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Whistleblower Claims IEA Is Downplaying Peak Oil 720

Posted by kdawson
from the routine-denial dept.
Yesterday the Guardian ran a story based on two anonymous sources inside the International Energy Agency who claimed that the agency had distorted key figures on oil reserves. "The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the [IEA] 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." Today the IEA released its annual energy outlook and rejected the whistleblowers' charges. The Guardian has an editorial claiming that the economic establishment is too fearful to come clean on the reality of oil suppplies, and makes an analogy with the (marginalized, demonized) economists who warned of a coming economic collapse in 2007.
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Whistleblower Claims IEA Is Downplaying Peak Oil

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:28PM (#30050862) Journal
    We might manage to find some more oil if we all stick our heads far enough into the sand, that is basically where it lives...
    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:38PM (#30051910)
      If my sources are correct, all we have to do is kill a bunch of dinosaurs then wait.
    • by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @05:05PM (#30052318) Homepage
      The thing is, if you *really* believe we're sticking our collective heads in the sand, borrow a couple of billion dollars and buy oil on a long dated future. If the peak oil doom-mongers are right, in a few years we'll be paying a thousand dollars a barrel. The fact that the price of future-dated oil doesn't reflect this suggests that the smart money doesn't believe peak oil is as imminent as the heralds of doom suggest.
      • Re:On the plus side! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Bertie (87778) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @06:52PM (#30053594)

        But it absolutely is going to run out one day, nobody but a crackpot would argue otherwise. So if you buy some and stockpile it indefinitely until it does, you absolutely are going to make a fortune, unless all demand for oil suddenly and miraculously goes away. So why isn't everybody doing just that? There must be a reason.

        Turns out there is, and it's really simple.

        The problem with trying to do that is there's nowhere to store it. Buying billions' worth of oil and putting it away for a rainy day just isn't possible unless you're, say, the US government with (allegedly) underground caves you can fill up with the stuff. So you have to just keep buying it as it comes out of the ground.

        And because we don't know exactly when the oil's going to run out, thanks in part to the sort of misinformation talked about in this article, the market price can't reflect how things are going to go in future. So people have to assume things are going to carry on as normal until they hear otherwise.

        If I knew oil was going to run out to all practical intents and purposes in, say, 50 years, and could store significant quantities of it for that long, then yeah, I'd do it. But I don't know when it'll run out, and I don't know how much I can store, and for how long. So I'll carry on paying the spot price or something not too far in the future, like everybody else.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:31PM (#30050910) Journal
    Reality A: No withheld data. Data is disseminated with some initial shock that by 20xx we will have oil shortages. People get a chance to plan accordingly. Private business gets a chance to cash in on better alternatives and more efficient products marketed to the consumer. California starts to look a little less crazy. Gasoline and fuel slowly becomes more expensive over the years as production slows. People adjust.

    Reality B: It's 20xx, suddenly there's no oil. Mass panic. People flip out. People die. Fuel shortages lead to water/food/heating shortages lead to war. Private industry doesn't have a chance to adjust. People aren't prepared to buy a new vehicle on the spot. Californians ride the nearest comet to Heaven's Gate. Crime increases, lawlessness arises, civilization breaks down, I'm forced into a Thunderdome with Cowboy Neal for my right to live.

    If the IEA is capable of any logic at all, they are not cooking the books or withholding data. What's the motive of retaining data or fixing charts?
    • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:36PM (#30050956)
      Reality C: No withheld data. Data is disseminated with some initial shock that by 20xx we will have oil shortages. People get into panic buying mode. Dogs and cats living together... Come 20XX, new supplies are found, and there are no shortages. People who bought oil future loose their shirts.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:44PM (#30051060)

        People who bought oil future loose their shirts.

        Why? Did they get too hot?

