Evidence that governments are underplaying peak oil

This comes from the Guardian (hat tip Lee):

The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves.

The allegations raise serious questions about the accuracy of the organisation’s latest World Energy Outlook on oil demand and supply to be published tomorrow – which is used by the British and many other governments to help guide their wider energy and climate change policies.

In particular they question the prediction in the last World Economic Outlook, believed to be repeated again this year, that oil production can be raised from its current level of 83m barrels a day to 105m barrels. External critics have frequently argued that this cannot be substantiated by firm evidence and say the world has already passed its peak in oil production.

Conspiracy theorists will love this one! But, we don’t need a conspiracy theory to see that the end of cheap oil is upon us. To find high quality oil deposits (I am not talking about Oil Sands in Alberta here) is becoming more and more expensive. And one oil field after another is hitting peak. We have seen it in Mexico, Russia, the North Sea, the Alaskan North Slope and elsewhere.  The only thing keeping us from realizing the peak is Saudi Arabia, the swing producer in OPEC.

In June of last year, I said:

There has been a lot of speculation of late regarding oil field production capacities declining. In particular, there are great worries regarding Russian and Saudi production capacities. The available data on Saudi production is especially opaque. Matthew Simmons, an expert oil investment banker, has written a book questioning the data the Saudis have provided regarding the proven reserves available for production and the production capacity of the Saudis major fields including Super Giant Ghawar, the largest oil field in the world. I recommend anyone interested in this debate read his book, “Twilight in the Desert.”

This leads us to the Armageddon Scenario. Nuclear-armed nations like China, Russia, India and the United States are desperate to keep their standard of living up. As a result, with oil supplies dwindling, competition for oil supplies will increase. The risk of armed conflict to procure necessary supply increases as peak oil becomes apparent. The U.S. has invaded Iraq, has troops stationed in Saudi Arabia and is threatening Iran, all because of oil — and in Iran’s case, the possibility of another nuclear-armed nation entering the strategic quest for oil. This is a battle of extreme importance strategically for a number of countries. They may stop at nothing to achieve their ends should peak oil become a problem.

Of course, this is exactly why China is all over South America and Africa.

As for peak oil, the lower-48 United States peak of 1970 was not recognized until years later. The same will be true again for the global peak. High oil prices are not just a reflection of speculation, there are some very real supply demand imbalances building. Recession has suppressed these, but in a more normal economic environment, oil prices are going to rise.

About 

Edward Harrison is the founder of Credit Writedowns and a former career diplomat, investment banker and technology executive with over twenty years of business experience. He is also a regular economic and financial commentator on BBC World News, CNBC Television, Business News Network, CBC, Fox Television and RT Television. He speaks six languages and reads another five, skills he uses to provide a more global perspective. Edward holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. Edward also writes a premium financial newsletter. Sign up here for a free trial.

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