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  • Bush Advisor Matt Simmons Who Advised Cheney's Energy Task Force Confirms Peak Oil is Major Concern of Bush Administration
  • Peak Oil Symptoms More Apparent
  • Recoverable Reserves May Be Less Than Hoped
  • Natural Gas Shortages May Appear in US This Year
  • Hydrogen Vastly Overrated and Not Likely to Offer Solution

Paris Peak Oil Conference Reveals Deepening Crisis

by Michael C. Ruppert

© Copyright 2003, From The Wilderness Publications, All Rights Reserved. This story may NOT be posted on any Internet web site without express written permission. Contact May be circulated, distributed or transmitted for non-profit purposes only.

Revised June 9th, 2003. We would like to thank Professor Aleklett of the University of Uppsala in Sweden for correcting out error in his distribution of champagne bottle to represent the remaining oil distribution on the planet.

May 30, 2003, 1800 PDT, (FTW), PARIS – Research presented on May 26th and 27th at the French Institute for Petroleum (IFP) by a wide variety of experts from varying and often competitive perspectives disclosed that, in the year since the first conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) supply, constraints have worsened and the realities of energy depletion are becoming more apparent. A year of violent political history centered on oil and ever-more unforgiving production results have begun to force reluctant political and economic acknowledgement of Peak Oi's threat to civilization. Yet ASPO's founder, Professor Colin Campbell, and his colleagues, retired TotalFinaElf Exploration Manager, Jean Laherrère, and Physics Professor, Kjell Aleklett, have good reason to be pleased with the second-ever ASPO conference. Two hundred people from more than twenty countries attended this year, doubling attendance for the inaugural event held last May in Uppsala, Sweden. In an acknowledgement of Peak Oi's penetration of official consciousness, the event was partially subsidized by the French Institute for Petroleum, the oil services firm Schlumberger, and the French oil giant, Total. The fact that it was held at a government institution was, according to Campbell, evidence of the fact that Peak Oil can no longer be completely ignored, even by politicians.

Olivier Appert, Chairman of the IFP, bluntly acknowledged that many oil experts have concluded that world oil depletion is between five and ten per cent per year and that 60 Million barrels per day (Mbpd) of new capacity is needed to meet demand. On that basis he concluded in his opening remarks, "It is timely to reopen the debate." Appert however told the audience that he was an optimist basically because he predicted that new technologies would produce new discoveries and better recovery in the future.

But quiet, official support of the conference fell far short of the political and economic mobilization the organizers believe necessary to respond to a crisis that might start grinding national economies to a halt and causing massive dislocations in short order. As one conference organizer told FTW, "The fact that several governments have asked to be kept ‘fully informed,' or that the French government allows us to use their facilities, or that major oil companies and automakers like Daimler-Chrysler come to make presentations is a way of listening closely to what we are doing without having to publicly accept what we are saying. The political and economic ramifications of that are too drastic from their perspectives, but each hour of delay only assures that the eventual crisis will be worse once it has been acknowledged."

IFP Chairman Appert's optimism was belied by experts like Laherrère, whose brutally honest graphs and plots not only mirror the truth of declining discovery and production but also establish scientifically that there are no more major significant reserves to be found. Other experts established definitively that wildly exaggerated hopes for polar or deep sea discoveries, or tar sands production are both unfounded and dangerously deceptive because of the excessive production costs and the investment required to develop what will likely prove to be disappointing yields.

In the end, the most realistic and integrated analyses were delivered by political scientist and author Michael Klare and Professor Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton, a one-time colleague of the late M. King Hubbert, whose Hubbert Curve predicted today's events with startling accuracy some six decades ago. These two conference presenters gave integrated presentations incorporating real-world current events and showed clearly that Peak Oil is here now.

BBC sets the tone

One of the first presentations of the conference was the screening of a new BBC documentary which aired on March 26, 2003, titled, "The War For Oil." In stark and irrefutable detail the film verified every major aspect of Peak Oil including declining production, vanishing discovery rates, smaller field sizes and increasing demand. It pointed out that worldwide production capacity was stretched to the limit and that the US would be importing seventy per cent of its oil by 2020 and ninety per cent by 2050.