      • by crmarvin42 (652893) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:11PM (#30051488)
        Reality D: No withheld data. IEA not lying, but the whistleblower is simply a dissenter who was unable to convince the others as to his fuzzy math vs. everyone else's fuzzy math or he is a liar. Press automatically believes the worst, gives free advertising to the whistleblower. Whistleblower writes book, makes lots of money, and possibly receives the Nobel Prize for going to a book signing. Oil prices jump all over the place, everyone panics and the global recession kicks back into high gear for another couple of years.
        • by Rei (128717) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:54PM (#30052126) Homepage

          I like to call it the "Reverse Cassandra Effect" (stole the term from Simon). People *love* to listen to doomsayers, far more than people who tell you that things are going to be fine. The doomsayer can have the flimsiest of evidence and the dissenter a solid case, but the very notion of doom itself seems to make the audience more receptive to what they have to say.

          A classic example is the Simon-Ehrlich Wager [wikipedia.org]. Julian Simon, a libertarian-leaning business professor, bet Paul Ehrlich, a biologist who had published a series of books about imminent resource scarcity in the 1970s, that the inflation-adjusted price of five commodity metals -- of Ehrlich's choosing -- would average dropping over the course of the 1990s. Simon won -- bigtime. All five metals dropped in price, some by huge amounts. The aftermath? Despite Ehrlich's loss and his similar forecasts of huge famines, resource wars, etc all failing to materialize, Simon remained in relative obscurity, while Ehrlich received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award for "greater public understanding of environmental problems" in his doom-preaching books.

          And when I say this, note that I in general am *not* fond of libertarian ideals, and consider myself an environmentalist. But these doomer notions of secret imminent scarcity are just plain hokum.

          • by dangitman (862676) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:07AM (#30057982)

            People *love* to listen to doomsayers, far more than people who tell you that things are going to be fine.

            Really? What about the global financial collapse, where the doomsayers were ignored or ridiculed, and everybody wanted to hear about how great things are financially? Or the dot-com bubble, where everybody was listening to the market bulls who said we had a "new economy" that was just going to keep on growing and growing - while the bears and those who predicted a burstijng bubble were ignored?

            I think you've got this one backwards. most people want to hear everything's fine, and don't want to hear negatives. That's why there's such a culture of yes-men in business. You tell the boss what s/he wants to hear if you want to keep your job (unless you have a more enlightened boss).

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          It's very hard to know what the IEA really thinks. Their own reports are contradictory and confusing, the head of the IEA has said things that don't seem to reflect the agencies official view. Read this interview with the chief of the IEA, Fatih Birol [eurotrib.com]. In it he says

          If Iraqi production does not rise exponentially by 2015, we have a very big problem, even if Saudi Arabia fulfills all its promises. The numbers are very simple, there's no need to be an expert

          So what's going on here? One obvious explanation is t

      • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @07:16PM (#30053828)

        Reality D: Data is being withheld. Different forecasts of peak oil are generated and released, prompting suckers to buy, then sell, then buy back, etc, etc. oil futures. The people handling the transactions make out like bandits.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jnaujok (804613)
      You forgot Reality C: There's over 3.2 Trillion barrels of known reserves around the world (1.5T of which are in the United States, 1T of which is in the Green River Oil Shales -- all of which is currently unaccessable only because we say it is [by government mandate]). Although some of this oil is more difficult to mine than it is in the middle east, where you can just about stick a pole in the ground and get oil bubbling up, as the price of oil increases, more of these reserves will be made available. As
      • by orzetto (545509) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:59PM (#30051292)

        You are thinking only in economic terms. At some point there is an absolute economic limit when you are using as much energy to extract and process the oil as the energy you actually get out of it.

        So, there are reserves that are "unattainable" because it is not energetically sane to extract, and they will never be economically feasible no matter the price.

        Keep in mind that already now extracting only 50% of the oil of a reservoir is not considered that bad (and that's secondary recovery already, when you flush with water to get more oil out).

        • by Vintermann (400722) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:08PM (#30051446) Homepage

          > So, there are reserves that are "unattainable" because it is not energetically sane to extract, and they will never be economically feasible no matter the price.

