Peak Oil

Makalakumu

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This is perhaps the fundamental issue of our times and it represents a topic that I have researched extensively in the past. My personal feeling is that we reached Peak Oil two years ago...and now we begin the slow slide downward to the post carbon world. I submit the following article for discussion. This article is accessible to all readers and should provide a good basis for this discussion.

Published on Friday, March 25, 2005 by Rolling Stone Magazine

The Long Emergency
By James Howard Kunstler

A few weeks ago, the price of oil ratcheted above fifty-five dollars a barrel, which is about twenty dollars a barrel more than a year ago. The next day, the oil story was buried on page six of the New York Times business section. Apparently, the price of oil is not considered significant news, even when it goes up five bucks a barrel in the span of ten days. That same day, the stock market shot up more than a hundred points because, CNN said, government data showed no signs of inflation. Note to clueless nation: Call planet Earth.

Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychology, famously remarked that "people cannot stand too much reality." What you're about to read may challenge your assumptions about the kind of world we live in, and especially the kind of world into which events are propelling us. We are in for a rough ride through uncharted territory.

It has been very hard for Americans -- lost in dark raptures of nonstop infotainment, recreational shopping and compulsive motoring -- to make sense of the gathering forces that will fundamentally alter the terms of everyday life in our technological society. Even after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, America is still sleepwalking into the future. I call this coming time the Long Emergency.

Most immediately we face the end of the cheap-fossil-fuel era. It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as the necessities of modern life -- not to mention all of its comforts and luxuries: central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lights, inexpensive clothing, recorded music, movies, hip-replacement surgery, national defense -- you name it.

The few Americans who are even aware that there is a gathering global-energy predicament usually misunderstand the core of the argument. That argument states that we don't have to run out of oil to start having severe problems with industrial civilization and its dependent systems. We only have to slip over the all-time production peak and begin a slide down the arc of steady depletion.

The term "global oil-production peak" means that a turning point will come when the world produces the most oil it will ever produce in a given year and, after that, yearly production will inexorably decline. It is usually represented graphically in a bell curve. The peak is the top of the curve, the halfway point of the world's all-time total endowment, meaning half the world's oil will be left. That seems like a lot of oil, and it is, but there's a big catch: It's the half that is much more difficult to extract, far more costly to get, of much poorer quality and located mostly in places where the people hate us. A substantial amount of it will never be extracted.

The United States passed its own oil peak -- about 11 million barrels a day -- in 1970, and since then production has dropped steadily. In 2004 it ran just above 5 million barrels a day (we get a tad more from natural-gas condensates). Yet we consume roughly 20 million barrels a day now. That means we have to import about two-thirds of our oil, and the ratio will continue to worsen.

The U.S. peak in 1970 brought on a portentous change in geoeconomic power. Within a few years, foreign producers, chiefly OPEC, were setting the price of oil, and this in turn led to the oil crises of the 1970s. In response, frantic development of non-OPEC oil, especially the North Sea fields of England and Norway, essentially saved the West's *** for about two decades. Since 1999, these fields have entered depletion. Meanwhile, worldwide discovery of new oil has steadily declined to insignificant levels in 2003 and 2004.

Some "cornucopians" claim that the Earth has something like a creamy nougat center of "abiotic" oil that will naturally replenish the great oil fields of the world. The facts speak differently. There has been no replacement whatsoever of oil already extracted from the fields of America or any other place.

Now we are faced with the global oil-production peak. The best estimates of when this will actually happen have been somewhere between now and 2010. In 2004, however, after demand from burgeoning China and India shot up, and revelations that Shell Oil wildly misstated its reserves, and Saudi Arabia proved incapable of goosing up its production despite promises to do so, the most knowledgeable experts revised their predictions and now concur that 2005 is apt to be the year of all-time global peak production.

It will change everything about how we live.

To aggravate matters, American natural-gas production is also declining, at five percent a year, despite frenetic new drilling, and with the potential of much steeper declines ahead. Because of the oil crises of the 1970s, the nuclear-plant disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and the acid-rain problem, the U.S. chose to make gas its first choice for electric-power generation. The result was that just about every power plant built after 1980 has to run on gas. Half the homes in America are heated with gas. To further complicate matters, gas isn't easy to import. Here in North America, it is distributed through a vast pipeline network. Gas imported from overseas would have to be compressed at minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit in pressurized tanker ships and unloaded (re-gasified) at special terminals, of which few exist in America. Moreover, the first attempts to site new terminals have met furious opposition because they are such ripe targets for terrorism.

Some other things about the global energy predicament are poorly understood by the public and even our leaders. This is going to be a permanent energy crisis, and these energy problems will synergize with the disruptions of climate change, epidemic disease and population overshoot to produce higher orders of trouble.

We will have to accommodate ourselves to fundamentally changed conditions.

No combination of alternative fuels will allow us to run American life the way we have been used to running it, or even a substantial fraction of it. The wonders of steady technological progress achieved through the reign of cheap oil have lulled us into a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome, leading many Americans to believe that anything we wish for hard enough will come true. These days, even people who ought to know better are wishing ardently for a seamless transition from fossil fuels to their putative replacements.

The widely touted "hydrogen economy" is a particularly cruel hoax. We are not going to replace the U.S. automobile and truck fleet with vehicles run on fuel cells. For one thing, the current generation of fuel cells is largely designed to run on hydrogen obtained from natural gas. The other way to get hydrogen in the quantities wished for would be electrolysis of water using power from hundreds of nuclear plants. Apart from the dim prospect of our building that many nuclear plants soon enough, there are also numerous severe problems with hydrogen's nature as an element that present forbidding obstacles to its use as a replacement for oil and gas, especially in storage and transport.

Wishful notions about rescuing our way of life with "renewables" are also unrealistic. Solar-electric systems and wind turbines face not only the enormous problem of scale but the fact that the components require substantial amounts of energy to manufacture and the probability that they can't be manufactured at all without the underlying support platform of a fossil-fuel economy. We will surely use solar and wind technology to generate some electricity for a period ahead but probably at a very local and small scale.