The BBC documentary also quoted oil expert and Bush administration advisor, Matthew Simmons, as stating very clearly that the United States government was very worried about Peak Oil. Simmons should know. He runs a Houston-based investment bank for the energy industry and was an advisor to Vice President Cheney's secretive, 2001, National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) which has refused to make its records public. He remains a close advisor to George W. Bush.

Confirmation of Peak Oi's role in 9/11

Starting in October 2001 FTW reported, and has continued to maintain, that Peak Oil was the driving factor behind the US government's highly questionable and illegal conduct and what we believe was its actual complicity in the attacks themselves. This was necessary in order to motivate public support for a war which otherwise would not have been acceptable to the American people. Simmons has never deviated in his public support for the Bush administration and his stated belief that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq had nothing to do with oil. Yet Simmons, a CFR member who also contributed to the (James) Baker Institute-CFR energy report released in April, 2001, delivered the strongest and clearest warning about Peak Oil of the entire conference. And, his conference statements provide the first-ever hint at some of the topics that were discussed behind closed doors in the months leading up to the attacks. FTW also got the chance to question him about oil and war.

Speaking at the end of the conference via satellite from his Houston offices, Simmons said:

"Is peaking an important question or issue?   First of all, if you start out by saying usable energy is the world's most critical resource then obviously it is an important issue.  Without …energy, we have no sustainable water, no sustainable food, and no sustainable healthcare…

"What peaking does mean, in energy terms, is that once you've peaked, further growth in supply, is over… So is this issue important, I think the answer is an emphatic yes. Why does this issue evoke such controversy?  Well, I think for several reasons, first of all, the term "peaking" unfortunately, does suggest a bleak future. It also suggests high future energy prices and neither are a pleasant thought.  I think it is human nature, basically, to say that we really like to have pleasant thoughts. The one crying wolf is abandoned unless the wolf turns out to be already at the front door, and by then, the cry is generally too late.  And crises are basically problems, by definition, that have gone ignored.  And all great crises were ignored until it became too late to do anything about it..."

Simmons pointed out that five-sixths of the world barely uses any energy but that this is where demand is growing fastest. FTW reported recently that auto sales in China jumped 50% in 2002 alone. Simmons indicated that deep water oil was "the last frontier" and then made the not too cheery observation that two thirds of the exploratory wells were turning out to be dry holes. Dry holes were also becoming commonplace in the Middle East on dry land.

Natural gas appeared to be an even more pressing issue. US natural gas supply must come from the North American continent because there are too few LNG ports, tankers, or terminals, and LNG conversion results in significant energy loss. Looking at the North American picture, Simmons observed that in 1990, there was large growth in natural gas production in the US. By 2001, with record drilling, there was no increase in supply, and by 2003, production was in serious decline. These statistics are not surprising to those who have watched gas prices quadruple over the last eighteen months. And, confirming the pattern seen with oil discoveries, Simmons noted, "New Texas [gas] wells decline by eighty-three per cent one year after drilling."

Unlike oil, natural gas production tends to reach a plateau and then fall straight down a cliff because the gas moves quickly from the well until there is no more pressure and then it just stops.

Confirming that the once-hoped-for Caspian Sea oil bonanza had proved to be a major bust, Simmons noted that in 2001, twenty out of twenty-five new wells sunk in the Caspian basin had produced dry holes. That was the same year that Kazakhstan's supposed giant Kashagan field was opened but by 2002, British Petroleum and Statoil had withdrawn from it, and by 2003, the rest of the original major investors also had pulled out.

The Golden Triangle and "Plan B"

In an ironic reference to the Southeast Asian region known for its CIA-connected cultivation of the opium poppy, Simmons observed that the Middle East was still the "Promised Land," and that eighty-five per cent of all Middle Eastern oil was in a golden triangle running from Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, through Iran to the United Arab Emirates, then west through Saudi Arabia's central oil fields, then northwards and back up to Kirkuk. In Simmons' analysis, Saudi Arabia was "home court."

Referring to a 1960's report from The Club of Rome suggesting that there were limits to growth, Simmons observed that, "The world has no Plan B."