          As one witty peak oiler explained it: If I want an apple, I may pay a dollar for it. If I really want and apple, I might pay a thousand dollars for it. But no matter how much I like apples, there's one price I will never pay for one, and that is twoapples.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by crmarvin42 (652893)

          So, there are reserves that are "unattainable" because it is not energetically sane to extract, and they will never be economically feasible no matter the price.

          You are operating under the assumption that methods cannot be developed to change the cost per unit of energy input. As costs go up, those with a keen eye for efficient design and a desire to make a lot of money will try to discover ways to make extraction cost effective and then patent it. They get to make tons of money off of the oil industry, and the industry gets to tap previously impractical wells.

          By assuming that it is impossible no mater how much time or energy is put into the problem and then l

          • by Volante3192 (953645) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:26PM (#30051728)

            Maybe the problem is too complex/expensive, but that doesn't mean you should prevent people from even trying to solve it if they want.

            I'm confused how they're being prevented. Many oil companies have setups in Utah and Colorado mining shale oil, it's just not economically feasible now for them to develop the process further. That's the free market at work.

            Real shame we can't pass legislation to force the oil companies to dump billions into oil shale research, but I guess that'd be socialism.

      • by cheesybagel (670288) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:05PM (#30051404)
        Oil shale is not petroleum. It can be processed into fuel, but so can coal and natural gas. Shale is not processed more because it is expensive and environmentally harmful to to convert. Even tar sands are cheaper.

        Here is what you probably don't know: Ronald Reagan stopped funding research on coal to liquids and extraction from oil shale by abolishing the Synthetic Liquid Fuels Program in the 80s.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Alaska Jack (679307)

          ... and yet, miraculously, research on coal-to-liquid fuels continues all over the country! Damn that Reagan and his ineffective efforts.

          Google: Coal to liquid [google.com]

          - Alaska Jack

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Robotbeat (461248)

          Back when oil was $145 a barrel (i.e. last year), I read quite a bit about oil shale. It is thought by many that oil shale is, if you start from scratch with no investment on both sides, easier to extract than tar sands (political/environmental issues aside), or at least they are very close to equal. However, after decades of consistent investment (and, yes, libertarians, even government subsidies), tar sand oil extraction is far ahead of oil shale oil extraction. Oil shale investment has waxed and waned pr

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dtolman (688781)
        Don't get too excited by the Green River shale solving all our problems - that stuff has to be stripped mined out, and then processed with water... a lot of water in drought prone areas... so your # barrels per day from the deposit is never going to be high enough to meet domestic needs.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by H0p313ss (811249)

          Don't get too excited by the Green River shale solving all our problems - that stuff has to be stripped mined out, and then processed with water... a lot of water in drought prone areas... so your # barrels per day from the deposit is never going to be high enough to meet domestic needs.

          Read up on the emerging disaster that is the Alberta Tar Sands project to get a good perspective on just how bad an idea it would be to attempt to process that crap.

      • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:25PM (#30051696)

        Yes, there's plenty of oil, and there always will be, because we'll end up leaving most of it in the ground.

        Those oil shales you mentioned, and the Bakken oil formations a bit farther north, have more oil in them than all of Saudi Arabia, and might as well be on Alpha Centauri, for all the good it'll ever do us.

        The problem is this. Regardless of what available technology you choose, the majority of this stuff is neither energy positive, nor economical to produce. It's in *shale.* You know, rock. It's not some nice big pool of spongy liquid you can put a straw in like the Ghawar fields in Saudi. You have to dig the rock, grind the rock, and *heat* the rock to get the oil out. Depending on how much oil is in the rock and how finely you ground it, you may, or more often not, get as much oil energy out of the rock as you put into it.

        Which is why all those new finds so breathlessly reported by those with journalism degrees don't mean squat.

        A deep water find that only yields sulfur-laden, heavy crude (i.e. tar) in multiple scattered reservoirs is NOT equivalent to some nice little civilized shallow well in porous rock that yields light sweet crude. The first is cheap to get, cheap to process, cheap to ship and it all can be done quickly. The latter is NOTHING like that. The latter is a decade from well to the tank in your car, if then.

