In a recent video interview, former Shell Oil Company President John Hofmeister let loose the bracing forecast that, if the world economy shows signs of improvement, petroleum “will surpass $100 a barrel either at the end of this year or during the first half of 2011,” with prices “staying in the triple digits until an alternative source of energy begins to replace liquid fuel.”

For careful listeners, an even bigger bombshell came toward the end of the interview: “I think over the next 5 to 10 years we will peak in the production of what’s called conventional or easy oil. . . . We will not in anyway peak relative to the resources left in the earth. But the resources left in the earth will be higher risk and higher cost to produce, which will increase the cost basis on which ultimately gas prices are set.”

So there you have it. Worldwide production of “conventional” oil will peak and drop off frighteningly soon. But, not to worry: “We will not peak relative to the resources left in the earth.”
Huh? Did Hofmeister just endorse the Peak Oil hypothesis, or deny it? And what does he mean by saying that “the resources left in the earth” will not peak? After all, we’re talking about depleting, non-renewable resources here; does Hofmeister intend to imply that there’s more oil in the Earth’s crust today than there was a couple of hundred years ago before we extracted and burned that last trillion barrels? Weird.
Anyway, he does seem to have both denied and confirmed Peak Oil, using a clumsy bit of verbal jiujitsu. What’s notable is that he came closer to admitting the awful truth than most sitting oil execs would ever permit themselves to do (there’s evidently something wonderfully freeing about being a former corporateofficer). Most of Hofmeister’s colleagues who are still in harness have an even more finely honed gift for evasion when it comes to discussing future petroleum supplies. Their standard line is that worries over an imminent peak and decline in world oil production are worthy only of derision—a point they cleverly drive home with a time-worn mischaracterization of the Peak Oil argument (“We’re not running out of oil!”) followed by a paean to the wonders of new technology.
It must be a terrible nuisance for these harried executives to have to keep formulating reassuring replies to ever-more frequent questions about future world oil supplies, and about the irritating environmental problems that seem to crop up increasingly as a result of extracting oil from ever-greater depths.
So, as a matter of public service, I would like to donate this Oil Exec Quote Generator to any CEO, President, or other official who might wish to put it to use. It can easily be made into a computer program that will randomize phrase choices so as to produce dozens of unique public statements (and will soon be available as a free iPhone app!).
Let’s say you—as a corporate officer of BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron, or . . . take your pick—have just been asked yet another annoying question about whether world oil supplies will be sufficient (for much longer) to maintain economic growth and stave off fuel price spikes and shortages, and whether environmental disasters like the Deepwater Horizon blowout underscore the importance of a rapid societal shift away from oil dependence. Boring! How to respond? Easy. Just fill in the blanks:
“We believe fears about Peak Oil to be . . .
a.      unsupported by evidence.
b.      utter rubbish emanating from cretinous doomsday cultists.
c.       compellingly credible.
d.      strangely arousing.
“People have been forecasting the end of oil . . .
a.      for decades.
b.      since the age of the dinosaurs—no, since the Big Bang.
c.       with ever-greater urgency—especially since 2005, the year of maximum world crude oil production so far.
d.       just to tick me off.
“Such predictions have always failed before because . . .
a.      we’ve continued to find more oil, and we’ve found ways to get increasing amounts out of existing oilfields.
b.      planet Earth is like a Hostess Twinkie, except the sweet creamy center is actually nothing but pure West Texas crude.
c.       the early ones were premature and relied upon incomplete data. 
d.      we humans just plain deserve to have inexhaustible resources to satisfy our ever-burgeoning appetites.
“We now have technology capable of . . .
a.      exploiting resources that are buried deeper, and that are trapped in less porous rocks, and that are of poorer quality, than ever before.
b.      drilling from Houston all the way to Baghdad and back.
c.       almost making up for rapidly declining production of affordable, high-quality oil from the old, giant, on-shore oilfields we’ve been relying on for decades.
d.      confusing, entertaining, and distracting consumers so effectively that they completely ignore the obvious fact that their lives are entirely dependent on an utterly unsustainable system of non-renewable resource extraction.
“While it is true that drilling deeper and in more challenging environments involves greater risks . . .
a.      we believe these risks must be weighed against society’s undeniable need for a continued, reliable supply of fuel.
b.      we are confident that governments and citizens will ultimately shoulder most of those risks and leave us and our investors free to profit handsomely from this one-time-only extraction of Earth’s limited energy resources.
c.       we’ve run out of relatively safe and easy places to explore for oil (we’ve looked under all the sofa cushions!), so from now on every new oilfield will just have to be a geopolitical, economic, and environmental roll of the dice—with ever higher stakes, and everyone a potential loser.
d.      I’m really enjoying my multi-million dollar bonus from last year and I have a well-equipped luxury survival bunker in an undisclosed location.
“In all, we believe that the oil industry . . .
a.      is well positioned to continue supplying the world’s energy needs for decades to come.
b.      is gradually starting to wind up shop, since most of the oil that’s left to exploit is going to be prohibitively expensive to produce.
c.       has made gazillions in privatizing profits from the extraction of humanity’s common heritage of natural resources—thank you very much and goodbye.
d.      is successfully maintaining a somnolent condition of helpless dependency among the general public; when I snap my fingers, you will awaken refreshed, with no conscious recollection of this interview.
See? It’s so easy. You, an important corporate officer, can now save big $$ on hiring useless PR hacks—you can write your own speeches and press releases! Or, dear reader, if you don’t happen to be an oil executive, you now at least know how to sound like one.