During a brief question and answer session, this writer posed a question to Simmons which evoked laughter from the audience and a blushed, bowed head from Simmons.

Q.  Mike Ruppert: I have two questions. In the Baker Institute CFR Report from April, 2001, you were kind of dissenting and you called for a Manhattan Project-type investment program to address energy, what would that entail? My second question is in The War on Terrorism since 9/11, we have gone to Afghanistan, and we've seen some pipeline development across Afghanistan, we've seen Iraq, now Saudi Arabia, developments in West Africa, also in Colombia where the terrorism coincidentally seems to appear exactly where the oil is, either in large reserves or in swing producing nations, do you believe that is all coincidental? (Audience laughter)

A.  Simmons: (More laughter)  Those are pretty intelligent questions. What I encouraged people to think about when the Council on Foreign Relations and the Baker Institute were doing the energy blueprints was to think in terms of future energy plans the way we did the Marshall Plan in rebuilding Europe. It was about collecting the largest group of experts we could and having them fan out across Europe and figure out how we could get from A to Z. I still believe that there is an urgent need for an Energy Marshall Plan. I think we need to couple that with a water, a water energy program...

On the terrorists, I don't know if you can draw any parallels on why does it seem that every place we have energy we also have terrorism other than just musing about the fact that over the last twenty years while we have apparently benefited from these unbelievably low bargain oil prices, the prices were so low that none of the host nations were able to basically create any semblance of a modern society. And over a 20-year period of time, all of their populations exploded, they all have high birthrate, very young people, and terrible economies. Unfortunately, we ended up with an oil price that was so low that it was hard for them to maintain a healthy infrastructure and there was nothing left over to start rebuilding their societies.  I suspect that had they been lucky enough to have had energy prices two to three times higher and then worked carefully with these producing countries to be enlightened about how they should spend this newfound wealth instead of putting in some young and powerful leaders to start creating a middle class then the people would have started focusing more on how to become more prosperous.  I guess in hindsight that is easy to say.

Another questioner asked Simmons why there was such an unbelievable disconnect between oval office policy and Simmons' stated views. The first words out of Simmons' mouth in reply were, "The US has some unbelievable energy problems."

[A full transcript of Simmons' statement at the ASPO conference will be made available shortly. – Ed]

Different Motivations, Some Consensus,
Alice in Wonderland

The ASPO conference was attended by oil company experts, academics from the fields of geology, and the sciences, such as political science, alternative energy advocates, economic and financial concerns like Deutschebank, government research facilities, and, journalists. Three "camps" emerged fairly quickly. The Peak Oil camp generally represented those who felt that oil and gas depletion was extremely serious and about to become the paramount issue on the planet because there are no suitable alternative energy sources either in the near or intermediate term that will soften the effects. The Alternative Energy Panacea camp generally agreed that Peak Oil was imminent but argued that alternative energy sources would generally permit life to go on as usual. The Flat Earth camp, generally comprised of oil company employees, oil industry representatives, representatives of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and investment banks, and, politicians, all off whom generally assumed that demand and increased investment would somehow produce all the solutions and energy necessary to solve any problems and, that new technology would find the oil and gas that most attendees of the conference – especially after the presentation of data from undisputed experts – agreed was nonexistent.

Dishonest Reserve Reporting and Definitions

There was no defense raised from any of the attending camps for overstated oil reserve estimates previously produced by either the US Geological Survey (USGS) or the IEA. It took little effort from experts like Campbell, Laherrère, Aleklett, Chris Skrebowski of the UK's Institute of Petroleum, and Professor Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton to demonstrate that the books on oil reserves are as cooked as the books of Enron.

The chief misleading error always committed by both oil companies and government institutions is their failure to backdate reserve discoveries. When oil companies drill their first successful well in any field they generally have a reasonable idea of how much oil will be ultimately recoverable. The first problem is, that if they report the anticipated size of the field in the year of discovery, they have to pay taxes on all of it. Naturally, they report the reserve estimates as increasing over time to spread out the tax burden. They do it also to keep share prices up and stable, and to stimulate continued investment by reporting the discovery of new reserves in older fields that are not new discoveries at all. And in cases where national production is determined by stated "proven" reserves, estimates are sometime changed, as with the OPEC nations in the mid 1980s, simply as a result of an accountant applying an eraser to the previously stated reserves when more cash is needed as a result of increased production.

