Book Review - Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil


It succors and drowns human life. And for the last eight years, oil — and the people and places that make it — was my obsession. - Peter Maass

Today a new book by Peter Maass was released. The book is called Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. Peter Maass is a name you may know from a 2005 article that he wrote for the New York Times called The Breaking Point. The story was a comprehensive look at where he thought oil production/prices were headed - and what the implications might be. Maass focused on Saudi Arabia in the article, and spent a lot of time covering Matt Simmons' viewpoints. It was after reading this story that New York Times columnist John Tierney offered to bet Simmons on the future direction of oil prices. Thus arose the Simmons-Tierney bet.

I thought Maass' 2005 article was well-researched, and it was a captivating read. So when Mr. Maass e-mailed and asked if I would like a copy of his new book, I thought it would probably be a book I would enjoy. I still have a stack of books that have been sent to me to review, but I jumped this one to the front of the queue. I hadn't really intended to, as I am working on two other books right now*, and would normally finish those before starting another. But once I picked this book up and started thumbing through it, I couldn't put it down.

The subtitle of the book is The Violent Twilight of Oil. The book talks about the twilight of oil, but as the chapter titles imply the focus is less on the twilight and more on the seedy side of the business. The book notes that there are some countries like Norway, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Brunei to which oil appears to have generally benefited the population as a whole. But then there are also many cases in which the discovery of oil seems to have brought many problems to the population. (The book suggests that countries with established democracies and strong self identities are less likely to suffer following the discovery of oil).

The Chapters

The chapters read like the Seven Deadly Sins: "Plunder", "Rot", "Fear", "Greed", and "Desire" are a few of the 'sins' covered in various chapters. Within each chapter, Maass then takes a look at an example that embodies that particular "sin." That sort of style reminded me of a really good book I read a few years ago written by Matt Ridley. It was called Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. Each chapter of that book tells the tale of one gene from each chromosome. In Crude World, Peter Maass tells the story of oil one dysfunctional example at a time.

The book picked up where the New York Times story left off. In fact, Chapter 1 - Scarcity - was mostly about Saudi Arabia and incorporates much of that 2005 story. And if you liked his New York Times story, you will probably enjoy the book as the same style is evident. But I use the word "enjoy" loosely, as it is a sober read. You will find yourself shaking your head at some of the things that have been carried out as a result of the world's desire for oil.

In Chapter 2 - Plunder - the book covers the case of Equatorial Guinea. The oil wealth was plundered, with the help of international oil companies, banks that looked the other way as government officials brought suitcases of money in for deposit, and governments eager for access to the resource. While he was investigating the oil story in Equatorial Guinea, Maass was accused of being a spy and kicked out of the country.

Chapter 3 - Rot - was all about Nigeria. I won't tell you how that one turns out, but I am amazed at the (dangerous) lengths Maass went to for the story. Rot describes his journey deep into the Niger Delta in a leaky canoe, courtesy of one of the local warlords. It is well known in the oil industry that Nigeria is a dangerous place to operate. Oil companies generally pay very big premiums to get workers to agree to an assignment in Nigeria. Oil workers are kidnapped in Nigeria regularly (but rarely harmed) and held for ransom from the oil companies operating there. Warlords are constantly doing battle there, and Maass described his visit to one village that had been attacked. Shell also featured prominently in this chapter.

Chapter 4 - Contamination - tells the story of Ecuador, with special focus on the Chevron lawsuit. Maass notes the irony that California - one of the most environmentally conscious states - receives the largest portion of Ecuador's exports.

The rest of the book's ten chapters covers a litany of oil-induced miseries. Iraq, Russia, and Venezuela are all profiled. Former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond is presented as the face of "Greed" (albeit it in the "Fear" chapter). There is an interesting explanation in "Greed" on why companies function as they do. Maass discusses a court case between Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers, in which the court ruled that a company's mission "is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of its shareholders." Thus, Maass argues that if Mr. Raymond had decided to run ExxonMobil in a more altruistic manner, the board would have removed him for not operating in the best interests of the shareholders.

The complaint that some will have about the book is that it isn't balanced. There are a number of villains portrayed, but the oil companies really stand out. It seems that those who are telling the tales of misdeeds are generally trusted in the book, but those who are interviewed for balance are treated with suspicion. For instance, in the chapter on Nigeria, the author interviewed the director of Shell's operations in Nigeria. The interview appears to proceed like a cross-examination. A Nigerian warlord's words, on the other hand, seem to be taken mostly at face value.

But this is not intended to be a balanced book. It is a book designed to highlight the downside of our oil dependence. We can all think about ways in which oil has made our life better, but in the Western world we are generally spared from the nasty side of the business. In this book, Maass brings that message home loud and clear.


Crude World was released today, September 22, 2009. The general theme of the book is that the world's dependence on oil has come at a very high price. This is not a book on peak oil, climate change, or renewable energy. It is not a technical book on the oil industry (for that see Morgan Downey's Oil 101). The book covers the misery - the wars, the corruption, and the ruined lives - brought about primarily by greed from the lure of black gold. The book highlights the irony that oil could be used to improve the lives of a country's citizens, but in far too many cases a country's citizens end up being worse off after oil is discovered. The book was a fascinating read, and I couldn't put it down once I started it. Now I can get back to my regularly scheduled reading.


* The other books I am working on right now are Axis by Robert Charles Wilson and Outsourcing Energy Management by Steven Fawkes. The former is a science fiction book that I picked up because I really enjoyed Wilson's previous book Spin. The latter has been a difficult read; I have been working on the book for six months. I met the author earlier in the year when he visited the Titan Wood plant in the Netherlands. We had quite a lot in common, and he sent me a copy of his book. But it is really a textbook, and so I have been reading it in small doses.

Thanks Robert!

You say this book isn't balanced, and isn't intended to be.

