Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Peak Oil and Snouts in the Trough

Peak Oil is a highly contentious issue in the realm of conspiracy theories. Either the earth is running out of oil, or about to run out of oil and the oil companies are lying and saying there's plenty left, or there's plenty left and the oil companies are lying and saying oil is scarce. Taken at face value either is plausible given the motive of vast amounts of money. According to the Fortune 500 rankings for 2009, Exxon-Mobil are now not only the most profitable company in the world (as they have been for years), but also the company with the highest revenue in America, the world's largest economy. Prior recent rankings generally had them in second position for revenue behind retail conglomerate Wal-Mart but this year they've done them on both fronts. With revenues just shy of $443 billion and profits of $45 billion they are a latter day Standard Oil Company.

Recently published Forbes figures show not only that wanted Mexican drug barons can still be included in richlists as long as they are wealthy enough, but that big oil is still big. Last year's figures show 7 of the 10 most profitable firms are oil companies. Petronas of Malaysia made an appearance in 8th position as the most profitable company in Asia. This year, PetroChina had that honour. As the names imply, they are both oil interests.

In a year where banks and retailers suffered the top 6 most profitable companies were oil giants, with combined revenues into trillions of dollars and combined profits nearing $200 billion. The two most profitable companies in the US, the most profitable in China (and ultimately Asia), in Russia, the UK and Europe are big oil. So the motive to tell lies is there in abundance, and certainly someone's telling lies. The popular Chinese paper China Daily reported that not just one but three Chinese firms are in the shortlist of the most profitable in the world. Along with PetroChina, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and China Mobile were all reported to be in the top 10.

They aren't. They're all in the top ten for market value, but not profits. Likewise, China Daily cited ICBC as saying they are now the most profitable bank in the world. Again, this isn't true, according to the Forbes figures Banco Santander has that crown, though ICBC is the highest ranked bank for market value. You might think this was just down to confusion but there's a huge difference between market value and profit, and the English edition of People's Daily (another Chinese newspaper), got the story right. So China Daily, owned by the Communist Party of China just as People's Daily is, is lying about the status of its companies, presumably because market value isn't considered as important for propaganda purposes as profits. Doubleplus good.

Similarly, Peak Oil involves a misapprehension of the potential problem and a lot of deception, by pretty much all of the people involved. It was originally developed as a theory by M King Hubbert, who worked as a researcher for Royal Dutch Shell, a company with long standing ties to the French arm of the Rothschild family and the Bilderberg Group. Indeed, Nathan Mayer Victor Rothschild, the 3rd Baron Rothschild, was head of research for Royal Dutch Shell for several years in the 1960s despite his training being in biology, not hydrocarbon geology.

These days the theory is little advanced, and is propagated by the likes of Mike Ruppert, a 'former' CIA man who advances the theory that 9/11 was engineered or allowed to happen to enable the mobilisation of the US military to take control of the world's last remain oil and gas reserves in his book Crossing the Rubicon. The book is full of graphs that look just like the one presented by Hubbert in this short video:

Essentially, the theory is that global oil production will reach its peak approximately now, in the few years following the turn of the 21st century. The graph of production over time is a bell curve, with a rapid rise to the peak and a rapid fall away from it. There are numerous problems with this statistical manipulation.

Firstly, it assumes to know how much oil there is in the world, often referred to as Total Recoverable Reserves. This is a combination of Recoverable Reserves (oil in the ground that we already know about) and Yet To Find, an estimate of how much oil there's left out there that we don't know about. Once again we see the unknown unknowns of Team B's Communist threat and the more recent terrorist threat, and Iraq's WMD. We don't know how much oil is out there left to be found, so we'll assume there's an amount consistent with the prediction we want to make about when the peak in oil production will happen.

Secondly, it assumes that the extraction of oil is uniformly difficult, or easy. For example, if it's easy to get 90% of the world's oil but only particularly difficult to get the last 10%, then it's only as we approach having to extract that last 10% that we'll hit the problems identified by Ruppert et al. If, by contrast, only the first 10 or 15% of the oil is easy to extract, and there's another 85% of it buried deeper than present technology allows us to get, the problems come much more quickly. This itself is not only dependent on the physical amount and location of the oil, but also the technological development of equipment to locate and extract it, which is again something Hubbert could not know in the 1950s, and we cannot predict now. If we've reached the limit of such technology already then once again, the peak will happen earlier. If we've some way to go on the development then the peak will come later.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is the misuse of language by the thousands of people claiming to be experts. 'Peak Oil' refers, in the language of almost everyone who talks about it, to a peak in oil production. However, we don't produce oil. We extract it, ship it around the world, split it up, refine it, and convert it into useful things like petrol and plastic. Nowhere have we actually produced anything that wasn't there before in a modified form. The actual production of oil is something of a contentious issue. While there's a consensus that it is a fossil fuel produced biogenically, i.e. from organic matter, the abiogenic theory has yet to be comprehensively refuted.

