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What if we don't run out of oil?

Posted By Jerome R. Corsi On 11/15/2005 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

The debate over “Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil” has begun to take familiar lines. “Peak oil” adherents continue to insist that oil resources worldwide are depleting. This mantra is repeated almost like an article of faith.

Ever since M. King Hubbert drew his first “peak-production” curve, statements of this tenet are easy to find. Typically, the “Peak-Production” theory is articulated as so well established that further proof is not needed. “Peak production” statements abound in publication. Consider this example written by an energy consultant in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

Petroleum reserves are limited. Petroleum is not a renewable resource and production cannot continue to increase indefinitely. A day of reckoning will come sometime in the future. The point at which production can no longer keep up with increasing demand will mean a radical and painful readjustment globally to everyday life.

To counter this argument, Craig Smith and I have argued that proven worldwide reserves of oil are currently estimated by the Energy Information Administration at 1.28 trillion barrels, the largest amount every recorded in human history, despite worldwide consumption of oil doubling since the 1970s. Oil prices are currently declining suggesting ample worldwide supplies are available – oil prices are not increasing as would be expected if chronic oil shortages were imminent.

In response to an article we published here about Brazil’s offshore oil discoveries, one bulletin-board poster commented: “Corsi is pushing his abiotic oil agenda. He keeps repeating the canard that oil comes from dinosaurs. NOBODY BELIEVES THAT!” This prompted a response with a correction and an objection: “I suppose you meant to say ‘the canard that oil does NOT come from dinosaurs and ancient flora debris’? That’s the reason why we call oil a fossil fuel.” Even better yet was this: “Who says that oil came from ‘dinosaurs and ancient forests’? What a moron.”

Interestingly, many critics seem ready to give up the “Fossil-Fuel” theory of oil’s origin, as long as they can continue to advance the “Peak-Production” theory. Regardless where the oil comes from, this particular type of critic argues, we are still running out. This line of analysis misses a key point of the abiotic, deep-Earth theory of oil’s origin. If oil is naturally produced within the Earth’s mantle, oil may well be a renewable resource.

Then, there were some abusive ad hominem attacks, as expected in this heavily charged political environment in which differences have become polarized. Some posters argue that as a “discredited” co-author of “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry,” nothing I write is credible, regardless of how well documented or argued. Here are a couple of examples. “This guy was also co-author of a smear book against John Kerry by the Swift Boat liars … highly credible!” Or, again: “This man is an architect of the Kerry swift boat smear, so I am unconvinced of his ability or desire to maintain a dispassionate and analytic stance with respect to this topic.” Evidently, there are still many who do not accept that John Kerry lost the presidential election of 2004, as there remain many who refuse to accept that Al Gore lost in 2000.

In the final analysis, many on the political Left appear to have gravitated to embrace “Peak-Oil” theories because the argument that we are running out of oil fits in with their overall pattern of leftist political beliefs. Spend any time on the peak-oil bulletin boards and you will find many comments from posters who appear happy at the prospect we may be running out of oil.

Underlying their enthusiasm for “peak oil” is an anti-oil, anti-business attitude that feels our advanced capitalist society is “bad” or “wrong,” wasteful of the Earth’s valuable natural resources in the pursuit of a materialistic, lazy lifestyle. Posters of this disposition simply want to dismiss any other theory without serious consideration. Here’s how one poster summed up that attitude, “Ugh, more abiotic oil crap …” The ellipsis typically was not followed up by rational argument. Evidently, the poster felt the “Peak-Oil” thesis was just too obvious or well-established to be in need of defense.

Several critics point to an Internet published article by Richard Heinberg of the New College of California (Santa Rosa) who has written a thoughtful commentary debating the premises of abiotic oil. Heinberg takes sides, having authored “Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World,” a book that embraces “peak-production” thinking. Yet, Heinberg admits there may be solid evidence arguing for abiotic oil:

There is no way to conclusively prove that no petroleum is of abiotic origin. Science is an ongoing search for truth, and theories are continually being altered or scrapped as new evidence appears.

And again,

Perhaps one day there will be general agreement that at least some oil is indeed abiotic. Maybe there are indeed deep methane belts 20 miles below the Earth’s surface.

In contrast to less sophisticated critics, Heinberg sees no reason to hide his underlying political convictions. Instead, he openly displays his political viewpoint, almost wishing that we would run out of oil soon:

What if oil were in fact virtually inexhaustible – would this be good news? Not in my view. It is my opinion that the discovery of oil was the greatest tragedy (in terms of its long-term consequences) in human history. Finding a limitless supply of oil might forestall nasty price increases and catastrophic withdrawal symptoms, but it would only exacerbate all of the other problems that flow from oil dependency – our use of it to accelerate the extraction of all other resources, the venting of CO2 into the atmosphere, and related problems such as loss of biodiversity. Oil depletion is bad news, but it is no worse than that of oil abundance.

The argument about “fossil fuel” and “peak oil,” is only in part a scientific debate. Perhaps more importantly, underlying the debate are political presumptions. The Left wants us to run out of oil, thinking our use of oil is somehow “bad.” What we sought to achieve in writing the book is happening – we wanted to make clear that the debate over the “Myth of Scarcity” is a really a debate about the “Politics of Oil.”

We expect the attacks on the book to continue, and we invite serious readers to consider the arguments we make – both for their scientific validity and for their weight in the political debate over oil that we as a society are beginning to engage. We will continue to argue that hydrocarbon fuels remain abundant and that technological advances make increasing amounts of hydrocarbon fuels recoverable at affordable prices, especially if oil remains at or above $40 a barrel.

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