U.S. News

'Peak Oil' Advocates Blast U.S. Industry Study


Proponents of "peak oil" -- the theory that global crude oil production has hit its zenith and is headed for a steep decline -- are steamed with a U.S. oil industry group's findings that the world has plenty of oil. Next week the U.S. National Petroleum Council -- a board of high-level U.S. oil industry executives -- releases its study titled "Facing the Hard Truths about Energy," conducted at the behest of U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman.

According to the report's executive summary obtained by Reuters, the world is not running out of oil but there are "accumulating risks" to securing supply through 2030. Peak oil theorists say such findings gloss over Bodman's request to study the issue in detail.

"They've labored mightily and come up with a mouse," said Randy Udall at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, whose group dismisses the report as "petro Prozac."

"Give me four college students and two weeks, and I could do better," Udall said.

With crude oil futures prices in London at 11-month highs above $77 a barrel, the International Energy Agency, adviser to 26 industrialized countries, predicts a supply crunch in 2012.

The IEA now expects global demand to reach 95.8 million barrels per day (bpd) from 86.1 million bpd in 2007, assuming average global GDP growth of 4.5 percent annually.

In a draft letter to Bodman outlining its findings, the National Petroleum Council says, "The world is not running out of energy resources, but there are accumulating risks to continuing expansion of oil and natural gas production from the conventional sources relied upon historically."

Those risks include "political hurdles, infrastructure requirements and availability of trained work force," according to the findings of the panel, which includes executives of oil companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron.

The council, chaired by former ExxonMobil Chief Executive Lee Raymond, could not be reached for comment.

Chicken Little

There is no shortage of rhetoric in the debate. One U.S. oil executive hires people to don chicken suits and hand out flyers at peak oil conferences, calling its advocates "Chicken Littles" - most recently in Italy in 2006.

"The abundance side of the debate needs something that grabs attention too," said Alex Cranberg, chairman of Denver-based Aspect Energy, an independent oil company, referring to the chicken suits. "It is almost equal to, but not equal to, the power of fear."

Daniel Yergin, chairman of oil consultancy Cambridge Energy Research Associates and the panel's vice chairman of demand issues, has dismissed the idea of peak oil.

Instead, Yergin's group has predicted an "undulating plateau" of crude oil production over several decades, followed by a slow decline.

Such findings irk Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, the Maryland Republican and co-chairman of the Congressional peak oil caucus, who has hounded the Bush administration on the peak oil issue.

"I don't think (the council) did what they asked them to do," Bartlett said in his office this week, brandishing a closet-full of charts and graphs that map out various world oil consumption scenarios. "We're disappointed."