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Peak Fossil ?

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Dispute over IEA Rigging Oil Predictions for the U.S.

Nov. 9, 2009. The Guardian reports that key oil figures published by the International Energy Agency were distorted by pressure from the US. Unfortunately the two IEA experts making the charges are unwilling to give their names (even though one is retired) and present no evidence.

Others confirm that the IEA responds to US pressure, and that seems quite likely. But the question remains whether the US pressure is due to a legitimate difference of opinion (which is not to say the pressure is legitimate) or whether the US actually does not believe the line it is asking the IEA to adopt. That line says there is no imminent oil physical shortage, a the peak-oil exponents are wrong.

The IEA graph at the right shows conventional oil, which is the type that peak-oil aficionados track (blues + pink + black), continuing to rise slowly through 2030. Peak-oil predictions, as usual, say the peak has just occurred, or will soon. The first peak oil prediction occurred in about 1860, when oil was still collected from natural seeps, and such predictions have occurred quite regularly since. Nonetheless, one of them will someday be right.

What makes the current situation particularly confusing is that high oil prices and the great recession have cut oil demand sharply. Because of this, oil production did reach a peak about a year ago. On top of the demand reduction, we have OPEC curtailing supply to raise the price. In fact, this is the first time they have ever cooperated with each other -- in the past it was alway Saudi Arabia doing the dirty work, and the others cheated on the Saudis. Clearly OPEC would like us to believe that the decline in supply is due to natural shortages and not to their market manipulations. They also influence the IEA.

So, as usual with the oil business, the future remains murky. Though the one point seems clear. OPEC will make a killing. That will happen whether there is a natural shortage, or they are causing it.

A Note about Tight Gas

In the real world, there's no hint of peak gas, supplies of which have gone through the roof in the last three years due to new technology for releasing gas trapped in tight shale formations. Drillers can now fracture the shale, usually located more than a mile underground. A typical "frac job" pumps water down the gas well at about 8,000 psi with an injection rate of 50-70 barrels per minute. This is done repeatedly on a given well. A tiny amount of very fine sand in the water holds open the cracks in the shale caused by the water. The gas then leaks out slowly over decades.