        Bottom line? Cheap oil is a thing of the past. Our expanding economy depended on an ever expanding supply of cheap, portable energy. That goes away when oil goes away. We will transition, no doubt, but a few, maybe more than a few will starve to death before we do and more than a few governments may fall.

        Cheers!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lupine (100665) *

        Peak oil doesn't mean that we are going to run out of oil, it means that we are going to run out of cheap, high quality, easy to extract oil.

        Example: Iraq just sold the rights to develop their oil reserves for $2 per barrel. These contracts will probably go down in history as the best oil extraction deals ever made because Iraqi oil fields are as sizable as those in Saudi Arabia, the oil is high quality: easy to pump easy to drill, the fields have always been underdeveloped and underutilized and all other l

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ultranova (717540)

        As each one of these applications turns away from oil, the price of oil will temporarily drop or stabilize. Eventually we'll either be 100% off oil, or at a level where it's sustainable for 1000's of years.

        In order for an application to turn away from oil into other solutions, those other solutions must both exist and be economical - no, it's not sufficient to be cheaper than oil, the alternative must be cheap enough that the user can afford to pay. In order for such solutions to exist, they must be resear

    • by GigsVT (208848) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:40PM (#30051024) Journal

      Reality B: It's 20xx, suddenly there's no oil. Mass panic. People flip out. People die. Fuel shortages lead to water/food/heating shortages lead to war. Private industry doesn't have a chance to adjust. People aren't prepared to buy a new vehicle on the spot. Californians ride the nearest comet to Heaven's Gate. Crime increases, lawlessness arises, civilization breaks down, I'm forced into a Thunderdome with Cowboy Neal for my right to live.

      The only way Reality B can happen is if government artificially lower the price of oil through price caps or subsidies.

      Oil producers have no motivation to lie about oil reserves. They need the price to rise as the supply falls so that they maximize their profits. This will inevitably lead to your Reality A, a slow increase in price as supply falls.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sponge Bath (413667)

        ...if government artificially lower the price of oil through price caps or subsidies.

        ...or through coups or wars in oil producing countries.

      • by oldspewey (1303305) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:03PM (#30051356)

        Oil producers have no motivation to lie about oil reserves.

        Oil producers have ample motivation to lie about oil reserves. Who has more geopolitical and economic clout:
        a) A country with 50 billion barrels in proven reserves, who publicly state they have 50 billion barrels in proven reserves, or
        b) A country with 50 billion barrels in proven reserves, who publicly state they have 125 billion barrels in proven reserves?

        Who is better able to attract foreign investment in port facilities or refineries? Who has more influence over the large oil-consuming nations?

        • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @05:20PM (#30052542) Homepage
          Indeed. And in fact Kuwait has already been caught lying about its reserves red handed. Anyone who runs the numbers on Saudi Arabia also finds they are highly suspicious. It's almost certain in fact that OPEC members routinely lie about the size of their reserves and this is acknowledged by the IEA as well.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by wytcld (179112)

          OPEC allocates production quotas as a percentage of each member nation's claimed reserves. So any member of OPEC who wants to sell more oil this year under their quota system will claim proven reserves larger than they really have. And any member of OPEC who thinks other members are inflating their numbers, will inflate their own just to keep the field level.

      • by orzetto (545509) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:13PM (#30051524)

        You must be new here to OPEC. Let me be your guide.

        OPEC exists to maximise the profits of its member countries. To avoid countries from competing against each other and thus lowering the price, there are production quotas.

        Quotas are determined for each country based on its reserves.

        Reserves are, however, only a rough estimation, because no one can go kilometres underground and survey the oil fields. They only have a few holes, pressure vs. flow data, composition and little more.

        As a result, a geologist from Whatsamatterstan is asked from his minister: how much oil reserves do we have? If you say X, we make Y. If you say 2*X, we make 2*Y, and I will be happier. If you say X/2, I will hire another geologist.