I wonder to what extent it highlights issues that may not be issues (litigants claim they are issues, but nothing has been proven) and misses issues that may be more of a problem (in countries out of the limelight). It seems as if popular stories tend to get repeated endlessly, regardless of truth. Hidden stories stay hidden. After we hear the popular stories often enough, we start to believe them.

I would be interested in hearing what is going on in Uganda right now. How about China? Russia? Are these covered in the book? What countries does the book claim to cover?

It is a dirty business, that's for sure.

However few large scale businesses on this planet can be called "clean". I think I could take the computer industry and show ways in which it helps to corrupt and pollute this planet.

This is not to say that the Petroleum Industry can thus be excused for the way it conducts its business. It is directly responsible for huge damage to the environment from direct water pollution to extreme deforestation. It conducts itself in any fashion that local government will allow. Hence weak governments means "Wild West" behavior will dominate.

I will never forget the kilometers of chopped up Borneo jungle I saw on my way to the exploration rig. Where the oil/gas fields were already developed, the jungle pretty much ceased to exist. :-(

I can also offer first hand witness to his tale of Equatorial Guinea. I did several hitches over there a few years back. EG may be the poster child for such abuse. What makes the situation even worse is how few people (at least in the U.S.) even know this country exists. Though one of the richest per capita nations the vast majority live in extreme poverty. I've run down specific horror stories before on TOD so will skip the repeat.

I also offer EG as a splendid example of EU hypocrisy. They so often like to offer themselves as THE civilized nations of the earth. Many in the EU know the bloody story of EG and have no problem with receiving the plunder to their shores. Peter is lucky he was just thrown out. When I was there the penalty for a citizen discussing local politics with an outsider was an immediate death sentence. No trial was needed as the president-for-life of EG had announced that since God (they are actually of Spanish/Catholic ilk) now spoke to him directly he could order anyone's death without judicial review. After all, if it was OK with God that he kill someone then it really wasn't anyone else's business.

I worked offshore so I had only the short bus ride from the airport to the chopper base to view this little tropical nightmare. But it was enough to convince me I wanted no further part in the process.

They had an excellent expose of the attempted coupe of EG by
South African mercenaries( with Lady Thatcher's son and the Spanish government.

The South African government got wind of it and the mercenaries were detained in Zimbabwe and then shipped to EG for trial and sentence. Fron what it said, the Chinese now service Teodoro Obiang, the reigning witchdoctor( His predecessor used a magic skull to enforce decrees).

That's it maj. Thatcher's son pleaded out so he wouldn't be sent to EG for trial. You'll find a bunch of links from Amnesty International pleading with Zimbabwe to not extradite. EG had already tortured two of the German mercs to death at that point. A little odd how life tended to imitate art in the case of EG. A movie many years old with Ch. Walkin called "The Dogs of War" is a spooky precursor to future events in EG. Except, of course, it had a much happier ending for the local population. A shame it was only so in the movie version. A rather entertaining movie if you were raised on John Wayne fair as was I.

Hi majorian. The link you provided doesn't work in my area due to rights restrictions. Can you advise on other sources please?

Sorry, the video is on US public TV.

Here's hoping you can reach wikipedia.


When were you in EG as I was there 1996 to 1997 living and working on the Island.

I didn't get to see too much of the politicing, but talking to the owner of Mesa Verde- Fawzi,I did learn to zip up the orifice on my face. Pity he left the food there was excellent.

I was more worried about cerebrial malaria than being nobbled for yapping to a local.



Yes ... I would say most all of industrial civilization is a dirty business.

Years ago, knowing of China's aspirations to develop its economy, I was hoping they would take lessons of what not to do from what England, Europe, and the U.S. did in despoiling their environments during their periods of industrial and economic development. But the Chinese have done what we did.

It was a naive hope.

There is less jungle in Borneo now
1) they are digging out coal
2) 1 million acres of palm oil is the plan, already 0.5 million plant

I was with an ex-pat who looked around and said all he saw was undeveloped land.
Why wasn't more being "developed" - I guess he likes shanty towns and
burned jungle

I agree that the book is very much worth reading. I did think that it was interesting that he considered Petroecuador to be one of the companies with the worst environmental records in the world.

I thought that his conclusion at the end was very poignant, with symbols of two very different energy futures--windpower and US military power.

The strange thing is that the big law suit in Ecuador isn't against Petroecuador--but of course, they don't have very much money, so maybe it isn't so strange.

"The book suggests that countries with established democracies and strong self identities are less likely to suffer following the discovery of oil"

That's quite an understatement. If a country preaches the gospel from the "Church of Global Economic Growth" then it will be fine. If Walmart and a McDonald's can open you're all set, ie "play ball". Say no to that one better hunker down.


Thanks, Robert. Axis by Robert Charles Wilson is an interesting read if you're a science fiction fan, but Wilson's latest, Julian Comstock, is a much stronger work. It draws heavily on Kunstler's World Made by Hand and adds a continental scope, large scale battles, political intrigue, and a wry take on the craft of writing. Set in a "postcollapse, imperial United States," the novel is very 19th-century in tone and structure, but in a knowing, postmodern way.

I read Julian Comstock too. It takes place ca. 200 years post peak oil. I read it quickly then never got around to writing a review or interviewing the author on my radio show (initial intention).

Sounds like one for my reading list. My reading speed over the past year has plunged, though, because things have become a lot busier. I probably have a four month backlog of books to read, which a year ago would have been about 12 books. Right now it is about 3-4 books.

Julian : A Christmas Story (pdf) is the novella that evolved into Julian Comstock, if you want a taste of what the book is like. Thanks to Leanan for posting an interview with RCW about JC, I enjoyed it as well. A post-peak/apocalypse book review thread would make for a nice entry here at TOD; we could all chime in with our takes on Warday or Riddley Walker. Sharon Astyk had a post peak book club column for a while: LTG meets Oprah, sort of.

Wanna know what's really interesting?

Go back and look at the comments posted on TOD around the Simmons-Teirney bet. Fascinating!