Virtually all "biomass" schemes for using plants to create liquid fuels cannot be scaled up to even a fraction of the level at which things are currently run. What's more, these schemes are predicated on using oil and gas "inputs" (fertilizers, weed-killers) to grow the biomass crops that would be converted into ethanol or bio-diesel fuels. This is a net energy loser -- you might as well just burn the inputs and not bother with the biomass products. Proposals to distill trash and waste into oil by means of thermal depolymerization depend on the huge waste stream produced by a cheap oil and gas economy in the first place.

Coal is far less versatile than oil and gas, extant in less abundant supplies than many people assume and fraught with huge ecological drawbacks -- as a contributor to greenhouse "global warming" gases and many health and toxicity issues ranging from widespread mercury poisoning to acid rain. You can make synthetic oil from coal, but the only time this was tried on a large scale was by the Nazis under wartime conditions, using impressive amounts of slave labor.

If we wish to keep the lights on in America after 2020, we may indeed have to resort to nuclear power, with all its practical problems and eco-conundrums. Under optimal conditions, it could take ten years to get a new generation of nuclear power plants into operation, and the price may be beyond our means. Uranium is also a resource in finite supply. We are no closer to the more difficult project of atomic fusion, by the way, than we were in the 1970s.

The upshot of all this is that we are entering a historical period of potentially great instability, turbulence and hardship. Obviously, geopolitical maneuvering around the world's richest energy regions has already led to war and promises more international military conflict. Since the Middle East contains two-thirds of the world's remaining oil supplies, the U.S. has attempted desperately to stabilize the region by, in effect, opening a big police station in Iraq. The intent was not just to secure Iraq's oil but to modify and influence the behavior of neighboring states around the Persian Gulf, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia. The results have been far from entirely positive, and our future prospects in that part of the world are not something we can feel altogether confident about.

And then there is the issue of China, which, in 2004, became the world's second-greatest consumer of oil, surpassing Japan. China's surging industrial growth has made it increasingly dependent on the imports we are counting on. If China wanted to, it could easily walk into some of these places -- the Middle East, former Soviet republics in central Asia -- and extend its hegemony by force. Is America prepared to contest for this oil in an Asian land war with the Chinese army? I doubt it. Nor can the U.S. military occupy regions of the Eastern Hemisphere indefinitely, or hope to secure either the terrain or the oil infrastructure of one distant, unfriendly country after another. A likely scenario is that the U.S. could exhaust and bankrupt itself trying to do this, and be forced to withdraw back into our own hemisphere, having lost access to most of the world's remaining oil in the process.

We know that our national leaders are hardly uninformed about this predicament. President George W. Bush has been briefed on the dangers of the oil-peak situation as long ago as before the 2000 election and repeatedly since then. In March, the Department of Energy released a report that officially acknowledges for the first time that peak oil is for real and states plainly that "the world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary."

Most of all, the Long Emergency will require us to make other arrangements for the way we live in the United States. America is in a special predicament due to a set of unfortunate choices we made as a society in the twentieth century. Perhaps the worst was to let our towns and cities rot away and to replace them with suburbia, which had the additional side effect of trashing a lot of the best farmland in America. Suburbia will come to be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It has a tragic destiny. The psychology of previous investment suggests that we will defend our drive-in utopia long after it has become a terrible liability.

Before long, the suburbs will fail us in practical terms. We made the ongoing development of housing subdivisions, highway strips, fried-food shacks and shopping malls the basis of our economy, and when we have to stop making more of those things, the bottom will fall out.

The circumstances of the Long Emergency will require us to downscale and re-scale virtually everything we do and how we do it, from the kind of communities we physically inhabit to the way we grow our food to the way we work and trade the products of our work. Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. Anything organized on the large scale, whether it is government or a corporate business enterprise such as Wal-Mart, will wither as the cheap energy props that support bigness fall away. The turbulence of the Long Emergency will produce a lot of economic losers, and many of these will be members of an angry and aggrieved former middle class.

Food production is going to be an enormous problem in the Long Emergency. As industrial agriculture fails due to a scarcity of oil- and gas-based inputs, we will certainly have to grow more of our food closer to where we live, and do it on a smaller scale. The American economy of the mid-twenty-first century may actually center on agriculture, not information, not high tech, not "services" like real estate sales or hawking cheeseburgers to tourists. Farming. This is no doubt a startling, radical idea, and it raises extremely difficult questions about the reallocation of land and the nature of work. The relentless subdividing of land in the late twentieth century has destroyed the contiguity and integrity of the rural landscape in most places. The process of readjustment is apt to be disorderly and improvisational. Food production will necessarily be much more labor-intensive than it has been for decades. We can anticipate the re-formation of a native-born American farm-laboring class. It will be composed largely of the aforementioned economic losers who had to relinquish their grip on the American dream. These masses of disentitled people may enter into quasi-feudal social relations with those who own land in exchange for food and physical security. But their sense of grievance will remain fresh, and if mistreated they may simply seize that land.

The way that commerce is currently organized in America will not survive far into the Long Emergency. Wal-Mart's "warehouse on wheels" won't be such a bargain in a non-cheap-oil economy. The national chain stores' 12,000-mile manufacturing supply lines could easily be interrupted by military contests over oil and by internal conflict in the nations that have been supplying us with ultra-cheap manufactured goods, because they, too, will be struggling with similar issues of energy famine and all the disorders that go with it.

As these things occur, America will have to make other arrangements for the manufacture, distribution and sale of ordinary goods. They will probably be made on a "cottage industry" basis rather than the factory system we once had, since the scale of available energy will be much lower -- and we are not going to replay the twentieth century. Tens of thousands of the common products we enjoy today, from paints to pharmaceuticals, are made out of oil. They will become increasingly scarce or unavailable. The selling of things will have to be reorganized at the local scale. It will have to be based on moving merchandise shorter distances. It is almost certain to result in higher costs for the things we buy and far fewer choices.

