Unless we are mistaken, it was on Independence Day Eve 2005 that the editors of the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) chose to publish the paper's first mention of Peak Oil. -- Peak Oil is an issue of overwhelming import that is now finally seeping into the mainstream media; see UFPPC's Jun. 2, 2005, statement on this hopeful development. -- The occasion for the News Tribune's mention of Peak Oil was Twilight in the Desert, an important book recently published by former Bush administration energy advisor Matthew Simmons that sounds the alarm about near-term prospects for Saudi oilfields. -- What the News Tribune published, without attribution, was a much-shortened version of a review written by Michael T. Klare, an American academic whose writings on the problem of oil dependency and its relation to U.S. foreign policy command wide respect and readership. -- Klare's original piece had appeared a week earlier, on the TomDispatch.com website, and has been widely reproduced (including by UFPPC on its web site, on Jun. 29). -- Below, UFPPC's Jay Ruskin takes a closer look at what the News Tribune has done with Klare's piece, and reproduces all 23 passages silently omitted by the News Tribune. -- Peak Oil is a subject to which UFPPC has paid considerable attention, making it the focus of one of its "Digging Deeper" study circles earlier this year. -- For 56 other pieces pertaining to Peak Oil, just type in "Peak Oil" in the search function of the UFPPC web site. -- The connection of the Peak Oil to UFPPC's mission is clear enough: Until the U.S. breaks what Kurt Vonnegut has called its addiction to oil in an era of increasing oil scarcity, and until the American people embrace a way of life that does not depend on obtaining by hook or by crook 25% of the world's production of a resource of the global supply of which it possesses only 2%, American leaders will no doubt be fighting war after war, discovering here, there, and almost everywhere where petroleum is to be found a need to fight "terror" and "WMDs" while spreading "democracy" and "human rights" -- a lethal, tiresome charade that is fooling none of the other nations of the world and a decreasing proportion of its own citizens....
TACOMA PAPER MENTIONS PEAK OIL FOR FIRST TIME
By Jay Ruskin
** But it certainly won't be the last! **
United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
July 4, 2005
Sunday, July 3, 2005, was a historic day in Tacoma, Washington, and not just because of the presence in Commencement Bay of dozens of Tall Ships for the Fourth of July celebration.
Even more significant than the Tall Ships was -- sauf exception -- the first-ever mention of Peak Oil, on Independence Day Eve, by the McClatchy-owned local paper, the News Tribune (Sunday circulation: 144,125).
The News Tribune's mention of Peak Oil came on Page One of Sunday's Insight Section, in the form of a review by Michael T. Klare, the Hampshire College professor who wrote Resource Wars (2001) and Blood and Oil (2004) and who was the keynote speaker at the "Beyond Oil" conference in Seattle on May 14, of Matthew Simmons's new book on problems in the Saudi Arabian oilfields, Twilight in the Desert.
We're not sure what caused the News Tribune to take the plunge; perhaps it was Matt Simmons's impeccable Republican credentials.
Perhaps it was T. Boone Pickens's recent endorsement of Peak Oil.
The piece the News Tribune published first appeared in a much longer version on Jun. 26 on Tom Engelhardt's TomDispatch.com web site. It was posted on the UFPPC site on Jun. 29.
Michael Klare's original piece was about 2,300 words in length; the News Tribune has whittled this down to just over 1,000 words, though there's no indication to readers that they are only getting 44% of what Michael Klare had to say about Twilight in the Desert.
An appendix to this article allows the reader to examine the 23 passages that the News Tribune has cut from Klare's text, ranging in length from 2 words to a 431 words (reduced to an 18-word summary).
What did the News Tribune leave out? Several things. First of all, all direct quotations from the book were cut. Also omitted was the full title of the book under review. The subtitle -- "The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy" -- never appears, and there's no mention either of the publisher (Wiley), the price ($24.95), the length (422 pages), or the ISBN number (047173876X), as is customary in book reviews. Perhaps this is because TomDispatch.com doesn't give them either, though there is a link to Amazon's page on the book.
The News Tribune omits one of Klare's most pessimistic passages: "Indeed, it will be a minor miracle if [the Saudis] raise their output by a million or two barrels per day and sustain that level for more than a year or so. Eventually, in the not-too-distant future, Saudi production will begin a sharp decline from which there is no escape. And when that happens, the world will face an energy crisis of unprecedented scale."