Regardless of what actually makes oil, it must come from somewhere, be produced by some process. The figure never referred to in any calculation of peak oil that I've seen is the amount of oil being produced by the earth over any given period. When you have a system whereby oil is being produced, somehow, and then extracted by us at a certain rate then the point at which we run out, or even begin to run out, is affected by the rate of production as well as the rate of extraction. However, by calling extraction production and ignoring real production altogether, a fixed point in time can be defined in what's actually a dynamic process. This is then endorsed by thousands of scientists who are either so stupid as to not realise what they've missed or are actively participating in a deceit.

Sadly, the same is true of so many critics, commentators and alternative theorists/conspiracy theorists. In taking peak oil for granted, they use it as an assumption to inform on other topics. Peak Oil was the motive for 9/11, according to Ruppert. Indeed, many in the 9/11 movement buy into this notion without critically examining in the same way they examine the terrorist attacks and the possible culprits. Likewise, many in the environmental movement talk about Peak Oil alongside Climate Change, blaming the world's woes on big oil companies in a vaguely anticapitalist gesture.

Consider that the Shell CEO Jeroen Van Der Veer (Bilderberg) is now officially endorsing Peak Oil theory as a reality. Consider that Exxon Mobil in June 2007 issued an official statement saying it had never doubted the threat from Climate Change. Then, in May 2008 a 'revolt' led by the Rockefeller family (major shareholders) led to them ceasing to fund 'climate change denial', i.e. research countering the finding of the IPCC. In January 2009 the world's largest oil company then joined the ranks of those calling for a worldwide carbon tax. Consider that JP Morgan Chase, the world's largest private derivatives player, have bought a carbon credits firm. Along similar lines they are even subsidising the production of low-energy stoves to be distributed in Africa, on the face of it a noble and benevolent scheme. However, because the stoves use less energy (and thus produce less carbon dioxide), they generate carbon credits. NM Rothschild's Australian branch is also looking to lead the way in the new economy with their Carbon Ring Consortium. Similarly, Barclays launched the first index for the developing carbon trading market in December 2007, following JPMorgan Chase's creation in February 2007 of the world's first bond index designed to address the risks of climate change. Unsurprisingly, at the heart of Barclays, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and JP Morgan Chase are the Rothschilds and Rockefellers. To say that the world's leaders are denying the reality of peak oil and/or climate change so they can keep making money is simple ignorance.

Beyond that, there is the possibility of Peak Oil being an outright lie. Lindsay Williams and others have spoken of vast reserves in Northern Alaska around Prudhoe Bay and Gull Island. The largest untapped field in the world, and fifth largest ever discovered is Kashagan in Kazakhstan, only discovered in 2000. Carioca, an offshore field near Brazil, has recently been estimated to be the third largest ever discovered. In February 2009 Permex, the Mexican oil company, announced that the world's biggest oil field had been found but that due to technological constraints it couldn't expect to access most of it until 2040. Obviously these estimates will have to be proven and the extraction of that oil is subject to geological, technological, economic and political constraints but that's exactly the issue at stake, that the amount of oil available to us at what point in time and at what price is dependent on a great many factors outside the statistical estimates of peak oil experts.

At the Veterans for Peace convention in 2006, when asked whether Peak Oil was an 'oil company conspiracy', author and former economic hit man John Perkins replied:

"Peak Oil is not only an oil company conspiracy, it's a misconception in economics. Peak Oil, any kind of a calculation like that, is based on assumptions. The old Peak Oil assumption was on the basis of I think 30 or 40 dollars a barrel, and under that assumption the analysis was pretty accurate. But today oil is priced at over 70 dollars a barrel so the old Peak Oil conclusions are totally off the wall...