The automobile will be a diminished presence in our lives, to say the least. With gasoline in short supply, not to mention tax revenue, our roads will surely suffer. The interstate highway system is more delicate than the public realizes. If the "level of service" (as traffic engineers call it) is not maintained to the highest degree, problems multiply and escalate quickly. The system does not tolerate partial failure. The interstates are either in excellent condition, or they quickly fall apart.

America today has a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. Neither of the two major presidential candidates in 2004 mentioned railroads, but if we don't refurbish our rail system, then there may be no long-range travel or transport of goods at all a few decades from now. The commercial aviation industry, already on its knees financially, is likely to vanish. The sheer cost of maintaining gigantic airports may not justify the operation of a much-reduced air-travel fleet. Railroads are far more energy efficient than cars, trucks or airplanes, and they can be run on anything from wood to electricity. The rail-bed infrastructure is also far more economical to maintain than our highway network.

The successful regions in the twenty-first century will be the ones surrounded by viable farming hinterlands that can reconstitute locally sustainable economies on an armature of civic cohesion. Small towns and smaller cities have better prospects than the big cities, which will probably have to contract substantially. The process will be painful and tumultuous. In many American cities, such as Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis, that process is already well advanced. Others have further to fall. New York and Chicago face extraordinary difficulties, being oversupplied with gigantic buildings out of scale with the reality of declining energy supplies. Their former agricultural hinterlands have long been paved over. They will be encysted in a surrounding fabric of necrotic suburbia that will only amplify and reinforce the cities' problems. Still, our cities occupy important sites. Some kind of urban entities will exist where they are in the future, but probably not the colossi of twentieth-century industrialism.

Some regions of the country will do better than others in the Long Emergency. The Southwest will suffer in proportion to the degree that it prospered during the cheap-oil blowout of the late twentieth century. I predict that Sunbelt states like Arizona and Nevada will become significantly depopulated, since the region will be short of water as well as gasoline and natural gas. Imagine Phoenix without cheap air conditioning.

I'm not optimistic about the Southeast, either, for different reasons. I think it will be subject to substantial levels of violence as the grievances of the formerly middle class boil over and collide with the delusions of Pentecostal Christian extremism. The latent encoded behavior of Southern culture includes an outsized notion of individualism and the belief that firearms ought to be used in the defense of it. This is a poor recipe for civic cohesion.

The Mountain States and Great Plains will face an array of problems, from poor farming potential to water shortages to population loss. The Pacific Northwest, New England and the Upper Midwest have somewhat better prospects. I regard them as less likely to fall into lawlessness, anarchy or despotism and more likely to salvage the bits and pieces of our best social traditions and keep them in operation at some level.

These are daunting and even dreadful prospects. The Long Emergency is going to be a tremendous trauma for the human race. We will not believe that this is happening to us, that 200 years of modernity can be brought to its knees by a world-wide power shortage. The survivors will have to cultivate a religion of hope -- that is, a deep and comprehensive belief that humanity is worth carrying on. If there is any positive side to stark changes coming our way, it may be in the benefits of close communal relations, of having to really work intimately (and physically) with our neighbors, to be part of an enterprise that really matters and to be fully engaged in meaningful social enactments instead of being merely entertained to avoid boredom. Years from now, when we hear singing at all, we will hear ourselves, and we will sing with our whole hearts.


JAMES HOWARD KUNSTLER
(Posted Mar 24, 2005)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kunstler has the wit and venom to put him in the league of other great writers for Rolling Stone like Hunter S. Thompson. Kudos to Rolling Stone for appreciating his talent and for printing this article which lacks none of Kunstler's usual frankness.

We hope that this kind of wake up call can perhaps help to mitigate some of its own worst predictions.

It's also worth noting that some permaculturists point out that some aspects of suburbia may be well suited to a low energy future, see:

Urban vs. Rural Sustainability by Toby Hemenway
www.energybulletin.net/3757.html

Peak Oil and Permaculture: David Holmgren on Energy Descent
www.energybulletin.net/524.html

-AF
Article found at :
http://www.energybulletin.net/newswire.php?id=4856

Original article :
http://www.rollingstone.com/news/st...inRegion&rnd=1111685363695&has-player=unknown
 

Tgace

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I dunno..while it obviously is an issue that will have to be dealt with, I have to question the "doomsday" attitude that seems to surround the issue. The human race has survived adapted and overcome many issues. While change will most definitely happen, I believe that, as our current culture/economy developed, a new one will develop as well. The issues are how long will the Gvt. and oil companies try to squeeze more money out of the current system and will the change be gradual or abrupt.

Heck, my great grandparents lived in times when the horse was still the primary mode of transportation and had to deal with outdoor plumbing. While (if they were still alive) im sure they wouldnt have wanted to go back to those days, I am also fairly confident that if forced to, they would have done just fine....
 
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Makalakumu

Makalakumu

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Tgace said:
I dunno..while it obviously is an issue that will have to be dealt with, I have to question the "doomsday" attitude that seems to surround the issue. The human race has survived adapted and overcome many issues. While change will most definitely happen, I believe that, as our current culture/economy developed, a new one will develop as well. The issues are how long will the Gvt. and oil companies try to squeeze more money out of the current system and will the change be gradual or abrupt.

Heck, my great grandparents lived in times when the horse was still the primary mode of transportation and had to deal with outdoor plumbing. While (if they were still alive) im sure they wouldnt have wanted to go back to those days, I am also fairly confident that if forced to, they would have done just fine....

Humans will definitely survive, but our current way of life will not. We consume and waste way too much energy. It's really disgusting when you think about it.

I think our current administration and subsequent will attempt to squeeze every last drop of oil until it becomes too hard to do so. This may maintain the status quo for a while, but it sharpens the precipice. The problem is our consumption, our growth and it is unsustainable. By definition, this predicts decline.

I'm glad you brought up grandparents. Talk to them. In our lifetime, the knowledge they have about living and operating locally with much less will become very important. Learn all you can from them before they are gone...
 

Tgace

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upnorthkyosa said:
Humans will definitely survive, but our current way of life will not. We consume and waste way too much energy. It's really disgusting when you think about it.

I think our current administration and subsequent will attempt to squeeze every last drop of oil until it becomes too hard to do so. This may maintain the status quo for a while, but it sharpens the precipice. The problem is our consumption, our growth and it is unsustainable. By definition, this predicts decline.

I'm glad you brought up grandparents. Talk to them. In our lifetime, the knowledge they have about living and operating locally with much less will become very important. Learn all you can from them before they are gone...
Well...many of the "snowbirds" seem to have adapted to the oil economy fairly well, with their V8 Lincons and trips to Florida and back. ;)

Where there is a need and money to be made, new systems will develop. I think its going to start with more people buying hybrid vehicles and then from there who knows....
 
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Makalakumu

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Here is another article, written by a friend of mine, Mr. Will Rhodes. He gives the subject a fair treatment and provides extensive research.

Peak Oil

Will Rhodes
Reader Weekly

Peak Oil is a huge topic that is difficult for us to come to terms with. I urge people to begin thinking and talking about Peak Oil. It is hard to deny that something is changing in our oil-dependent world.

What is Peak Oil?

Peak Oil is a term for the peak of global oil production. To help understand this, think of a single oil well. When it is starts, production ramps up and up at first; then the amount peaks, then production tails off. This is how oil wells behave. All finite resources display the same bell-curve production patterns. Most scientists believe the same "peak" will apply to world oil production. Many countries and regions in the world have already hit their own peak of oil production and are now producing less and less.
It stands to reason that the entire world will hit a peak in oil production (Peak Oil) at some point. Peak Oil is often referred to as "the end of cheap oil." What makes this so serious is that our way of life is deeply dependent on cheap oil. Once oil production begins to decline, our lives and ability to survive are likely to become very difficult indeed.

Kenneth Deffeyes, a retired oil geologist and professor, believes Peak Oil will arrive this year. (1) He is one of a group of scientists and researchers who believe Peak Oil will happen anywhere from 2005 to 2010. Richard Heinberg, a professor and author of "The Party's Over" and other important Peak Oil-related articles, has called these researchers "Cassandras." Cassandra is a character from Greek mythology who can accurately predict coming disasters but can get no one to believe her. More from the Cassandras later.
Peak Oil has been an obscure topic over the years. But in 1999, Dick Cheney, then chair of Halliburton Corporation, talked about ever-rising oil demand and declining oil reserves. He added “That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day." Cheney is telling us that oil production is going to decline soon unless some miracle happens. (2) In the last year, Peak Oil has begun bubbling to the surface of American mainstream media. National Geographic, The Economist and Scientific American ran Peak Oil articles in 2004. (3)

What happens when Peak Oil arrives?

There are a variety of predictions that run the gamut from crash, to crumble to some sort of magically soft landing.
Matt Savinar, editor of the website http://LifeAfterTheOilCrash.net, predicts doom and gloom. But he is full of detailed information and references to prove his case (he’s a lawyer). Visit his website or read his book.
Richard Heinberg, noted Peak Oil author, has a second Peak Oil book, “Powerdown” (2004) which is a detailed look at likely scenarios after Peak Oil arrives. He finds ongoing energy wars inevitable and industrial collapse unavoidable. He finds recessions leading to depression likely.
James Howard Kunstler speaks bluntly about Peak Oil and has an equally bluntly-named blog entitled “The Cluster**** Nation Chronicles.” (4) Kunstler is also featured in the recent documentary about Peak Oil called “End of Suburbia” (2004). He is particularly savage about the wrong-headedness of American suburbia and predicts its collapse when Peak Oil hits. In a Jan. 2005 speech, he theorized that the southeast and southwest would be hard-hit by Peak Oil, but the northeast and upper Midwest might have better chances. Intense re-localization, so people can survive locally, is the only option he sees. (5)

A fairly quick crash is one possibility. If Peak Oil causes markets to drop quickly or crash, the dollar’s value to crash leading to hyperinflation, fuel or natural gas prices to skyrocket by a factor of 5 or 10 or more, many jobs simply disappear or their pay become almost meaningless, deliveries to grocery stores stop, then we have a crash. This would likely include martial law, riots, war and looting.

A slow crumble is another possibility. More of a “Plateau Oil,” where production levels out for a while, and then falls. We could see a serious of worsening recessions, one after another until a permanent depression hits. All the crash things happen but in a longer, slower timeframe.
Collapse of civilizations is not a new thing. Easter Island, Mayans and the Norse on Greenland are just a few examples of societies that went belly up due to resource depletion. Jared Diamond has a new book called “Collapse.” Heinberg wrote a review of the book (6) that praised some of the content but was critical of three things that were missing: the coming Peak Oil, dysfunctional world economic and money systems, U.S. political leaders incapable of tasks needed to avert collapse.

Fossil fuel use and human population are directly linked. After millions of years humans reached the 1 billion mark. Then, in these brief last 200 years of coal and oil, we’ve suddenly added another 5-plus billion people. Once fossil fuels decline, so will human population.

Oil Basics 101

To learn more about oil and its possible peak I talked to local geologists. Recently I interviewed three professors (PhD’s) from UMD’s Geology department: John Goodge, Tim Demko and Nigel Wattrus. Goodge has a keen interest in Peak Oil. Demko worked six years as oil research geologist for Exxon oil company. Wattrus worked eleven years as an oil research geophysicist for ARCO oil company.

