Summary: Perhaps our #1 obstacle to our preparation for Peak Oil is our ignorance. Energy research — both collection of data and its analysis — is grossly underfunded, so even our top experts are reduced to inspired guessing. In past articles I have illustrated it using larger issues; this post will examine one small but critical example. We can do better. The funds required to better fund DOE and private researchers is a pittance compared to that squandered on our Middle Eastern wars and bailouts of Wall Street.
The elephant was great and powerful, but preferred to be blind.
— David Halberstan, The Best and the Brightest:
Everyone familiar with the literature about oil knows that national reserve figures are considered state secrets by many nations, including Saudi Arabia. What few know is that this is also true of oil export numbers. So where do those precised numbers come from that we see in reports, and analysed and extrapolated to ten decimals in posts on The Oil Drum (that’s an exaggeration, of course)?
I asked this question in several posts, and received only one answer. MFP, who runs the data-rich blog Net Oil Exports, correctly said that this data comes from networks of agents who track tanker traffic. More precisely, there are several sources of data about Saudi exports. Too bad they do not agree.
- The Joint Oil Data Initiative (JODI) — data straight from the source, but there are questions about its accuracy.
- Tanker traffic monitors: such as Petrologistics (the best-known, the most mysterious), Lloyds, and Oil Movements.
- Analysis of oil imports, refining, and consumption.
- Data leaked by the Saudi’s, valuable but of uncertain origin.
Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, the EIA, IEA, BP, the CIA — each collects these scraps of data and estimate the total. The totals are precise, but do not agree with one another. Often by substantial amounts. Which is right? Only the Saudi’s know. Despite Matthew Simmons’ pleas for data transparency, the Saudi’s see this as more of a global poker game than a camp fire sing-along (“Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya“).
Speaking of Simmons, an astonishing amount of our oil-related insights come from him (an investment banker). Here is his illustration of the fuzzy numbers, from “The 51st State: Peak Oil Denial“, 26 October 2006 — Slide #28.
SAUDI OIL PRODUCED 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
BP Statistical Report 9.26 8.97 10.22 10.50 11.00
IEA Saudi Oil Supply 7.70 7.38 08.48 08.60 09.06
Saudi Aramco Annual Report 7.60 6.80 08.10 08.60 09.10
SAUDI OIL EXPORTS
IEA Member Country Imports 4.38 4.16 04.65 04.56 04.55
Saudi Aramco Annual Report* 5.97 5.20 06.46 06.79 07.19
Implied Exports Outside IEA +1.59 +1.04 +1.81 +2.23 +2.64
* total crude exports
This uncertainty about the quantity available of the vital input to the world economy has had significant effects. There was the disruption of oil markets due to the “missing barrels” in 1998. This summer oil prices dropped in part because of rumors about a flood of oil heading to the US, a fleet of oil tankers that never arrived.
I have not even found an analysis comparing these numbers to rate their relative accuracy.
This is just one illustration of a serious problem hindering our preparation for peak oil. Unfortunately for us, there are many more examples. We can and must do better.
Note: due to time pressure, I have not verified this post to my usual standards (such as they are). Corrections are appreciated.
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For more more information
Some posts about unconventional and alternative energy sources
- Links to articles and presentations of some A-team energy experts , 11 November 2007
- The most dangerous form of Peak Oil , 8 April 2008
- The three forms of Peak Oil (let’s hope for the benign form) , 23 April 2008
- The world changed last week, with no headlines to mark the news, 25 April 2008
- Fusion energy, too risky a bet for America (we prefer to rely on war) , 4 May 2008
- Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off , 8 May 2008
- When the King of Saudi Arabia talks about oil, we should listen , 2 July 2008
- Red Alert: the Saudi Princes have annouced the arrival of Peak Oil , 11 July 2008
- Good news about oil, but for our grandkids – not us , 14 July 2008
- The secret cause of high oil prices , 6 August 2008
A series about energy myths
- Our massive reserves of unconventional oil.
- We’ll run crash programs to solve peak oil, just as we mobilized for WWII.
- Demand creates supply, by raising prices.
- Oil is Oil, even if it is not oil
- Demand creates supply, from new technology.
- The greenest of energy: inedible biofuels
Here is an archive of all my articles about Peak Oil.
To see studies about energy — including oil, coal, nuclear, and alternative energy – see the FM Reference Page: Peak Oil – Other Resources.