Peak Oil News: 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

What if the Oil Runs Out?

No report has ever been commissioned by the British government on the issue of whether or not there is enough oil to sustain its transport programme.

By George Monbiot

Motorised transport is a form of time travel. We mine the compressed time of other eras – the infinitisimal rain of plankton onto the ocean floor, the settlement of trees in anoxic swamps – and use it to accelerate through our own. Every tank of fuel contains thousands of years of accretions. Our future depends on the expectation that the past will never be exhausted.

The energy white paper the government published last week talks of new taxes, new markets, new research, new incentives. Anyone reading the chapter on transport would be forgiven for believing that the government has the problem under control: as a result of its measures, we are likely to see a great reduction in our use of geological time.

But buried in another chapter, and so far missed by all journalists, there is a remarkable admission. “The majority (66%) of UK oil demand is derived from demand for transport fuels which is expected to increase modestly over the medium term.”(1) To increase? If the government is implementing all the exciting measures the transport chapter contains, how on earth could our use of fuel increase?

You won’t find the answer in the white paper. It mysteriously forgets to mention that the government intends to build another 4000km of trunk roads and to double the capacity of our airports by 2030. Partly to permit this growth in transport, another white paper, also published last week, proposes a massive deregulation of planning law(2). There is no discussion in either paper of the implications of these programmes for energy use or climate change. There are plainly two governments of the United Kingdom: one determined to reduce our consumption of fossil fuel; the other determined to raise it.

What happens beyond the medium term is anyone’s guess(3). But it should be pretty obvious that more roads and more airports will mean that our rising use of transport fuel becomes hard-wired: the future health of the economy will depend on it. So the government must have examined this question. If our economic lives depend on continued growth in the consumption of transport fuels, it must first have determined that such growth is possible. Mustn’t it?

Last week I phoned four government departments (trade and industry, transport, environment, communities and local government) in the hope of finding this assessment. It does not exist. No report has ever been commissioned by the British government on the issue of whether or not there is enough oil to sustain its transport programme.

Instead, both the white paper and the civil servants I spoke to referred me to a book published by the International Energy Agency(4). This in itself is odd. On every other issue which might affect the United Kingdom’s security or economic growth, the government conducts its own assessments. But in this case it relies exclusively on one external source. This reliance seems even odder when you read the IEA’s book, and discover that it’s as polemical as my columns.

Before it presents any evidence, the book dismisses people who have questioned future oil supplies as “doomsayers”(5). It announces that it has “long maintained that none of this [the possibility that oil supplies might be reaching a peak] is a cause for concern.” Though it expects the global demand for oil to rise by 70% between now and 2030, and though it anticipates that output from the world’s existing oilfields will decline by around 5% a year(6), it is confident that new supplies will make up the difference.

It bases this assessment on the finding that “the level of remaining reserves of oil has been remarkably constant historically, in spite of the volumes extracted each successive year”(7). As the IEA must know as well as anyone else, this is partly because the level has been forged by members of OPEC (the oil producers’ cartel). The quota assigned to a member of OPEC reflects the size of its reserves. All members have a powerful interest in exaggerating their reserves in order to boost their quotas. The IEA admits in another report that Saudi Arabia has posted a constant level of reserves (260 billion barrels) over the past 15 years, despite the fact that it has produced over 100 billion barrels in the same period(8). Where has the magic oil come from?

But it is the liars of OPEC on which the agency’s optimism relies. The growth in global demand will be met, it says, by a 150% increase in oil production from the Middle East by 2030(9). What if this oil doesn’t materialise? It is a question the IEA raises then rapidly drops. “Because of the uncertainties over the respective amounts of resources and reserves, it is difficult to predict the moment of peak oil, when production might be expected to start to decline. Estimates range from today to 2050 or beyond.”(10) Isn’t that reassuring?

I should point out that peak oil is not like climate change: there is no consensus among scientists about when it is likely to happen. I cannot state with confidence that the IEA’s assessment is wrong. But a report published in February by the US department of energy shows how dangerous it is to rely on a single source. “Almost all forecasts are based on differing, often dramatically differing geological assumptions … Because of the large uncertainties, it is difficult to define an overriding geological basis for accepting or rejecting any of the forecasts.”(11)

The report then publishes a long list of estimates by senior figures in and around the oil industry of a possible date for peak oil. They vary greatly, but many are clustered between 2010 and 2020. Another report, also commissioned by the US department of energy, shows that “without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented.”(12) The disasters invoked by the peaking of global oil supplies can be avoided only with a “crash progamme” beginning 20 years before it occurs. If some of the estimates in the department of energy’s report are correct, it is already too late.

The IEA believes that this crisis will be averted by opening new fields and using unconventional oil. But these cause environmental disasters of their own. Around half the new discoveries the agency expects over the next 25 years will take place in the Arctic or in the very deep sea (between 2000 and 4000 metres)(13). In either case, a major oil spill, in such slow and fragile ecosystems, would be catastrophic. Mining unconventional oil – such as the tar sands in Canada or the kerogen shales in the US - produces far more carbon dioxide than drilling for ordinary petroleum(14). It also uses and pollutes great volumes of freshwater, and wrecks thousands of acres of pristine land. “In the long-term future,” the IEA says, “non-conventional, heavy oils may well become the norm rather than the exception.”(15) If our future growth relies on these resources, we commit ourselves to ever-growing environmental impacts.

We don’t need to invoke peak oil to produce an argument for cutting our use of transport fuel. But you might have imagined that the government would have shown just a little curiosity about whether or not its transport programme will bring the economy crashing down.


1. Department of Trade and Industry, May 2007. Meeting the Energy Challenge: A White Paper on Energy. Chapter 4, page 114.

2. HM Government, May 2007. Planning for a Sustainable Future: White Paper.

3. The medium term in this context is defined in one of the white paper’s supporting documents as up to 2020. Wood Mackenzie, May 2007. Review of UK Oil Refining Capacity for Department of Trade and Industry.

4. International Energy Agency, 2005. Resources to Reserves: Oil & Gas Technologies for the Energy Markets of the Future. Available electronically at:

5. Page 3.

6. Page 13.

7. Page 27.

8. International Energy Agency, 2006. World Energy Outlook 2005: Middle East and North Africa Insights. Page 126.

9. International Energy Agency, 2005, ibid. Page 61.

10. Page 28.

11. Robert L. Hirsch, 5th February 2007. Peaking of World Oil Production: Recent Forecasts. DOE/NETL2007/1263. US Department of Energy.

12. Robert L. Hirsch, Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling, February 2005. Peaking Of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management. US Department of Energy. Available at

13. International Energy Agency, 2005, ibid. Page 65.

14. The IEA notes that: “Heavy oil production requires much more energy than conventional oil production. In fact, the production process in the upstream oil and gas industry currently consumes the equivalent of some 6% of the energy content of the hydrocarbons produced. With heavy oil, this ratio can rise to 20% or 25%.” Page 78.