Thanks, Robert, for your review. As I was reading about this book elsewhere I thought this was one of the "must read" books for my bookshelf.

Simmons has a bad habit of being proved wrong.

There's one comment by Matt that does not get much air time, but I think is one of his most important and it won't be proved wrong. Only 5% - 7% of the world's "Proven" reserves have been audited by an independent agency (USA, Canada, Mexico, OECD, EU and a few others). This means that the error bars of CERA's and the EIA's neatly drawn predictions of no peak before 2035 are on the order of decades because there data actually has huge uncertainties (+/- 25% or more). They just forgot to put in the error bars. If they were undergraduates doing a engineering, physics or chem. lab, they'd receive an "F". As a result, the debate has degenerated into a argument over whose models you choose to believe in: Depletion or Marketing. What Crude World points out that greed has ruled oil's past and probably will rule its future. There is no plan "B" if it’s not the best case scenario with the oil supply. Plan B is chaos.

You have a bad habit of posting unsubstantiated claims.

Were there gas shortages in the summer of 2007? Simmons said there would be:

Perhaps you could post some links to news articles about the shortages. I must have must them.

That article says that Simmons said there was a real risk of gasoline shortages, not that there definitely would be shortages. In fact, according to the EIA, stock draws averaged 1.53 million barrels per day, in 2007, and prices started to spike. Maybe those steadily increasing prices averted a shortage. Who knows, but it certainly looks like production was well behind consumption that year, so it wasn't such a bad guess by Simmons.

I believe they were referring to an article Simmons wrote entitled "Searing Summer of Gasoline Shortages"

Here's quote from the article:

Historically, it has been critically important that we build up gasoline stocks during the spring shoulder season (April-May) so that they can be liquidated during peak demand to prevent shortages. We seem to have run out the clock to fix the problem this summer.

Hmmm, sounds like he's predicting shortages to me! lol
There's a whole host of other stuff he's said that's way out there. In 2005 he was predicting oil "could easily" increase in price 1,000% by 2006. Aside from the fact that it didn't happen, it's not even economically possible.

I don't often find myself agreeing with you, but Simmons was in fact predicting devastating gasoline shortages at last year's ASPO conference. I talked to him about it, told him why I thought he was wrong, and was specifically asked about this prediction at a panel session. I said that what was correct was that we were running very low gasoline inventories, and I had predicted spot shortages if a hurricane hit. And that is in fact what happened. But at the time of the ASPO conference, the refineries were coming back online following Hurricane Ike. Simmons got up and predicted that the spot shortages were just the tip of the iceberg. I said I thought inventories would recover within a month - which they did.

In the meantime, throughout the Southeast US during the month of September, gasoline stations went days without being resupplied. They weren't empty. In fact many held onto anywhere from 800-1200 gallons in the tanks just to keep from running so low and plugging the filters. But if you were in search of gasoline, it was an interesting quest.

Since I was was riding public transportation, it was less of a concern (though they were concerned for their own supplies). Grocery sheves got a little thin as well during that time period. The eventual restart of the refineries, the financial meltdown, and high prices combined to minimize the long-term impact.

But it was not fun here for that month.

In the meantime, throughout the Southeast US during the month of September, gasoline stations went days without being resupplied.

The point is to look at the timing. I actually have a post from either August or September of last year predicting shortages should a hurricane come through because the inventory levels were so low. The hurricane did come through during the first part of September, and we started to see spot shortages. By the time of the ASPO conference, the refineries were coming back up. So my view was that inventories would likely to recover - and I stated as much when asked about it. At the same time, Simmons was predicting that things were going to get worse. It wasn't a matter of him predicting shortages. We already had the shortages when he made his talk. The issue was what the situation would be going forward into the 4th quarter and beyond. Take a look at his archived ASPO presentation and you can see what he was predicting.

Interesting but you left out a couple of things that Simmons also said in the link you provided (just an oversight, I'm sure).

To supply this market, several things have to work in unison.

1. Refineries need to crank up to over 16 million b/d instead of current 15 as they struggle to get into compliance from too little maintenance for too long.

2. Imports need to average well over 1 million b/d, and probably need to hit 1.5 million b/d, matching the all-time record set last year.

3. No hurricanes can hit the Gulf producing region.

4. Stock draws are the last plug in the dike.

1. Indeed by mid-July, the 4-week average was getting on up into hight 15 MMBPD and by August well into the 16 MMBPD range that Simmons pointed out was necessary.


2. Imports did exceed, by an easy margin, the 1 MMBPD level when you look at both finished gasoline and gasoline blending components.

See: and look at the imports for both blending components and finished gasoline in the summer of 2007.

3. While 2007 was classified as an "active" season by NOAA there was minimal impact on the GOM oil production area during the main portion of the hurricane season.

4. There was significant drawdown of gasoline stocks (finished). Less so of blending components.


I can find no reference by Simmons that fits this quote from you:

In 2005 he was predicting oil "could easily" increase in price 1,000% by 2006.

He archives all of his presentations (and I went through them from the end of 2004 through 2005) and except for you claim, there is no Google result that substantiates your claim. He might have stated "100%" at some point early in 2005 and that extra zero between "100" and "1000" is pretty important.

Perhaps, as others have suggested, you ought to substantiate your claims and not leave out important aspects that would mute your POV. Otherwise, it seems you might be creating and building your own "habit of being wrong" in this domain.

He said it in a radio interview, here's a transcript:

So we have actually now created a pending domestic embargo, and we’re going to be lucky to get through the Summer without some periodic shortages. We probably will, but the odds are probably as high we will have some shortages, and then if we get through the Summer we have a fabulous respite from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, until we hunker to try to figure out how the world gets through the Winter of 2005 and 2006 because oil demand globally could easily go to 86-88 million bpd during the Winter, and that could easily exceed supply by 2-5 million bpd.[38:53]

JIM: If that was to happen we would almost be looking at $75-80 oil, I suspect.

MATT: No, no, no. Oil prices could easily go up 5-10 times.

