A disproven critique of an article I wrote end 2010.

This is a critique on an article I wrote end 2010 just as the impact of unconventional oil was becoming apparent. The critique looks pretty desperate now and my comments and predictions fairly accurate. I’m not as pro-oil as it might seem from the piece though – the truth may not always be palatable.


I’m well aware that there is an unfortunately successful and all-too-often-employed strategy (lack of integrity aside) used most often in politics but certainly in discussions about Peak Oil and global warming, where the frequent repetition of any combination of lies, half-truths, misstatements, misrepresentations, and disingenuous propositions eventually leads to belief on the part of far too many people.

I’ve mentioned in prior posts (here and here, for example) that I think it’s important to challenge widely-disseminated examples of peak oil denial rather than letting the disingenuous arguments take root. The decline in oil production is a big enough problem as it is; creating doubt for reasons having no discernible value is at best questionable and should not go unchallenged is possible.

To that end, I came across two articles last week that caught my attention. Predictably, the same patterns of “explanations” and offerings cropped up there just as they have in other articles I’ve highlighted before. I guess if you cannot deal with facts, there’s not a whole of room for much creativity when addressing fossil fuel production. I’ll deal with the first article today, and save my discussion for the other one for an upcoming post.

First up is a piece from Jeremy Bowden, whose first paragraph touts one of the more popular terms in denial-land: the finding of “massive” oil fields. Whenever I read that, the antenna goes up and into full lock mode. Usually accompanying glowing exhortations about these magical fields where solutions to all our problems reside are phrases touting the wonder of technology and ingenuity. Bowden does not disappoint.

This article of necessity raises the specter of OPEC’s role in world production: “It is the technical expertise and project management skills of the most dynamic multinational and independent oil companies that hold the key to these new hard-to-get-at reserves, rather than the whims of Arab dictators or the level of OPEC budget deficits.” Always good to have an enemy to whip out at a moment’s notice (not that I’m an OPEC fan, mind you.)

I’m still not entirely clear on why quotes like this are supposed to be persuasive, but they do frequent writings which dispute peak oil:

“James Burkhard, a managing director at energy consultancy IHS CERA, says the recent upstream developments mean oil and gas will continue to be pillars of global energy supply for decades to come. ‘The competitiveness of oil and gas and the scale at which they are produced mean that there are no readily available substitutes in either one year or 20 years,’ he added.”

He’s absolutely correct. There are no readily available substitutes, but that’s the problem! Saying that oil is currently our one and only is not even a bit helpful. All it does is to emphasize how utterly dependent we are on this finite resource—a resource that by all reasonable indications peaked several years ago and will continue a steady path along a not-always smooth or linear slope of decline … and we are woefully unprepared. (This recent post is only the latest in a lengthy list of concise and easily-understood explanations about Peak Oil.)

So what comfort does it offer us to indicate that all we have is all we have, when more of it is being demanded and less of it is being produced?! That math just doesn’t work.

Bowden also points out that Canadian oil sands now provide us with more oil that does Saudi Arabia. And….?

Saudi supply is being counted out by many other nations whose fossil fuel demands are only increasing; Saudi production is also being increasingly diverted to and for its own uses, and its fields are not immune to the same rates of depletion as are most other older fields, so … what’s the point here? Like most other articles which promote Canadian tar sands as the Great Salvation, no mention whatsoever is made here of the environmental degradation; the poisonous tailing ponds left behind; the immense demands on water; the costs, effort, and/or time involved in extraction, or the fact that production rates aren’t all that spectacular to begin with!

But why deal with any of those facts? They simply get in the way of a good insincere argument. (And Bowden also makes it a point of stating that U.S. oil production increased “for the first time in decades.” Our production peaked more than forty years ago! A slight one year uptick—from shale, which has its own set of environmental, cost, effort, and resource usage issues, also conveniently overlooked—is not exactly encouraging.)

Speaking of U.S. shale production, Bowden points out the following:

“… the Bakken shale field is now the country’s fastest-growing major oil field. Production has reached about 350,000bpd, from 100,000bpd a decade ago. In a recent report, consultancy firm PFC Energy projected production would climb to 450,000bpd by 2013. ‘The technology producing these resources has absolutely made the difference,’ Mr Marvin E Odum, President of Shell Oil, said. ‘It’s the same with the Arctic, with the shale oil, all over the world. Technology is the key.’”

Give or take a bit, the United States uses somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 billion barrels of oil per year … billion with a “b”. I’m definitely not a math whiz, but my trusty calculator tells me that 450,000 barrels per day times 365 days equals an impressive-sounding (approximate) 165 million barrels per year. I’m pretty certain that 165 million is a whole lot less than 7 billion. Rounding up to the approximate 20 million barrels of oil this nation uses each day, that means we’ll soon be producing enough to get us through sometime next week! Fantastic!

Another forty or so examples like that and we’re all set (and to hell with the rest of the world and their needs or demands).

This author also made it a point of using the same vague, subject-to-multiple-interpretations stock language others employ is discussing the magic of potential future technology, including this:

“A recent forecast produced by Shell suggests that Arctic production from North America, Europe, and western Russia – much of which will be deep offshore – could make up a quarter of global production within 20 years, provided that remaining technical, political and environmental challenges are met.” [My emphasis]

“… provided that remaining technical, political and environmental challenges are met”? Seriously? That’s what we’re supposed to derive great—or any—comfort from? And within 20 years? Wow! That’s not asking for too much, is it? A few pesky “technical, political and environmental challenges” met and we’re good to go!

And there’s this:

“Advances in directional drilling allow well operators to steer and carve through hard shale to expose more and hard-to-reach rock, and it also makes possible drilling under cities or into environmentally-sensitive areas….
“Faced with falling reserves and barred from acquiring fresh production in areas such as the Middle East, [nice to just skip past this – my comment] international oil majors began to search for new large deposits in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico….Exploration and drilling below 10,000ft of water and through miles of hard rock, thick salt and tightly-packed sands required the development of supercomputers and three-dimensional imaging techniques as well as equipment that could withstand the heat and pressures common at such depths, not to mention submarine robots to make repairs.”

Others have also pointed out these types of impressive displays of innovation and truly astounding technology. But why is this a good thing? That anyone has to go to these lengths and expenses and risks to find oil shouldn’t require any advanced technical degrees to understand that we’ve got some problems!

It would be nice if even some of the energy and effort expended in trying to prop up the dismal truths of oil production could instead be directed to conveying a more accurate and complete picture of what we face now and will have no choice but to deal with in the years to come. That might be a bit more helpful.

There’s always hope….

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