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Leaked Cables Reveal US Thinks Saudi Oil Reserves May Be Overstated 385

Posted by timothy
from the let-prices-adjust-to-reflect dept.
Mr.Intel writes with this excerpt from a UPI report which may interest those of you with cars, electricity, items made of plastic, etc: "Estimates of oil reserves in Saudi Arabia are overstated, meaning crude output could peak within the next decade, leaked US diplomatic cables reveal. Washington fears Saudi Arabia overestimated its oil reserves by as much as 40 percent and the kingdom can't keep enough oil flowing to control prices, US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Guardian newspaper in London reveal."
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Leaked Cables Reveal US Thinks Saudi Oil Reserves May Be Overstated

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  • by thomasdz (178114) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @04:33PM (#35166004)

    Canada, the 51st state, has all the oil the US needs.... all you need to do is invade^H^H^H^H^H^H ask

    • by jpmorgan (517966) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @04:37PM (#35166078) Homepage

      To quote Dogbert, your comment more or less says "Hey everyone, I don't understand what fungible means."

      It's unlikely that much Saudi Arabian crude ends up in your gas tank. Your car is filled mostly from Gulf, Venezuelan and yes, Canadian crude. But it's still an international market, and a shortage of Saudi Arabian crude will drive up prices everywhere around the world, as European oil companies start looking to buy from elsewhere to make up for the shortfall.

      • But the idea was that the US would no longer need to purchase it's oil... (assuming the states is invading and taking control or Canadians are just that nice) Hence prices no longer matter to the US. Essentially if the Demand for oil by the US is met by the supply the US has, the prices only really go up for everyone else who loses out.

        • But that would only really work if the above-mentioned oil producing states basically agreed not to sell to anyone else, thus removing themselves from the global oil market. I can't imagine the oil companies in those countries wanting to do that, nor can I imagine the governments, who profit from it as well, cutting themselves off at the knees just so you can get cheap prices at the pump.

      • by plopez (54068)

        Don't forget Mexico. Which is troublesome due to the growing unrest there.

      • by afidel (530433) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @05:03PM (#35166482)
        Crude isn't completely fungible, light sweet crude is but that's not the majority of current crude production. For instance all the saber rattling Venezuela was making a couple years about cutting off the US was pure bluff, no other consumer has enough refining capacity for their particular kind of sour crude and so the only thing cutting off the US would have accomplished was a complete collapse of their economy.
      • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @07:24PM (#35168450)

        To quote Dogbert, your comment more or less says "Hey everyone, I don't understand what fungible means."

        Oil isn't really fungible, if you're thinking long term. The oil under our own (US) territory may have the same nominal value, but it's a lot more valuable to us than the oil underneath Saudi territory.

        What is often derided as America's "dependency" on foreign oil is actually a rare example of smart politics: in a world where supplies are declining, it's best to burn the bad guys' oil first.

    • As sibling mentioned, the whole damned market is fungible (Hell, we sell Alaskan crude to Japan and the rest of Asia, if memory serves... with very little making it to the lower 48).

      I figure that, *if* renewables do start picking up, then we have options...

      * rising gas prices will almost guarantee that folks will (if they can) shift to more fuel efficient vehicles. Hybrids? Probably not until the come down in price to something sane, and EV's will likely not be viable until they come with a decent range (th

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by rolfwind (528248)

        Solar/Wind won't do it.

        Nimbys and environmentalist wackos will have to be slapped asiden and nuclear plants (and breeder plants) built for the first time in 30 years. Nuclear is the real hope. Solar and Wind is a pipe dream except for localized energy.

        • The real solution is to stop using energy to push 3500 pound cars with a few hundred pounds of human all over the place. Half the cars in this country should be replaced by bicycles.

          • by rolfwind (528248) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @06:06PM (#35167560)

            The real solution is to stop using energy to push 3500 pound cars with a few hundred pounds of human all over the place. Half the cars in this country should be replaced by bicycles.

            The problem is that so much of this country has been built around the car. The bike is excellent in Europe, specifically Holland. But the zoning there doesn't seperated stores from the people in the same way they do it here, surburbia wasn't sold to them as the ultimate dream like it was here in the 1950s to get away from the cities.

            Also, weight is not the ultimate problem. A honda civic gets 30mpg. A moped/motorcycle that has a small engine but still can go highway speeds gets maybe 75mpg, often 60mpg. For the sacrifice, not a huge multiplier. If you can get away with 60mph top speed, then maybe a moped with 100mpg. Really not the 300mpg some people I talked to thought in the past (when gas was nearing $4 a gallon). It surprised them because they see a lot of sacrificed weight (saftey) and convenience (space).

