Peak Oil And The WikiLeaks Story That Got Away

May 8, 2011

On Thursday Ursula put up a short sharp post with a graphic that said it all. The petroleum party we have been enjoying for the last century has to end. And end it will, most likely sooner rather than later.

To further the discussion along I want to raise the specter of a WikiLeaks story that came and went and did not get nearly the discussion I thought it was worth. As TIME magazine put it,

Have Saudis Overstated How Much Oil Is Left?

While the world remains transfixed by the Egyptian revolt, a crisis with equally profound global consequences is quietly brewing elsewhere in the Middle East: WikiLeaks this week released U.S. diplomatic cables suggesting that Saudi Arabia may have vastly overstated its oil reserves — if true, that could dramatically accelerate the arrival of the long-feared "peak oil" moment, when oil production hits its final high before slowly declining, keeping prices rising for the foreseeable future and slowing global economic growth. But not all industry analysts are convinced by the claims in the cables.

The first paragraph sums it all up. For years people have argued that the Saudi's don't reserves in volumes they claimed for their largest oil fields. For just as long "industry analysts" have poo poo-ed the claim. What made the WikiLeaks cable so amazing was to hear the bad news coming from a Saudi. As the TIME story says,

The diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh between 2007 and 2009 cite a former senior executive of Saudi Arabia's state-run Aramco oil company as revealing to American officials that the country's official estimate of 716 billion barrels of oil reserves is, well, hogwash; the real figure is about 40% lower than that, according to the oil executive, Sadad al-Husseini, a geologist who until 2004 headed Aramco's exploration department — a seemingly impeccable source.

While the story was covered by most major news organizations, it disappeared just as quickly as materialized. What could have begun a serious discussion about the mess we are in vaporized in the face other real and imagined concerns.

It seems like we simply do not have the ability to face this issue. Too bad because sooner rather than later, and in one way or the other, we not going to have a choice. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit