Peak Oil Denial: Debunking The Attempted Debunking
It was all so perfect … the only report anyone could ever need to consign Peak Oil to the trash heap; hailed far and wide as the definitive answer. One entire report! Don’t believe me? Check out these headlines from individuals eagerly embracing the findings of Leonardo Maugeri’s effort.
The Vanishing Peak
Shortages: Is ‘peak oil’ idea dead?
Are We Witnessing the End of Peak Oil?
No Peak Oil In Sight: We’ve Got An Unprecedented Upsurge In Global Oil Production Underway
Potential U.S. Oil Boom Shakes Up Energy Politics
Peak Oil A Long Way Off
“Peak oil” is past
Harvard Senior Fellow: Peak Oil Is History
Bob Adelmann 07.04.02
We are nowhere near hitting ‘peak oil’, because we keep inventing new ways of extracting the stuff
Just when it seemed that we might possibly could have had the potential for perhaps a possible end to the so-called myth of Peak Oil if only certain things might possibly happen in some way at some future point depending on some other things which might happen if certain other things happen first with the vast resources that could incinerate us in many ways, the “perfect” Peak Oil-debunking report is debunked by a group of busybodies who just had to go and screw up a perfectly good story with damned facts and evidence and reality. Gee … thanks!
All of the Maugeri advocates listed above all seemed quite content relying on one single, solitary report without wasting a lot of time seeking independent verification. But the rest of you can’t leave well enough alone, can you?
There’s a message there….
It will be difficult to come away from this reading with any conclusion other than a recognition that there is a conspiracy on the part of Peak Oil advocates named below—a fiendish (dare I say “nefarious”) plot designed to use facts, investigations, verifications, evidence, and reality to contradict Mr. Maugeri and his acolytes. Shocking, but true!
Let’s see how these fact-checkers tried to fool us. You’ll thank me later.
The Cast Of Characters
Richard Heinberg offered some thoughts but … come on! Richard Heinberg?
[S]ome of the fuels (ethanol, natural gas liquids) counted by IEA and EIA in the ‘all liquids’ category have significantly lower energy content per unit of volume than regular crude oil; thus an increase in barrels-per-day of ‘all liquids’ does not necessarily mean an increase in the amount of energy delivered to society.
As if that’s significant! Don’t be fooled by the intelligent observations he presented. Typical of Mr. Heinberg, he’s just trying to be honest to confuse us, but we’re on to his game. Oh sure, he’s written a number of acclaimed books, lectures on Peak Oil internationally, is a sought-after and widely respected guest in the media, blah, blah, Post Carbon Institute, yadda, yadda, yadda. But is that all going to qualify him as an authority on Peak Oil? How can we be absolutely certain?
Dave Summers? Sure … he examined facts, production history, depletion, decline, and looked into other resources besides just Mr. Maugeri’s report (like all of that effort is supposed to impress anyone), then noted:
It is instructive [studying a plot in Maugeri’s report], to first recognize that it is a plot of anticipated production capacity rather than projected actual production.
Anticipated. Actual. Like there’s a difference! Both begin with the letter “A”. What’s his point? Isn’t it enough that we might possibly have the potential?
And then Stephen Sorrell and Christopher McGlade had to butt in. A critical examination of Mr. Maugeri’s depletion and decline information by carefully considering factual evidence and clarifying essential terminology was all done for what reason? Excuse me … but who asked for a factual and detailed analysis based on truth and evidence?
All of their careful analysis leads them to the conclusion that:
Maugeri has made some very optimistic assumptions about global average decline rates, failed to provide adequate justification for them and misrepresented the estimates made by others. Adopting more realistic estimates would significantly change his results.
The answers are right there! In their own words they stated that adoption of “realistic” estimates would “significantly change” the conclusions reached. Hello! If the facts are going to produce a different outcome, then why the hell would someone want to use them?
