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Peak oil: We are asleep at the wheel

Jeremy Leggett, Guardian
Revelations that the Saudis have overstated their oil reserves are a timely reminder of the huge threat to the global economy

John Vidal’s report on US diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia raises the spectre of premature peak oil: an unexpected deline in global oil production in an oil-dependent world. The US government is among many administrations that routinely reassure the public that supplies of oil can go on growing far into the future. But in private, top diplomats have been telling Washington that they hold deep concerns about supplies from the world’s number one supplier. This is an issue that has far-reaching consequences for an oil-importing nation like the UK, and for the global economy.

The latest batch of leaked cables report the views of Sadad al-Husseini, a former board member of the national oil company Saudi Aramco and a geologist who headed exploration and production for the company from 1986 to 2004.
(10 February 2011)

Have Saudis Overstated How Much Oil Is Left?

Vivienne Walt, TIME Magazine
While the world remains transfixed by the Egyptian revolt, a crisis with equally profound global consequences is quietly brewing elsewhere in the Middle East: WikiLeaks this week released U.S. diplomatic cables suggesting that Saudi Arabia may have vastly overstated its oil reserves — if true, that could dramatically accelerate the arrival of the long-feared “peak oil” moment, when oil production hits its final high before slowly declining, keeping prices rising for the foreseeable future and slowing global economic growth. But not all industry analysts are convinced by the claims in the cables.
(10 February 2011)

Wikileaks Hysteria Meets Peak Oil

Michael Levi, Council on Foreign Relations
The energy blogosphere is in a tizzy over a series of Wikileaks cables that entertain the possibility that world is heading toward peak oil. … There is nothing much new in these cables. As the FT notes, the main source for the cables, Sadad Al Husseini, has said many times in public precisely what he told the U.S. diplomats who wrote the cables. Nor do the cable authors, who no doubt are talented diplomats, appear to have any particular expertise on oil.

What we have here is a classic case of what Dan Drezner has cleverly called “document fetishism”: people have an awful habit of believing that if something is classified then it must be true. In reality, classified analysis is no more sophisticated than what you can read in the open literature. Indeed in many cases, it’s less so, in large part because it isn’t subject to the open criticism that most analysis faces.

So relax a bit. We don’t know anything more about peak oil than we did last week.
(10 February 2011)
Levi misses the point. In terms of bringing an unpalatable truth to the public, it makes all the difference in the world whether mainstream news sources play up the story. It’s one thing for The Oil Drum and Energy Bulletin to post interviews with Sadad Al Husseini. It’s something quite different when the take-home message is taken to heart by the US diplomatic corps and published in TIME Magazine. -BA

I’ve Got to…Keep…Control: Dancing the Time Warp to Explain Away Peak Oil

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
… I don’t usually participate in the Huffington Post bashing that goes on at science blogs. Not because I don’t often agree with it, but because my colleagues seem to have it covered when it comes to autism/vaccine links and dubious medical studies. Still, Raymond Learsy’s column about Wikileaks did catch my attention, and it seems to have all the best qualities of a bad HuffPo piece.

If it’s in Wikileaks, it’s got to be true. Certainly it was a moment of triumphal satisfaction for the Peak Oil Pranksters. There it was in “cloud” black and white embedded in cables released by WikiLeaks and headlined by the the Guardian, “Saudi Arabia cannot pump enough oil to keep a lid on prices,” going on to report that in November 2007 the U.S. Consulate General, subsequent to a meeting in Riyadh with a former Saudi Aramco “oil executive,” cabled Washington that reserves of the world’s biggest oil exporter were being overstated by nearly 40%. Really?!

Firstly, how competent was this Saudi informant, Sadad al-Husseini, and on what basis was he authorized to speak? His credentials seem legitimate enough, but his message was curious to say the least. …

… Well, that’s a bit old pile of frankly, rather sleazy innuendo here. Note that Learsy doesn’t actually answer his own questions, even though they are eminently answerable. Who is Sadad al-Husseini, whose credentials seem to be “legitimate enough?” Well, if Learsy actually had answered the question, the whole innuendo wouldn’t have worked, since al-Husseini is the retired head of Exploration and Production for Saudi Aramco – ie, the guy who figured out Saudi Arabia’s reserves. His credentials don’t just “seem legitimate” – they are utterly legitimate, and he knows more about Saudi world reserves than almost anyone in the world.
(10 February 2011)
Thanks to Sharon for taking Mr. Learsy to task. He’s like a broken record and I gave up on him long ago. For some reason Huffington Post keeps running his columns, and it is important that his bad analysis is refuted. -BA