JIM: Wow!

Wow indeed!

Look I don't disagree with everything Simmons says, but to expect demand at such high prices is absurd. This is where the peak oil theory falls down. No one will pay $25 for a gallon of gas.

This is where the peak oil theory falls down. No one will pay $25 for a gallon of gas.

An interesting premise. If oil and product prices to not increase by a factor of 10, then Peak Oil is bogus. Presumably, the referenced interview was around June, 2005, following the release of Matt's book, "Twilight in the Desert." Oil prices were then about $56, rising to $134 in June of 2008, 2.4 times the June, 2005 price, so it's true that the price increase fell short of Matt's projected 5 to 10 times range. Of course, if we look at a little longer time scale--say June, 1998 to June, 2008--we do see a 10 fold increase in oil prices.

But of course, some people would argue that Peak Oil is about volume, and in any case we have seen numerous examples of large price increases, e.g., Texas and the North Sea, failing to reverse long term post-peak conventional production declines. The initial production declines in both cases corresponded to roughly 10 fold increases in oil prices.

And of course, there is the fact that since Matt's book was published in 2005, Saudi annual crude oil production has been below their 2005 rate for three straight years, despite three straight years of year over year increases in oil prices, which BTW is the same kind of production/price response that we saw from the prior swing producer, Texas, and coincidentally, based on the HL plots, Saudi Arabia in 2005 was at approximately the same stage of depletion at which Texas peaked in 1972.

I think that Matt was basically right about prices, but not about the time frame, but like a lot of other people, I was surprised at the scale of the pullback in prices. I suspect that the continuing trend will be one of higher cyclical lows and higher cyclical highs. And I suspect that next year we will transition to mostly involuntary reductions in net oil exports, versus voluntary + involuntary reductions in net oil exports this year.

One of the things has surprised me is the number of poorer developing countries, many of them in Africa, that showed large increases in consumption from 1998 to 2008, as oil prices rose at about 20%/year (US consumption 2008 was back to the same level as 1999). In effect, many African countries outbid the US for oil supplies, which is contrary to what I had been expecting. It will be interesting to see what price consumers in developing countries will pay for small amounts of fuel, put to productive uses, versus what an American consumer--exercising his "God Given" right to use large quantities of fuel to navigate the wilds of outer suburbia in his four wheel drive--will be willing (and able) to pay to maintain a high consumption lifestyle.

Incidentally, based on some 2006 AAA numbers, if gasoline prices went from $2.40 to $25.00, it appears that the total cost per mile of driving a small sedan would go from about $0.50 per mile to about $1.25 per mile, assuming 10,000 miles per year--or from $420 per month to about $1,050 per month. If memory serves, H2 Hummer owners were paying around a dollar per mile in total costs last year--or about $1,000 per month.

BTW is the same kind of production/price response that we saw from the prior swing producer, Texas, and coincidentally, based on the HL plots, Saudi Arabia in 2005 was at approximately the same stage of depletion at which Texas peaked in 1972.

I think you would agree, though, that Saudi production has historically behaved this way. From 1980 to 1985 Saudi production plummeted, and someone could have made a very strong argument that Saudi had peaked. And they could have made that argument for the next 5 years. Further, they could have made the argument for the next 30 years - in fact right through today - that Saudi production never again achieved their 1980 rate of 9.9 million bpd - despite enormous increases in oil prices. Thus should we conclude that Saudi peaked in 1980?

Their production for the past two years isn't like what Texas experienced post-peak. Saudi has increased production, and there is no doubt from anyone that they are setting on spare capacity. The only question is how much. So I think it is pretty tough to argue that Saudi has experienced a geological peak based on a Texas analogue, because they just haven't behaved as Texas did.

Haven't we had this discussion once or twice before?

But you did make a good point--since Saudi Arabia, in 2005, was quite different from Texas, in 1972, in one key aspect. Texas' largest oil field accounted for only about 7% of total production in 1972, while the Saudi's largest field reportedly accounted for 50% or more of total production in 2005. This is one of the reasons that I expected to see a rebound in Saudi production after the initial decline, although the size of the 2008 rebound did surprise me. As the Saudis were probably hit with rising water cuts in the North Ghawar area, I suspect that it took them a while to regroup, and as several people have noted, the Saudis may have reduced the water cut by shutting in high water cut wells and increasing their horizontal completions in the thinning oil column at North Ghawar. As Shell found in the Yibal Field, this helps bring production back up--until the water hits the structurally highest horizontal wells.

In any case, if Texas had maintained their 1972 production rate through 1975, it would have produced 3.8 Gb in 1973-1975, inclusive, whereas the actual production was 3.7 Gb, a difference of about 3%. If the Saudis had maintained their 2005 crude production rate they would have produced 10.5 Gb in 2006-2008, whereas the actual production was 9.9 Gb, a difference of about 6%. So in terms of cumulative production, the Saudi decline in 2006-2008, relative to 2005, was steeper than the initial three year Texas decline.

To put about 10 Gb in perspective, this is almost twice the total production from the East Texas oil field, the largest oil field ever found in the Lower 48, and it took decades to fully deplete this field.

As I said elsewhere, if we see "Two if's and a then," I think that it will become increasingly hard to support the "It's almost all voluntary" mantra regarding Saudi Arabia, to-wit:

If, 2010 annual oil prices are above 2009


If, 2010 annual Saudi crude production is still below their 2005 rate,

Then, they will have shown five years of production below their 2005 rate, with four of the five years showing year over year increases in oil prices, at about the same stage of depletion at which the prior swing producer started declining.

Haven't we had this discussion once or twice before?

We have, but the issue still isn't resolved. Again, these are many of the arguments you could have made in 1982. Pretty much the whole thing - the entire "If the Saudis had maintained their 2005 crude production rate..." Just replace 2005 with 1980.