15. Page 26.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Lethal Solution

By George Monbiot

We need a five-year freeze on biofuels, before they wreck the planet.

It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless.

In theory, fuels made from plants can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cars and trucks. Plants absorb carbon as they grow – it is released again when the fuel is burnt. By encouraging oil companies to switch from fossil plants to living ones, governments on both sides of the Atlantic claim to be “decarbonising” our transport networks.

In the budget last week, Gordon Brown announced that he would extend the tax rebate for biofuels until 2010. From next year all suppliers in the UK will have to ensure that 2.5% of the fuel they sell is made from plants – if not, they must pay a penalty of 15p a litre. The obligation rises to 5% in 2010(1). By 2050, the government hopes that 33% of our fuel will come from crops(2). Last month George Bush announced that he would quintuple the US target for biofuels(3): by 2017 they should be supplying 24% of the nation’s transport fuel(4).

So what’s wrong with these programmes? Only that they are a formula for environmental and humanitarian disaster. In 2004 this column warned that biofuels would set up a competition for food between cars and people. The people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are, by definition, richer than those who are in danger of starvation. It would also lead to the destruction of rainforests and other important habitats(5). I received more abuse than I’ve had for any other column, except when I attacked the 9/11 conspiracists. I was told my claims were ridiculous, laughable, impossible. Well in one respect I was wrong. I thought these effects wouldn’t materialise for many years. They are happening already.

Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled(6). The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows(7). Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that “if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year.”(8) According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol: the alcohol used for motor fuel, which can be made from both maize and wheat(9).

Farmers will respond to better prices by planting more, but it is not clear that they can overtake the booming demand for biofuel. Even if they do, they will catch up only by ploughing virgin habitat.

Already we know that biofuel is worse for the planet than petroleum. The UN has just published a report suggesting that 98% of the natural rainforest in Indonesia will be degraded or gone by 2022(10). Just five years ago, the same agencies predicted that this wouldn’t happen until 2032. But they reckoned without the planting of palm oil to turn into biodiesel for the European market. This is now the main cause of deforestation there and it is likely soon to become responsible for the extinction of the orang utan in the wild. But it gets worse. As the forests are burnt, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or ten times as much as petroleum produces(11). I feel I need to say that again. Biodiesel from palm oil causes TEN TIMES as much climate change as ordinary diesel.

There are similar impacts all over the world. Sugarcane producers are moving into rare scrubland habitats (the cerrado) in Brazil and soya farmers are ripping up the Amazon rainforests. As President Bush has just signed a biofuel agreement with President Lula, it’s likely to become a lot worse. Indigenous people in South America, Asia and Africa are starting to complain about incursions onto their land by fuel planters. A petition launched by a group called biofuelwatch, begging western governments to stop, has been signed by campaigners from 250 groups(12).

The British government is well aware that there’s a problem. On his blog last year the environment secretary David Miliband noted that palm oil plantations “are destroying 0.7% of the Malaysian rain forest each year, reducing a vital natural resource (and in the process, destroying the natural habitat of the orang-utan). It is all connected.”(13) Unlike government policy.

The reason governments are so enthusiastic about biofuels is that they don’t upset drivers. They appear to reduce the amount of carbon from our cars, without requiring new taxes. It’s an illusion sustained by the fact that only the emissions produced at home count towards our national total. The forest clearance in Malaysia doesn’t increase our official impact by a gram.

In February the European Commission was faced with a straight choice between fuel efficiency and biofuels. It had intended to tell car companies that the average carbon emission from new cars in 2012 would be 120 grams per kilometre. After heavy lobbying by Angela Merkel on behalf of her car manufacturers, it caved in and raised the limit to 130 grams. It announced that it would make up the shortfall by increasing the contribution from biofuel(14).

The British government says it “will require transport fuel suppliers to report on the carbon saving and sustainability of the biofuels they supply.”(15) But it will not require them to do anything. It can’t: its consultants have already shown that if it tries to impose wider environmental standards on biofuels, it will fall foul of world trade rules(16). And even “sustainable” biofuels merely occupy the space that other crops now fill, displacing them into new habitats. It promises that one day there will be a “second generation” of biofuels, made from straw or grass or wood. But there are still major technical obstacles(17). By the time the new fuels are ready, the damage will have been done.

We need a moratorium on all targets and incentives for biofuels, until a second generation of fuels can be produced for less than it costs to make fuel from palm oil or sugarcane. Even then, the targets should be set low and increased only cautiously. I suggest a five-year freeze.

This would require a huge campaign, tougher than the one which helped to win a five-year freeze on growing genetically modified crops in the UK. That was important – GM crops give big companies unprecedented control over the foodchain. But most of their effects are indirect, while the devastation caused by biofuel is immediate and already visible.

This is why it will be harder to stop: encouraged by government policy, vast investments are now being made by farmers and chemical companies. Stopping them requires one heck of a battle. But it has to be fought.

You can join the campaign at


Monday, May 21, 2007

Expert: "Peak oil" will force changes

The Capital Times

By Rob Zaleski

Optimist that he is, Greg Pahl actually sees an upside to the latest jump in fuel prices: the growing realization among Americans that the gas crisis isn't going away.

"And those who do think this is a temporary anomaly are dreaming," the author and renewable energy expert said in a phone interview from his home in Weybridge, Vt. "They don't understand what we're getting into here. This is just the beginning."

Indeed, Pahl maintains that the most critical -- and under-reported -- issue facing the world right now is that we're approaching the time of "peak oil," the historic moment when world oil production and reserves begin to decline.

Pahl, who will give a speech on the subject at 7 p.m. June 20 at the Madison Public Library, points out that nobody -- not even oil company moguls -- knows precisely when that moment will occur.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration continues to predict that oil production will peak around 2037. "But almost nobody takes that seriously anymore," Pahl says.

Geophysicist and author Ken Defeyes, meanwhile, believes that we already hit the peak oil moment in December 2005 and that we're on the down slide.

"Those are the two extremes," Pahl says. "But the growing consensus is that it's probably going to happen in the next five years."

Yes, that's frightening, Pahl says. And it's even more worrisome, he says, that it's occurring at the same time we're faced with the growing threat of global warming.

"And you really can't talk about one without talking about the other because they are very much interconnected," he says.

So how can Pahl be an optimist?

Because "if we take action right now at all levels -- local, state, federal and even global, for that matter -- I think we can probably get through this thing reasonably well," he says.

But that's a huge "if," he quickly adds, because "most Americans tend to be relatively uneducated or unsophisticated in their knowledge of energy issues." Moreover, the Bush Administration has virtually ignored the threat, he notes. And Congress hasn't been much better.

Fortunately, we do have some options, says Pahl, whose new book, "The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook," points out that many of the renewable energy systems and technologies we need already exist and are waiting to be rediscovered "if only we have the will, the courage and the wisdom to use them."

Some strategies are obvious -- like adding insulation to your home, switching to compact, fluorescent light bulbs and energy-efficient appliances, and trading in your gas-sucking SUV for a hybrid or other fuel-efficient vehicle.

But that's not enough, Pahl maintains.

"In order to make this kind of quantum leap in shifting toward renewables, we need to think beyond the individual households," he says. More specifically, ordinary citizens need to urge elected officials to develop many of the same "Community Supported Energy" strategies that are now commonplace throughout Europe.

For instance, a community on or near water might reinvest in hydro-electric power, while a community where wind is prevalent might pursue wind farms.

"That's actually very popular in Minnesota, where community- or farm-owned wind really has started to take off," he says. "But that's only because Minnesota made a conscious decision a number of years ago to encourage this sort of thing."

It also means getting people to buy from local merchants and encouraging the development of small-scale businesses of one kind or another -- especially those that provide necessities of life.

When you do those things, Pahl says, you're simultaneously boosting the local economy. And when that happens, communities discover that "the political divide begins to disappear. You get people from the right and the left and the middle all sitting down at the table and agreeing that rebuilding and strengthening the local economy -- which in many cases has been decimated by globalization -- makes a lot of sense."

It's even more important, he says, that "local people get involved in their own projects. It's not like having some large, faceless corporation come in and try to impose a big project -- which the community may or may not want."

None of this will eliminate the challenges we'll face after we reach "peak oil," Pahl says. But, as his book emphasizes, it will ease some of the pain as we transition into a more sustainable future.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

OPEC peak oil threat receding

By James Buckley

Non-OPEC peak oil, or the point of maximum production of oil, will not occur before 2014, according to industry analysts Wood Mackenzie.

The company has disputed views that a pinnacle may be in sight and contends strong supply growth will prevail in the short term. Barring unexpected disruptions to production, Wood Mackenzie expects total global capacity to grow steadily from 86.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2006 to 96.7 million bpd in 2010.

"Since 2004...investment in both non-OPEC and OPEC projects has opened up...spare capacity," said Kate Broughton, Wood Mackenzie's head of oils research. "This upstream investment has given us a clearer vision of medium-term supply growth potential."

But, says Kate Dourian, Platts' Middle East editor, it is just a matter of time before non-OPEC oil declines because production is not being replaced fast enough to meet consumption. Dourian also stressed oil production is not as cut and dry as some analysts make out. "Some sources say half the world's oil has already been produced, whereas Aramco is saying there is still another trillion barrels out there," she said.

This means exploration success is critical to non-OPEC's long-term oil production outlook, said Broughton, who expects ‘yet-to-find' oil production in the Asia Pacific region to account for 28% of its output by 2025.

"No-one knows what technology will be available in future to aid production," added Dourian. "In Oman, saline water injection experiments are currently being undertaken. There are also enormous resources of oil sands in Canada.

"The focus will be on Russia and Saudi Arabia. Russia is playing a political game through its energy supplies. It wants control over transit routes, pipeline routes, and wants to use energy as a means of political power, which it has done by renationalising the industry. Unless we see a new leadership in Russia, there won't be supply growth at a level that can sustain demand.

"Also, some countries are becoming off limits. Major oil companies operating in Venezuela find themselves in a difficult position because of the resource nationalism that's spreading. These countries are now reluctant to share their reserves," she said.

The Peak Oil Crisis: Alarms Are Sounding

Falls Church News-Press

By Tom Whipple

Across the world alarm bells are starting to clang. Above every gas station, a large sign is proclaiming that prices are on an unstoppable climb towards un-affordability. In Paris, the International Energy Agency has announced that the demand for oil is likely to exceed the supply later this year, unless, of course, OPEC steps up production. In the Middle East OPEC spokesmen reiterate time after time that all is well, there is plenty of oil, and there is no need to increase production.

In Ottawa, a parliamentary hearing on energy security broke up in turmoil last week when a distinguished professor pointed out that, unless Canada stopped selling 60 percent of its oil to the US, Canadians would soon be “freezing in the dark.” In Nigeria, Chevron is evacuating hundreds of employees to forestall the possibility that they too will be hauled off to the swamps as hostages in an increasingly bitter insurgency. The Chinese just announced that their April oil imports were 23 percent higher than last April’s. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela -- everywhere you look – there are unmistakable warnings of troubles to come.

These, however, are issues for later. Right now, on the top of every American’s agenda should be the question of whether we are going to get through the summer without shortages and gas lines— opinions are mixed.

First, all seem to agree that gasoline prices, which set new highs last week, will continue to rise. Even the Director of the Energy Information Agency, whose job it is to put a rosy spin on adverse developments, told a Senate Committee earlier this week that retail prices will go higher heading into the vacation season because not all of the recent rise in wholesale costs has been reflected in what consumers pay at the pump. So far high prices, which are approaching $4 a gallon in some places on the West Coast, seem to have done little to dampen demand although they may be cutting into WalMart sales.

Since significant cuts in US gasoline consumption don’t seem to be in the cards, at current price levels, then we are back to refinery output, gasoline imports, and our stockpiles to see us through.

Two years ago, before the hurricanes put so much stress on US refineries, they were being operated at 95 percent of capacity. We got through last summer by importing 1.5 million barrels of gasoline a day during May from foreign refineries. According to a senior EIA oil analyst, 800,000 barrels a day of US refining capacity is still shutdown. This translates into about 400,000 barrels of lost gasoline production each day or nearly 3 million barrels a week.

Last week the situation eased a bit. Although US refineries are still operating below 90 percent of capacity and processed only a trivial 30,000 barrels a day more of crude than in the previous week, our refiners managed to squeeze our more gasoline, so that production increased by 200,000 barrels a day to 9.1 million. The “good” news, however, is that gasoline imports jumped to 1.5 million which resulted in the first significant (1.7 million barrel) increase in our stockpiles in many weeks. However, 1.2 million of the 1.7 million barrel increase was on the isolated West Coast. The increase in gasoline stocks east of the Rockies was only 500,000 barrels last week – way lower than necessary to forestall problems later this summer.

The questions now become: Will this increased supply, which is based on imports of foreign gasoline be sustained over the summer; and are the stockpiles already so low that they will not be sufficient to meet the increased demands of the summer driving season which starts in about two weeks? Last year the demand for gasoline jumped from 9.1 million barrels a day in the spring to 9.6 million during the summer months. Unless very high prices start reducing demand for gasoline we will be looking at new highs this summer.