Experts like Campbell and Laherrère insist that all reserves everywhere should immediately be backdated to the first successful borehole in a field and then the amount pumped subsequently subtracted as a means of accurately determining how much oil is really left. To engage in honest discussion of what is really there, terms like Probable, Estimated, and even Proven Reserves need to be thrown out in favor of Ultimately Recoverable Reserves (URR) which have been properly backdated. Anything else is pandering to the needs of an accountant, a politician, or a stock market analyst.

There is a reason why -- in spite of all the reserve numbers put out by governments, oil companies and market analysts -- a company called Petroleum Consultants in Geneva Switzerland publishes an annual report on oil reserves country by country and charges a reported million dollars per copy. The CIA is reported to have a hand in its drafting and is a recipient of the work product. That is a testament in itself to the unreliability of reserve estimates from other sources.

Emerging Visions of the Future

There were crossovers of opinion and these descriptions are not all inclusive. One oil company executive, Ali Samsam Bakhtiari, Ph.D., of the National Iranian Oil Company, was firmly in the Peak Oil camp and he presented startling figures on oil depletion in Iran as well as analyses that showed that Saudi Arabia's vaunted reserves of 250 billion barrels (Gb) might be far lower than reported. "Saudi Arabia has already produced 100 Gb out of ultimately recoverable reserves of 260 Gb. It may have less oil and may have passed mid point of production which means decline," he said.

As FTW has repeatedly reported, once a field, a nation, or the planet passes the peak of production, each new barrel produced on the average requires more money and more energy, while at the same time tending to be of declining quality and thus more expensive to refine. Bakhtiari's assessments were supported by other presentations showing that even though 43% of the world's URR may be located in the Middle East their size may be far less than hoped for and the nations in the region may be actually peaking much sooner than expected.

The sobering numbers tended to reinforce Simmons' position as presented to the Bush administration and debate frequently turned to alternative energy sources. No one at the conference presented any evidence of any combination of alternative energy sources which would replace hydrocarbon energy and no one alleged that even if such a mix was available it could be implemented in time to prevent major economic and human catastrophes.

This writer walked away with the conclusion that as a result of political and economic denial, as the lights started going out, as cars stopped running, as fertilizers and pesticides became too expensive for third world nations, and as famine started to hit the planet, coal and nuclear would be the knee-jerk solutions reached for and that they would not prove to be effective for anything except an immediate finger-in-the-dyke solution.

One conclusion generally accepted by almost every attendee was that hydrogen, contrary to popularly accepted comfort promotions by writers like Jeremy Rifkin, was not a solution either in the near or long term because of intensive costs of production, inherent energy inefficiencies, lack of infrastructure and impracticalities. Speaking for Daimler Chrysler, which paid lip service to Peak Oil yet acknowledged that it had done extensive research on hydrogen vehicles, Dr. Jorg Wind told the conference that his company did not see hydrogen as a viable alternative to petroleum-based internal combustion engines.

"We use fossil fuels to make hydrogen. That does not result in a significant CO2 reduction. We predict that by 2020 only 5% of fuel use will be hydrogen and that infrastructure and the political framework is the most important factor. In order of relevance and likelihood from the standpoint of the auto industry Wind stated that we would see improved conventional vehicles, starter hybrid vehicles, electric hybrid vehicles and, finally, fuel cell vehicles as solutions, but he had little optimism that fuel cells would ever amount to a significant market share. In a telling left-handed acknowledgement of Peak Oil, Wind noted that one third of all diesel fuels currently used in Germany were biodiesel relying on recycled waste and or plant feedstock. He was particularly critical of ethanol stating that it was not energy efficient.

French presenters confirmed that ethanol was only viable in France due to a three hundred per cent government subsidy to farmers. Otherwise it was a net energy waster.