...So, Peak Oil, our measurements of that whole theory of Peak Oil and when it comes to an end, is dependent on what price of oil you put. As you increase the price of oil, you increase the places you can get it from." - John Perkins, VFP Convention
The speech and Q and A session is in three parts, here, here and here. Pointing out the profits made by Exxon Mobil, Perkins went on to say how the fact that supply is restricted because of the wars in the Middle East is actually to the oil companies' advantage. Canada's reserves are said to be second only to Saudi Arabia's, and in the midst of the global recession Shell and Exxon are looking to buy up Canadian firms and therefore a stake in those fields, and again they're not letting a good crisis go to waste.

This hints at one distinct possibility, which implies Obama's talk about ending America's dependence on foreign oil is actually a real policy, not just election talk. Only this week there has been discussion in the news of the Roan Plateau in Colorado, previously considered a reserve in case of extra demands in wartime. When America put its currency on the Saudi Oil standard in the 1970s, it essentially pinned the value of its currency on continuing supplies of oil from Saudi Arabia, and them denominating their oil trades in dollars. The price of a barrel of oil is almost always quoted in dollars as a result of this deal. However, much as there's reason for scepticism about global Peak Oil, there's a real possibility that the Saudis are running out.

At Ghawar, the world's largest oil field until recent developments suggested otherwise, they are injecting millions of barrels a day of sea water into the wells to sustain oil pressure. This is nothing new, injections of water are quite common. But the proportion of water coming back out in the oil is up to 30%, which means they're pumping millions of barrels of oil out of the ground that's 30% sea water because they've had to pump in so much water to keep the oil flowing. This is where the North American Union comes in. Canada and Mexico have vast oil reserves, Canada also has a lot of wood and water, and Mexico has a massive labour force.

If the US stops importing oil from the Saudis then the Saudis no longer have vast revenues with which they can buy the US debt. Without the ability to borrow money, the very real bankruptcy of the US government would become obvious. By combining the US, Canada and Mexico economically, they not only have a much larger tax base to service the debt, making it more appealing to China and India and Japan, but also control of significant oil reserves to replace the Saudi imports. However, this would probably lead to the collapse of the Saudi royal family and regional civil war, so they need an excuse to cover the area in military bases so that they can maintain a certain grip on the region.

Also this week, Hillary Clinton (Bilderberg) declared that Pakistan poses a 'global threat' because they're letting the Taleban control parts of the country. In the fallout from the release without charge of every person involved in what the authorities told us was a 'very big plot', Pakistani officials have expressed their anger at constantly being associated with terrorism and blamed for it. They have a point, in that since the attack on Iran was shelved, Pakistan has taken their place as the country most often associated with the threat from terrorism. On the other hand, the Pakistanis have a long history of collaborating with paramilitary groups that are in effect indistinguishable from terrorists in the rather broad sense that we tend to use the word. The Pakistani ISI was critically involved in Operation Cyclone, the decade-long funding, arming and training of Arabs to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. I doubt the Americans will launch a military invasion of Pakistan, though it is possible, but given the influence of Kissinger and Brzezinski I think a less direct approach is planned.

Of course, all this constitutes a conspiracy theory, but one in keeping with the sorts of plans executed by a globalist superclass over the last decades and centuries. Nonetheless, the future is never set in stone and the potential for change is always here. Peak Oil may prove to be the reason, or the excuse, for mass depopulation. In an e-mail discussing the debate on the possible abiotic origin of oil, Michael Ruppert admitted:
"I advocate an immediate convening of political, economic, spiritual and scientific leaders from all nations to address the issue of Peak Oil (and Gas) and its immediate implications for economic collapse, massive famine and climate destruction (partially as a result of reversion to coal plants which accelerate global warming).

This would, scientifically speaking, include immediate steps to arrive at a crash program - agreed to by all nations and in accordance with the highest spiritual and ethical principles - to stop global population growth and to arrive at the best possible and most ethical program of population reduction as a painful choice made by all of humanity." - Ruppert
Ruppert advocates the convening of leaders to develop a program of population reduction but somehow has the gall to call this a 'painful choice made by all of humanity'. No genocidal plan developed by groups of world leaders is even approximate to a choice made by all. It is ludicrous that Ruppert, a man who prides himself on blowing the whistle and critically dissecting propaganda would subscribe to such a horrific view of the world and advance it in such deceptive terms.