Earlier this week Matthew Simmons, of Twilight in the Desert fame, suggested that prospects for an uninterrupted summer of driving may be worse than government spokesmen have been letting on. Simmons notes that gasoline stockpiles at refineries are “works in progress” and that millions of barrels of gasoline moving across the country in pipelines and barges are not available for delivery to your gas station. Therefore, the drop in inventory that has taken place this spring is from local bulk terminals that supply your gas stations. In this case, the drop in “useful” stockpiles may be on the order of 30 percent and we could be very close to the point where shortages will develop.

Where does all this leave us? The short answer is, in an increasingly grim situation. When respected analysts say our gasoline situation is beyond the tipping point and that at least some of us are likely to be sitting in gas lines before Labor Day, we should heed the warning. Looking at the broader, worldwide picture, the situation is equally grim. When the normally staid International Energy Agency starts issuing a stream of dire warnings about shortages or much higher prices before the year is out, we should start thinking about a markedly different future.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Iraq and Big Oil

By Timothy V. Gatto

Each and every day there is the stench of death in the streets of Baghdad. Everyday the people go into the street and find family and friends unceremoniously lying in the gutters, their bodies hideously mutilated. The bodies have holes in them where torturers drilled into their bodies while they were still alive. Genitals have been mutilated and pulled off with pliers or cut off with scissors. They have been impaled with pipes and rebar and rifle barrels. Some have no ears, some are missing noses. This isn’t a once in a while thing, it happens everyday. Sometimes there are 14 bodies, a slow day. Sometimes fifty or sixty bodies are left out on bloody streets, a grim reminder of the ethnic hatred between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Is this the “freedom” that we promised to bring to Iraq? Is this our shining example to other Muslims? So where does our responsibility end? Where did it start? Who is directly responsible for all of this death? George Bush? Certainly George W. Bush bears much of the blame. If you look at the entire events that led up to this catastrophe and honestly ask yourself who else, a number of people can also be blamed. Saddam Hussain himself for not letting the UN Inspectors have free reign when he knew that Bush and Company were surely going to invade (even though that might not have stopped this administrations plans). The majority in Congress that voted for the Authorization of Force in Iraq can also be held accountable. According to a number of sources, Saudi Arabia and the major oil companies are also complicit. The Mainstream Media can be put under a microscope for failing to put our government’s assertions that Iraq was a criminal state under closer scrutiny instead of hawking the party line. The media can also be held accountable. We can also blame some of the American People for treating this run up to war somewhat like a “sporting event”. Many in America seemed to have a voyeuristic predilection toward this war, as if the American Military was putting on a huge display of unstoppable force with themes such as “Shock and Awe” designed to titillate the senses. There is enough blame to fill The Grand Canyon, but we should try to get past that. I believe that this administration should be held accountable, but that isn’t the major priority.

The major priority that faces America in regard to Iraq is the sectarian violence. We can have no solution in Iraq while the people are being decimated by religion-based murder. While our troops are on the ground in places like Haifa Street and Sadr City, the local Sunni or Shiite Militia, when they take a break from fighting each other, take a few shots at the American Forces and the Iraqi Army and police. The Iraqi Police and Army work overtime, by day they fight alongside US forces and by night they fight alongside their favorite militia. Meanwhile the phony government inside the Green Zone prepares to take a two month vacation in order that they may give their time on Earth a two-month extension. Who is at fault is this? Could it be Bush and Cheney who installed the Shiite-led government?

That brings us to this Shiite government. The Sunni don’t want to participate. Iran now has a good foothold in Iraq because of their Shiite commonalties. You would believe that this does not please the United States, but you would be mistaken. If the United States can stop a direct seizure of Iraqi land and sovereignty by Iran, the United States is not totally against Iranian influence. There is a reason for this. The reason is oil. This is how the US and its OPEC friends play out the oil card.

The world is awash with oil. They want you to believe it isn’t. They want you to believe that oil is scarce. The reason for this mindset they offer is that scarce oil is more expensive than plentiful oil. When nations compete for every barrel of crude, the price goes up. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, and possibly more oil than Saudi Arabia by some estimates. Iraq has historically never been able to get its oil to foreign markets because of interference by OPEC and Big Oil. Saddam wasn’t taken out because we want Iraq’s oil; he was taken out because OPEC and BIG OIL did not want Saddam to flood the market with cheap oil. Cheap oil is anathema to Exxon-Mobil and the rest. Take this into account, The United States still produces oil. The major oil companies own this US oil. When OPEC brings the price of oil up, the American oil companies share windfall profits. There is not much profit to be made on cheap oil; this is one reason why Exxon/Mobil has had the most profitable year of any company in the history of the world. Now does this war become a bit more understandable? Saddam was a maverick in the midst of OPEC. He alone could play with the price of a barrel of crude. The truth is that Iraq has over 500 oil sites in the country and of that, they are only pumping out of 137. They are pumping less now with this war raging.

Now you may understand why the anarchy in Iraq does not concern some nations as much as it should. The longer Iraq is divided and fighting between Iraqi’s goes on at fever pitch, the longer Iraq does not produce oil and glut the market. The reason we went to war in Iraq was not to get their oil, but to stop them from producing oil. Peak oil is a myth. I’ll have to admit it was an idea that I once believed until I found out that the oil companies wrote the report that founded the idea of peak oil. The cold unvarnished truth is that Cheney and his Big Oil friends have manipulated this war from its inception until now, all to increase oil profits.

Now we have a nation drenched in blood. This problem won’t go away until our government really wants it to go away, and at this point in time they are happy with the status quo. American soldiers are dying for Big Oil. The Iraqi’s are dying for a resource that the rest of the world doesn’t want them to benefit from. This war and the reasoning behind it, is one of the most despicable things that the human race has ever been involved in. There are so many people that should be in jail for murder that the number boggles the mind. The truly sad part of this entire mess is that I’m not the only one saying this. The facts are that almost everyone connected with foreign policy knows that what I’m saying now to be true, and they have known it for a long time. How they never believed that the truth would finally come out is beyond me. Maybe they believed that if the truth were to come out that nobody would care. I care, and I believe that most decent people care.

Every day in Iraq, US Soldiers die for oil profits. Iraqi children become orphans for oil profits. Iraqi men fail to return home after going to the market for food and their women and children weep. This scene in Iraq will be played out thousands of times until someday the violence stops. What will be the legacy of this war? Eventually the citizen’s of this nation will understand the depths that some people sank to for profit. I can only hope that it doesn’t destroy the fabric of our nation. The other result will be an entire generation of Iraqi people that remember the United States as the harbinger of death and destruction. They will remember us as the people that savaged their lives. They will remember also, the way that the Sunni’s and Shiite’s killed each other with no regard for Allah, and they will stay bitter. The Sunni will hate the Shiites and vice versa. We will see a flood of terrorists come out of Iraq, bitter and set on vengeance. This will be the legacy of our involvement in Iraq.

