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Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil

by : William Engdahl
Friday August 6, 2004 - 05:00

by F. William Engdahl

Today, much of the world is convinced the Bush Administration did not wage war against Iraq and Saddam Hussein because of threat from weapons of mass destruction, nor from terror dangers. Still a puzzle, however, is why Washington would risk so much in terms of relations with its allies and the entire world, to occupy Iraq. There is compelling evidence that oil and geopolitics lie at the heart of the still-hidden reasons for the military action in Iraq.

It is increasingly clear that the US occupation of Iraq is about control of global oil resources. Control, however, in a situation where world oil supplies are far more limited than most of the world has been led to believe. If the following is accurate, the Iraq war is but the first in a major battle over global energy resources, a battle which will be more intense than any oil war to date. The stakes are highest. It is about fixing who will get how much oil for their economy at what price and who not. Never has such a choke-hold on the world economy been in the hands of one power. After occupation of Iraq it appears it is.

The era of cheap, abundant oil, which has supported world economic growth for more than three quarters of a century, is most probably at or past its absolute peak, according to leading independent oil geologists. If this analysis is accurate, the economic and social consequences will be staggering. This reality is being hidden from general discussion by the oil multinationals and major government agencies, above all by the United States government. Oil companies have a vested interest in hiding the truth in order to keep the price of getting new oil as low as possible. The US government has a strategic interest in keeping the rest of the world from realising how critical the problem has become.

According to the best estimates of a number of respected international geologists, including the French Petroleum Institute, Colorado School of Mines, Uppsala University and Petroconsultants in Geneva, the world will likely feel the impact of the peaking of most of the present large oil fields and the dramatic fall in supply by the end of this decade, 2010, or possibly even several years sooner. At that point, the world economy will face shocks which will make the oil price rises of the 1970’s pale by contrast. In other words, we face a major global energy shortage for the prime fuel of our entire economy within about seven years. Peak oil

The problem in oil production is not how much reserves are underground. There the numbers are more encouraging. The problem comes when large oilfields such as Prudhoe Bay Alaska or the fields of the North Sea pass their peak output. Much like a bell curve, oil fields rise to a maximum output or peak. The peak is the point when half the oil has been extracted. In terms of reserves remaining it may seem there is still ample oil. But it is not as rosy as it seems. The oil production may hold at the peak output for a number of years before beginning a slow decline. Once the peak is past however, the decline can become very rapid. Past the peak, there is still oil, but each barrel becomes more difficult to exploit, and more costly, as internal well pressures decline or other problems make recovery more expensive for each barrel. The oil is there but not at all easy to extract. The cost of each barrel past peak is increasingly higher as artificial means are employed to extract it. After a certain point it becomes uneconomical to continue to try to extract this peak oil.

Because most oil companies and agencies such as the US Department of Energy speak not of peak oil, but of total reserves, the world has a false sense of energy supply security. The truth is anything but secure. Case studies

Some recent cases make the point. In 1991 the largest discovery in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970’s, was found at Cruz Beana in Columbia. But its production went from 500,000 barrels a day to 200,000 barrels in 2002. In the mid-1980’s the Forty Field in North Sea produced 500,000 barrels a day. Today it yields 50,000 barrels. One of the largest discoveries of the past 40 years, Prudhoe Bay, produced some 1.5 million barrels a day for almost 12 years. In 1989 it peaked, and today gives only 350,000 barrels daily. The giant Russian Samotlor field produced a peak of 3,500,000 barrels a day. It has now dropped to 325,000 a day. In each of these fields, production has been kept up by spending more and more to inject gas or water to maintain field pressures, or other means to pump the quantity of oil. The world’s largest oil field, Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, produces near 60% of all Saudi oil, some 4.5 million barrels per day. To achieve this, geologists report that the Saudis must inject 7 million barrels a day of salt water to keep up oil well pressure, an alarming signal of near collapse of output in the world’s largest oil kingdom.

The growing problem of peak oil has been known among oil industry insiders since the mid-1990’s. In 1995, the leading oil consulting firm, Petroconsultants in Geneva, published a global study, ’The World Oil Supply.’ The report cost $35,000, written for the oil industry. Its author was petroleum geologist, Dr. Colin Campbell. In 1999 Campbell testified to the British House of Commons, ’Discovery of (new oil reserves) peaked in the 1960’s. We now find one barrel for every four we consume ...’ No new giant discoveries

After OPEC raised oil prices in the 1970’s, non-OPEC oil projects began to be profitable in the North Sea, Alaska, Venezuela and other places. Oil production increased markedly. At the same time, in response to the higher oil price, many industrial countries like France, Germany USA, Japan dramatically increased the energy from nuclear power plants. The combination gave the illusion that the oil problem had vanished. It has not, far from it.

