ASPO-USA: Geopolitical Implications of Peak Oil Theory

Professor Michael Klare addressed the Boston conference on the second day. Respected in the peak oil community for his two books Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum and Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, Klare spoke on the difference between easy oil and hard oil and the geopolitical implications of entering the second half of the oil age.

Michael Klare, ASPO-USA, Boston
Klare opened by stating that peak oil theory has two points:
  • Once peak oil is reached, global oil production will reach its maximum sustainable output and then begin an irreversible decline.
  • The second aspect of peak oil theory doesn’t get as much attention as it disserves, it is that the first half of the oil produced in any oil province or globally is the easy to get oil, putting off until later the hard to get oil.

Going on to describe the characteristics of this “easy oil” as, close to the surface, in large reservoirs, on land, close to home and safe. See Pennsylvania, the first great oil province of the world followed by Oklahoma and Texas.

Conversely the hard to get oil is deep underground, dispersed in small pockets, far off shore, hard to get at technically, expensive to produce, in remote areas, environmentally sensitive and unsafe.

It is this second point Klare wanted to stress – the idea that the easy oil is gone, leaving us with the hard oil.

The presentation was peppered with lists, those lists we’ve just seen and the following lists describing where most of the world’s remaining oil remains and the challenges these countries face.

Most of the remaining oil is in: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait United Arab Emirates, Angola, Nigeria, Libya, Algeria, Sudan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Venezuela. A lot depends on whose OPEC reserve numbers you find most compelling and how you regard tar sand but Klare stated that the rest of the world after those countries has only 9% of the world’s remaining oil. That’s how much easy, safe oil we have left and not all of that is all that easy anymore when you consider ultra deepwater Gulf of Mexico and polar.

Making some observations regarding the countries listed above, Klare stated that some three quarters of remaining oil is in predominantly Muslim countries. Additionally most of the remaining oil is in countries that are unstable, corrupt, divided along ethnic or political lines, hostile to the US and ruled by dictators or fragile authoritarian regimes. Many of these problems are at least partially exacerbated by the presence of oil. the world increasingly depends on these countries in the years ahead these countries will become increasing violent, unstable and dangerous. The pursuit of oil itself is a source of violence because it divides factions against each other.

Take Iraq, the driving force of violence is the fact that the Kurds and the Shiites want control over the oil revenues exclusively for themselves, freezing out the Sunnis. The Kurds already have effective control of oil production in the northern zone. The Shiites are ramming through the parliament effective control over oil production in the south. This will exclude the Sunnis from any oil revenue whatsoever so it’s hardly surprising therefore that the Sunnis are the driving force behind the insurgency in Iraq.

There is no prospect of peace in Iraq so long as this process proceeds. This is the engine driving the violence today that’s putting American soldiers at risk.

Klare continued by covering the US foreign policy of securing access to oil by military means adding he was more worried about the prospects for violence over oil than the prospects for scarcity and higher prices.
The US military is becoming nothing else than a global oil protection service on behalf of the big oil corporations – that is what putting on the uniform of the armed services is being reduced to.
Klare concluded by stressing that we must not make our dependence on oil a cause for risking human life in warfare. This should be the key concern for the young people who may be coerced to join the military.

Although Klare didn’t mention it specifically, the other critical factor of “hard oil” is the falling ERoEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested). Whether it’s through increased military activity or that the oil is just several km under a hurricane threatened Gulf of Mexico it’s clear ERoEI and therefore the net energy available from the remaining oil will be less that its volume might suggest. Cry Wolf recently reported back from the Boston conference breakout session on ERoEI.

Perhaps we spend too long looking at the geology of the peak oil and the idealised situations in the US or the North Sea. Hubbert’s curve, which seems to do so well at modelling the performance of easy oil provinces, is a factor of geology. The Hubbert down slope does not take into account the geopolitics Klare focuses on.

Taking a moment to consider the geopolitical challenges facing the extraction of the second half of the worlds oil it seems highly unlikely that future global oil extraction rates are going to live up to their theoretical geological/logistical potential.

Hi Chris!

I tend to think an orderly decline is all but impossible, for various reasons.

First, while we all know the Middle East is far from stable, I think its instability may yet be underestimated. After the Western invasion of Iraq, the balance of power in the region has changed very quickly and, to a certain extent, unexpectedly (depends on whom you ask, but there were certainly people who didn't expect Iran to emerge as THE major power in the Gulf). At the same time, US power appears to diminish by the day, as acknowledged even by Richard Haass, president of the CFR.