Some want us to leave Iraq. I am one of them. I also want the people that caused this war and the people that set the policies after the invasion to pay for their treachery. This can’t be left unpunished. I also believe that we owe the Iraqi people something for their suffering, and that it should come out of the deep pockets of Big Oil. We need a bipartisan task force to look into these allegations. Those with connections to the oil industry should be excluded. We need to talk to the nations that border Iraq and with them, work out the best ways that we can stop this sectarian violence.

We also need to impeach those that caused this. This is something that is non-negotiable. We can not leave the people that brought this problem forth to stay in power. We can not leave them unpunished so that those who follow into government may see what happens when government is used to line the pockets of the few. This is a large agenda. It won’t happen unless Americans demand it. That we must do, for we are all culpable in some degree.

Former Chairman of the Liberal Party of America, Tim is a retired Army Sergeant. He currently lives in South Carolina. A regular contributor to OpEdNews, he is the author of Kimchee Kronicles and is currently at work on a new novel.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Free Prius to SUV Owners

Portland Transport

By Bob R.

OK, this post's title is a lie... but it's almost true. (I should go into politics.)

An owner of a large SUV achieving only 15 miles per gallon in mixed driving will consume 10,000 gallons of gasoline over a 150,000 mile vehicle life. (Example: A 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 4WD, 5-spd Automatic, 4.7L 8cyl engine, achieves 15mpg in mixed driving under the newly-revised EPA standards.)

If that SUV owner switched to a high-MPG hybrid achieving 45 miles per gallon, they would consume 3,333 gallons over the same 150,000 mile vehicle life. (Example: A 2007 Toyota Prius achieves 46mpg mixed, revised EPA.)

At $3.25 per gallon, the 6,667 gallons saved over the life of the vehicle would cost over $21,600, which just happens to be around the base price of a Prius -- switch today and the car pays for itself. :-)

Now, of course, I do realize that many SUV owners use the vehicle for purposes which cannot be emulated by a mid-size sedan. (Towing, hauling lots of people and gear around, off-road and farm use, etc.)

But, for a person who has found themselves to be primarily a commuter in their large vehicle, and who seldom ferries around more than a couple of extra passengers (a Prius will move 4 people quite comfortably, 5 not-so-comfortably), that person might just want to consider switching, given today's gas prices.

Bonus: If the SUV is already paid for, it can be kept on-hand for when it is really needed, while the fuel savings for daily driving will still pay for the hybrid.

Fuel for thought.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Investigative journalist reports peak oil by 2020

ABC Canberra

By Ross Solly and Nicholas Kittel

The end of oil is nigh... but not if you believe politicians or oil companies.

Experts predict that oil production is about to peak, plateau and then fall, creating a demand that will be greater than supply that will result in oil shocks and economic consequences that will affect all.

Investigative journalist and author David Strahan decided to explore the end of oil and its ramifications in his latest book: The Last Oil Shock - A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum. (This book is not yet available on

Mr. Strahan explained that peak oil does not necessarily mean an immediate end to oil production but it is running out.

"It's not about getting to the bottom of the last barrel of oil on the planet, far from it, that's not going to happen for generations... it's about reaching a level of global production that we can't get higher than... so it's not running out in that sense it's reaching a peak and going into decline," he said.

However, these thoughts may leave one with a false sense of security as Mr. Strahan believes this could all happen sooner rather than later.

"I think the sensible forecasts range from between around about now to around about 2020... I say between about 2010 and 2015 and I'd be absolutely astonished if it hadn't happened by 2020.

And the CEO of the world's forth-largest oil and gas company, Paris-based Total SA, agrees. Thierry Desmarest recently told the World Gas Conference in Amsterdam that he believes oil production will peak by around 2020 (Bloomberg).

In researching his book Mr. Strahan said he had come across many obstacles, including being denied a visa for Saudi Arabia and poor, false or misleading data provided by oil producing countries, governments, industry bodies and oil companies.

Mr. Strahan said that one of the most interesting and frightening pieces of information that he uncovered through his research was that the world, potentially, has 25 per cent less oil than we actually estimate we have left.

"The big, key five Middle Eastern OPEC countries - the Saudi, Iraq, Iran, Abu Dhabi and so forth... they, in the early 1980s, all increased their declared reserves massively - they either doubled or, in some cases, tripled their declared reserves... they all just decided that they had twice or three times as much oil as they'd previously declared. Most observers think those increases are bogus and therefore the world's total reserves are much smaller, about 25 per cent smaller, than the official figures."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Peak Oil Crisis: Week Twelve

Falls Church News-Press

By Tom Whipple

For three months now, US gasoline stockpiles have been dropping steadily. Nationwide, gasoline prices jumped 10.2 cents a gallon last week to an average of $2.97 and $3.46 around San Francisco.

Last week, US gasoline stockpiles dropped for the 12th straight week by another 1.1 million barrels as US motorists continued to burn up gasoline at a rate 1.6 percent higher than last year. While refinery utilization at 88.3 percent is still well below what is needed to build up stocks for the summer driving season, refiners did manage to produce another 300,000 barrels of gasoline per day which reduced the pace at which gasoline stockpiles have been dropping; 1 million barrels last week vs. the 4 million barrels per week we saw earlier last month. US imports remained the same last week at 1.2 million barrels per day, also well below the 1.5-1.6 required to build up stockpiles for the summer.

As has been the case for many weeks, gasoline consumption continues to run above last year, a series of refining problems have kept gasoline output well below the utilization needed to build stockpiles, and the US seems to be unable to find enough refined gasoline on the world markets to make up the difference.

There are several underlying problems behind the growing shortfalls, none of which seem susceptible to immediate solution. The automobile is so deeply imbedded into our lifestyles that gasoline will have to go much higher – some say $6+ a gallon - before there will be any significant slackening in demand. Sales of gas-guzzlers probably will continue to drop, but major changes in lifestyles will not come until actual gasoline shortages and gas lines develop. Here in America, there are simply too many other ways to save money before we cut back on driving.

The fundamental problem in keeping the refineries working is that they are simply being pushed too hard. Twenty years ago US refineries were run at an average 78 percent of rated capacity and all was well. Now they need to be operated at close to 95 percent of capacity to keep up with increased summer demand. Moreover, there is a growing shortage of the experienced personnel needed to overhaul our refineries and they are becoming more complex as a result of the need to process more of the heavy sour crude oil that is an increasing share of what is available for import.

There is no lack of incentive for refineries to produce gasoline. Refinery profit margins have been rising along with pump prices. Refiners made an average of $15.75 per barrel in the first quarter, more than 30 percent higher than last year. In fact, the profitability of refining causes many observers to believe that the production shortfall will end soon. Although considerable new refinery capacity in the US is planned and under construction, it will have no bearing on the immediate situation.