If in fact many of today’s major sources of oil have peaked, and are about to fall off drastically, and at the same time, if world energy demand continues to grow, and not enough oil is found even to replace existing depletion, the global economy faces a crisis of staggering dimension. This would also begin to explain the shift of US foreign policy in the direction of a crude neo-imperial military presence globally, from Kosovo to Afghanistan, from West Africa to Baghdad and beyond.

Obviously, the easiest, most economical solution is to find new giant or super giant oilfields where large volumes of oil can be extracted and brought to world markets at low cost. That is just what is not the case today. According to a recent report from the Colorado School of Mines, ’The World’s Giant Oilfields,’ the world’s ’120 largest oilfields produce close to 33 million barrels a day, almost 50% of the world’s crude oil supply. The fourteen largest account for over 20%. The average age of these 14 largest fields is 43.5 years.’ 1

The above study concludes that ’most of the world’s true giants were found decades ago.’ Over the past 20 years despite investment of hundreds of billions dollars by major oil companies, results have been alarmingly disappointing.

The world’s major oil companies - Exxon-Mobil, Shell, ChevronTexaco, BP, ElfTotal and others - have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in finding enough oil to replace the existing oil supply sources. Between 1996 and 1999, some 145 companies spent $410 billion to find enough oil only to keep their daily production stable at 30 million barrels a day. From 1999 to 2002, the five largest companies spent another $150 billion and their production grew only from 16 million barrels a day to 16.6 million barrels, a tiny increase. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, western oil companies placed high hopes on the oil potentials of the Caspian Sea in Central Asia. Disappointing Caspian results

In December 2002, just after US troops took Afghanistan, BP, a major oil company announced disappointing Caspian drilling results which suggested that the ’oil find of the century’ was little more than a drop in the ocean. Instead of earlier predictions of oil reserves above 200 billion barrels, a new Saudi Arabia outside the Middle East, the US State Department announced, ’Caspian oil represents 4% of world reserves. It will never dominate the world’s markets.’ PetroStrategies published a study estimating that the Caspian Basin contained a mere 39 billion barrels of oil, and of a poor quality. Soon after this news, BP and other western oil companies began reducing investment plans in the region. Interest in West Africa

One of the most active areas of new exploration is in the offshore region of West Africa from Nigeria to Angola. President Bush made a high profile trip to the region earlier in the year, and the US Pentagon has signed military basing agreements with two small strategic islands, Principe and San Tome, insuring a military presence should anything threaten the flow of oil across the Atlantic. Yet, while the volume of oil is important, it also is hardly a new Saudi Arabia. Geologist Campbell estimates that if all deepwater oil, perhaps 85 billion barrels, were produced from fields off Brazil, Angola and Nigeria, it would meet global demand for 3-4 years. Growing energy demand

Against the prospect that many of the largest oil fields today are in a marked decline in output, world demand for oil is rising ruthlessly, marked by the growing economies of China, India and Asia. Even at today’s weak GDP growth rates, economists estimate that world demand for oil at today’s prices will rise by some 2% per year.

Ten years ago, China was not a factor in world import of oil. It produced most of its limited needs domestically. Beginning 1993 however, China began to import oil to meet its economic needs. By end 2003 China has surpassed Japan to be the second largest oil importer next to the USA. China now consumes 20% of total OECD industrial country energy. China oil imports are rising now by 9% a year and this is predicted to rise significantly in the coming decade, as China emerges as the world’s largest industrial nation. China currently is growing at 7-8% a year. India has recently emerged as a rapidly growing economy as well. Combined they account for some 2.5 billion of the world population. Little wonder that China vehemently opposed the US unilateral war against Iraq in the UN Security Council. The China National Petroleum Company had long sought to secure major oil supply from Iraq. What Cheney knew in 1999

In a speech to the International Petroleum Institute in London in late1999, Dick Cheney, then chairman of the world’s largest oil services company, Halliburton, presented the picture of world oil supply and demand to industry insiders. ’By some estimates,’ Cheney stated, ’there will be an average of two percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three percent natural decline in production from existing reserves.’ Cheney ended on an alarming note: ’That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day.’ This is equivalent to more than six Saudi Arabia’s of today’s size.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Cheney, as Vice President, was given as his first major assignment the head of a Presidential Task Force on Energy. He knew the dimension of the energy problem facing not only the United States, but the rest of the world.