I really like to do a lot of model validation. Go back and sit yourself down with data available from 1985 and tell me which of your arguments that you are using here would not apply. I will bet even the HL is consistent with a Saudi peak in 1980 if you do it with data through that period. (And you probably know the the Saudi HL is not behaving as expected lately with a continued "dog-leg" up pointing to a higher URR).

It becomes clearer as Saudi production marches on without a "Nosedive Toward the Desert" that there was no geological peak in 2005. If there was, we should see production continuing to fall as it did in Texas (or as it is in Mexico). And if we go back to 2005, many were predicting Saudi production under 7 million bpd by this point. Look at Stuart's prediction, for instance:

He had Saudi plunging all the way to 6 million bpd before Khurais came online and bumped it back to barely over 7. There were numerous forecasts like that, which I would expect by 2009 would have people second guessing what they thought they knew about Saudi.

Stuart's objection--circa March, 2007--to the HL model for Saudi Arabia was that the observed production decline rate was in excess of what the HL model predicted that it would be (which would therefore suggest a rebound in production, if the HL model was approximately correct). This was the other reason that I told Stuart, in the March, 2007 time frame, that I expected to see a future rebound in Saudi production "Albeit to a level well below the 2005 rate."

The 2009 data really don't prove anything one way or the other, since the Saudis obviously have some surge capacity shut-in, which I suspect consists largely of high water cut production, so I suggest that we we wait for 2010 data.

A question I wish I had the answer to is what is the sum of the annual peak production of fields brought on line in Texas from 1972 to 1982? I have run some preliminary numbers for the UK, based on a website that Euan sent me (copy of a DB post follows).

Here is what I am looking for, in regard to the UK: The annual peak production for each field, whose first full year of production was in 1999 or later. In other words, we have an overall peak, 1999 in the case of the UK, and then the question is, how much production came on line in subsequent years, i.e., due to regional "Megaprojects."

After tediously going through all of the UK fields (some of which are onshore, I believe), the answer I came up with surprised me. The EIA is showing 1999 crude production of 2.7 mbpd for the UK, and the total peak production of all fields whose first full year of production was 1999 or later appears to be about 1.6 mbpd (almost all of the fields had peaks after 1999). The Buzzard Field, with production of 200,000 bpd, accounts for 13% of the total.

So, a region hits a production rate of 2.7 mbpd in 1999 (EIA data), and from 1999 to 2009, fields with a combined annual peak production rate of about 1.6 mbpd are brought on line, about 60% of the 1999 rate (assuming my math is correct). What happens to the total UK production rate?

It declines from 2.7 mbpd to 1.4 mbpd, a decline rate of -7.2%/year. Note that current production is below the sum of the peak annual output of all fields brought on line in 1999 or later (again assuming my math is correct).

Something to consider when we total contributions from Megaproject fields coming on line worldwide.

The 2009 data really don't prove anything one way or the other, since the Saudis obviously have some surge capacity shut-in, which I suspect consists largely of high water cut production, so I suggest that we we wait for 2010 data.

It is highly inconsistent - especially given the shut-in production - of a geological peak in 2005 followed by the sorts of decline rates that were being predicted. It is inconsistent with the HL of Saudi done in 2005, which is why subsequent years have all appeared above the trend line. Production is not falling per the prediction.

You know, we could save a lot of time if we just referred to prior discussions. When I made Point A, you could respond with A'. And then we move to Point B, followed by your response, B'.

In any case, as noted above I had two reasons for suggesting--in early 2007--that we would see a future rebound in Saudi production: (1) They were hugely dependent on one field (which is different from the Texas situation in 1972), which I thought would result in an early sharp decline, followed by a rebound and (2) As Stuart noted, the observed production decline was below the predicted trend line, which suggested a future rebound in production, if the HL model was approximately correct. Having said all of that, the 2008 rebound was larger than I anticipated.

But until we see an annual production rate that is in excess of 9.6 mbpd, I don't see any compelling evidence to refute 2005 as the final production peak for Saudi Arabia--especially given the UK post-peak case history cited above. As I have previously suggested (several times in fact), we will simply have to agree to disagree on this point.

In any case, as noted above I had two reasons for suggesting--in early 2007--that we would see a future rebound in Saudi production:

If you want to cover a bit of ground that hasn't been covered, let's take that one. You have used that as a fig leaf on numerous occasions to explain away the increases in Saudi production - which were well above what you expected. What you said was this:

What we may see is a very sharp decline, because of a crash at Ghawar, followed by a rebound as some smaller fields come on line.

That was in March 2007. What we saw following that was not a sharp decline. It was a sharp increase. And it didn't come about as smaller fields came online. It came about because they brought back idled production that you had been arguing was involuntary production losses due to a peak. We don't have to agree to disagree. You were simply wrong, and you have been using that "speculation of a rebound" since then to rationalize that.

This was of course in the context of then ongoing sharp decline in Saudi production. Stuart's comment was that the HL appeared to be wrong, because the observed decline was so rapid (beyond what the HL model predicted), to which I responded that was one of the reasons that I expected to see a future rebound in production.

In any case, as I have said (how many times now?), I suggest that we table the debate until annual Saudi crude production exceeds 9.6 mbpd. As I have said several times, it's entirely possible that I am wrong about 2005 being the final Saudi production peak, and if it does turn out that 2005 was the final Saudi peak, there was an element of luck in posting the early 2006 graph with the 2005 Saudi production lined up with 1972 Texas production. However, using the same HL methodology, in January, 2006, I predicted that Russia would resume its production decline within one to two years.

But here's my question. Since the Saudis have continued to show annual production below their 2005 rate, at about the same stage of depletion at which the prior swing producer peaked, we just need one year of annual production in excess of 9.6 mbpd to refute the 2005 peak, but at what point in time would you concede that 2005 was the final annual Saudi production peak--2010, 2015, 2020?