In brief, I learned that oil forms only in very specific conditions and takes millions of years. An example is plant and animal matter falling to the bottom at river mouths and getting quickly buried. Pressure, heat and millions of years eventually convert the matter to oil. But even then, most of that oil dissipates, only oil caught under specific rock formations (or “traps”) was preserved.

A few people think oil forms down deep in the earth’s mantle and oil fields are just refilling as we use them. This is called Abiotic Oil theory. Professor Goodge says that this theory has “never been proven.” Tests can show if oil is from plant/animal origins or abiotic. No abiotic oil has been found.
Professor Demko says that unconventional oil and science and technology are delaying Peak Oil. Unconventional oil comes from such places like the Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada. Prof. Wattrus said most obvious oil locations in North America and Europe have already been heavily explored as well as most terrestrial (land-based) locations. But offshore (water-based) locations have not been as heavily explored. Wattrus said “We’re finding new oil today because of better technology.”

How important is oil in or lives?

Looking around yourself, it’s likely much of what you see was either created with oil or transported by oil power. A short list of things in our society that rely on cheap oil energy include: Food production, Car, truck and plane fuel, plastics, snow-plowing, roads and buildings, coal & iron mining, medicine, military, stock market and our current economy. The list goes on and on.
Let’s take a look at just one of the examples, oil-energy used in American food production. Dale Allen Pfeiffer authored a detailed report on this topic in 2003. (7) The report tells us for every 1 calorie of food energy we Americans consume, it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to create that food. Additionally, our daily diet is achieved in only 20 minutes of labor in our current system. Unfortunately, if you remove fossil fuels from the equation, the daily diet will require 111 hours of human-powered labor per capita. In other words, the current U.S. daily diet would require nearly three weeks of labor per capita to produce. Pfieffer summarizes: “In a very real sense, we are literally eating fossil fuels.”

How much oil are we consuming and how quickly?

Humans are voraciously consuming an enormous amount of oil and this rate is increasing exponentially. World oil consumption in 1996 was 71 million barrels per day (MB/D). (8) The rate for 2004 was projected at 80.5 MB/D. (9) Predictions by Peak Oil Cassandra’s believe 90 MB/D cannot ever be reached, (10) while others say 100 MB/D.

Richard Heinberg, author of many Peak Oil books and articles, uses the analogy of energy slaves. If oil is instead human muscle-power, the average U.S. citizen has 150 energy slaves working 24 hours a day. (11) This is the work fossil fuels do for us. The slaves are basically unpaid with oil so cheap. If these energy slaves were paid $5 an hour, a barrel of oil would be worth $40,000. Using this example, average American per capita consumption equivalent of 250 gallons (6 barrels) of oil per year would cost $240,000 per person per year if our energy consumption work was done by human power. Another insight: the typical American motorist consumes his or her body weight in crude oil each week. (12)

Geology Professor Goodge points out some telling research by Jeff Dukes, an ecologist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. While at the University of Utah in 2003, Dukes wrote an article for the journal “Climatic Change.” It tells about the amount of ancient sunlight that is being used by burning fossil fuels today. One of the startling facts is 1 gallon of gasoline represents 89 tons of ancient buried plant material. Also, the fossil fuels burned in 1997 were created from an amount of organic matter that is equal to 400 times the world’s current yearly plant growth. (13) These numbers illustrate the gigantic, outlandish amount of energy we consume each year, and the incredible rate we are consuming it.

What are the peak oil predictions? Are they correct?

Four major studies are predicting that Peak Oil will occur between 2005 to 2010:

‘Oil field mega projects 2004’, (Jan. 29, 2004), points to Peak in 2007
Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, http://www.odac-info.org

The World Petroleum Life-Cycle, (Oct. 22, 1998), predicts Peak in 2006
Richard C. Duncan and Walter Youngquist, http://dieoff.com/page133.htm

WOCAP Model (1997 – 2003), predicts Peak in 2006 / 2007
Ali SamSam Bakhtiari, http://samsambakhtiari.com

Campbell / ASPO (ongoing, Feb. 2005), predicts Peak in 2007.
Colin Campbell / Assoc. Study of Peak Oil and Gas
http://www.peakoil.net/Newsletter/NL50/newsletter50.pdf

The Cassandras

The “Cassandras” mentioned earlier are people who are predicting Peak Oil in the near future. Colin Campell is the best known of them. He is a retired oil geologist who leads the group called ASPO, The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. He had recently predicted Peak Oil for 2010, then 2008, now he says 2007. Kenneth Deffeyes is a retired oil geologist and professor who predicts 2005. Ali SamSam Bakhtiari is a senior expert with the National Iranian Oil Company who predicts 2006/2007.

Matthew Simmons is an energy investment banker for Simmons & Co. International. Simmons is a life-long Republican who advised Bush/Cheney 2000 and Vice-President Cheney’s 2001 energy task force. Simmons has been a real bulldog about questioning the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. He’s read 200 technical papers on the subject and has strong doubts about future Saudi Arabian oil production capacity. He fears Peak Oil may be here now. (14) There are also authors and commentators who have written extensively about the issue and firmly believe in a near-term Peak Oil. They include James Howard Kunstler, Michael C. Ruppert, Richard Heinberg and Jan Lundberg.
The Cornucopians: These are advocates who either don’t believe in Peak Oil at all, or believe it will be much farther out in the future and replacements will take over for oil.

Their ranks include Michael Lynch, Peter Huber, Peter R. Odell and Bjorn Lomborg.

