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Bartlett: A Prophet Without Honor in Congress

Phil Weiss, New York Observer
I was supposed to go somewhere yesterday afternoon when I turned on C-Span and saw a somewhat stooped old guy on the House floor talking about the end of oil supplies, whipping out one chart after another. The guy was obviously too scientific to be a politician. He looked and sounded like a cross between Mr. Wizard and Johnny Appleseed, as he explained that the depletion of oil will cause great economic and possibly civic disruption unless we get on the stick now.

As I soon discovered, this prophetic figure is Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, who turns 80 in two weeks.

His hour-long speech is called “Peak Oil,” and he ssays he will give it or a variant again and again till his fellow congressmen listen. Bartlett’s ease with science reflects the fact that he is a former professor of physiology, with many patents in aeronautics. And he’s a farmer; the Almanac of American Politics says he still milks his own goats.

…Bartlett is becoming a folk hero, with wide attention in the energy community. “Bartlett’s talks are amazing,” says Bart Anderson, co-editor of the Energy Bulletin in Palo Alto, which along with the the congressman and many geologists and environmentalists, subscribes to the theory of “peak oil” (the party’s over). Why isn’t Bartlett on the nightly news and the front pages?
(17 May 2006)

Rep. Bartlett’s latest talk to Congress

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Congressional Record via private website
Mr. Speaker, recently our Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, made a statement that I would like to read. In this statement she said: “We do have to do something about the energy problem. I can tell you that nothing has really taken me aback more as Secretary of State than the way that the politics of energy is, I will use the word `warping diplomacy,’ around the world. We have simply got to do something about the warping now of diplomatic effort by the all-out rush for energy supply.”

Mr. Speaker, the 8th of this March was a really historic date, and it passed and really very few people knew how historic it was. It was 50 years since a report given in San Antonio, Texas, by a world-famous scientist. And I will talk about that a bit more in a few minutes.

The 15th of March of this year marked one year from the date that I first came to this floor to talk about the problem that Condoleezza Rice was talking about, about the energy problem; and since that time I have been to the floor several times to talk about that. Since then, there have been two major government studies on this same topic. One of them is known as the “Hirsch Report,” from Robert Hirsch, who was the principal investigator for SAIC, a very large prestigious scientific engineering organization.

This study was sponsored by the Department of Energy; and for several months after the report was available, it was kind of bottled up inside the agency and we were kind of asking the question, why wasn’t it out on the street sooner because it really makes some very significant points.

A second study was done at the request of the Army by the Corps of Engineers. And I have those two reports here. Here is the “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management.” The project leader was Dr. Robert Hirsch. And here is that report, paid for by our Department of Energy and done by SAIC. That was dated February of 2005.

A few months later, in September of 2005, a report by the Corps of Engineers, and here is a copy of that report, which just got out to the street about 3 months ago, by the way. So for a number of months this was bottled up inside the Pentagon. Both of these reports say essentially the same thing, and I would like to spend a few minutes this afternoon talking about what these two reports say.
(16 May 2006)

Global Oil Output to Peak in 2010 – Diapason

Andrea Hotter, Schlumberger
FRANKFURT – Global oil output could reach its production peak by 2010 leaving increasing emphasis on the use of agricultural products for energy supply, Stephan Wrobel, chief executive of Swiss-based asset management fund Diapason Commodities Management SA told the Dow Jones European Commodity Investment conference in Frankfurt Tuesday.

“Currently the world derives some 60% of its energy from fossil fuels but these supplies are limited – the global ‘production peak’ of oil could be reached by around 2010,” Wrobel said.

“Clean and renewable fuels can be made out of corn, canola, soybean, palm oil, rice, sugar cane. As prices of these commodities are still at low levels they offer interesting economic, and environmental friendly alternatives,” he added.

…Positive supply side factors in the agricultural markets and rising demand for biofuels encouraged Diapason to launch the UBS Diapason Global Biofuel Index. The index, a joint venture with Swiss bank UBS AG (UBS), is the first commodity-based index for biological fuels and will cover a range of commodities used in the production of ethanol and biodiesel. Diapason is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, and London.
(16 May 2006)
As the article makes clear, Diapason has an interest in promoting biofuels. Doesn’t mean they’re wrong, though. -BA

Saudi Aramco to boost oil reserves by 25%
Reuters, Trade Arabia
Saudi Arabia is ‘quadrupling’ exploration activities to boost its oil reserves by 25 per cent by 2025, a Saudi Aramco official said.

Aramco, the state oil firm of the world’s top exporter, has 260 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and a sustainable production capacity of 10.8 million barrels per day (bpd), said Mohammed al-Qahtani, manager, production and facility development department.

‘The 260 billion barrels represents 36 per cent of discovered oil resources, this is the so called oil initially in place. We have 716 billion barrels of discovered resources. We produced 106 billion barrels so far, that is 15 percent, and 36 per cent is our proven reserves,’ he told an Arab energy conference.