When asked by FTW if Daimler-Chrysler had estimated the costs for infrastructure changes and capital investment to produce fuel cell vehicles Wind stated that the company did not know these costs. The implication was that having evaluated the technology involved in the vehicles themselves the company didn't consider it worthwhile to undertake further financial evaluation.

Wind elicited groans from the audience when he asserted that everything was customer driven and that corporations bore no responsibility for the shortage of practical solutions to the looming crisis.

"It may not be profitable to slow decline"

Dutch economist Maarten Van Mourik of the Netherlands Economic Institute delivered some chilling facts and then offered perhaps the most memorable quote of the entire conference.

He had little hope for deep sea exploration, stating that deep water non-conventional oil would represent only five per cent of world supply by 2020. Ultimately it would produce only about 5 Gb. The world is currently consuming a billion barrels of oil every twelve days. "It is way too expensive. The cost is fifty to sixty million per rig and there is little guaranteed return." He noted, not surprisingly, in view of recent developments in the "war against terrorism," that West Africa was the best deep water oil prospect with Angola being the most likely candidate for new activity.

After looking at more of the various alternatives, Van Mourik revealed an underlying truth that is certain to exacerbate the effects of Peak Oil, "It may not be profitable to slow decline."

Hydrogen's Lead Financial Balloon

Pierre-Rene Bauquis, Vice President of the French Energy Institute, associate IFP professor and former special advisor to the president of TotalFinaElf, confirmed prior research by FTW citing hard scientific data showing that hydrogen is not a practical solution. As a member of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy he made no secret of his advocacy of nuclear power. And it is quite probable that if Total or any other oil company could make a profit from hydrogen they would rush to do it, especially since they know that they are running out of their current product.

Noting that one half of all oil is used for transportation, Bauquis insisted that renewable energies sources would not solve the problem and stated flatly that "Hydrogen is not the fuel of tomorrow." He noted that the first internal combustion engine, built in 1805, was a hydrogen engine and that it was quickly discarded because of the problems hydrogen poses with transportation, storage and efficiency.

Bauquis observed that, "Commercial production of hydrogen is two to five times the cost of the fossil fuels used to make it. Transportation is impossible. It is two times as costly to transport hydrogen as it is to transport electricity. The storage costs for hydrogen are one hundred times the cost of liquid petroleum products."

He was equally unforgiving when it came to ethanol. "To replace forty per cent of the oil in use you would need three times the currently available farmland just for feedstock."

Bauquis drew some groans from the audience when he insisted that the "Chernobyl" disaster was a hoax perpetrated by Green Peace which had grossly exaggerated the number of deaths resulting from the 1986 nuclear accident but his observations about hydrogen are consistent with a wide number of scientific studies from a number of differing political and economic interests. He did acknowledge that perhaps in several decades, so-called green or white hydrogen (produced by electrolysis rather than from methane) might become feasible but only as a result of nuclear energy to power the conversion process.

One audience member elicited boisterous audience laughter by asking another presenter, "Now we have one situation in the market in which we get conventional fuel, namely oil, we burn it in a combustion engine, and we do work.  Now what I understand the hydrogen defendants are promoting, led by Mr. Jeremy Rifkin, is a hydrogen economy consisting basically in getting the conventional fuels again and producing alternative/solar energies or clean energy… or a wind generator …to produce electricity to then split the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen and then compressing the liquefied hydrogen for transportation and storage and then injecting the hydrogen into the fuel cell to produce electricity to do work in the machine.  Do you really believe that this is efficiency?"         

Russia's Got Gas

J. Peter Gerling, head of the Energy resources section of Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences, after repeating that worldwide reliance on oil and natural gas was increasing rather than decreasing, observed that Russia has an estimated one-half of all the estimated ultimately recoverable reserves of natural gas on the planet. The tiny nation of Qatar, where the US has located its Central Command headquarters, has more natural gas than North and South America combined. This does the US little good for the time being until massive LNG tanker fleets and infrastructure are built but it goes a long way towards explaining why Paris and Berlin have been slowly forming an economic partnership with Russia. It also explains why experts like Colin Campbell believe that the UK will ultimately join the European Union. Chris Skrebowski of the UK's Institute of Petroleum had previously noted that by 2007, Britain will be in its second year of gas imports and its first year of oil imports, the once proud North Sea fields having been nearly depleted by that time.