Lynch, an energy consultant, is one of the cornucopian leaders. He likes to point out how wrong Campbell has been in the past. “Colin Campbell said in '89 that this is the peak right now, in '91 he said the peak is next year, and in '95 he said it's in '97 and so forth.” (15). Huber has co-written a recent book entitled “The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy.” Peter Odell is a retired economist and professor from Erasmus University, Netherlands. His research says the peak for conventional oil will be in 2060 and that we’ve barely started using unconventional oil. (16). Bjorn Lomborg is a political science professor at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. Lomborg writes that known oil reserves keep growing, we keep getting better at extracting oil and we can always find substitutes for resources that get scarce. (17)

Who is correct? Much of the Cassandra’s beliefs are based on oil reserve estimates. Geology Prof. Demko say oil reserve estimates are “a black art.” He says numbers get massaged on many levels. He adds that we know where the oil is, but it is hard to know how much is there until you get a straw down there and test the pressure. That said, when pressed, Demko thought 2010 was a fair estimate for a Peak Oil date. Geology Prof. Wattrus says “We’re not going to find new elephant fields”, but we’re finding smaller fields that help. Wattrus believed Peak Oil would be within the next 10 years.
In his first Peak Oil book, “The Party’s Over,” Richard Heinberg devotes pages 102 - 117 to explaining and debunking the Cornucopian arguments. I strongly suggest reading this if you can. In brief, he acknowledges that previous Peak Oil predictions in past years have been wrong. But Heinberg argues that scientists have been telling for us for a long time that the world is a finite place. Things like climate change and the fact that oil production is struggling to keep up with demand seems to prove that. This would tend to disagree with claims of infinite oil supplies of oil.

We will only know the exact Peak Oil date after the fact. U.S.-48 oil production peaked in 1970 but it wasn’t known until 1971. It is instructive to note that almost universally (except for Huber), all people involved in the debate believe that oil production will one day peak and then go down forever. The debate is about when it will happen and if alternatives will be able to take over for oil.

Alternatives to oil

If oil production is going to peak and thus oil is then much more expensive and harder to get, are there alternatives we can fall back on? This topics is covered by many sources, such as Heinberg’s “The Party’s Over” book and Matt Savinar’s website LifeAfterTheOilCrash.net and book “The Oil Age is Over.” I’ll lay out in brief what they are saying.

Conservation/Curtailment: Not the first energy alternatives you think of. But conserving energy is a proven way to help energy shortages. It is likely to be one of our main (and forced) options.

Natural Gas: Outside of North America, estimates are for 30 years of Natural gas left. But some say North American gas supplies are very near a peak as well. Julian Darley has written the book “High Noon for Natural Gas” that paints a bleak picture.

Coal: In theory, the U.S. has 250 years of coal left. Yet its possible we only have 30 years of economically viable coal yet to get.
Nuclear: Uranium is the fuel for Nuclear power plants. Estimates are for 40 years of uranium left in the U.S. to feed current plants. But Nuclear is very controversial, complex, dangerous and has many unsolvable problems. See the Nukewatch.com of Luck,Wisc. for more info.

Hydrogen: With all the debate about hydrogen its important to note that hydrogen is an “energy carrier”. Basically all hydrogen today is derived from natural gas. You can get hydrogen from water, but it takes electricity to do it. That involves coal, nuclear, wind or solar. Many believe hydrogen is a red-herring, a distraction from our oil woes, not a solution.

Wind: It is renewable and becoming more popular. But there are only so many places where it works and it is intermittent.

Solar: Photovoltaic (PV) panels make electricity directly from the sun. But sun, like wind, is intermittent, PV panels take finite resources to build, and many PV systems use lead/acid batteries (finite and toxic) to store solar energy. Also, in 2005, PV panels are more expensive and hard to get. (see solar-electric.com/).

Biomass/Ethanol/Methanol: A very detailed Jan. 2005 study by Prof. Tad Patzek of UC-Berkely says corn-based ethanol is an energy loser. (18) It takes more energy to make ethanol than you get from it. Biomass and Methanol in general may be hopeful and might serve local, niche uses. But they can’t be ramped up to come anywhere near replacing oil. Also, large scale biomass would compete for land needed to grow food.

Fringe: Fusion, Thermal Depolymerization and others are not widely used and are unlikely to be ramped up.

What about those that are upbeat on alternatives? Amory Lovins, Jeremy Rifkin, Lester Brown and others are believers in hydrogen and wind as solutions. But concerning oil-alternatives, I find Heinberg, Savinar and researchers like Ulf Bossel much more believable. They take into account the drawbacks, costs, materials shortages, lack of likely political action and possible speed with which Peak Oil itself will likely arrive. All these things make oil-alternatives unlikely to take but a small percentage of oil’s place.

What can be done?

In terms of a world and national solution to Peak Oil, it is increasingly apparent there isn’t one. Heinberg, Savinar, Kunstler and others agree on this. But there is possible hope for local areas if people get their act together. Cuba faced deep oil shortage after the fall of the soviet union in 1990, but Cuba turned to organic gardens/farming everywhere and pulled through hard times.

Re-localization is the concept of working to produce as much of our needs as locally as possible and with ever-decreasing amounts of fossil fuels. A laundry list of things that need to learn and be done include: Alternative/Local currency (like: Ithaca Hours), organic farming, Permaculture, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Community gardening, fruit trees, Preserving knowledge that will matter, Strengthening your social circles, Intentional Communities, Ecovillages, Green Cities, skills and knowledge of weaving, spinning, chickens, goats, honeybees, seed-saving, herbal medicines, carpentry, strawbale and cordwood masonry construction, passive solar design, composting toilet systems, hunting and gathering. Take lessons from the Amish, whose agriculture uses no tractors or chemicals while neighbors help each other with planting, harvesting and barn-raising. Sustainably raising and harvesting local biomass for fuel and fiber. Swales and rain-barrels. Apprenticeships. Resisting War. Working for peace. Gathering up hand-tools, animal-power implements and equipment and wood-stoves. The list goes on and on. Will you start doing and learning things on this list?

Will Rhodes is an organic gardener, peak oil worrier, sustainability advocate and Duluth Area Green Party member. He lives in the rural Duluth area.