            For one, standard bicycles/motorcycles have a tall profile with the rider in the standard position, not that aerodynamic compared to a lower car or recumbent bicycle (which hold the speed records since aerodynamics make a huge difference at speed). Then another factor is rolling resistance -- trains are heavy as hell but their steel wheels deform a lot less than a rubber wheel - giving them decent efficiency all things considered (along with not stop and going and aerodynamics). Lastly is the huge engines Americans love even though they never use 90% of the capacity. In Germany, with the unlimited autobahn and where they go at least 85mph (~140kph) on average on the autobahn, many drivers make do with 1.2-1.6L engines while in America so many people have 1.8-2.4L+ just so they can peel out the driveway a fraction of a second faster. And consume more fuel the rest of the time.

            I don't see the US making the move to rail/bike lanes. Too much central control and will power needed to make the changes. Before we go to mopeds/bikes, something like the Aptera could provide similiar mileage w/o too many sacrifices. Too bad it'll never get made.

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        * I get the feeling that the NIMBY crowd will start getting bitch-slapped once the masses realize that either we build the solar/wind farm on that Western Cross-Eyed Spotted Dormouse habitat, or you start putting up with brownouts.

        The NIMBY crowd and the Cute Fuzzy Animal Lovers are two entirely different constituencies. NIMBY generally comes from folks who think that whatever it is that's being proposed will decrease the value of their property, so it's basically about money, which means there's the possibility of buying them off. Cute Fuzzy Animal Lovers have the impression that there's value in preserving wild species, so it's about principles, which means there's no buying them off. There are a lot more NIMBY folks than CFALs, bu

    • Not if we poison the water ways up here. By the time you get here they'll have died from death.

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      The question, of course, is not how much oil Canada has, but how easy it is to extract and process.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      Saying Canada has all the oil we need is kind of like saying that the ocean has all the drinking water we need. Oil sands have to be processed so much that it's unlikely that they'll ever be a substitute for the pure thing.

      • by rfc1394 (155777)

        Saying Canada has all the oil we need is kind of like saying that the ocean has all the drinking water we need.

        Well, it does, it just costs three times as much to desalinate seawater as to use freshwater to begin with. But I've never really understood the issue. We're talking $3 per 1,000 gallons instead of $1; if we tripled the price of water in the west, the only people who would notice are large users. But then again, I suspect that's the whole point, in that most of the cost of processing water is to handle industrial and agricultural uses; residential and urban commercial use of water is probably not that si

  • What else is new? We knew they lied about this for years.

    • by lul_wat (1623489)
      Wish I could find the chart.. but yes, they have been. When OPEC put limits on the amount a country could pump out, based on its stated oil reserves, guess what happened? Everyones STATED oil reserves havn't changed since that limit was put in .. hence no need to decline pumping.
  • /. News Network (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Even on Slashdot FOE (1870208) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @04:37PM (#35166080)

    Today's top story is that Saudi Oil reserves are actually critically lo, and we will need to transition to use more renewable energy sources to replace it.

    In related news, NIMBY groups are opposing the construction of everything other than oil and coal plants on the basis that everything else is ugly and might even let the poor have enough electricity to survive the weather conditions of the coming years.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      And the Republicans are trying to unfund any research into renewable energy. Penny-wise, pound-foolish ... we'll all be paying the price in 10 years or so for that.
      • by mbkennel (97636)

        Are you kidding?

        For them, it's Penny-Wise, Billion-Dollar-Wise assuming they own oil wells and Wealthy Friends who own oil companies.

      • Well of course we will, but the politicians will enjoy great success in the meantime, and when the shit hits the fan, they'll be ready to retire on the huge amounts of money they were paid under the table by oil companies.

        Business as usual.

      • ...And the democrats want to pump money into unworkable schemes to fund their "green energy" friends. Neither side is about sustainability and real progress, both sides just want to funnel as much of your tax money as possible into whatever pet projects they have that make them/their friends money.
      • And the Republicans are trying to unfund any research into renewable energy.

        They are trying to cut budgets across the board, because the government has no money.

        Plenty of Republicans and other conservatives back things like construction of new nuclear power plants, a form of renewable energy that actually makes sense.