Imported gasoline, which makes up the difference between the roughly 8.5 million barrels of gasoline we refine each day and the 9.5 million we burn, is also in short supply. European refiners have shifted more production to diesel fuel as European motorists buy the higher fuel efficiency that diesel-powered cars provide. Imports are running about 12 percent below year-ago levels.

As we enter May, the key question is whether there will be time for refiners to catch up to be ahead of summer demand or whether we will see much higher prices and shortages later this year. Spot shortages have already developed around Denver and in Iowa, but industry spokesman say these are minor distribution glitches.

Earlier this week, Energy Secretary Bodman said he feared surging gasoline prices will reach a record high, but he remains “reasonably confident" the market will respond to the high prices with new supply. The head of ConocoPhillips, however, recently said he is concerned about the refining industry's ability to meet growing demands for gasoline.

The Secretary of Energy, of course, has a special responsibility not to spook the public into panic buying. Nothing would exacerbate a gasoline shortage problem worse than having a substantial portion of America’s 200 million motorists rush out to gas stations and fill every available container in anticipation of shortages. Thus when the secretary says the supply picture ahead of the high-demand summer driving season has yet to require any special federal government response, the comments have to be taken within this context. "It's not something we are going to undertake any kind of emergency activity on," the secretary said. "I'm not considering doing anything."

All this leaves us in a basically unchanged situation. Although the rate of decline dropped last week, the decline continues at a pace that eventually will lead to much higher prices and shortages. A major point to keep in mind is that the geopolitical/weather situation is relatively calm at the minute. There are still at least half a dozen major threats to our oil imports out there, waiting to happen.

In the meantime, the struggle among demand, prices, refining, and imports will continue. Every Wednesday morning the Department of Energy will update the score card and the picture of how much longer we can all continue business as usual will become a little clearer.

Exxon Mobil Says Peak Oil Unlikely Within 25 Years

Seeking Alpha

Byron King submits: First, here is a fast summary of Peak Oil. “Peak Oil” is a shorthand way of describing a “peak” in mankind’s ability to extract conventional oil from the crust of the Earth due to certain absolute limits on the petroleum resource base. In other words, you cannot extract oil that does not exist or that has not been discovered.

The Oil Age commenced in 1859, ushered in by the establishment of the Drake well in Titusville, Pa. For the past 15 decades, people have been getting better and better at lifting conventional oil out of the ground. We have progressed to the point where, in the past two years, daily global oil production has hovered around 81-82 million barrels per day (b/d), plus the 3-4 million b/d of natural gas liquids and synthetic crude from Canadian tar sands. Hence you often read of current world oil output of about 85 million b/d. If you follow the production curve back over the years, you will see that oil output has risen steadily almost every year over the past century, with some interruptions by the Great Depression, World War II and, more recently, the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. But now, in the past year or so, it appears that world daily output has reached some sort of peak or plateau.

Exxon Mobil’s (XOM) position is to disagree that the current state of affairs represents any sort of present or imminent “peaking” in world oil output. In fact, Exxon’s stated position is this:

A peak in petroleum liquids production, resulting solely from resource limitations, is unlikely in the next 25 years. Predictions of an imminent peak based on [the methodology developed by Shell Oil Co. geologist M. King Hubbert] in 1956 do not adequately account for resource growth from application of new technology, knowledge and capability, which combine to increase recovery, open new producing areas and lower economic thresholds.

Supplies from OPEC and non-OPEC countries, gas-related liquids and unconventional resources are growing. Furthermore, nations with the largest remaining resources produce under long-term restraints not envisioned in Hubbert’s method. The ultimate peak in petroleum production may result from factors other than resource limitations.

Exxon Mobil forecasts an increase in demand for petroleum liquids from about 85 million b/d in 2006 to 115 million b/d in 2030, or average growth in demand of about 1.2 million b/d per year. Worldwide, over the next 25 years, the ability of the petroleum industry to meet this demand will depend, in great measure, on what Exxon calls “adequate access to petroleum resources.” This latter term includes ensuring that the oil industry has access to drill in areas not previously explored or exploited, such as geographically or politically isolated areas, as well as areas of deep water or extreme climate, that require the development of new technology.

Exxon Mobil challenges the Hubbert methodology on two fronts. Hubbert’s methodology rests on two interconnected assumptions. First, the methodology assumes that the size of the ultimate resource base can be known with some degree of accuracy. And second, the methodology assumes that the peak in production occurs when approximately 50% of that resource base has been extracted. According to Exxon Mobil, “An analysis of resource assessments and production history suggests that neither assumption is necessarily valid.”

First, “there appears to be a systematic bias that underestimates the size of the resource base by ignoring the future increase in recoverable volume.” That is, new petroleum discoveries, plus what is called “reserve growth” continue to add to the original resource base, thus pushing the extraction and decline curves out to future years.

Second, if the ultimate size of the resource base is systematically underestimated, it is not possible to state when 50%, or anything near that percentage, of the oil resource has been extracted.

The Exxon Mobil thesis is that Hubbert’s methodology worked when he applied it to the U.S. as an oil province, because the U.S. was extensively explored during the time period that covered Hubbert’s career. “Hubbert’s 1956 prediction turned out to be right; lower-48 U.S. production peaked in 1970,” just as he said it would, according to Exxon Mobil. But Exxon Mobil criticizes attempts to extend the application of what it characterizes as Hubbert’s “simple approach” to the entire world. And due to a misunderstanding of the Hubbert approach and its misapplication to a poorly defined world resource base, “a popular view has emerged that the world faces an imminent decline in global liquids production resulting from depletion of resources.”

Thus, according to Exxon Mobil, “the Peak Oil theory has raised questions about the future of the oil and gas industry, how resources are estimated, the current supply situation, the role of technology and other factors in determining future supply.”

Most previous estimates of a peak in oil extraction have been wrong, noted Mr. Vierbuchen. For the most part, these previous estimates “missed the concept of reserve growth,” which refers to the process by which the initial identified reserves of an oil province “grow” over time as new drilling and new knowledge make it apparent and quantifiable that there is more oil down there than was first thought.

There are numerous examples of new technology, as well as novel ways of thinking, that have and will in the future contribute to reserve growth. First, the more wells that are drilled in any region, the better the geological control over that region. More wells equals more knowledge of the exact types and depths of rocks, as well as subsurface structures and rock and reservoir conditions. This greatly facilitates expanding the resource base.

Second, new advances in seismic processing have given geologists better imagery of the subsurface. It is now possible to identify features that were formerly simply unknown and unknowable with previous technology. Even with older seismic methods, these features were indecipherable on the best of days. This new look from seismic processing facilitates improved reservoir modeling and better well placement.