BTW, I hope you are right, because the Saudi HL plot is scary as hell. If the plot that Sam did in the 2006 paper is approximately correct, then Saudis produced about 13% of their post-2005 remaining reserves, in just three years:

Since we have three years of production data, and since both the Saudi crude and world crude oil production numbers have been below the 2005 rate for three years (2008 is within the margin of error of course for the world), it's probably a good time to update this paper:

Since the Saudis have continued to show annual production below their 2005 rate, at about the same stage of depletion at which the prior swing producer peaked, we just need one year of annual production in excess of 9.6 mbpd to refute the 2005 peak, but at what point in time would you concede that 2005 was the final annual Saudi production peak--2010, 2015, 2020?

I would turn the question back on you. At what point after 1980 would you have conceded that the geological peak occurred in 1980? In the context of your argument, 1980 - not 2005 - was the final production peak.

In fact, if they were to produce 9 million bpd for the next 10 years, I think you would have to concede that there was no geological peak in 2005 - regardless of whether they raise production beyond 9.6. A geological peak ala Texas should be followed by years of declines, no? Maybe an occasional bump up as new fields come online.

That's one of the fundamental points of disagreement. You seem to think that production in excess of 9.6 million bpd is required to disprove the 2005 peak hypothesis. I maintain that the continued ability to produce at levels of around 9 million bpd without seeing production continue to slide shows that there was no geological peak then, and is indicative that they are managing output. That's exactly why we don't consider 1980 the peak - despite the fact that 1980 has never been topped.

So the question for you is: What would it take to convince you that 2005 was not the peak? We know that sustained production of over 9.6 million bpd, but is that all? If so, why don't you consider 1980 the peak?

If the plot that Sam did in the 2006 paper is approximately correct, then Saudis produced about 13% of their post-2005 remaining reserves, in just three years:

But does that really seem likely? Update that HL with data through 2008, and you will see that the trend line will be pointing toward a higher URR.

It looks like your math is correct (I've looked at the same data). What is really scary about the data is how dramatically the production falls off in some of the new fields for the UK. Most importantly about the data is that their first peak (1985) was accomplished with relatively few fields (32) in operation. Not true for 1999 with 136 fields in operation. The data from 2008 shows the highest number of fields in production (183,though some of the fields in operation in 1999 are not in operation now. By my count 16 fields in operation during the 1999 peak are no longer in operation)

What might be instructive (relative to the H-L) is this:

The H-L curve for KSA (all fields) looks a whole lot like the H-L curve for the UK offshore except the UK has clearly reached it's secondary peak and is in decline where no amount of effort (unless there is a huge find that somebody hasn't gotten to yet) will increase output to a level at or near the 1999 peak. The only thing we can state about the KSA data is that since November of 1980, now monthly production has exceedinded 10.4 million BPD

Of course, a big difference is the order of magnitude volumes being addressed by the two systems of fields.

Actually, peak oil theory does not "fall down." What does fall down is the idea that the bulk of the population will continue to pay infinite $ to obtain refined oil products. Someone, with enough cash, might be willing to pay $25/gallon (thus, destroying your hyperbole of nobody would pay $25/gallon), but would they take the risk of actually going out and driving around? Or would it be more of a "MAD MAX" world?

What peak oil theory does say is that at some point you cannot produce any additional oil no matter what the price is and that you've reached the limit even if oil prices were $1 billion/ barrel.

Of course, what did happen was that oil demand did not achieve the same level of growth as exhibited between the 2003 and 2004, when it jumped by nearly 2.8 million BPD from 79.6 to 82.4 MMBPD. And we did not reach this level of demand until late 2007 and early 2008. So, not only did supply flatten but so did demand all while prices continues to rise. Since the two are linked (demand versus price) and Simmons stated that linkage, was he really in error? Or was he a little too loose with the wording that demand "could easily" increase that rapidly.

I've published the asymptotic curves before between price and production so I won't do that again now. But it is quite clear that the rate of change in price with production increases very rapidly as we approach this limit {(d$/dP)-> a very large value}

What is also apparent is that it's a classic case of demand destruction. It did not prevent the eventual spike in prices that occurred in July of 2008. While the prices did not exceed the 5 times (lower) threshold of the week prior to August 29, 2004 ($44.34/bbl), they certainly were more than 3 times the price than when he made the comment.

Again, I take note of an accuracy problem on your part. What was wrong with you accurately quoting Simmons rather than taking the 1000% comment you made above?

One important effect that the discovery and marketing of petroleum may have is an increase in the population growth rate. After the Texas Panhandle field was discovered in the late 20's, the population of Amarillo doubled. How much growth is expected in Northern Alberta? Saudi Arabia has a rapidly growing population. What is its post-petroleum carrying capacity? ? More than 20 years ago Time magazine reported that there were 5,000 princes in Sauda Arabia. How many are there today? Will they be doing well in 2050?,9171,919655,00.html

You're probably confusing natural population growth with migration.

Saudi Arabia data (2006) from the Wiki article. These numbers indicate an extremely youthful population. It is true that immigration was an additional factor in the growth from 4 million to 27 million in four decades. As has been noted by others, more oil is being used internally, leaving less for export.---------------------------------------------------------------
"The birth rate is 29.56 births per 1,000 people. The death rate is 2.62 deaths per 1,000 people."

You'll have a hard time convincing me that Canada has a birth rate anywhere near 29.56 / 1,000 . In fact the population would be shrinking significantly were it not for migration. Texas and Alberta should have been left out of that comparison since their entire growth has been due to migration, which growth is net neutral to earth, whereas S Arabia's growth is almost entirely birth rate.

"You'll have a hard time convincing me that Canada has a birth rate anywhere near 29.56 / 1,000 ."
I don't understand your post. Did someone try to convince you that Canada has a birth rate of 29.56/1000? If California grows to a population of 60, 80 or 100 million and then has a post petroleum dieoff, in what ways does it matter whether the growth was due to a high birth rate or immigration. Can the Saudi desert support a population of 40, 60, 80 million in a post petroleum world? Do you have an estimate for the ultimate carrying capacity of Canada?