Second, it appears the global financial system may be much more vulnerable than most of us think. The housing bubble in the US and elsewhere is conceivably about to burst, the USD could collapse any day, and the most important stock markets appear very vulnerable as well. Europe 2020 think tank warned just a couple of weeks back that:

"The phase of impact [about to start in November] which succeeds the phase of acceleration constitutes a period when a series of brutal crises starts affecting by contamination the total system. This explosive phase of the crisis, which will last six months to one year, will affect directly and very strongly financial players and markets, the owners of investment schemes with fixed incomes in dollars, pension's funds and the strategic relations between the United States on the one side, and Europe and Asia on the other."

When you combine a progressive destabilization of the ME and a global financial crisis, it is quite hard to see how oil production could just nicely follow what HL predicts, be it factually correct so far or not.

It is naturally possible that the ME will hold together (at least to a sufficient extent) and the pretty inevitable financial crisis will be relatively mild. Somehow it just seems the really scary scenarios may be about to converge in a pretty destructive way. Let's hope this will not lead to a global war anyway.


Peak toil.
    Have been lurking around TOD sites for a long time now but, as a person who finds sums problematical, have been somewhat intimidated by yr jolly graphs and stats.   Nevertheless, was convinced of the peak oil dilemma frm day one, but now feel that yr case is amply proven, and that the continued turning of the runes is getting dangerously close to counting angels on pinheads.   Perhaps it is time for u to consider a name change, say to; The Post Peak Oil Drum; when serious social solutions might be considered, especially by the Anglo Coalition which has played a large part in the evolution of the problem.   Since Tiny Bliar is going, and a new dawn is breaking in the U.S. (guffaw, guffaw), this might be a good time to offer our respective govmints some, badly needed, assistance.  
    Plainly we can't go as we now do, so perhaps u shud come up with a, 10/50/100/whatever, point plan for sustainability.   When u have come to a consensus of desirable strategies, then put them in order of precedence using that good ol' scientific, reductive, method we have come to know and love, and pass them over to TPTB.   Therefore the plan is simply to make a list of such strategies, only sorting them out later when u've got as many as u want.   I'll make a start below:

Problem: They cost too much.   There are too many bureaucrats, they don't do any work, and they multiply like bacteria.  
Solution: Half must be fired now; they will go on to waste reclamation sites/permaculture farms* (see below).   The rest will work harder, for longer hours, on half pay, while the services they provide will get slower.   If necessary, they will have to be worked to death.   Those that die will not be replaced.   They will live in their offices and, therefore, not need housing.   Their families, if any, will, after a short period of abuse by military units (in lieu of pay), be relocated to permaculture farms/waste reclamation sites on the same terms as "retired" bureaucrats.   When all b/crats are dead services will be withdrawn.  

Unemployment Benefits.  
Problem: They cost too much.
Solution: All citizens, especially those with a pulse, will be fully employed in permaculture farms/waste reclamation sites.  

Problem: They cost too much.  
Solution: There will be no retirement age, ergo - no pensions.   Private pensioners will have their money confiscated, and they will be put to work on permaculture farms/waste reclamation sites.      

Problem: They cost too much.
Solution: There will be no retirement age, ergo - no elderly.  

Problem: It costs too much.  
Solution: All health sector workers will be put to work on permaculture farms/waste reclamation sites.      

Problem: There are too many people.  
Solution: All single young people (under 50, no, better make that 60) will be accommodated in dormitories of converted hospitals near permaculture farms/waste reclamation sites, and strictly segregated.   Not to mention that sex will be illegal.  

Sex. I said not to mention sex.   What are u, a politician?  

Landfill sites.  
Problem: They are full of stuff.  
Solution: They will be turned over by hand and all reclaimable materials will be reclaimed, all organic materials will be composted and/or fed to bureaucrats workers.  

Dead People.
Problem: They are wasted.  
Solution: They will be boiled down for soap, and what remains will be composted.   Any pecuniary reward, accrued to them in life, will be grabbed by govmint.  

*Waste reclamation = hand sorting of landfill sites.  
*Permaculture farms = All open spaces; once we have dealt with the "Git orf moi land" lobby.   The means by which the population is provided with the necessary 250 - 500 food calories per day.  

    Sure u will agree with these useful ideas, and trust that yr contributors will add others.   Let's make a start!  


P.S.   Question: Do u think, as the first turds arc towards the fan, that an 'Admirable Crighton' effect will mean that all the useless ones (they know who they are) will be reduced to energy slavery, and issued with rickshaws?