‘We are estimating that by 2025 we will increase total discovered resources up to more than 900 billion barrels,’ he told the conference in Jordan.
(16 Mar 2006)
Interesting how little this Reuters article has been picked up – so far it doesn’t seem to have been published outside of three Middle East newspapers. Perhaps Saudi claims like these are no longer considered credible. Such extraordinary numbers certainly seem implausible – representing the equivalent of 7 North Seas worth of unbooked reserves! This when the validity of the 260 billion barrels of current proven reserves has been under scrutiny. The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) and others have questioned the reality of sudden increase on paper of proven reserves of 100 Gb in the later 1980s. ASPO have guessed that the proven reserves might be closer to 159 Gb, while A.M. Samsam Bakhtiari of the Iranian national oil company has put the number at between 120 – 140. Matthew Simmons has raised the alarm that Saudi Arabia may be approaching peak production with his best seller Twilight in the Desert.

Last month a Saudi Aramco spokesman stated that mature crude oil fields are expected to decline at an average rate of 8% per year without additional maintenance and drilling. Saudia Arabia and the world’s biggest oil field, Ghawar, which has produced about 60-65% of the oil out of Saudi Arabia, has now been in operation for over 55 years.

Claims like these seem so obviously far removed from reality that at least they should not interfere with serious discussions too much. -AF

Kunstler Interview: Has the Long Peak-Oil Emergency Begun?

Ben Adler, Campus Progress via AlterNet
…Ben Adler: In your new book, The Long Emergency, you lay out this very, very pessimistic vision of the near American future —

James Kunstler: Well, it’s only pessimistic if you think that living in Plano, Texas, is the world’s greatest thing, you know?

BA: Well — okay, that’s a fair point — I guess some of us would say that if Las Vegas really becomes a ghost town as you predict, that would be a good thing.

JK: That would be good for us in many ways — not least of which is because Las Vegas is the holy shrine of a very pernicious religion — which is the religion of getting something for nothing; the religion of unearned riches — which is an idea that is extremely destructive and insidious and has now spread throughout our culture and has given people the idea that earnest efforts are not required to have good outcomes.

BA: Nonetheless, you lay out a vision that is very stark and extreme in what is going to happen to vast swaths of the country — the South; the Southwest in particular. How do you respond to people who say the laws of supply and demand will dictate that as oil prices go up, the market will move to new kinds of energy and that some market correction will make these circumstances much less dire than you predict?

JK: Well, I wouldn’t try to denounce them or anything. There’s no question that as a society we are going to be doing some things differently, including some things that will surprise us. And not all of them will be terrible. Some of them will be beneficial. But I think on the whole, that there’s a great deal of wishful thinking involved in believing that both the “market” and “technology” will bring some rescue remedy to stave off the discontinuities that we face.

…BA: For young progressives who want to slow the rate of global warming and want to strengthen American communities following the principles of new urbanism, it seems like such a colossal problem to tackle. What can our readers do on the local and national level to change this pattern of development?

JK: Okay, I will give you a very specific answer to that. And I preface it by saying that the political progressive wing of American politics really ought to be ashamed for being as feckless and foolish as it’s been in the last several years by not paying attention to any of these issues. And, one of the signs of that is what I’m gonna say next. We have a railroad system in America that the Bolivians would be ashamed of. There isn’t one thing we could do in this country that would have a greater impact on our oil use than restoring the American rail system to something like a European level of service. It’s something that we know how to do, the infrastructure is laying out there waiting to be fixed and re-used, and the Democrats are not even talking about it — and I’m a registered Democrat — and it ticks me off. I would like to see the politically progressive kids out there start militating to restore the American railroad system. The fact that we’re not even talking about that shows me how un-serious we are.
(17 May 2006)
Vintage Kunstler.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It…
A Review of Some Current Speculative Thinking on Collapse

Christy Rodgers, Dissident Voice
A specter is haunting global civilization: the specter of “carrying capacity.” In one forum after another, the idea that we are nearing Malthusian limits in terms of the development of highly organized societies and human habitation of earth is making itself heard. Scientists and sociologists point to different specific phenomena: species extinction and habitat destruction, over-population, global warming, peak oil, falling water tables, the proliferation of super-viruses, and so on, but the theme of most of these analyses is simple: things cannot, and will not, go on as they are much longer. Some of the thinking associated with this idea is rather timid and narrow, some of it is lyrical and reasoned, some of it is flat-out apocalyptic. Sometimes the same author exhibits more than one of these characteristics in the same article or book. Some of the proposed prescriptions for our plight are just about as frightening as the worst-case scenario themselves.

What’s most interesting to me is not so much the army of statistics being brought to bear to construct these hypotheses, or the particular focus of any given argument, as the type of thinking that different proponents apply, its relation to the times, and its chances of actually being assimilated and acted upon in any way that truly meliorates the problems it identifies. Three influential authors who’ve recently looked at the whole enchilada (and found that the cheese is disappearing fast) are the nominal subject of this review.

[Actually four authors are examined:]

  1. Jared Diamond. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

  2. James Howard Kunstler. The Long Emergency
  3. Mike Davis. Ecology of Fear
  4. James Lovelock. The Revenge of Gaia

Christy Rodgers is the editor and publisher of the very occasional journal What If? Journal of Radical Possibilities, and, a little magazine and website with big ideas.
(17 May 2006)