Once again we see people abusing their positions of authority, sometimes due to professional or social context and sometimes due to loyalty to a private network. By advancing such a view, Ruppert is allying himself more with the likes of the Bilderberg Group and the Club of Rome than he is with similar critics and theorists. As noted by Dave McGowan (to whom Ruppert's above e-mail was sent), Fletcher Prouty, a former Air Force Colonel and longtime whistleblower and Kennedy assassination theorist, advances not only that Peak Oil is a myth but that oil is abiotic in origin. Though Ruppert's From the Wilderness site is part of the independent media that discusses such theories, it consistently ignores such articles from similarly independent websites which contradict the desired view. As Chris Bennett describes on the excellent WorldNetDaily, there is an inorganic theory of oil production worthy of consideration:

The theory is simple: Crude oil forms as a natural inorganic process which occurs between the mantle and the crust, somewhere between 5 and 20 miles deep. The proposed mechanism is as follows:

  • Methane (CH4) is a common molecule found in quantity throughout our solar system – huge concentrations exist at great depth in the Earth.
  • At the mantle-crust interface, roughly 20,000 feet beneath the surface, rapidly rising streams of compressed methane-based gasses hit pockets of high temperature causing the condensation of heavier hydrocarbons. The product of this condensation is commonly known as crude oil.
  • Some compressed methane-based gasses migrate into pockets and reservoirs we extract as "natural gas."
  • In the geologically "cooler," more tectonically stable regions around the globe, the crude oil pools into reservoirs.
  • In the "hotter," more volcanic and tectonically active areas, the oil and natural gas continue to condense and eventually to oxidize, producing carbon dioxide and steam, which exits from active volcanoes.
  • Periodically, depending on variations of geology and Earth movement, oil seeps to the surface in quantity, creating the vast oil-sand deposits of Canada and Venezuela, or the continual seeps found beneath the Gulf of Mexico and Uzbekistan.
  • Periodically, depending on variations of geology, the vast, deep pools of oil break free and replenish existing known reserves of oil...

...Could this be true?

In August 2002, in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US)," Dr. Kenney published a paper, which had a partial title of "The genesis of hydrocarbons and the origin of petroleum." Dr. Kenney and three Russian coauthors conclude:

The Hydrogen-Carbon system does not spontaneously evolve hydrocarbons at pressures less than 30 Kbar, even in the most favorable environment. The H-C system evolves hydrocarbons under pressures found in the mantle of the Earth and at temperatures consistent with that environment.

He was quoted as stating that "competent physicists, chemists, chemical engineers and men knowledgeable of thermodynamics have known that natural petroleum does not evolve from biological materials since the last quarter of the 19th century." - Chris Bennett, WorldNetDaily

Perhaps it is a lack of willingness to discuss this possibility that leads Peak Oil commentators to so nakedly ignore the question of how much oil is produced, by whatever process, over the timescales discussed for various Peak Oil scenarios. In the absence of certainty over where oil actually comes from all we're left with is speculation and conspiracy theories about what knowledge is reliable bearing in mind the vested interests of the authorities involved. Curiously, a point similar to this is made in a Channel 4 documentary on conspiracy theories by Nafeez Ahmed, himself a Peak Oil theorist who has suggested a cover-up on the part of the oil industry. Ahmed, who is an excellent writer and researcher in many respects, has said he believes we have already passed the peak of oil production, and mostly advances the theory that the US military and/or government were complicit in 9/11.

Ahmed's comment in the show, titled Who Really Runs the World? and narrated by an extra from a cockney gangster movie, is probably ripped out of context because it is presented as a criticism of conspiracy theories in general, and having studied his work for some time I don't believe Ahmed is capable of such immense hypocrisy.

The show itself is marginal improvement on the BBC's
Conspiracy Files, though not as good as Jon Ronson's series for Channel 4 some years ago, The Secret Rulers of the World. Indeed, only Ronson's tries to break away from the established mainstream media line, that all conspiracy theories are wrong and that all conspiracy theorists are fantasists, loners, idiots and so on. Having interviewed a total of three conspiracy theorists (including crackpot doyen David Icke), they dedicate most of the second half of the show to one of the most laughable, unscientific experiments I've ever seen on a television programme.

A professor and a doctor, portrayed as experts on 'conspiracy thinking', are shown conducting a psychological exercise which, while superficially confirming their conclusions actually proves them to be false at closer examination. As they are introduced, they admit that they aren't interested in whether a particular conspiracy theory is true, but from a 'psychological perspective' why some people believe in them and some don't. The suggestion that people might actually believe in conspiracy theories on the basis of evidence is evidently not part of the discussion.