        Wind energy makes little sense at the moment (all we will end up with is more dead windmill fields such as the ones in California and Hawaii). Solar panels are starting to make sense but why d

        • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

          Um... have you been to California or Hawaii? Both have significant, operating, and expanding wind farms that were commercially viable with a minimum of subsidy/regulation. Hell, at $0.50/kWh in Maui or the Big Island wind and solar have 3 year paybacks!!

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Really? Across the board?
          Please do provide some more information on all these defense budget cuts. We do spend more than the rest of the world combined on that so it seems a pretty safe place to start cutting. Nuclear is not renewable, you are burning the matter of dead stars, there is a limited supply of such stuff. It is still an excellent choice for baseload power though, if reprocessing of spent fuel was legal.

          I live in Western NY, wind power is huge here. We keep putting them up and selling power to th

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      Exactly. The safest, most efficient form of energy we have right now is nuclear energy but of course we can't have that because its nuclear! We need to focus on the here and now and the here and now is nuclear.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Only if we can reprocess the waste. Until we can legally do that, we should not be building new reactors. Also once you factor in all the subsidies used for nuclear power it is no cheaper than wind or solar thermal. This does not mean we should ignore its use for baseload, merely that putting all our eggs in that basket is not the right approach.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Darkness404 (1287218)
          Except for the fact that it is more practical in most places. If you are in a windy part of the country, of course wind farms make some sense. If you are in death valley, of course solar thermal makes sense. If you are on the east coast where there is a lot of coal, coal makes sense. But in areas that these conditions aren't true, or where there is limited area to build a wind farm or solar farm, nuclear makes a lot more sense and a lot of the opposition to nuclear power being used is based on media hype an
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Waffle Iron (339739)

        Exactly. The safest, most efficient form of energy we have right now is nuclear energy but of course we can't have that because its nuclear! We need to focus on the here and now and the here and now is nuclear.

        If nuclear power were the answer to the world's energy problems, we'd be helping Iran and North Korea with their programs right now.

        Nuclear power isn't going anywhere, and it's not just because of hippies. Neocons realize that the vast expansion of nuclear activities that would be required to make even a small dent in the world's energy budget would create huge new opportunities for countries around the world to secretly tinker with weapons programs. Neocons are totally frightened by this scenario. (And it'

      • Exactly. The safest, most efficient form of energy we have right now is nuclear energy but of course we can't have that because its nuclear! We need to focus on the here and now and the here and now is nuclear.

        It's a tad ironic - your statement juxtaposed with your sig. Do you realize that nuclear power has enormous, truly enormous government subsidies (from tax revenue)? Without those subsidies the industry would be completely dead in the water, as opposed to severely moribund. There are several reasons [nrdc.org] (and discoverable by a trivial search) for this, among them the very long lead time involved in plant siting, design and construction. But as a 'free market' short term proposition, nucs aren't glowing very

    • Take a look at the housing depression figures out west. There's room to build a couple of power plants out there.

      • by tnk1 (899206)

        Take a look at the housing depression figures out west. There's room to build a couple of power plants out there.

        Now that you mention it, I've just thought of something we can do with Detroit. And it would be the one place where nuclear plants would be a beautification project to boot.

  • Or by whom, really. Of course there are people who will profit mightily from this information, like Shell and BP. Sure glad we found those huge oil reserves in the Western U.S. recently. Funny, that....
  • by zrbyte (1666979) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @04:40PM (#35166124)
    Question is who doesn't think so? I mean really.

    A leak originating from the Saudis themselves could be the real news.

    • by zAPPzAPP (1207370) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @04:43PM (#35166164)

      The origin of this information is a former saudi oil company exec. The leak just quotes it and tells us, that US diplomats think he's believable.

    • Wouldn't it be in the best interest of the Saudi's to give the opposite impression (IE, tell everyone there's lower supply than there really is to hike up prices)?
      • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @05:25PM (#35166852)

        Wouldn't it be in the best interest of the Saudi's to give the opposite impression (IE, tell everyone there's lower supply than there really is to hike up prices)?

        No. It's because of the way OPEC is structured. OPEC's goal is to restrict supply to increase prices. They set the limit for each country as a percentage of that country's oil reserves. So the larger a country's reserves, the more oil it is allowed to sell under OPEC rules. The problem is that OPEC doesn't use independent evaluations of oil reserves, they use each country's official numbers. So there is plenty of incentive for each country to overstate the size of their reserves so as to sell more oil.

  • by acehole (174372)

    What will the 10,000 odd saudi princes do?

    Actually a proportion of the population has no need to work at all, i'm sure the country is going to be a swell place to live once the oil stops.