Are we supposed to just buy their analysis because Mr. Sorrell is “senior lecturer, Science and Technology Policy Research, Sussex Energy Group” and Mr. McGlade is a “doctoral researcher at the UCL Energy Institute.” Well-respected and credentialed expertise in energy matters doesn’t mean they are good at basic addition, subtraction, and division—potentially.
And of course David Strahan had to stick his nose into this by also challenging Mr. Maugeri’s math computations, pointing out how wildly incorrect they were.
Maugeri has got his sums horribly wrong. In the key section of the report, he claims that even the lower end of the range ‘would involve the almost complete loss of the world’s ‘ ‘old’ ’ production in 10 years’. But this is laughable. A 6% annual decline over 10 years leaves you with 54% of your original production, because each year’s 6% decline is smaller volumetrically than the previous one. So over a decade the decline is 46% – and very far from an ‘almost complete loss’.
The result casts most of Maugeri’s assertions about a bountiful energy future into the wind. Why, David? It was a nice report which made several people very happy, and you had to grab a calculator and mess it all up by providing the correct totals. Have you no shame?
Did it occur to any of you before you wrote your articles that there are a fair number of people here in the U.S. (and “across the pond”) where facts are useful only if they like them (and if not, then they can be ignored or just changed on the computer)? I’ll have you know that some people don’t look at reality like each of you do, Mr. Smarty-Pantses.
Some people don’t like to use facts when they are sharing opinions because the facts would turn those opinions into nonsense. Did you not watch the Republican Party presidential debates? Facts aren’t facts if they are either inconvenient or fail to support a position insisted upon no matter what reality suggests. Duh!
Disputing Alternative “Strategies”
Sharon Astyk seemed a bit put off by the strategy:
In a lot of ways, this is just another version of the same old, same old – take the most optimistic imaginable assumptions and push them all together in new ways without regard to any possible negative consequences or less optimistic outcomes, and lo and behold, all problems disappear.
Again this insistence on facts and reality! We’re trying to solve problems here, people! If facts are unpleasant, well then….
Perhaps Ms. Astyk might consider this observation from Ugo Bardi:
The problem is that most people – including decision makers – have no time, no inclination, and no expertise to go in depth in issues such as resource depletion. So, when facing a complex and nuanced issue they tend to choose the interpretation that they like best – it is called ‘confirmation bias.’ Now, surely good news are better than bad news and for most people an apparently authoritative study that says that we are not running out of oil is preferable to the gloom and doom of most depletion studies. 
So there. Problem is solved, and it took just a few seconds because some people are smart enough to ignore the truth and cherry-pick just the phrases they like to hear. No more energy concerns! But that’s not good enough? Really?
I haven’t forgotten about you, Kurt Cobb. No sireeee.:
Maugeri and others argue not using facts, but fantasy. They try to sell their imagined future by conjuring vast supplies of oil from extremely low-grade sources which no one has so far figured out how to extract profitably such as oil shale (not to be confused with shale oil which is properly called tight oil). Or by projecting unrealistically low worldwide decline rates in existing fields, pretending that existing fields are somehow like factories that can be made to produce not far below current levels for an extended time instead of declining at historically observed rates. Or by engaging in fantasy projections of supply growth not based on existing data and a proper understanding of historical and technical information. [Sources cited in original]
Um, fantasy and fact both begin with the same letter, Kurt. I don’t think I need to explain or add more. And by the way, since when are unrealistic or fantasy projections an issue when trying to solve serious problems? Pretending is an actual strategy, if you didn’t know, and damn near just as helpful as denial (except that it sounds better). And to the point I made above, if facts and reality lead to conclusions not supported by irrational contentions, then of course one should ignore the evidence and truths! How else are misleading statements and disingenuous arguments supposed to succeed in confusing others if facts keep getting in the way? Isn’t all of this obvious? Do you not watch Fox News?
Insinuations that just because someone worked for an industry and had their research funded by a particular and prominent international company in that industry, and then created an impression that a prestigious university supports that someone’s contention doesn’t mean that the “findings” were the only results the check-signers demanded! What’s next: allegations that secretive billionaires anonymously supplying insane amounts of campaign funds for a candidate might expect that candidate to favor those few billionaires and their policy expectations rather than those of the countless millions who cast votes? Yeah … Right!