Conservationist - when we are projecting an unknown future, we all get thing wrong. That doesn't meant we shouldn't attempt to do so, or that someone who sticks his neck out should have it permanently chopped off.
As I recall, there are some folk around who don't grasp the concept of exponential growth within a finite system - particularly regading human population and a planet. Ring any bells? They presumably get other things right though.
If we wrote off everyone who got it wrong occasionally, nobody would be doing anything - and doing it from a very early age.

no sense-
Conservatives often need certainty:

Politically conservative agendas may range from supporting the Vietnam War to upholding traditional moral and religious values to opposing welfare. But are there consistent underlying motivations?

Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:

Fear and aggression
Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
Uncertainty avoidance
Need for cognitive closure
Terror management
"From our perspective, these psychological factors are capable of contributing to the adoption of conservative ideological contents, either independently or in combination," the researchers wrote in an article, "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition," recently published in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin.

Assistant Professor Jack Glaser of the University of California, Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and Visiting Professor Frank Sulloway of UC Berkeley joined lead author, Associate Professor John Jost of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, and Professor Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland at College Park, to analyze the literature on conservatism.

The psychologists sought patterns among 88 samples, involving 22,818 participants, taken from journal articles, books and conference papers. The material originating from 12 countries included speeches and interviews given by politicians, opinions and verdicts rendered by judges, as well as experimental, field and survey studies.

Ten meta-analytic calculations performed on the material - which included various types of literature and approaches from different countries and groups - yielded consistent, common threads, Glaser said.

The avoidance of uncertainty, for example, as well as the striving for certainty, are particularly tied to one key dimension of conservative thought - the resistance to change or hanging onto the status quo, they said.

The terror management feature of conservatism can be seen in post-Sept. 11 America, where many people appear to shun and even punish outsiders and those who threaten the status of cherished world views, they wrote.

Interesting stuff!
This would explain a lot.
For example the German power industry is eagerly striving for "legal certainty" for their new coal power plants. Until recently they were quite successful, as many politicians bent down to their promises of Big Money & Employment. Only recently their cards turned as the "bent" legislation efforts were stopped in parlament and a "bent" building permit for a halfways finished 1-billion-euro power plant was revoked by court. This "bent certainty" bubble is supposed to be a shock for all sorts of conservative policymakers and leaders in the German power business.

Hightrekker, can you tell us the source of your text?
In fact Google finds a lot of such studies. Is it one of these?

It seems to be this press release:


I have a question for you.

Has it ever occured to you the the greens may put the nazis or a new incarnation thereof back in power?

I am not a big enthusiast of coal but as Nate and others have pointed out the developing world is going to continue building coal plants,and the wind is going to continue to blow.

Sometime in the next decade or two there is a VERY REAL POSSIBILITY that there will be a political backlash in Western Europe that will utterly destroy an environmental movement that has morphed into a religion.All that is necessary for this to happen is that the German standard of living suffer a serious decline.

It is most assuredly not wise to bet one's very survival on the good will of unstable countries with good reason to hate your entrails and with imperial ambitions of its own.

Germany of course has a realistic shot at survival rather than extinction since we are so generous as to shield her under our defense umbrella-but if they are to have no nukes and no coal they better get humping on thier renewables about ten times as fast as currently,unless they want to revert to a medevial economy.

I am for all out efforts on the renewables,efficiency, and conservation fronts,but to actually bet your future on these things prematurely....

I must at heart remain a conservative because liberals seem to suffer from selective amnesia to an astounding extent when it comes to history.If it doesn't support thier agenda,it never happened.

If we are NOT HERE any more,or of the world is governed by powers that don't give a damn about the environment,all the good work that dedicated environmentalists have done will be lost as a result of failure due to unrealistic goals implemented too soon.

You've hit on this point before Mac and I still agree. My only alteration to your thoughts is that the world is not so much govened by powers that don't give a damn about the environment. I don't think they have an opinion about the environs one way or the other. Their sole focus is on maintaining control. And that will only be possible with continued support of the public. And it's very likely the majority of the public won't give a damn about the environment if that's what it takes to keep BAU anywhere close to what they demand. Perhaps it's not that much different then in the good ole days but I see all our current political "leaders" as just the opposite: followers. They will hold steadfast to their beliefs once the public tells them what those beliefs are.


thanks for your question, I hope that I understand it right.

>Has it ever occured to you the the greens may put the nazis or a new incarnation thereof back in power?

Well, we are living in a democracy. If people wanted the neo-nazis back the'd directly vote for them. But only very few people do and currently I don't see any reason why this should change (well, tackling the Nazi issue would be a longer story...).

Of course in future there may be reasons to tend for populist politics (be it nazi or whatever), but it should take huge efforts (and a very naive press) for politicians to make people believe that power supply quite certainly isn't one of them.

Germany is far from a power shortage as it still produces an oversupply of electricity, which it sells to it's neighbouring countries. Therefore for example powering down the nuclear plants isn't as difficult as it may look from abroad. And it is even possible to phase out coal plants.
Of course this question of a phase out of both nuclear and coal plant is politically debated.
I am currently working on the economy of coal plants, and my conclusion is that from a technical and economical point of view it can be done and is the most sustainable and stable solution.
Of course this heavily depends on the political framework:
In scenarios that adhere strictly to the EU and German climate protection targets (which for example add a price to CO2 emissions) coal plants are driven out of the economical competition within a few years and new plants even turn to stranded investments. (Of course you can imagine that the established power companies will try to avoid this...)
However other scenarios that postulate that the political targets cannot be achieved anyways come to different economical results and urge to keep the BAU power supply system.

So it is not so much a question if we CAN change the power supply system but if we WANT to change it. Just like Jim and Tom planning a weekend activity: Tim is eager to climb on the top of a mountain. Tom prefers to stay at home and claims that it is too difficult, too cold etc. Jim is sure that it can be done with good equipment, training etc. Tom says that this isn't worth the effort.
So it depends very much how much effort people want to pay, be it for climbing a mountain or for climate protection or supply security.