Peak Oil Resources:

Books: Richard Heinberg “The Party’s Over” & “Powerdown, Julian Darley “High Noon for Natural Gas,” David Goodstein “Out of Gas,” Diana Leafe Christian “Creating a Life Together”, Any permaculture book.
Web: DuluthGreens.org/energy (links to local Peak Oil and sustainability info), EnergyBulletin.net (news), DryDipStick.com (metadirectory), PeakOil.net (ASPO), PostCarbon.org (store, links, $1 peak oil booklet), SustainableNorthShore.org, IC.org (intentional communities), Kunstler.com (Kunstler’s webpage)

Events: Thurs. March 24, 7 p.m., showing of “End of Suburbia” DVD, Chester Creek Café basement
Sun. April 17, 10:30 a.m., “Coming down from the Peak,” sermon by Phil Cook at First Unitarian Church, Duluth
Ongoing: Watch the Reader and DuluthGreens.org for more local dates/events/info

Citations:

Deffeyes thinks peak oil is here, Feb. 14, 2005 ABC Australia
http://energybulletin.net/4483.html

Dick Cheney, Peak Oil and the Final Count Down
Article: april 2004, quote: fall of 1999. http://www.globalpublicmedia.com/articles/75

(3) mainstream media mentions.
http://www.energybulletin.net/4488.html
http://www.sciam.com/ (search “peak oil”)

(4) Kunstler website / blog.
http://www.kunstler.com

(5) Kunstler speech in Hudson, NY (Jan. 2005)
http://energybulletin.net/4367.html

Heinberg review Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”.
http://energybulletin.net/4182.html


(7) “Eating Fossil Fuels”, Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Oct. 2003, http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/100303_eating_oil.html

(8) 1996 world oil consumption 71 mb/d http://www.oilfield.com/forcast.html


2004 world oil consumption projected 80.5, says OPEC in june
http:/energybulletin.net/695.html

90 million barrels per day of oil, world maxium?
http://www.dailyreckoning.com/RudeAwake/Articles/inmemoriamcheapoil.html

150 energy slaves needed for avg. U.S. citizen
http://www.mnforsustain.org/oil_heinberg_puplava_interview_032203.ht

U.S. motorists consume their bodyweight in crude oil each week
http://www.jc-solarhomes.com/WorldOil.htm

(13) Jeff Dukes: Human Consumption of Ancient Solar Energy
http://globalecology.stanford.edu/DGE/Dukes/Dukes.html

(14) Simmons fears Peak Oil may be here (or near)
http://energybulletin.net/4428.html and
http://energybulletin.net/4559.html

(15) Lynch pointing out Campbell’s past miscalculations
http://www.truthnews.net/world/2005010079.htm

Odell predicts peak oil 2060
http://www.clingendael.nl/ciep/pdf/Odell_2003_05_21_lecture.pdf

Lomborg’s “Running on Empty” article, 2001
Quoted from “The Party’s Over”, Heinberg, 2003.

Ethanol an energy loser, (2005) T. Patzek, UC-Berkeley
http://petroleum.berkeley.edu/papers/patzek/CRPS416-Patzek-Web.pdf
 

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The problem with "doomsayers" is that the general population just doesnt want to hear from them...I think a more "want to save money by not depending on oil? Then do this..." approach is much better in terms of general co-operation and mental health.
 
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Tgace said:
The problem with "doomsayers" is that the general population just doesnt want to hear from them...I think a more "want to save money by not depending on oil? Then do this..." approach is much better in terms of general co-operation and mental health.

"People cannot stand too much reality." Carl Gustav Jung

People have been saying things like that for years. In fact, for thirty years. The push for conservation and alternative energy has had its voice. The problem, it all requires sacrifice...and Americans no like that.

Peak Oil does not mean the end of all oil, it means the end of cheap oil. Our entire way of life depends on cheap oil. Consider the following...

1. For every calorie of food you eat, it takes 10 calories of cheap oil to produce.

http://www.fromthewilderness.com/fr...eating_oil.html

2. If one took all of the calories of energy that a person uses in cheap oil for a single day in this country and divided all of that work by the amount of work a human can do in a day, every person has 150 energy slaves to maintain their standard of living.

http://www.mnforsustain.org/oil_hei...rview_032203.ht

3. U.S. motorists consume their bodyweight in cheap crude oil each week. 90% of all transportation, including all trade goods depends on cheap oil.

http://www.jc-solarhomes.com/WorldOil.htm

These three things alone show that the loss of cheap oil to our economy would absolutely devestate this nation.

Oil is the most convenient and transportable energy source ever discovered by homo sapians. It has a very high caloric content, it is highly transportable, and (thus far) it has been easily obtained. There will never be another energy source like this again, ever.

In the oil heyday, we got a 100 to 1 energy return on input with cheap oil. This number has been steadily dropping despite massive improvements in technology. After Peak Oil, this number will drop to where it will not economically viable to extract.

Alternative energy sources get a 1 to 1 energy return on input. This includes hydrogen. Furthermore, it requires decades of planning and investment to get alternative energy resources off the ground. People have known about Peak Oil for years...

Thirty years ago, we could have planned for this. Five years ago in 2000, we should have been talking about this. It is too late now. We have made some piss poor decisions about how we want to live in this country and we will pay the piper.

History books will look at the development of Suburbia as one of the most titantic wastes of resources ever known. They will see the gigantic houses that house one to three people, the SUVs driving 50 miles a day just to go to work, the paving over of all viable farmland surrounding a city for a hundred miles as a foolish dream.

In the post carbon era, our radius of impact, limited by the amount of energy it takes to travel and transport goods will be about 20 miles. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, which depend on transportation of goods because they have paved over everything in 100 miles, will become nerotic wastelands.

People will be economically forced to leave Suburbia and join each other in communities to support each other. Now that doesn't sound so bad...

Oh, I forgot WW4...
 
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The following Graphs and tables were constructed by ASPO, a group of the best and the brightest Petroleum Geologists in the industry. These scientists had direct access to the largest oil companies secret data on reserves and have published this data despite threats from their former employers.