In addition, new drilling techniques have enabled geologists and engineers to “extend” their reach, in terms of vertical depth and horizontal distance from the surface wellbore, and into certain identifiable "sweet spots” that were formerly the province of pure chance.

Once a well is completed, there are new methods to stimulate production, over and above classical pressure-maintenance techniques such as water flooding. These include new methods to fracture the reservoir rock and increase the surface area of rock face, from which oil can migrate toward the borehole. The new methods include advanced chemical mixtures that can dissolve the rock matrix, as well as enhance the oil recovery with chemicals such as “surfactants” that essentially wash the oil out of the rock pores.

In essence, the new technology that is expanding the petroleum resource base is a function of many truly novel scientific and engineering developments, coupled with economic incentive to apply resources to the unique problems of every oil province, and every oil field in that province. “There was never an age of ‘easy oil,’” Vierbuchen said, a statement with which almost every head in the room was nodding in agreement.

One of the greatest constraints on future oil production, according to Exxon Mobil, is the political fact that much of the world is essentially “off-limits” to exploration and production. These limitations vary from region to region and from country to country, but cumulatively, have a potentially large negative effect on future oil output.

In the U.S., large areas onshore, and essentially all of the offshore areas outside of the western Gulf of Mexico and parts of Alaska, are off-limits to new drilling. In the U.K., the government has just raised tax rates to an onerous level that will inhibit future exploration in the North Sea. Issues of resource nationalism in nations from Russia to Venezuela are making future investment by any but the national oil companies (NOCs) - or politically favored outsiders - problematic. War in Iraq is preventing almost any petroleum development at this time. Insurrection in Nigeria makes for tough going in that part of the world. And the list goes on.

At the end of the argument, however, Exxon Mobil is not stating that there will never be a peak in rates of oil extraction. Instead, the company is arguing that any valid predictive methodology should properly place that event 25 or more years in the future. Specifically: “It does not follow that there is unlimited potential for production growth, rather that the eventual peak in global production is likely to be much further in the future than is commonly suggested.”

Exxon Mobil also notes that “it is possible that the peak, when it occurs, may result from a cause other than resource limitation (e.g., government policies, lack of access to existing resources, competition from alternative energy sources, improvements in energy efficiency).”

So Exxon Mobil is not claiming that there is no Peak Oil problem. It is just a question of timing and time frames, and according to the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, the time for Peak Oil is not now or in the immediate future. To the extent that there is an oil supply problem anywhere on the near horizon, the Exxon Mobil view is that it derives from limited access to prospective regions and under-investment in exploration, development and other related extractive infrastructure. To the extent that prices are rising, it is because global demand for liquid hydrocarbon has been strong and growing, particularly in the developing world, and certainly in China and India.

Whether Mr. Vierbuchen and Exxon Mobil are correct or wildly incorrect about the timing of a peak in world oil production is something that many of us will probably live to see.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pentagon study says oil reliance strains military

The Boston Globe

Pentagon study says oil reliance strains military
Urges development of alternative fuels

By Bryan Bender

A new study ordered by the Pentagon warns that the rising cost and dwindling supply of oil -- the lifeblood of fighter jets, warships, and tanks -- will make the US military's ability to respond to hot spots around the world "unsustainable in the long term."

The study, produced by a defense consulting firm, concludes that all four branches of the military must "fundamentally transform" their assumptions about energy, including taking immediate steps toward fielding weapons systems and aircraft that run on alternative and renewable fuels. It is "imperative" that the Department of Defense "apply new energy technologies that address alternative supply sources and efficient consumption across all aspects of military operations," according to the report, which was provided to the Globe.

Weaning the military from fossil fuels quickly, however, would be a herculean task -- especially because the bulk of the US arsenal, the world's most advanced, is dependent on fossil fuels and many of those military systems have been designed to remain in service for at least several decades.

Moving to alternative energy sources on a large scale would "challenge some of the department's most deeply held assumptions, interests, and processes," the report acknowledges.

But Pentagon advisers believe the military's growing consumption of fossil fuels -- an increasingly expensive and scarce commodity -- leaves Pentagon leaders with little choice but to break with the past as soon as possible. Compared with World War II, according to the report, the military in Iraq and Afghanistan is using 16 times more fuel per soldier.

"We have to wake up," said Milton R. Copulos , National Defense Council Foundation president and an authority on the military's energy needs. "We are at the edge of a precipice and we have one foot over the edge. The only way to avoid going over is to move forward and move forward aggressively with initiatives to develop alternative fuels. Just cutting back won't work."

The Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation and Resources, which is responsible for addressing future security challenges, commissioned LMI, a government - consulting firm, to produce the report. Called "Transforming the Way DoD Looks at Energy," the study is intended as a potential blueprint for a new military energy strategy and includes a detailed survey of potential alternatives to oil -- including synthetic fuels, renewable biofuels, ethanol, and biodiesel fuel as well as solar and wind power, among many others.

The military is considered a technology leader and how it decides to meet future energy needs could influence broader national efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil. The report adds a powerful voice to the growing chorus warning that, as oil supplies dwindle during the next half-century, US reliance on fossil fuels poses a serious risk to national security.

"The Pentagon's efforts in this area would have a huge impact on the rest of the country," Copulos said.

The Department of Defense is the largest single energy consumer in the country. The Air Force spends about $5 billion a year on fuel, mostly to support flight operations. The Navy and Army are close behind.

Of all the cargo the military transports, more than half consists of fuel. About 80 percent of all material transported on the battlefield is fuel.

The military's energy consumption has steadily grown as its arsenal has become more mechanized and as US forces have had to travel farther distances.

In World War II, the United States consumed about a gallon of fuel per soldier per day, according to the report. In the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, about 4 gallons of fuel per soldier was consumed per day. In 2006, the US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan burned about 16 gallons of fuel per soldier on average per day , almost twice as much as the year before.

Higher fuel consumption is a consequence of the US military's changing posture in recent years. During the Cold War, US forces were deployed at numerous bases across the world; since then, the United States has downsized its force and closed many of its former bases in Asia and Europe.

The Pentagon's strategic planning has placed a premium on being able to deploy forces quickly around the world from bases in the United States.

The National Defense Strategy, which lays out the Pentagon's anticipated missions, calls for an increased US military presence around the globe to be able to combat international terrorist groups and respond to humanitarian and security crises. But aviation fuel consumption for example, has increased 6 percent over the last decade. And the report predicts that trend will continue.

"The US military will have to be even more energy intense, locate in more regions of the world, employ new technologies, and manage a more complex logistics system," according to the report. "Simply put, more miles will be traveled, both by combat units and the supply units that sustain them, which will result in increased energy consumption."

The costs of relying on oil to power the military are consuming an increasing share of the military's budget, the report asserts. Energy costs have doubled since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it says, and the cost of conducting operations could become so expensive in the future that the military will not be able to pay for some of its new weapon systems.