  • Day Trader Speculators: PANIC!

    Average person on the street: Well great, guess we'll be seeing $5/gal gas shortly. Thank you Wikileaks, you could have at least waited until winter was over so I could actually afford to heat my house.

    • by plopez (54068)

      Maybe now you'll be "incentivized" to super insulate your house. BTW, insulating works for the summer bills too if you use air conditioning.

      • Super insulating can cause a lot of moisture problems too. My aunt/uncle "super insulated" their house and started running into bad mold problems. After a few thousand more dollars upgrading ventilation and heating/cooling, it was okay again.

  • by MoldySpore (1280634) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @04:50PM (#35166272)

    ...to ensure we are ready for the day when the oil runs out by embracing clean energy and slowly phasing out our dependence on foreign oil...

    Oh wait, that was a dream I had. Shit.

  • Electricity is a red herring. So little oil is used for electricity production that you can round it down to the nearest zero.

  • The obvious solution to losing all that oil would be plugging the leak.
  • This isn't really news. Geologists have been debating this for years. It would be news if a Saudi geologist would officially state this.

  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @05:13PM (#35166652)

    The problem with proven oil reserves is that they (by definition) include only economically recoverable oil at any given point in time, which is a stupid way to define things but that's beside the point. Saudi Light crude (which is the 15-20/barrel stuff, or less... a lot less), is not exactly going to last long, it's dead easy to get out of the ground and makes it hard to justify the effort in anything else for the saudis (as opposed to say canada, where we have relatively little of the cheap easy to get stuff). But the Saudi's have a lot of heavy oil that at 60 or 70 bucks a barrel wouldn't be economically viable, but at 100 bucks a barrel, with bangladeshi slave.. I'm sorry, foreign worker, labour becomes reasonably profitable. (In 20 years feel free to replace bangladesh with some random impoverished muslim nation in africa, I doubt the Saudi's care where the cheap labour comes from all that much).

    So then we can ask a question. As the light, cheap, easy to get stuff dries up, and then there's inflation, economic growth etc. what will the price of oil be in 10 years, 15 years, 20 etc. The Saudi's and americans almost certainly disagree on what will be economically viable to extract, in the same way two experts on the price of oil aren't going to come to exactly the same number for 15 years from now. It's hard to see the future. There are different ways to count oil recoverability too, and that will depend a lot on well... price ( and technology).

    Using some measures the US should run almost completely out of domestically produced oil in less than 8 years. Does anyone seriously think that's going to happen? That's supposedly been the case for at least a decade, and yet US oil production doesn't appear to exactly be in a massive imploding crisis of supply. In 2007 the US produced 8.5 million barrels/day (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/ene_oil_pro-energy-oil-production)... there's a long way from that to 0 in 11 years.

    The geology question, of how much actual oil a country has, is mostly useless, since it only matters what you figure you can extract. But very reasonable people can have very reasonable disagreements on those numbers, with no one lying. Are the saudi's lying about their oil reserves? Probably not, at least, not significantly, at the current rate of production saudi arabia will run out of officially declared reserves... in 130 years (10 million barrels/day, 430 billion barrels of declared reserves). If they're lying by 40%, then they're lying about a problem that will manifest in the late 2070's or 2080's. That's a long time to hold onto a lie for relatively little gain, since shit will hit the fan either way. Can they disagree with the americans on what exactly the source of that will be? Certainly.

    Essentially you could say the same thing about the US. If the figure the price of oil will be > 100 bucks a barrel (in todays dollars) then shale deposits suddenly become economically viable, given the US the largest reserves in the world, by a lot, if the price of oil is less than 70.. well then shale isn't viable to extract. Caveat: I'm not 100% sure on those numbers (100 and 70) but they're good enough to illustrate my point. Now anything in between and we have a fairly difficult calculation.

    The Saudis could easily be lying about how long they can keep cheap production of 10 million barrels a day up. But I'm not sure how much of a problem that is, or how much difference it would make, since the price of oil is something like 4 or 5x the cost of most saudi oil, I'm sure for that much money they'll find something. It might be convenient to pay lip service to the americans and say 'oh yes Mr president we'll keep supplying cheap oil and keep the price down just give us more F15's' when they're still marking it up 300% (and that would still bring the cost down), but it's in their interest to convince the americans they're trying to keep oil cheap, when they probably can't do much about the price of oil anymore (by themselves), while at the same time

    • by RelliK (4466) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @07:19PM (#35168390)

      > But the Saudi's have a lot of heavy oil that at 60 or 70 bucks a barrel wouldn't be economically viable, but at 100 bucks a barrel, with bangladeshi slave.. I'm sorry, foreign worker, labour becomes reasonably profitable.