Also omitted from the News Tribune version is Klare's conclusion that the Simmons has effectively shifted the burden of proof on this question: "Through his scrupulous research, Simmons has convincingly demonstrated that -- because all is not well with Saudi Arabia's giant oilfields -- the global energy situation can only go downhill from here. From now on, those who believe that oil will remain abundant indefinitely are the ones who must produce irrefutable evidence that Saudi Arabia's fields are, in fact, capable of achieving higher levels of output."
Still, we don't mean to carp unduly. We're grateful to the News Tribune for even this small step taken, ironically, on the eve of Independence Day 2005, at the bottom of a page bearing a blurry image of the Statue of Liberty and another article's title, proclaiming: "Amazing America: We're united not by blood but ideals."
The connection of the Peak Oil to our ideal -- peace -- is clear enough. Until the U.S. breaks what Kurt Vonnegut has called its addiction to oil in an era of increasing oil scarcity, and until the American people embrace a way of life that does not depend on obtaining by hook or by crook 25% of the world's production of a resource of the global supply of which it possesses only 2%, American leaders will no doubt be fighting war after war, discovering here, there, and almost everywhere where petroleum is to be found a need to fight "terror" and "WMDs" while spreading "democracy" and "human rights" -- a lethal, tiresome charade that is fooling none of the other nations of the world and a decreasing proportion of its own citizens.
Those Tall Ships should be a reminder to Tacomans on Independence Day: there are other sources of energy out there besides imported petroleum.
NOTE: -- For more by Michael Klare on the global oil situation, see his review of other five recent books in the Nation (Nov. 8, 2004).
APPENDIX: OMITTED PASSAGES FROM THE NEWS TRIBUNE'S VERSION OF MICHAEL T. KLARE'S REVIEW OF TWILIGHT IN THE DESERT
--The following passages were omitted by the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) when it reproduced Michael T. Klare's review of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy by Matthew Simmons (Wiley, 2005):
1. We ordinary folk need have no worries about oil scarcity, because Saudi Arabia can satisfy our current and future needs.
2. in fact,
3. Hallelujah for Saudi Arabia!
4. But now, from an unexpected source, comes a devastating challenge to this powerful dogma: [replaced with: "But that might not be the case"]
5. "There is only a small probability that Saudi Arabia will ever deliver the quantities of petroleum that are assigned to it in all the major forecasts of world oil production and consumption," he writes in Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. "Saudi Arabian production," he adds, italicizing his claims to drive home his point, "is at or very near its peak sustainable volume . . . and it is likely to go into decline in the very foreseeable future."
6. In addition [replaced with: "He also argues"]
7. "Saudi Arabia's exploration efforts over the last three decades were more intense than most observers have assumed," Simmons asserts. "The results of these efforts were modest at best."
8. This means that if the Saudi Arabia mantra proves deceptive, we will find ourselves in an entirely new world -- the "twilight age" of petroleum, as Simmons puts it. It will not be a happy place. -- Before taking up the implications of a possible decline in Saudi Arabian oil output, it is important to look more closely at the two sides in this critical debate: the official view, as propagated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), and the contrary view, as represented by Simmons' new book. -- The prevailing view goes like this:
9. To fully grasp Saudi Arabia's vital importance to the global energy equation, it is necessary to
10. of future world oil demand and supply.
11. a net increase of 44 million barrels.
12. and so there will be no significant oil shortage to worry about.