Cheney is also well identified as the leading Iraq warhawk in the Bush Administration, together with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Repeatedly it was Cheney pushing for military action against Iraq, regardless of which allies support it.

When we examine what is known about global oil reserves, and where they are, in light of the above ’peak oil’ analysis of much of today’s existing oil production, it becomes clearer why Cheney would be willing to risk so much in terms of America’s standing among allies and others, to occupy the oilfields of Iraq. Cheney knows exactly what the global oil reserve situation is as former CEO of Halliburton Corporation, the world’s largest oil services company. The Achilles heel of the US?

The burning question is where will we get such a huge increase of oil? In the decade from 1990 to 2000, a total of 42 billion barrels of new oil reserves were discovered worldwide. In the same period, the world consumed 250 billion barrels. In the past two decades only three giant fields with more than one billion barrels each have been discovered. One in Norway, in Columbia and Brazil. None of these produce more than 200,000 barrels a day. This is far from 50 million barrels a day which the world will need.

Is the era of cheap, abundant oil to fuel the world economy about to end? One most important issue in the entire debate over why Washington went to war in Iraq is the question of how much oil remains to be found in the world at today’s prices. The debate has been remarkably little over an economic issue of enormous consequences.

According to the estimates of Colin Campbell and K. Aleklett of Uppsala University, five countries hold the overwhelming bulk of the world’s remaining oil and could potentially make up the difference as other areas pass their peak. ’The five major producers of the Middle East, namely Abu Dhabi, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (including the Neutral Zone), with about half the world’s remaining oil, are treated as swing producers making up the difference between world demand and what other countries can produce...’2.

These five countries - Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE - through circumstances of geology, contain the oil and gas reserves vital to the future economic growth of the world. In an article in the January 7, 2002 issue of Oil and Gas Journal by A. S. Bakhtiari of the National Iranian Oil Company, noted, ’The Middle East (is) simultaneously the most geostrategic area on the globe and the ultimate energy prize: Two-thirds of global crude oil reserves are concentrated in five countries bordering the Persian Gulf.’3

In a paper published in November 2001, eminent Princeton geologist, Kenneth Deffeyes wrote, ’The biggest single question is the year when world oil production reaches a Hubbert peak and then declines forever. Both the graphical and the computer fits identify 2004 as the probable year. The largest single uncertainty is the enormous reserves of Saudi Arabia.’4

If the peak oil analysis is accurate, it suggests why Washington may be willing to risk so much to control Iraq and through its bases there, the five oil-rich countries. It suggests Washington is acting from a fundamental strategic weakness, not from absolute strength as is often thought. A full and open debate on the problem of peak energy is urgently needed.


1 ’The World`s Giant Oilfields’, Matthew R. Simmons, M. King Hubbert Center for Petroleum Supply Studies, Colorado School of Mines, January 2002.

2 Aleklett, K. and Campbell, C.J., ’The Peak and Decline of World Oil and Gas Production,’ published by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, www.asponews.org .

3 Bakhtiari, A.M. Samsam, ’2002 to see birth of New World Energy Order,’ Oil and Gas Journal, January 7, 2002.

4 Deffeyes, Kenneth S, ’Peak of world oil production,’ Paper no. 83-0,Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, November 2001. gsa.confex.com .


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Commentaires de l'article

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Wednesday October 6 - 00:25 - Posted by f41c1500115643cf...

I am a little confused. Where is Columbia? Is that the District of Columbia, where Washington D. C. lies, or somewhere south of there in another hemisphere. For the life of me, I can’t find the country Columbia! If errors of this magnitude exist in teh report, then I have reason to suspect the report. Rann Millar

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Wednesday October 6 - 01:26 - Posted by c88b130552555b5c...

I am seriously trying to refrain from the over use of explicatives but I have to say.....WTF!! "were is Colombia"!?!

Colombia Is a A nation on the n-ne coast of South America. Probably most known for the "colombian drug cartels". I fully realize that most people found Geography class less than exilerating but to condemn this article based entirely on your own lack of knowledge only tells anyone reading your response, not of validity of this article, but of your own character/ lack-there-of.

One of the greatest downfalls of humanity is looking for the problems outside one’s self before loking to the problems within one’s self. Dave Moser

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Saturday April 9 - 01:44 - Posted by 5a54e5f54829589a...