        So, as a result, reserve estimates within OPEC have a strong incentive to be exaggerated. In order to maximise profits, a country has to put a straight face until oil is really not flowing any more: if they let out the news that they cheated about reserves, they cannot sell oil at the same rate any more, and (not sure about OPEC by-laws) may face fines. So they will always deny any exaggeration in estimates until the bitter end.

        Saudi Arabia, in particular, has an enormous incentive to lie about their cheap oil: they have a leadership position in OPEC because they have the largest reservoirs and the cheapest oil (used to be $2/barrel at production), which means they can keep everybody else who may disobey them in line by flooding the market, thereby sinking price, thereby hitting their profits. If they were to hit peak oil, that country would suddenly be powerless, useless to the US as a strategic ally, and will lose its position of prominence (most likely) to Iran, which you may guess will start a long domino effect.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lunzo (1065904)

        Oil producers have no motivation to lie about oil reserves

        Were you going for the funny mod? Companies will lie if they perceive that the truth will significantly threaten their hip-pockets. Take for example the recent fad of "Greenwash". Companies are still doing their same old polluting thing, they just advertise their (usually non-existent) environmental credentials. Some other examples you may be more familiar with:

        • Cigarette companies lying about the link between smoking and cancer for decades.
        • James Ha
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      Reality A: No withheld data. Data is disseminated with some initial shock that by 20xx we will have oil shortages. People get a chance to plan accordingly. Private business gets a chance to cash in on better alternatives and more efficient products marketed to the consumer. California starts to look a little less crazy. Gasoline and fuel slowly becomes more expensive over the years as production slows. People adjust.

      Um, California has been looking a lot less crazy ever since gas hit $5.00/gal, even if it si

    • by Vintermann (400722) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:05PM (#30051410) Homepage

      We will not "suddenly" run out of oil. What will happen, is that prices will become high, and stay high - even in the face of things which would previously send them into the cellar, such as, I don't know, a global recession.

    • by cfulmer (3166) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:06PM (#30051420) Homepage Journal
      Both your setups (and, from what I've seen, everybody else's) miss a fundamental fact: There's no on/off oil spigot. It's a gradual process. If there really isn't much oil left, then oil will slowly become more and more expensive as the remaining oil becomes harder and harder to extract. We will never truly run out of it -- it will just get so expensive that it will be used for only a few things. Along the way, as the price goes up, alternatives will develop. People will switch to more fuel-efficient cars, perhaps plug-in hybrids, substituting nuclear and hydro energy for oil energy. Similar innovations will happen through every place that oil is used today. We have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, why not nuclear-powered super cargo ships? You will see a slew of new battery technologies as companies realize that there's a lot of money to be made in replacing oil. In fact, the more expensive oil gets, the more alternatives become viable. The only real shortage would happen if some government put a price cap on oil or gasoline, perhaps saying "You cannot sell gas for more than $5 a gallon" at a time when market forces would set the price at $10. In that case, there would be shortages. Otherwise, there would just be a bunch of people refraining from buying oil because the prices are too high.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bitrex (859228)

        If there really isn't much oil left, then oil will slowly become more and more expensive as the remaining oil becomes harder and harder to extract. We will never truly run out of it -- it will just get so expensive that it will be used for only a few things.

        Military vehicles, warships, and aircraft.

      • by Ibag (101144) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @05:35PM (#30052732)

        The thing is, while there will be more economic incentive to use alternative energy sources, and even though necessity is the mother of invention, there are technical hurdles to overcome, and we need to set of new infrastructure, and the science and engineering feats that must be accomplished will not just happen because we want them to. Maybe we can overcome the problems given enough time, but depending on how fast the price increases (thanks to increased development in countries like China and India, demand will be increasing even as supply drops), we may not be able to afford to wait.

        Yes, the laws of supply and demand will prevent there from being real shortages, but when the economy slows because people can't afford to drive places (like work) or buy things that were shipped (like most food), when people are forced to make hard decisions, when the market for luxury goods disappears because people are spending most of their income on necessities because the next big thing in affordable fuels is still "just around the corner," will it matter that it isn't a shortage in the truest sense of the word?

  • by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:37PM (#30050964)
    As a point of clarification, the issue is NOT when we will run out of oil. There's enough oil left in the subsurface to last a long time. The issue is how fast we can get it out of the ground. When an economical oil deposit is first discovered, there is a substantial amount of pressure on the oil (think spindletop [wikipedia.org]) and it comes up to the surface of it's own accord. As the oil from the deposit is produced, the pressure drops and the oil ceases eventually coming up by itself all together. After that, you can still get it out of the ground, but you have to pump it and you never get back to the same flow rate.

    World population is continually increasing, China and India are rapidly industrializing so demand for oil is going up and up, but the flow rate isn't. This is why we had $147/barrel oil a few years ago, not speculators. It's all supply and demand, but in this case the supply is limited. No amount oil shale or tar sands or deepwater deposits will do us much good because we can't achieve the same flow rate with these deposits as the traditional ones.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      World population is continually increasing, China and India are rapidly industrializing so demand for oil is going up and up, but the flow rate isn't. This is why we had $147/barrel oil a few years ago, not speculators. It's all supply and demand, but in this case the supply is limited.

      If it is simply supply and demand, why are we now down to ~$50/barrel and yet demand hasn't decreased and supply hasn't increased? The price of oil is hardly an indicator of what you are suggesting.

    • by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:49PM (#30051122) Homepage Journal

      This is why we had $147/barrel oil a few years ago, not speculators.

      If the world population were the only factor, oil would still be at $147/bbl, because the world population hasn't gone down.

      I suspect that there was rampant speculation going on, and that a great many speculators lost their shirts when the bubble they'd created burst. But I don't know who the winners and losers were.

      If you "smooth out" the spike, the price of oil is still going up pretty fast [wtrg.com] since its trough in the late 90s, even if not quite as fast as the speculation-fueled spike. That would suggest that you're correct: we are looking at a price rise, possibly just based on the supply and demand, and the current dip is just the spike evening itself out.

      If that's the case, we'd expect to see oil continue a gradual rise of roughly 5% per year over inflation. But the spikes make it tricky to observe that with anything less than a five-year window.

    • by Tumbleweed (3706) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:57PM (#30051264)

      It's all supply and demand

      It's really not. OPEC deliberately (and publicly) slows production to keep prices high. They've gotten used to the profits that $70+/bbl oil brings. We're never going back to pre-Katrina oil prices. In the long run, though, this is good - it merely ensures the rise of much more fuel efficient vehicles.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by xiando (770382)
        It's really not. OPEC deliberately (and publicly) slows production to keep prices high. They've gotten used to the profits that $70+/bbl oil brings. We're never going back to pre-Katrina oil prices. In the long run, though, this is good - it merely ensures the rise of much more fuel efficient vehicles.

        Keep in mind that OPEC can and do slow production down to increase prices, but they can not increase production passed a certain point. That is where demand becomes higher than supply and prices go sky-high
    • by epine (68316) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:33PM (#30051826)

      Oil is a strange good. The wealthiest economies are those which consume the most of it. Under present conditions, each unit of oil consumed generates wealth. It's extremely hard to argue that oil is not significantly underpriced, to the greater benefit of those who monopolize its consumption.

      If the price of oil doubles or triples, the western world would grouse so loudly, the internet might collapse under the collective groan, but in other respects, life would go on. We'd finally have to rationalize our consumption, a project long overdue on any number of other grounds.

      I have trouble grasping Chicken Little squawking out of one beak "we're running out of oil, we're all going to freeze" while simultaneously squawking out of the other beak "we've already burned too much, we're all going to roast". Even if the GHG scenario fails to unfold with the anticipated drama, there's still the issue that we are potentially damaging ocean chemistry and wiping out global shellfish ecosystems.

      My own position is that we already have more carbon at hand than we can prudently burn and release into the atmosphere, so peak oil is mostly about traders hoping to pump and dump amid a global stock panic.

      My sceptic says: I'll believe the world is suffering a major food shortage when nobody grows tobacco. I'll believe the world is suffering a major energy shortage when we can no longer afford to throw a cell phone away because it's so yesterday.

