasized the importance of developing the alternative-energy industry and weaning his country off its dependence on imported oil. He claimed that promoting renewable power would also stimulate the American economy.

“Unlike us, the U.K. has found a source of new jobs in this decade,” he said, referring to the Blair government’s efforts in this area. “The implications are dire if we don’t do something.”

Editorial Notes: Nice job, Charlie Smith of Georgia Straight. The other reports on Clinton's speech that I've seen posted missed the significance of his remarks on oil depletion. -BA

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