Using this data, one can see that Peak Oil is now. In five years, production will fall dramatically. In fifteen years, the **** will hit the fan.

“We need a wake up call. We need it desperately. We need basically a new form of energy. I don’t know that there is one.” Matthew Simmons Cheif Energy Advisor for the Bush Administration.
 

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Please consider the following document as you consider the comming crisis. Please note the key points of the Neoconservative Project for the New American Century.

Boldface Emphasis Mine

June 3, 1997

American foreign and defense policy is adrift. Conservatives have criticized the incoherent policies of the Clinton Administration. They have also resisted isolationist impulses from within their own ranks. But conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America's role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. They have allowed differences over tactics to obscure potential agreement on strategic objectives. And they have not fought for a defense budget that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.

We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

We are in danger of squandering the opportunity and failing the challenge. We are living off the capital -- both the military investments and the foreign policy achievements -- built up by past administrations. Cuts in foreign affairs and defense spending, inattention to the tools of statecraft, and inconstant leadership are making it increasingly difficult to sustain American influence around the world. And the promise of short-term commercial benefits threatens to override strategic considerations. As a consequence, we are jeopardizing the nation's ability to meet present threats and to deal with potentially greater challenges that lie ahead.

We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration's success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities.

Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.

Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:

• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;


• we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;


• we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;


• we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.

Elliott Abrams Gary Bauer William J. Bennett Jeb Bush

Dick Cheney Eliot A. Cohen Midge Decter Paula Dobriansky Steve Forbes

Aaron Friedberg Francis Fukuyama Frank Gaffney Fred C. Ikle

Donald Kagan Zalmay Khalilzad I. Lewis Libby Norman Podhoretz

Dan Quayle Peter W. Rodman Stephen P. Rosen Henry S. Rowen

Donald Rumsfeld Vin Weber George Weigel Paul Wolfowitz

This was taken from here.

This was published in 1997. The signers of PNAC are all heavily involved in the oil and gas industry. They were ahead of the curve then and are ahead of it now. See the following citation.

Dick Cheney, Peak Oil and the Final Count Down
Article: april 2004, quote: fall of 1999.
http://www.globalpublicmedia.com/articles/75

When peak oil hits and slides, these people stand to lose the most (materially) among us. They have gathered their forces and stormed the White House. Peak Oil will precipitate WW4 for the benefit of these men. The plan they have created is a last ditch effort to protect their wealth and power and they will do anything to see this completed.

Peak Oil is an umbrella issue. Through it, one can finally understand fully the motives of our national foreign policy...

upnorthkyosa
 
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Tgace said:

hmmm

I'm not a geologist or a geophysicist, so I do not know whether crude oil and natural gas are made from biomass – the result of time, heat and pressure acting upon tons and tons of dead things, mostly algae and phytoplankton – or whether the complex hydrocarbons we extract from the earth are "inorganic" – the result of time, heat and pressure acting upon chalk, water and a few other odds and ends chemicals.

There is absolutely no evidence for the "abiotic oil" theory. Also, his understanding of the concept of Peak Oil is wrongheaded to the point of disinformation.

Peak Oil means that 50% of the worlds oil has been used up. It means that the easiest oil to extract is gone and that the difficult low quality stuff is left. Sure, there may be lots left, but it will not keep up with demand.

There's a lot of shale in North America, and the process to synthesize crude from shale is fairly old and well known. It is also water intensive, and not terribly economical right now (because most of the shale is buried out West, where there is very little water). The technology is pretty well established to make synthetic crude oil from coal (lots of North American coal too) or natural gas, or even turkey guts or pig manure – if the price is right.

These processes are so expensive that the price of oil would have to rise to over $120.00 dollars a barrel to come close to breaking even.

I have to admit at this point, I know very little about how the actual shipping of petroleum – and, more importantly, what it costs – works.

hmmmm

But there is an oil component to the invasion and occupation, and I believe it is this: the United States, through invading and occupying a nation with significant oil reserves, would show the world – especially the up-and-coming consuming nations of China and India – that in the event that push comes to shove, and this resource gets scarce, Americans come first.

"Everyone else gets in line behind us. If there's any left, we'll make sure you get some."

Now that is interesting...

Personally, I am going to listen to the likes of Dick Cheney if I want to hear an informed opinion.
 
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Tgace said:

Again, absolutely no concept of Peak Oil. They are trying to say that we will run out of oil, which is not true...we will run out of cheap oil.

Thanks Tgace for popping in on the discussion. The counter articles are interesting, but I think they are indicative of the "head in the sand" approach to this problem.

I think that it is key to note that both (informed) sides believe Peak Oil will happen. The question is when. The oil interests behind our current administration clearly believe that it will happen soon...

So, in a sense, both sides are agreeing! There are radically different approaches to the problem out there...
 
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ASPO is a group of actual experts in the field of petroleum geology and actually have science to back up there claims. These people worked for the largest oil companies out there and have/had access to all of the data.
 

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http://www.popsci.com/popsci/science/article/0,20967,670731,00.html

http://scienceweek.com/2004/sa040702-6.htm

http://phys4.harvard.edu/~wilson/energypmp/maugeri%20science%20may04.pdf

The worst effect of this recurring oilpanic is that it has driven Western political circles toward oil imperialism and attempts to assert direct or indirect control over oil-producing regions. Yet the world is not running out of oil, and catastrophic views fail to take into account the complex reality that will allow reliance on abundant supplies for years to come
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04142/319678.stm

"To 'cry wolf' over the availability of oil has the sole effect of perpetuating a misguided obsession with oil security and control that already is rooted in Western public opinion," Magugeri said. Western countries, worried over a looming oil crunch, seek to control the Persian Gulf by various means of "oil imperialism," he said.
http://www.thestandard.com.hk/stdn/std/Focus/FJ20Dh01.html
 
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