30 students were given a rudimentary psychological evaluation, a paper questionnaire, aimed to assess three 'factors' - low levels of trust, feelings of alienation from society, and propensity to make assumptions. The experts predict those who score highly for these factors will be more prone to believing in conspiracy theories. From the results of these tests, two groups of six, the highest scoring and lowest scoring, are drawn. They are then sat down as groups as asked what they think of a 'brand new' conspiracy theory created by the two doctors. The theory? That the government is using mobile phones to track everyone all the time.

Herein lies one problem, these two men claim to be experts in conspiracy thinking, and so you'd think they'd have some familiarity with conspiracy theories, if just to get a sense of the range of opinions and views, in which case they'd realise this theory is far from new. Indeed, similar techniques have been depicted in popular spy shows like Spooks for years before the making of this documentary. Furthermore, as psychologists they must have realised that by putting this theory to them as groups instead of individually that their responses would be more likely to develop via what is called 'groupthink', essentially where opinions are voiced more due to them being obviously acceptable in the specific social context rather than on the basis of a rational or impassioned process.

So they discuss the theory for a bit, kick some ideas around about it's possible limits, and are then asked to vote in the hands up in a crowd way that they used to hold general elections until people pointed out it made it difficult for anyone to dissent. That's why we have secret ballots today, and in some countries have for the better part of two centuries. It's hardly a radical standard to expect of people aspiring to get to people's real opinions. Throughout the discussion and voting in the show, people in the groups are shown looking to others for validation and confirmation of their opinions. When the group predicted to be conspiracy theorists are asked to vote on if they think it is 'very likely or quite likely' to be true, all six voted yes, it was quite likely. When the other group were asked to vote on if they thought it was 'certainly not' true, five of the six voted yes.

However, given that the original test was meant to assess how prone the students were to making assumptions and leaping to conclusions and that the group who were meant to be sceptical were more certain in their beliefs, that the theory definitely wasn't true, it renders the whole experiment meaningless. Likewise, the group predicted to be more likely to believe in conspiracy theories were discussing the theory not literally in the sense of tracking everyone all the time, but the possibility of tracking people in that way, they weren't really voting on the original statement. Similarly, a dozen middle class students being asked about one poorly articulated conspiracy theory doesn't test anything on a wider scale. Despite this setbacks, or possibly in total ignorance of them, the show declares the experiment's results 'conclusive'.

Taking the results off to meet David Icke, one of the experts asks for his opinion on a 'large scale survey' they carried out. Responding to the allegation that people believe in conspiracies because it serves a psychological purpose, Icke responds by saying that people have looked at the evidence and realised they're being lied to. The expert responds by saying that for some of Icke's claims there is next to no evidence, but when prompted admits he hasn't actually read Icke's work, only read about it. This invalidates the entire process and the claim to expertise, because one cannot expect to be able to reasonably comment on work which one hasn't actually seen or read, and to seek to assess such beliefs solely through the framework of psychology is a waste of time.

No doubt, some people's experience and predilections will inform what they believe, perhaps everyone. But belief in conspiracy is as common as eating bread. Banks conspire to award huge bonuses to irresponsible directors, people conspire to murder out of jealousy or revenge, families conspire to keep secrets in the closet - the mainstream press is full of such stories, particularly 'real life story' magazines. However, by defining certain conspiracy theories as such and referring to other conspiracy theories via a different name, one can maintain a false distinction and design fraudulent, circular experiments to try to justify a means of classifying not only beliefs but also the people who believe in them.

Like the Peak Oil calculations, the aim is not a rigorous and careful investigation of the facts and the use of that information to develop sound policies, but to classify beliefs in ways conducive to political purposes. By tagging anyone who suspects the governmental and corporate elite as a conspiracy theorist they can discourage dissent and suspicion, as well as manipulate discussion of issues so that science and logic are made subservient to political demands. Just about any belief on the subject of Peak Oil, short of flat out denial of it being worthy of discussion, involves a conspiracy theory, in part because of what Nafeez Ahmed identifies, the lack of certainty requires some speculation in order to have a specific view of the world. Anyone who wants to be seen by the mainstream as an expert, or even just an authority, cannot explicitly endorse a conspiratorial worldview, at least not without calling it something else.