6. THE PEAK OIL CONSPIRACY
I think it's easy, as a layman, to get overawed by all the graphs that Campbell etc. are trotting out. Wow, you think, these guys have the credentials, and they've really done their homework. They have convincing evidence, hard science. Oil's going over the hump in 2006, and oil/gas combined is going over the hump in 2010, so it looks pretty grim.
But here's where I keep getting stuck: If the evidence is so airtight and convincing, why does only a small minority believe it? Bear in mind that I'm not talking about the fact that a peak will occur. Everyone agrees with that. I'm talking about the predictions of the "early-peak" crowd, like Deffeyes (2005) and ASPO (2006). Also, bear in mind that I am not talking about ordinary laymen. I am talking about critical people involved in the oil/gas business, and high-level people in public policy like Alan Greenspan. Why don't they believe it?
I think that is probably the most devastating critique a layman can level at peak oilers. Yah, sure, you read about all the data on a website called "dieoff.com" on the Internet, and it looked good to you, but if it's so convincing, why doesn't Greenspan buy into it? Why don't the majority of petroleum engineers and geologists buy into it? Why don't the Saudis buy into it? Or, more to the point, why aren't they *behaving* like they buy into it? They're all acting like peak oil is 20 years away, not one year away.
So how do you explain that? The stock answers seem to be: A) They're all incompetent, or B) It's a conspiracy, but I find both of those answers pretty unsatisfying.
One example: Matt Simmon's assessment of the state of Saudi oil fields. Simmon's claim that SA is about to peak is certainly a linchpin of the early peak argument, but I haven't seen anything to support that claim beyond the fact that Matt Simmon's is making it. (I guess that's why it's so critical to stress his credentials as an OIL BANKER from HOUSTON.) Even he himself admits that he doesn't have access to the actual facts; that's why he's so adamant about the need for transparency and disclosure. His argument, in a nutshell, is this: They won't disclose their internal figures, therefore they are lying. This is the claim underlying the graphs and other "scientific" trappings of the argument, and it's obviously not scientific at all. It's more like something from Conspiracy Theory 101.
As opposed to Mr. Simmons, the US government is totally in bed with the Saudis (as seen in Fahrenheit 911), and we've undoubtedly got spies and insiders ferreting out intelligence on their oil fields, and this intelligence is surely being disseminated to key people in the government like Greenspan. They have certainly taken a close look at Matt Simmon's arguments, and it would be very surprising if their data was inferior to that of Simmons, who pieced his together from old reports which are publicly available. They remain unconvinced. Why?
You could say the same thing about the secret/proprietary database that ASPO uses for its model. Undoubtedly, the US Government and the major oil companies have looked at the same data. So why aren't they convinced?
If you say, "They are convinced, but they're pretending like they aren't because it's a conspiracy," then the early peak theory isn't really a hard scientific argument. It's a conspiracy theory, and you should frankly face up to that. That would account for why it is only believed by a small minority of informed people.
But why a conspiracy? If peak oil is coming in 2005/2006 and peak oil/gas in 2010, and Greenspan etc. know it, then they are cynically and knowingly condemning the American people to massive malinvestment and an economic train wreck, and the question, as always, is why? It honestly strains my credulity to believe that the US Government is contaminated with cynicism to that degree. For all his faults, I believe that Greenspan is patriotic and loves the US, and does not wish to see it needlessly harmed for the nebulous aims of some cynical conspiracy he belongs to.
Here's the alternative explanation: Campbell, Deffeyes, and Simmons are underestimating reserves and future production because they are private citizens, and therefore do not have access to the best data. It wouldn't be the first time they goofed up like that.