Europe Chimes In
Oh, and nice try to whoever is responsible for getting Olivier Rech, a “former officer at the International Energy Agency” and “petroleum expert” to weigh in on the questionable assumptions offered by Mr. Maugeri. (Who’s foolish enough to give any validity to the opinions of an international petroleum expert? Let’s introduce Mr. Rech to Mr. Sorrell and Mr. McGlade and let them share all of their “energy” expertise. Gotta believe that would be a fairly short conversation, right?)
I guess we’re all supposed to consider these offerings from Mr. Rech as significant “facts”:
New fields coming on line will tend to be smaller. As it happens, a priori, the smaller a field is, the faster its rate of decline will be. Moreover, a rising proportion of new fields coming on line are off-shore projects. Experience shows, particularly in the North Sea (where Mr Maugeri admits that production is in apparently irreversible decline;), that offshore fields decline more rapidly as operators seek to raise production as quickly as possible in order to recover their considerable investments as fast as they can. In so doing, they very often accelerate the ensuing decline.
Mr Maugeri asserts that new production capacity could reach 49 Mbd by 2020 and no-one has any way of knowing how he arrived at this figure. He then goes on to reduce it to 29 Mbd, taking into account, he says, certain ‘risks’ and ‘restrictions’. Nowhere does he explain how he arrived at the original 49 Mbd figure. Thus the 29 Mbd figure appears to be equally open to doubt.
Why? It’s less than 49 Mbd. But no, that’s not enough for Mr. International Petroleum Expert. Note carefully that Chris Nelder raises a very similar objection (below) by complaining that we don’t know how Maugeri arrived at his projections. Conspiracy to insist on public, verified facts before arriving at conclusions? I think my case has been made.
Oh, and then one final comment from Mr. International Petroleum Expert:
Mr Maugeri emphasizes the fact that only a third of the sedimentary basins on the Earth have thus far been explored by the petroleum industry. The reason for that is simple: geologists have concluded that they did not present the necessary characteristics to be oil-bearing.
That’s his argument? Does he not realize that scientific research by experts notwithstanding, it might be possible if certain conditions come into play at some point in unforeseen ways that some of those basins might have the potential to exhibit a characteristic or two? But no, he just dismisses all of that based on the detailed assessments of “geologists.” A man with his allegedly impressive creds is going to rely on them, and we’re going to take him seriously? Seriously?
Perhaps he might consider having a conversation with, for example, Sen. James “Hoax” Inhofe, whose vast expertise in climate matters put the whole global warming issue to bed. No doubt the good Senator has an equivalent amount of knowledge and expertise on subterranean characteristics of fossil-fuel reservoirs and can enlighten Olivier accordingly.
And as for you, Mr. Kurt I-Object-To-Fantasy-Cobb, our Mr. International Petroleum Expert points this out:
It is true that extraction techniques are improving and a number of investments in older fields are taking place. It is also quite apparent that the increase in American reserves in recent decades is mainly due to statistical legerdemain: the accepted definition of reserves in the United States long permitted the declaration of only reserves in production but not the total extractable resource, in order to protect the interests of investors.
Did you catch that, Kurt? “Statistical legerdemain.” It’s a strategy, just like unrealistic pretending! Some people happen to like these approaches, given how often they utilize them….
Chris Nelder Wraps This Up
Finally, Chris Nelder also has a problem with all of this. And what’s worse, I don’t get the sense he took the feelings of Mr. Maugeri and supporters into consideration at all.
Just because you have time to examine facts, conduct research, and examine other sources pro and con as you analyze a report doesn’t mean others want to be bothered to do so, Mr. Nelder. If someone publishes a study that supports narrow-minded contentions, there really isn’t any need to go and do your own independent research. Why run the risk of proving someone else wrong … or even delusional?
So why can’t he and his peers just accept a largely fact-free opinion and let it be?
