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Are They Really Oil Wars?

By       Message Ismael Hossein-zadeh     Permalink
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The current oil price hike too is precipitated not by an oil shortage, as popularly perceived, but by manipulative speculation in energy futures markets—which are, in turn, prompted largely by the unstable atmosphere of war and geopolitical turbulence in the Middle East.

 

Evidence is therefore unambiguous that, so far, almost all oil price shocks can be explained not by geology, or the so-called Peak Oil, but by geopolitics. 

 

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Peak oil theory is based on a number of assumptions and omissions that make it less than reliable.

 

To begin with, it discounts or disregards the fact that energy-saving technologies have drastically improved (and will continue to further improve) not only the efficiency of oil production but also of oil consumption. Evidence shows that, for example, “over a period of five years (1994-99), U.S. GDP expanded over 20 percent while oil usage rose by only nine percent. Before the 1973 oil shock, the ratio was about one to one” [7].

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Cars, airplanes and other means of transportation have become more fuel-efficient than ever before—though not as much as they could, or could. Both businesses and consumers are also doing a better job of trimming their energy costs. Obviously, this means that our demand for energy does not grow as fast as the growth of our economy. For example, According to the Energy Information Administration, in 1981 the United States devoted nearly 14 percent of its overall gross domestic product to energy; by 2006 that number had fallen to about 9 percent.

 

Second, Peak Oil theory pays scant attention to the drastically enabling new technologies that have made (and will continue to make) possible discovery and extraction of oil reserves that were inaccessible only a short time ago. One of the results of the more efficient means of research and development has been a far higher success rate in finding new oil fields. The success rate has risen in twenty years from less than 70 percent to over 80 percent. Computers have helped to reduce the number of dry holes. Horizontal drilling has boosted extraction. Another important development has been deep-water offshore drilling, which the new technologies now permit. Good examples are the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and more recently, the promising offshore oil fields of West Africa [8].

 

Thanks to technological advances, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in its 2000 World Petroleum Assessment, “increased by 20 percent its estimate of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil. USGS noted that, since oil became a major energy source about 100 years ago, 539 billion barrels of oil have been produced outside the United States. USGS estimates there are 649 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil outside the United States. But, importantly, USGS also estimates that there will be an additional 612 billion barrels from reserve growth—nearly equaling the undiscovered resources. Reserve growth results from a variety of sources, including technological advancement in exploration and production, increases over initially conservative estimates of reserves, and economic changes” [9].

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Third, Peak Oil is also subject to criticism because it pays insufficient attention to substitutes or alternative sources of energy, both actual and potential. These include solar, wind, non-food bio-fuel, and nuclear energies. They also include natural gas. Natural gas is now about 25 percent of energy demand worldwide. It is estimated that by 2050 it will be the main source of energy in the world. A number of American, European, and Japanese firms have and are investing heavily in developing fuel cells for cars and other vehicles that would significantly reduce gasoline consumption [10].

 

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Ismael Hossein-zadeh is a professor of economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. He is the author of the newly published book, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism His Web page is http://www.cbpa.drake.edu/hossein-zadeh

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