13. over one-fourth [replaced with: "more than one-quarter"]
14. the only country capable of increasing its output by this amount. [replaced with "The problem is, if you"]
15. One could, of course, suggest that some other oil producers will step in to provide the additional supplies needed, notably Iraq, Nigeria, and Russia. But these countries together would have to increase their own output by more than 100% simply to play their already assigned part in the Department of Energy's anticipated global supply gain over the next two decades. This in itself may exceed their production capacities. To suggest that they could also make up for the shortfall in Saudi production stretches credulity to the breaking point. -- It is not surprising, then, that the Department of Energy and the Saudi government have been very nervous about the recent expressions of doubt about the Saudi capacity to boost its future oil output. These doubts were first aired in a front-page story by Jeff Gerth in the New York Times on February 25, 2004. Relying, to some degree, on information provided by Matthew Simmons, Gerth reported that Saudi Arabia's oil fields "are in decline, prompting industry and government officials to raise serious questions about whether the kingdom will be able to satisfy the world's thirst for oil in coming years." -- Gerth's report provoked a barrage of counter-claims by the Saudi government. Their country, Saudi officials insisted, could increase its production and satisfy future world demand. "[Saudi Arabia] has immense proven reserves of oil with substantial upside potential," Abdallah S. Jum'ah, the president of Saudi Aramco, declared in April 2004. "We are capable of expanding capacity to high levels rapidly, and of maintaining those levels for long periods of time." This exchange prompted the DoE to insert a sidebar on this topic in its International Energy Outlook for 2004. "In an emphatic rebuttal to the New York Times article [of February 24]," the DoE noted, "Saudi Arabia maintained that its oil producers are confident in their ability to sustain significantly higher levels of production capacity well into the middle of this century." This being the case, we ordinary folks need not worry about future shortages. Given Saudi abundance, the DoE wrote, we "would expect conventional oil to peak closer to the middle than to the beginning of the 21st century." -- In these, and other such assertions, U.S. oil experts always come back to the same point: Saudi oil managers "are confident in their ability" to achieve significantly higher levels of output well into the future. In no instance, however, have they provided independent verification of this capacity; they simply rely on the word of those oil officials, who have every incentive to assure us of their future reliability as suppliers. [replaced with "The Saudis vehemently deny their fields are in decline. The DOE, with no independent verification, backs them up."]
16. First, a few words about the author of Twilight in the Desert. Matthew ("Matt")
17. He has also accumulated a vast storehouse of information about the world's major oil fields, the prospects for new discoveries, and the techniques for extracting and marketing petroleum. There is virtually no figure better equipped than Simmons to assess the state of the world's oil supply. And this is why his assessment of Saudi Arabia's oil production capacity is so devastating.
18. Twilight in the Desert is not an easy book to read. Most of it consists of a detailed account of Saudi Arabia's vast oil infrastructure, relying on technical papers written by Saudi geologists and oil engineers on various aspects of production in particular fields. Much of this has to do with the aging of Saudi fields and the use of water injection to maintain high levels of pressure in their giant underground reservoirs. As Simmons explains, when an underground reservoir is first developed, oil gushes out of the ground under its own pressure; as the field is drained of easily-extracted petroleum, however, Saudi oil engineers often force water into the ground on the circumference of the reservoir in order to drive the remaining oil into the operating well. By drawing on these technical studies -- cited here for the first time in a systematic, public manner -- Simmons is able to show that Ghawar and other large fields are rapidly approaching the end of their productive lives. -- Simmons' conclusion from all this is unmistakably pessimistic: "The twilight' of Saudi Arabian oil envisioned in this book is not a remote fantasy. Ninety percent of all the oil that Saudi Arabia has ever produced has come from seven giant fields. All have now matured and grown old, but they still continue to provide around 90 percent of current Saudi oil output . . . High-volume production at these key fields . . . has been maintained for decades by injecting massive amounts of water that serves to keep pressures high in the huge underground reservoirs . . . When these water projection programs end in each field, steep production declines are almost inevitable."
19. Indeed, it will be a minor miracle if they raise their output by a million or two barrels per day and sustain that level for more than a year or so. Eventually, in the not-too-distant future, Saudi production will begin a sharp decline from which there is no escape. And when that happens, the world will face an energy crisis of unprecedented scale.
20. If Matt Simmons is right, it is only a matter of time before this scenario comes to pass. [replaced with "Only..."]
21. And the longer we cling to the belief that Saudi Arabia will save us, the more painful will be our inevitable fall.
22. the publication of
23. Through his scrupulous research, Simmons has convincingly demonstrated that -- because all is not well with Saudi Arabia's giant oilfields -- the global energy situation can only go downhill from here. From now on, those who believe that oil will remain abundant indefinitely are the ones who must produce irrefutable evidence that Saudi Arabia's fields are, in fact, capable of achieving higher levels of output.