In case you’re not kidding, Columbia or Colombia is in South America.

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Wednesday February 1 - 08:12 - Posted by d96deddca2e7b46a...

are you serious? can’t find columbia on the map! so you suspect the report may be erroneous?
there are actually places out there beyond the borders of the USA, honestly.
If you need a clue it’s where all the drugs come from, not that far south of Miami, oh boy

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Monday November 15 - 21:24 - Posted by 038e03ff8dbb1ac2...

If U.S. preemptively attacked Iraq because oil, then what second superpower will do the same and what would U.S. do?

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Sunday December 5 - 05:06 - Posted by ce64a07c4ba65af2...

No other superpower will need to do anything. What US attemps just won’t work because the ordinary people in Irak and in the rest of the world won’t let the US get away with this because they are frightened.

Bin Laden wants to bankrupt America and he knows he can,because he’s member of a prominent Saudi oil family, just like Bush is member of a prominent American oil family.

Rght now, Bush is buying Saudi oil and not the opposite.

Who will win ?

Take your bets.

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Wednesday February 1 - 08:22 - Posted by d96deddca2e7b46a...

China, Fastest growing economy on earth, largest popualtaion on earth, largest army on earth.
Result: War get ready it’s coming.
That’s why US are looking for excuses to attack Iran now, get the area secured before China arrive to try to take it back.

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Sunday July 31 - 13:39 - Posted by 503a0cce5dcc0c3f...

The whole struggle over declining global oil resources seems silly and futile when you consider that in five days time more recoverable energy reaches the earth from the sun than can be found in all the oil fields in the Middle East. (about 85 trillion kilowatts, THE COMING AGE OF SOLAR ENERGY, by D.S. Halacy). Big oil does not own the sun and wants to keep us dependent on fossil fuels for as long as possible. The Bush Administration has reduced the funding for solar energy research and development and hopes that coal, shale oil, natural gas and more nuclear power will take care of our energy needs after the oil runs out, but this would be environmentally disastrous. Oil, coal and natural gas are only the fossilized remains of solar energy from millions of years ago. Instead of grubbing around in the dirt and fighting wars for these remains we should be going dirctly to the source. Then there is wind energy, geothermal, greater energy efficiency and conservation, ZPG, (zero population growth) and more trains and mass transit, all of which have been ignored by the oil drenched Bush Administration. If we do not begin to make these transitions very soon we are finished as a species. The earth will die and we will perish along with it, or return to the stone age in a single generation. We must get rid of of the stranglehold big oil has on us. along with the politicians who are in its pocket. The alternative is the destruction of the earth and universal extiction. C.B. Edelman, USA

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Tuesday August 9 - 02:07 - Posted by 5f51d38d3be629b7...

I don’t see why we should return to the "stone age" as many fear; ancient Greece and Rome weren’t "stone age", yet were "oilliess" civilisations. So were ancient Egypt and the Pre-Columbian Maya, etc. If the list is expanded, ancient Persia, China and India can also be included in this inventory... Even 18th century and early 19th century Europe were without oil, and much nearer to us in time and culture. A drastic drop in world population will no doubt be inevitable: perhaps the present 6 billion will dwindle to around 2 billion - as this growth was a direct consequence of the widespread capitalistic human exploitation of petroleum energy. We can even maintain an early 20th century or Soviet communist style of controlled economic industrial welfare state based society on coal resources - which can last us another 300 years (inspite of the pollution), with the remaining petroleum being a state monopoly reserved exclusively for the armed forces,etc. We can use trams, steam power and sailing vessels, with the more advanced aircraft and ships (and automobiles) remaining an exclusive, limited preserve of the government, which won’t be "democratic". Sorry folks, but that is how it will be. I don’t mean to sound dreary, but "free" capitalism is an illusion, which in addition to being barbaric and competitive - is also unsustainable and digs its own grave. This temporary "Soviet" style situation will obtain till some Einstein among us discovers a more efficient form of sustainable energy (which will be the goal of that government) and till suh time as humanity learns some moral lessons about the use (and misuse) of technological power and consumerism and the collective responsibilities that they carry. Even the most secular person will be forced to acknowledge that Peak Oil can in fact be regarded as a divine punishment for evil poulations, which though advanced and "civilised", care naught about anything but their voracious, selfish consumerism - and which keep it up as if there were no tomorrow in sight.