      The Afterlife of Cellphones [nytimes.com]

      Regardless, recyclers say that from their vantage point it's obvious that most phones are retired because of psychological, not technological, obsolescence. "There's some fashion driving all of this and, by its nature, fashion is not eternal," says Mark Donovan of M:Metrics, which tracks the wireless industry.

      This is a dead giveaway that our society is not yet anywhere close to energy stress, as much as the masters of markets in chaos wish us to fear this.

  • by The_Wilschon (782534) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:39PM (#30050992) Homepage

    an analogy with the (marginalized, demonized) economists who warned of a coming economic collapse in 2007.

    Great. This argument boils down to "Someone who we were told was wrong turned out to be right. Therefore, this other person who we are told is wrong (and by extension everyone who we are told is wrong) must also be right." I have no idea whether or not these whistleblowers are correct or not, but this "argument" by analogy is worse than useless, because it encourages fuzzy thinking.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      an analogy with the (marginalized, demonized) economists who warned of a coming economic collapse in 2007.

      Great. This argument boils down to "Someone who we were told was wrong turned out to be right. Therefore, this other person who we are told is wrong (and by extension everyone who we are told is wrong) must also be right." I have no idea whether or not these whistleblowers are correct or not, but this "argument" by analogy is worse than useless, because it encourages fuzzy thinking.

      Except I can't remember any economists who were demonized for pointing out problems with the economy in 2007. I can remember lots of news articles about economists talking about how bad things were.

  • by bartyboy (99076) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:39PM (#30051000)

    These popular conspiracy theories about group X holding back product/information Y are all debunked by a single thought: IF these people are truly smart enough to rule the world (or an aspect of it), they know better than to try to control every single individual in it.

    What does this mean? That they are smart enough to follow free markets. They are smart enough to know that they can't predict the future of the stock market, even if they can control an aspect of it. This assumes that these groups do have a level of involvement high enough to control the government, financial and religious institutions WITHOUT being exposed. You really think that a large group of people is capable of holding a secret so large for so long? A president gets a blowjob from an intern and the whole world hears about it. I doubt an army of engineers, scientists and politicians would be quiet about what really goes on in Area 51, killing people with vaccines, peak oil conspiracies or whatever bullshit is popular that day.

    So give your conspiracy theories a rest and please report some real news.

    • by Vintermann (400722) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:25PM (#30051700) Homepage

      There's one thing classic conspiracy theory conspiracies very, very rarely have, and we're looking at it right now: Whistleblowers. It's not the first time either, that insiders have complained about political pressure.

      So we're not exactly talking chemtrails-style conspiracies here, rather the kind of modest conspiracy that happens from time to time - such as a conspiracy to deny a link between smoking and cancer, or a conspiracy to deny that there's anything wrong with Iceland's economic situation. Not generation-spanning, all-encompassing conspiracies, just a couple of interest groups getting together and see if the can postpone inconvenient revelations (or their impact) a couple of more years.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      IF these people are truly smart enough to rule the world (or an aspect of it), they know better than to try to control every single individual in it.

      OR, They're counting on you to believe this. It's positively diabolical.

      In truth, the term "smart enough to rule the world" is meaningless. There's no such thing. There is simply the fact that people and organizations with varying levels of power and intelligence are struggling to manage the affairs of the world. They are doing a $adjective job of it. It m

    • by raddan (519638) * on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:59PM (#30052198)
      How about a conspiracy to build a devastating new weapon that will wipe Japanese cities off the map? I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I can't see how you can say that the Manhattan Project was not a conspiracy. Not to mention other recent and well-documented conspiracies [wikipedia.org]. What about political coups? Political assassinations? For something as visible as oil, probably not, but conspiracies can and do happen.
  • Probably overblown (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Toonol (1057698) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:46PM (#30051076)
    Whistle Blowers have agendas too, sometimes. But it's a moot point, because the proper response is the same either way: fast track nuclear plants. There is no other reasonable solution to the inevitable energy problem. We will switch to nuclear at some point or our civilization will collapse.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:49PM (#30051146)

    I'm pretty sure OPEC allocates allowed production levels by each country's "known reserves", giving the rulers of those countries all kinds of incentive to exaggerate their reserves.