      Not necessarily. Not if extracting that oil results in a net energy loss.

      See, we extract oil to get energy out of it (well, among other things, but let's simplify here). But the extraction process itself takes energy. If you spend more energy than you get out of it, then the process will never be profitable. You talk about certain oil reserves being profitable at 100/barrel. But you are assuming today's energy prices. As the energy prices increase, the break-even point for those reserves will also increase. Some reserves will become profitable but some will be forever too expensive to bother.

      Let me give you a practical example. Canada has 1/3 of the world's oil reserves. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those reserves are in the form of tar sands. You can't just pump the oil out of tar sands. You need to use steam extraction.

      Here is how it works. First they strip the top layer of vegetation to get to the tar sands. Then they use natural gas to boil water and then use the steam to extract oil out of tar sands. The contaminated oily water is then dumped into massive reservoirs called tailings ponds, where it continuously kills wildlife.

      To extract 3 barrels of oil out of tar sands you need to spend the equivalent of 2 barrels worth of energy. Oh and you also have to contaminate 15 barrels of fresh water. So the process is energy-positive, but the environmental damage is enormous.

      > If they're lying by 40%, then they're lying about a problem that will manifest in the late 2070's or 2080's. That's a long time to hold onto a lie for relatively little gain, since shit will hit the fan either way.

      Actually, huge gain. OPEC quotas for each country are limited by the amount of proven oil reserves (i.e. the more oil reserves a country has, the more oil it can export, according to OPEC rules). Therefore, it is in each OPEC country's interest to overstate their reserves to artificially increase their quota. The fact that Saudis, as well as every other OPEC country, has been overstating their reserves has been an open secret for the past couple decades. In the case of Saudis, it matters more because their reserves are (still) the largest.

      Peak oil is already here. Two of the predictions came to pass:

      1. Peak discovery, i.e. fewer new oil reserves are discovered than existing ones put in production. Happened in the 70's.
      2. Peak production. Despite growing demand, production of existing fields cannot be increased. Happened in 2008.
      3. Long tail of falling production and rising prices. We were "saved" from this by the economic downturn. For now. Once world economies start to pick up, oil prices will go through the roof.

    • by myrdos2 (989497)

      That's supposedly been the case for at least a decade, and yet US oil production doesn't appear to exactly be in a massive imploding crisis of supply. In 2007 the US produced 8.5 million barrels/day

      Here's what the United States Department of Energy has to say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_Oil_Production_and_Imports_1920_to_2005.png [wikipedia.org] It shows US production at 5 million barrels/day in 2005, down from 9.5 million in 1970. The CIA world fact book shows current US production at 9 million barrels/day - a

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @05:14PM (#35166658)
    This means we will be at the mercy of the Canadians.
  • Now the gas stations have an excuse to raise prices another $0.50 like with these winter storms.
  • by Super Dave Osbourne (688888) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @05:35PM (#35167052)
    Read up on Hubbert's estimates. States they are indeed running out, peaked 4-7 years ago. OPEC production quotas are based on each country's stated reserve estimates, so it is always in the best interests for each country to lie about it (over stating their reserves).
  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @07:01PM (#35168242) Homepage

    As others have stated it's not so much as running out of oil, but rather the cheap, easy to extract oil.
    In other parts of the world oil companies have developed technology to drill for deeper and harder to extract sources. Wells that at one time would not have been tried are today being developed. Part of this is due to the rising price of crude that has made the more expensive deeper sources worth going after. However the better technology available today also makes it less expensive than it would have been years ago. Still, there are increased risks and problems with these deeper wells (as BP has found out). If solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources can replace some dependence on oil demand will be lower and price will depend more on the cost of delivery rather than mostly on supply vs demand.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Thursday February 10, 2011 @07:43PM (#35168670)

    In terms of energy density, our battery technology is pathetic when compared with liquid hydrocarbons. Electricity isn't anything resembling a drop-in replacement for the approximately 166 exajoules of energy that oil currently provides to civilization each year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubic_mile_of_oil).

    Even oil isn't fungible. You can't equate light sweet Saudi crude that's cheap to extract and refine and has a high energy return with heavy, sulphur laden asphalt in the Orinoco basin that's expensive to extract, refine and has a lousy energy return.

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