I spent my weekend in Washington DC with folks from the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, talking about the future of peak oil research and advocacy. It was an interesting weekend, but for a farmgirl who spends most of her waking hours during the summer outside and working in the dirt, it was a strange weekend. Two hermetically sealed 8 hour train journeys to Washington and 48 intense hours in a equally hermetically sealed hotel gave you that “I’m in the Matrix” feeling.
I admit, I don’t sleep well in a room with windows that don’t open and such, and even though I could have technically slept late (no children leaping on the bed at 5:30 am), I found myself wide awake at five in the morning in my hotel room, which leads pretty much directly to weirdness.
The night before one of the things we’d been asked to do was come up with strategies for media campaigns to raise awareness of peak oil in the mainstream, and for some bizarre reason, at five in the morning, I was awakened with a Britney Spears song in my head. Ordinarily, this is just one of those nightmares you’d shake off with a five mile walk, something caffeinated and by banging your head against the shower wall for a while until Britney and her red pantsuit disappear, but oddly, it took my fancy….
Just in case you have lived in a cave for the last decade, here’s the song in my head – but since my blog is resolutely a Britney-free zone, I offer you a funnier version by Max Raabe:
And what emerged was this – a music parody video, with a group of young people seeing the whole picture, the plumes of oil and the wet waterfowl, the price spikes and collapses, every president left or right pretending we were going to get off oil, megaprojects figures revised down…the montage of the lies, including “we thought we were really running out in the 1970s, and because we didn’t that means it must be magically impossible that we ever will…”
Oh yes, they did it again,
They made you believe that the oil never ends
Even though it seems like a crock,
They played with the facts,
Got lost in the game
…But they aren’t that innocent!
The whole thing is silly, but maybe a little bit of silly is what we need, because the media is still able to report that there is plenty of oil, or imply that oil 5 miles under ground in undeveloped sources is equivalent to oil we have been pumping out of Saudi Arabia for 50 years, that tar sands and light sweet crude are functionally the same thing on a planet trying harder and harder to keep up with demand.
As Jeremy Leggett pointed out last week in The Guardian, we’re still letting the oil industry and OPEC be the ones who make up the figure (and I use the term “make up” correctly, here, I think). BP’s record of misrepresentation in their own interests should make us skeptical of their claims about world oil reviews – but that’s not the case as Leggett writes:
I scanned my copy of the Statistical Review. At the top of the inside cover I read, in a big, bold font: “The Review is one of the most widely respected and authoritative publications in the field of energy economics, used for reference by the media, academia, world governments and energy companies.”
A bible in other words. Journalists base statistics in articles on it, the world over. Students base learned papers upon it. World governments base their energy policies on it. And energy companies echo it, for it most part, to all who will listen.
And in small print at the bottom of the same page I read: “The data series for proved oil and gas reserves … does not necessarily meet the definitions, guidelines and practices used for determining proved reserves at company level, for instance, …. as published by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), nor does it necessarily represent BP’s view of proved reserves by country. Rather, the data series has been compiled using a combination of primary official sources and third-party data.”
Let me reword that. “We wouldn’t necessarily get the SEC to sign off on this stuff, and to be honest, we don’t even necessarily believe it ourselves. But go ahead, use it as a bible if you like. We don’t want you to be worried about peak oil. The small print gets us off the hook.”
“Primary official sources” includes Opec, of course, as the body of the report makes clear. Here is where the problems start. The ITPOES companies, and many others, fear that Opec have been being – how can I put this politely – “political” about their proved reserves since the 1980s. We fear they are 300bn barrels or more light as a result of political reserves, in a supposedly proved global reserve base of over a 1,300 or so, if we include a slug of the tar sands, and forget for the moment about any constraints on deepwater production.
This is a life or death question for many of us – how seriously should we take this? What are real extant reserves? Because we are betting our lives and our children’s future on the continuation of resource supplies – and yet we have credible reasons to believe those supplies are much scarcer than we’d hoped.
Oops, they did again. And again. And again. They made you believe that the oil wouldn’t end. But they are NOT that innocent. Britney has her uses.