Much of the capacity and growth Maugeri foresees includes millions of barrels per day of natural gas liquids, of which only about one-quarter are useful as vehicular fuel.
Maugeri generally refers to production capacity throughout his report, not actual production. Therefore, while it is true that reserves do grow over time with the application of new technology, it is disingenuous to imply that it will lead to the enormous increases in production, or the far lower decline rates that Maugeri claims. Again, Maugeri only presents the summary results from his private database and does not disclose the recovery factors he is using, so there is no way to judge how realistic his model is.
Uh … that’s what “private” means, Chris. It’s information he put together on his own, in secret, so no one else would see it. “Private,” get it? Are you suggesting that we now should be looking for verification of facts … let someone else see his work, or rely on verified information? That’ll happen! I thought I had made this pretty clear: Facts can get in the way of damned good arguments.
Maugeri’s forecast amounts to a more than four-fold increase in eight years, an extremely optimistic prospect.
Let me just point out the obvious: Mr. Maugeri is not suggesting a six-fold increase. Just a four-fold increase. Need I say more?
[And let me add that Mr. Nelder’s concerns about the estimated production capacity of the Bakken tight oil formations sound awfully similar to the fact-based disputes discussed by Steve LeVine last weekend which also suggest (based on facts, so take it with a grain of salt) that the Bakken “potential” is … well, not so full of potential.]
We cannot independently evaluate Maugeri’s country-by-country forecasts without seeing the assumptions in his data model, but his summary expectations are optimistic in the extreme….
For example, he sees production from Iraq expanding in the next eight years at rates that have never before been achieved, despite a great deal of uncertainty about the country’s stability, its ability to maintain security in the future, and its ability to attract Western oil partners with the knowledge and technology needed to exploit its resources. The failure of Iraq’s recent oil lease auctions do little to give one confidence that Maugeri’s extraordinary forecast can be realized.
More generally, his assertion that, of the countries with more than 1 mbpd of production capacity, only four will have reduced capacity by 2020 is impossible to square with the fact that production has been declining in more 50 of those countries since 2000.
I’m sensing some additional opposition. I’m going to suggest that he and Ms. Astyk are in collusion, since the objection he raises sounds suspiciously similar to those she lodged above. That fact alone makes Chris Nelder’s entire reality and fact and evidence-based objections a wee bit curious, don’t you think?
Is it necessary that we explain the difference between declining and reduced capacity? Less is not always the same as “not as much as before”, and I see no reason to elaborate….Declining production in more than fifty countries is supposed to be a big deal? Come on! And as for those political concerns … all of a sudden they matter? We have vast resources with possible potential!
And Mr. Nelder apparently seems quite content with his evidence-supported conclusion that Mr. Maugeri:
[F]ails to provide adequate justification that his assumptions, being widely divergent from most other industry estimates, are remotely realistic.
We must conclude that the key assumptions about reserve growth and its effect on decline rates in Maugeri’s report are muddled, speculative and unverifiable….
Finally we must note that Maugeri is well known for his hostility to peak oil, as is BP, which funded his report.
What’s the point? Sounds as though he and Kurt Cobb are a bit too cozy with their similar suspicions. Kurt doesn’t like fantasy projections, and Chris has an issue with “muddled, speculative and unverifiable”. There’s no pleasing people like this.
I still find it very difficult to believe that a petroleum industry insider with a record of opposition to Peak Oil and whose study is funded by an international petroleum corporation might exhibit even a whiff of bias. What’s your next argument, Chris: Tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the middle and lower class are not going to get our economy back on track? Who are you trying to kid?
Two words for you: “Job Creators.” Two more, no charge: “Another yacht.” Reagan promised they will create more jobs if their taxes are lowered, and just because it hasn’t happened after thirty years doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential to possibly happen someday.
I could go on, but I think my position is clear on these various approaches to debunking Mr. Maugeri’s study.
Thanks! (Seriously … thanks!)
* My Photo: Peter Island Resort, BVI – November 2006
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