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Wednesday August 10 - 05:53 - Posted by bc716d0fac9bcb0f...

unfortunately, despite your inflammatory rhetoric about ’evil capitalists’ etc, there is a core of truth in what you say. The high cost of fuel will inevitably make us more dependent on efficient public transport, put airtravel (once again) out of the reach of ordinary citizens, make us more insular, parochial and protective of our homelands and revert to nationalism, tribalism and arrogance of centuries ago. Big changes to come, but can we cope with it? don’t know really. i’m just glad i got to travel a bit when the opportunity was there... and got to drive a few fast cars and used the internet.

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Wednesday February 1 - 08:44 - Posted by d96deddca2e7b46a...

Whilst i agree that there is more energy in the solarsystem than even mankind can consume, there is no way we can build the infrastucture to harness this in time to save us from our own self induced misery.
The closest alternative to the huge power demands of the world is nuclear energy but people have a hang up about it.
As the largest single demand on oil consumption is Petrol or Gasoline, perhaps people should have stopped driving 8 litre SUV’s and humvees to get the kids to school before it was too late.
I don’t know if i agree that the Bush administration want to keep us dependant on fossil fuels, big business may have influenced this in the past but i think the politicians simply were not concentrating and the whole issue sneaked up on them, Hence the US troops deployed in the middle of what is left of the worlds oil resources and the tragic events of 9/11.

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil: Nuclear option
Wednesday February 22 - 17:14 - Posted by 776e25a2a4aaea08...

If there’s any doubt about nuclear energy, read this article about the NEW nuclear technology and its safety


> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Monday August 24 - 07:12 - Posted by 0269417b05420e91...

Everyone should check out T.E.D’s talks on kite power. Google it. I think the answers are already there. The problem lies in changing the worlds definition of currency. We have to think of a new world standard for money. It’s the Wizard of Oz all over again.

There is also another problem. The cartel that has extinguished every real leader the U.S. has produced since the 60’s doesn’t want to relinquish its control over the definition of money.


> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Sunday February 19 - 02:01 - Posted by 54f607ec309b5d01...

i just want to know how long dubai oil or reserves have left i believe it to be 20 years is this correct and is this why they are building palm islands ect as new economy for them?

> Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil
Tuesday April 25 - 03:37 - Posted by fee75817a96bee0c...

As much as we all love it, I can’t see capitalism lasting much longer. I feel a bit sorry for the countries without big standing armies or unimaginable quantities of nuclear weapons they can threaten everyone else with in order to buy food. Good luck to humans. I also see the worldwide muslin population growing faster than the current 15% in connection with peak oil production and its after-effects, but thats a different story.

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Monday 30 July
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
If there is one universal question that haunts all human beings at some point in their lives, it is, “Why do we die?” Death, after all, is the great illogic. It ultimately claims all, the rich and the poor, the mighty and the small, the good and the evil. Death also has the capability to make most human pursuits—such as the quest for wealth, fame and power—vacuous and fleeting. Given this reality, I have often wondered why so many people are still willing to (...)
Thursday 28 June
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
How much corruption can a “democracy” endure before it ceases to be a democracy? If five venal, mendacious, duplicitous, amoral, biased and (dare I say it) satanic Supreme Court “justices”—John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy—have their way, America will soon find out. In several previous articles for Pravda.Ru, I have consistently warned how the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is one of the (...)
Tuesday 12 June
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
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Imagine, if you will, that the United States government passes a law banning advertisers from sponsoring commercials on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show or Rupert Murdoch’s Fox (Faux) “News” Network. On one hand, there would be two decided advantages to this ban: The National IQ would undoubtedly increase several percentage points, and manipulative pseudo-journalists would no longer be able to appeal to the basest instincts in human nature for ratings and profit while (...)
Thursday 7 June
by : David R. Hoffman, Pravda.Ru Legal Editor
LIVE, from the State that brought you Senator Joseph McCarthy, Wisconsin voters now proudly present, fresh from his recall election victory, Governor Scott Walker! At first glance, it is almost unfathomable that anyone with a modicum of intelligence would have voted to retain Scott Walker as Wisconsin’s governor. This, after all, is a man who openly declared he is trying to destroy the rights of workers through a “divide and conquer” strategy; who received 61% of the (...)
Tuesday 13 March
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
A question I’ve frequently been asked since I began writing for Pravda.Ru in 2003 is, “Why did you become disillusioned with the practice of law?” This question is understandable, particularly since, in most people’s minds, being an attorney is synonymous with wealth and political power. I’ve always been reluctant to answer this question for fear it will discourage conscientious and ethical people from pursuing careers in the legal profession—a (...)