Ensuring access to dwindling oil supplies also carries a big price tag. The United States, relying largely on military patrols, spends an average of $44 billion per year safeguarding oil supplies in the Persian Gulf. And the United States is often dependent on some of the same countries that pose the greatest threats to US interests.

Achieving an energy transformation at the Department of Defense "will require the commitment, personal involvement , and leadership of the secretary of defense and his key subordinates," the report says.

Bender can be reached at

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

World Without Oil Launches

O'Reilly Radar

Last night at midnight, the alternate reality game (ARG for short) World Without Oil launched. In the game, the world has hit peak oil and there are news reports of crises from around the world. The goal of the game is to get real people around the world to start thinking about life without oil. To get them to answer questions like: How will they cope? What will they have to sacrifice? What can they do to help the world?

They are using content scattered throughout the web to create this new reality. Youtube videos that tour the oil fields of Texas, blogs and a LiveJournal Community are attributed to fictional characters like RedHatty, Gwen McGinnis, txchuckles, and Gala Teah. The puppetmasters use these characters to pull real people into the game and get them to start contributing. The characters have been posting for a while, dropping hints about an impending crisis. Now that he game has launched, posts like gala_teah's provide more details about their situation and direct actions for potential players to take:

So it was not a rumor. The oil shock is real. And it's our new reality for several years at least, if Nico is to be believed (and he's been right on so far).

We have been preparing for months. But to be honest, I think I always held back a little - hoping we were wrong. Now that it is beginning, and it is real, I am daunted by the task before us. Lots of people are wondering, what do we do now?

The first step for many people is to create an account at LiveJournal. It's free. By creating an account, you create an identity so you can participate in the growing community here. Exchange of ideas and support is so important.

The center of this world is the World Without Oil website. It contains pointers to most of the content out there. It produces the facts of the world via news briefs that paint a bleak picture. Here's the backdrop of news for the first week:

Fuel prices jumped this week, led by gasoline which gained over a dollar a gallon on average. Oil distributors pointed to several "renegotiated" delivery contracts as proof that a long-rumored shortfall in the supply of U.S. oil has finally arrived. Oil producers were tight-lipped about the adjusted contracts, and as I write this it's still unclear how extensive the shortfall will turn out to be.

Users can create accounts and find out how their locale is doing (Seattle is not quite in crisis mode just yet; neither is San Francisco).

The game was proposed by Ken Eklund. Jane McGonigal (Cruel 2 B Kind creator, an ETech keynoter and Expo Ignite speaker) helped make it a reality and serves as chief puppetmaster. It is funded by Independent Television Service (PBS).

As mentioned above the goal of the game is to get people thinking about this potential real world future and to build a community around the issue. They are using these tools to connect people. Riding on top of existing, proven community building tools like LiveJournal, Vox, YouTube, podcasts, and the phone (anyone can call in and leave a message for other players to hear).

The amount of content that Jane and her puppetmasters have created is dizzying. I started diving into it yesterday and have only been able to ingest a small fraction of it. Once players start contributing to it, it may become more than any one person could consume on their own. ARGs are fast growing medium. Previously it's been used for advertising (like with Jane's I Love Bees for XBox) With World Without Oil they are now being turned on current issues. I think it is safe to say this is only the beginning of this method of outreach.

Slick way to address oil thirst

San Jose Mercury News

By Dean Takahashi

Oil is the oxygen of our economy. What would happen if oil supplies dried up?

That's the story behind a new computer game launching today, "World Without Oil" at This game, which can be played for free over the Internet, isn't purely make believe. It's meant to draw attention to the real possibility of an oil shock and what our country and the world have to do to prepare for it. The ideas that people come up with for surviving in a post-oil world in the game could actually pay off in real life if they lead to less consumption and more alternative sources of energy.

The blurring of imaginary and real life is intentional. Players can affect the story and outcome of the game based on what they do in real life. The game is part of the increasingly popular "alternate reality game" genre, and its creators believe that they can use it as a serious vehicle to entertain people and, simultaneously, draw attention to a social issue.

Part of a so-called "serious games" movement, the creators hope to use the inherently entertaining nature of games as a medium to hook and educate mass audiences. It resembles other games such as "Re-Mission," which educates kids with cancer about how to fight the disease (a game funded by Pam Omidyar, who is married to eBay founder Pierre Omidyar).

"It's a serious game for the public good, but it's not necessarily sending a green message," said Ken Eklund, creative director and producer of the game. "We are saying there is an oil shock. It is an alternate reality that is not so far from where we are now."

The game is based on an ongoing debate about how much time we have before we hit the peak for oil production and consumption. Advocates of the "peak oil" theory argue that we've already tapped out the last of the world's oil supplies and that it's all downhill from here.

In the game, players are expected to band together by the thousands to tell their own fictionalized stories within the larger context of the oil shortage and how they plan to deal with it.

Over several weeks, the story will play out. But the game's designers, dubbed puppetmasters, will change the story based on reactions from the players. They can create the story, for instance, of the impact of the oil shock in Detroit's auto industry, or figure out the impact on people in rural areas such as Idaho.

"We don't know how it's going to turn out for sure," said Jane McGonigal, one of the puppetmasters and a rock star of the genre. "Our hope is that people will come up with their own creative solutions on how to live without oil. The game helps players prepare for a future and avoid it by thinking about the alternatives to it now."

In her previous job at 42 Entertainment, she helped create some award-winning alternate reality games, including "," an alternate-reality game that served as a promotion for the launch of Microsoft's "Halo 2" video game. That game drew 600,000 serious players and more than a million casual observers who monitored its progress.

McGonigal estimates there are now about 20 alternative reality games being played at any one time, supported by groups of fans who play together such as the group Unfiction.

"World Without Oil" came about because ITVS Interactive, a public television production house in San Francisco that celebrates alternative voices, wanted to fund a video game that could help it further its aims and reach broader audiences. ITVS invited pitches and Eklund responded in June 2005. Eklund, a 49-year-old game writer in San Jose, says he pulled the idea "from the swamp of my brain" and started sketching out how it could unfold.

"We found the theme to be relevant," said Cathy Fischer, a senior producer at ITVS.

McGonigal, a developer of alternative reality games, reviewed the proposal. After she completed her doctoral thesis at the University of California-Berkeley, she left 42 Entertainment and took a position as a research associate at the Institute for the Future, a non-profit research group in Palo Alto, where she is helping the institute think about how these games can help prepare us all for the future. That's why she joined Eklund's team, which has grown to about a dozen people in addition to some volunteers.

There are already groups of fans forming in places such as Australia, Denmark and Russia to participate in "World Without Oil."

"There is something amazing about huge numbers of people banding together," McGonigal said. "It's like a human supercomputer."

Contact Dean Takahashi at or (408) 920-5739.