It is quite a complex topic, which I cannot fully explain in a few lines. And this complexity is probably one of the main issues about climate change and supply security. Because most people (especially conservative ones, according to the studies mentioned above :->) tend to prefer simple statements - even if they are wrong.

Should read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Proposes that many incomprehensibly violent and apparently pointless events internationally can be explained as deliberate steps to soften up a populace to the sorts of unpalatable actions demanded by neo-liberal (in the US, substitute neo-con) economists, Friedmanites / the Chicago school, now largely discredited outside the US.

I gues that explains Al Gore's science fiction movie, and Hansen's made up global warming data.

I feel that since you clearly know more about petroleum geology, radiation physics, oil resource modeling, political history, data manipulation, climate modeling, and, apparently every other subject under the sun, who don't you just write this site so we can all learn?

The fact that there are lots of conservatives in the world who are as ignorant as you are is rather embarrassing to those of us who gadiated the sixth grade-JETHRO.PLEASE SHUT UP AND GO WAY and enroll in a remedial education program some place.

You can read and write just fine so you should be able to start with junior high school level classes.

I strongly suspect that you are a trolling liberal having a little fun -may be I will create an alternate identity and play the other end of the court.

I'm mostly stuck in the house these days looking after an invalid and might enjoy that.

Hi Mac,

Nice weather out west eh?

Must be all that man made CO2 causing global warming!

Yeah, and all that stuff about continental drift is a bunch of hooey, too!

Don't feed the troll? Funny though it is to watch one spin themself like a spinning top over the idea of a cold snap equalling a multi-decadal trend.

"Look ma, it's hot in Topeka! Therefore, global warming is right."

I like this logic game.

Seems like somewhere on this site I read a defense of Chevron/Texaco in the Ecuador case. Robert, are you convinced that they (Chevron's predecessors) are guilty now, or are they being railroaded by high powered environmentalist lawyers.

I don't know nearly enough about the case to know for sure. The book certainly argues that Texaco was doing a lot of dumping of toxic waste while they were there, and that they bear a lot of responsibility. The book doesn't let Petroecuador off the hook, but suggests that they were just following Texaco's lead.

They made an effort to move the case to the most favorable situation possible. Ecuador was a US Client State at the time, with the ability to call any court decision, and dictate the outcome of the trial.
Unfortunately for Chevron, and fortunately for the people of Ecuador, the winds of change put a government in power that represents the peoples wishes, and Chevron might have to actually defend it's case on evidence, which thy know they will lose.
The media and propaganda campaign is vicious, and they are clamoring to get the trial to a place where they can call the outcome.

Robert -- I don't have a clear list of details either. Nor am I very interested in the history itself. But after working in the oil patch for over 30 years I can offer some well supported insight. If Ecuadorian regs at the time of Texaco's operations allowed them damage the environment then that's exactly what Texaco did. Nothing terribly sinister in those actions. We always go with the least expensive options that the regs allow. That's not offering Texaco a pass per se....just the facts of life. Even today, with all the corporate desire for good PR, we still look to minimize costs...just like all other businesses. Like virtually every other company on the planet we aren't the environment's guardian angel. In Texas today the oil industry is a very good neighbor and a good environmental steward. But not because we are saints. We still operate on the minimum cost basis. But Texas has pretty good regs and enforces them. Of course, honest accidents still happen. But the companies pay for those mistakes.

I'm not letting any company off the hook for their offenses but the responsibility for environmental stewardship is in the hands of the public. Companies will comply if the financial penalties are there. But I clearly see a future where the public, as FF prices/shortages start impacting lifestyles to a serious degree, will readily throw the environment under the wheels of the bus as it had been back in the bad ole days.


The bus is closer than most of us would ever guess.

My guess is that the oil company was /is guilty but the folks so convinced of thier guilt never seem to stop to think that SOMETIMES such cases are just shakedowns and power grabs.

mac -- I'm sure you're right. And as the bus gets even closer many folks will just close their eyes and ignore it.

I'm certain Texaco did damage the environment just as I'm certain that they did so with the support of the Ecq. gov't/laws at that time. It's easy to look at our history in Texas and see parrallels. Just yesterday someone showed me a drilling project on the great Spindletop Dome Field discovered 1909. They had a picture on the lead page of a well blowing ten's of thousands of bbls of crude into an earthen pit. A standard practice back then. Today if an operator were to intentionally do the same they would: 1)be sued out of existance and 2) someone would probably spend a few years in the state pen.

It's easy to imagine a continuous series of suspension of various environmental standards when the SHTF to a serious degree. I can readily imagine California one day suing the Feds in an effort to force them to allow drilling off their coast. It's been my observation that much of the serious harm done in the world resulted from "good people" being motivated by self interest as compared to those "evil people".

"There is a debate within this industry about peak oil. Chevron and BP, though denying the imminence of a peak, have been ahead of others in admitting that the era of “easy oil,” as they sometimes call it, is over. The rest of the oil that’s to be found, they say, will be in hard-to-reach reservoirs that won’t be as large as the huge ones in Saudi Arabia or Iran. Oil executives are inherent optimists, because they are accustomed to drilling nine dry holes before finding a good one". Peter Maass, Harpers Magazine, 09/21/09.
In other words conventional exploration technology produces one discovery in ten drilled wildcats.
With new exploration technology (patented invention US 7,330,790) we could make up to seven discoveries in ten. It will save much time and money and will significantly mitigate world energy problems.
The technology is designed and successfully tested in the Barents and the Black Seas as well as in the Gulf of Mexico (see:
But the Big Oil Companies ignore the technology and drill 90% dry wildcats for nothing
to support higher oil and gasoline prices.
A. Berg, Ph.D.

Time to use the Flag function, IMO.


Green Sheet

Help! They Can't Find Any More Oil!

Jay Yarow|Sep. 23, 2009, 3:38 PM | 1,308 |17

Deleted and moved to Energetics of Cultivation...