Sticky Tar Sands in Canada

Professor Kjell Aleklett made a stunning graphic display of how the world's oil is distributed by using twenty champagne bottles to represent the two trillion barrels of oil with which the planet was endowed. After removing nine bottles to indicate what had already been used he put two bottles aside to represent the oil that will be found in the future. He also used two bottles to represent the oil that had been given to the US. Showing that one bottle was empty, he then poured one last glass from the remaining bottle and stated that America has just poured the very last glass from its endowment of oil. Five of the remaining nine bottles in the reserve he indicated were in the Middle East and of those three represented the oil in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

He then turned to tar sands projects which had once been heralded as Canada's (and America's) salvation but which have been proven to be a financial and ecological disaster. A previous speaker had noted that the process of obtaining oil from tar sands which involves washing the strip mined sand with steam requires three barrels of fresh water for every barrel of oil produced.

Aleklett then noted that Canada was using such a tremendous amount of natural gas to boil the water that its own domestic heating needs were being compromised. Other speakers had previously commented on the fact that under the NAFTA and FTAA agreements, Canada was obligated to sell natural gas to the US at low prices even to the point of not meeting its own requirements. There clearly is not enough natural gas to produce tar sands, which have not been profitable to date, even as the wastewater and strip mining destroys much of Alberta's pristine landscape. As a result, said Aleklett, Alberta is now considering the construction of a nuclear reactor for the sole purpose of making steam to work the tar sands.

No one needed to ask about energy returned on energy invested.

Stating the Obvious

American Five College Professor of Peace and World Security, Michael Klare, author of the book, Resource Wars, provided the much needed integration of Peak Oil issues with world events by noting that US oil imports passed fifty per cent for the first time in 1999 and that this share has been steadily increasing. Correctly noting that the US war machine is dependent upon petroleum he started by looking at the actual text of the report of the NEPDG Cheney energy task force published shortly before the attacks of 9/11.

As is so often the case with government reports such as those produced by the CIA's Inspector General evaluating the CIA's role in the drug trade, it is necessary to discard letters of transmittal and summaries to find out what the report really says. Klare noted that Chapter 8 of the Cheney report disclosed that what the secretive body really advocated was an increased reliance on oil and natural gas. The report stated that US demand would increase by 7.7 Mbpd between 2000 and 2020 and that all of that increase would necessarily come from the Middle East. As FTW has reported on numerous occasions, throughout the Clinton years, the US steadily prepared for military conflict by engaging in many joint military operations and base expansion throughout the region. The greatest focus was on Saudi Arabia.

Klare's analysis left no doubt that the military operations witnessed since 9/11 were indeed the result of an elaborate plan put into place and executed steadily for more than a decade and that US energy, military, and anti-terrorism policies were really three strands of the same rope, all meshing perfectly in global and hegemonic conquest.

Princeton Professor Kenneth Deffeyes – a colleague of King Hubbert and author of the book, Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World oil Shortage, argued that Peak Oil actually arrived in 2000 by noting that production has actually been declining since that time. As further evidence of the production peak, Deffeyes noted that since 2000, there has been a 30% drop in stock values, interest rate cuts have not helped, two million have become unemployed and the employed have been unable to retire, budget surpluses have vanished, the middle class has vanished, and the World Trade Center has vanished. He added that the only way to meet the delusional USGS oil discovery predictions for the United States would be to make Iraq the 51st state.

One of his greatest concerns, he said, was the cost of fertilizer production for the Third World, implying that natural gas shortages and related electrical manufacturing and transport costs might precipitate a famine of unimagined proportions.

From FTW's perspective the reality of Peak Oil has been almost completely transparent since 9/11. As a cosmological explanation of the sublimely convenient attacks of 9/11, abetted by the US government, the sequential war to control the largest oil reserves on the planet, the near hysteria over biological warfare, the steady assault on civil liberties, and the continually declining economic performance, there is no other construct which provides a canvas on which these developments fit.

The second annual ASPO conference in Paris only deepened our conviction.

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