    The medieval Saudi despots and thugs like Hugo Chavez want to grab all the money they can while THEY'RE alive.

  • Not worried (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hatemonger (1671340) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:06PM (#30051432)
    Maybe I'm the exception, but gas is a very small part of my recurring bills. If gas prices double or triple, maybe I'll skip a new video game or dinner out every month. Whoop-de-do. And the price of shipping goods will increase. So I'll pay $0.79 instead of $0.59 for a potato. I'm just not quaking in my boots. The biggest overlooked fact of peak oil is that it will be a gradual decline as more oil recovery methods become economically feasible. So over the rest of my life, I suspect there will eventually be a cheaper mode of transportation than gas-powered cars. But for now, I'll stick with the convenience of 400 miles/fill-up, gas stations everywhere, and transportation costs (including car payment) below 15% of my income.
    • Re:Not worried (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bdeclerc (129522) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:38PM (#30051916) Homepage

      Maybe you don't realise, but the price of "gas" is factored in in pretty much everything else you buy... That video game, how do you reckon it's transported to the store? That dinner, how do you think its ingredients are harvested, and possible, with what it is cooked?

      Price of oil/gas rises --> price of all manufactured goods & services rises --> cost of living rises... This effect is far, far bigger than the "very small part of your recurring bills" that is you directly buying gas...

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:10PM (#30051476)

    In the future every entity will have an associated conspiracy theory, for 15 minutes.

  • Missing the point (Score:5, Informative)

    by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:41PM (#30051950) Journal

    America, with 5% of the world's population, consumes about 25% of its resources. Reason? Single Use Zoning. The silly settlement pattern that puts housing neatly in one area, shopping in another, office space in another, and industry in another, and then forces people to drive between all these areas throughout the course of the day. Okay, it makes sense to zone off industry in certain cases where noise and pollution is an issue. But making it illegal to open a corner store in a residential area? No wonder so many journeys are made by car in the USA, bus journeys in that kind of sprawl take forever and mass transit gets a bad reputation (deservedly so). Induced traffic is another symptom of this problem - roads get wider, developers develop farther out to allow people to take advantage of the faster commute and lower property prices, roads get filled with cars belonging to these new commuters, and we're back to square one again with people demanding that the road gets widened even more!

    As long as American settlement patterns are so screwed up, the problem will exist even if we aren't in a state of world peak oil. The problem is a hopeless addiction to petroleum that no magic wand nuclear power solution (mentioned by someone above) will be able to fix.

  • Missing a motive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShatteredArm (1123533) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @06:22PM (#30053260)
    Anytime you encounter one of these conspiracy theories, you have to ask yourself, "Why would they do this?" In this case, what incentive would the US Government have to try and suppress oil prices? That flies in the face of the current government economic philosophy, which is to reflate all assets at any cost. Everything the government has tried to do in the last year has been an attempt to raise prices, not lower them. I think the thought is that if they can manage to report a positive CPI number, they can get people and institutions to start releveraging.
  • Peak oil. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @02:36AM (#30057264) Homepage

    There's general agreement in the industry that we're near peak oil. The peak may have happened already, in 2006-2008. The most optimistic view is that the peak will be around 2020. That's not far away.

    Prices aren't that good an indicator of availability. Because supply and demand are both relatively inelastic and change slowly. So small variations in supply or demand produce big changes in price. The worldwide recession has cut demand a bit, which brought the price way down. Supply did not increase.

    All the easy places have already been drilled. US oil production peaked in 1970. Look at this list of countries where production has peaked. [theoildrum.com]

    Then there's France. Back in the 1970s, France decided to go nuclear. France has 59 nuclear power plants and exports electricity. It's good to plan ahead.

It's a naive, domestic operating system without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption.

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