Thursday, March 29, 2012

“The surprise is not that there is so much violence, but that there is so little.” Egypt: A Culture of Subjugation is Dying (would but the same could be said of the U.S.A.)

MARCH 29, 2012
“The surprise is not that there is so much violence, but that there is so little.”
Egypt: A Culture of Subjugation is Dying

It is a gun battle people in the Shubra district in central Cairo still talk about six months after it happened. In a dispute over a piece of land he had seized amid the small shops and densely crowded streets, Mohammed Shaban, who had escaped from prison during the revolution, challenged the police to a fight. He told one policeman who tried to evict him “to get out or we will kill you”. When other police arrived, two of them were wounded by gunshots and Shaban was killed along with a local plumber, shot dead by police who mistook him for a gunman.

“Mohammed Shaban’s family consider him a martyr but nobody else around here does,” says Abu Hatem, a taxi driver living in Shubra. Not far away is the prison and police headquarters, a large, shabby, cream-colored building with steel bars outside the windows and metal plates on the inside, pierced by a single hole through which a rifle can be fired. The prison was burned on January 28  last year by prisoners like Shaban and their relatives at the height of the Egyptian uprising against President Hosni Mubarak. The prisoners seized arms and the police fled from Shubra, but have since returned.

The story of the death of Shaban is one of several told by people in Shubra as an example of increased violence in Egypt since the revolution. One man who went to the police to report the kidnap of his child was told by a policeman that “10 other children have been seized and are being held for ransom”. Car theft has become common. Many taxi drivers say they no longer dare to work at night.

Yet these tales of Egypt sinking into chaos are deceptive. There is more crime in Cairo than before the revolution because the police have been discredited by their corruption and brutality, can no longer act with impunity and often refuse to act at all. Poverty has increased in a city of 20 million people, a third of whom already lived in slums, so more will steal to survive.

The surprise is not that there is so much violence, but that there is so little. In Shubra people are frightened of chaos and criminality, but examples of violence like Mohammed Shaban’s shoot-out are still uncommon in a district into which are packed no less than three million Muslims and Copts.

Local people can point to only two shops looted during the revolution when the police disappeared from the streets. At one of them, selling beer and wine and called “Drinkies”, the owner said they lost their stock but were otherwise unharmed.

The increased fear of violence is in part psychological because Egyptian society is not used to it, says Magda Kandil, executive director of the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies (ECES), and while there is more crime, “it is mostly about theft – 20,000 cars have been stolen”. The only place where there has been a general breakdown of order is in north Sinai where armed Bedouin carry out kidnappings and killings.

Compared to most Arab uprisings last year, such as those in Libya, Yemen and Syria, political violence in Egypt has been moderate. “Looked at historically this has been a remarkably peaceful revolution so far,” says Professor Khaled Fahmy, head of the history department at the American University in Cairo. “There has been no bloodbath.” But he adds that Scaf (The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), the ruling authority over the last year, has encouraged an exaggerated perception of insecurity in order to blame the revolutionaries for increasing crime and a faltering economy.

At street level, going by what happened in Shubra, these tactics are having some success and the return of the police is generally welcomed. Abu Hatem says that the police are chastened and no longer plant drugs on suspects as they used to. He says one reason the police fled so fast during the revolution was that “the lower ranking police officers were afraid to appear in the streets because they believed people they had falsely accused might kill them”.

In the longer term, it may prove impossible for the army and police to restore the monopoly of power they enjoyed under the old regime. Egyptians retain a strong sense of hierarchy but power is fragmenting and the state is no longer absolute. The Interior Ministry in Cairo used to vet the promotion of everybody from judges to journalists. Even favorable mentions of the army in the press had to receive official permission.

But Cairo today is full of signs that this culture of subjugation is eroding. The street in which stands the enormous Interior Ministry building is sealed off by barbed wire and paramilitary police backed by armored cars. But at one end of the street former policemen sacked last year were this week demonstrating to get their jobs back and chanting: “Ministry of the Interior, we are your children, we are not thieves.” The Maspero building, where much of the state media is based, is ringed by barbed wire and defended by soldiers with machine guns, but this week its ground floor had been taken over by 600 striking engineers demanding higher pay.

The activists who packed Tahrir Square a year ago are dispirited and speak of the triumph of the counter-revolution. They fear that the army, police and intelligence services are re-establishing their authority. But power in post-Mubarak Egypt is divided and may become more so. The Muslim Brotherhood and military, who would like to keep a supervisory role, are engaged in a long-term struggle.

Everybody wants the revolution to improve their lives. Cairo bus drivers are on strike and have plenty to complain of. At the Moneib bus depot, Khalaf Sadk says: “I’ve worked on the buses for 16 years and I get 600 Egyptian pounds (£63) a month for working an eight- to 10-hour day.” Often he is unable to complete his route because of traffic jams and engine failure on his decrepit bus. Another striker, Khalaf Abdul Kadr, says the Public Transport Authority “has no respect for its employees or their needs.”

There is a deep cynicism about the motives and actions of the state among most Egyptians. For instance, there is a foot-and-mouth epidemic among cattle in Egypt, but butchers in Cairo believe that officials are exaggerating its extent because they stand to make money from a rise in the price of chicken and fish. Professor Fahmy says: “I think we are seeing a revolt against the modern Egyptian state system which was always against the welfare of Egyptians.”

The political struggle means that none of the centers for power are really in charge or capable of taking important decisions. And this is at a moment when the Egyptian economy is teetering on the edge of crisis. Magda Kandil at the ECES sees the economic prospects as “dismal”. She blames the authorities for pursuing populist policies, such as raising wages for state workers and stoking inflation. Central Bank reserves have fallen by more than half “and waves of capital outflow could be of the magnitude of $12bn”. The government has been locked in negotiations with the IMF for a $3.2bn loan on which further aid from the Gulf oil states depends.

The Egyptian state machine is vast but dysfunctional at every level. Education and healthcare are inadequate and under-funded. A quarter of Egypt’s 85 million people live in shanty towns. One-third of the government’s budget is spent on subsidies, mostly for fuel, which benefit the better-off. Cheap gasoline means the streets are choked with traffic. Bottled butane gas used for cooking by the poor is heavily subsidized but subsidies are almost all siphoned off by middle men.

The authority of the Egyptian military and police will ebb unless they stage a coup which appears unlikely. But, even if they are edged out of power, it will take a long time to reconstruct the country they ruined during their 60-year-long rule.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

This action by the UN Security Council, which was not vetoed this time by Russia and China, was meant to extract from Syria an agreement to endorse the Kofi Anan plan, which begins with a cease-fire, and culminates in a peace process demanding that all parties unite behind it, else those consequences, costs, penalties would be activated. Undoubtedly, the new attitude by Russia and China must have steered the Assad regime towards embracing the Anan Plan.

Settling Scores and Balancing Accounts
The Conflict in Syria

On March 21, 2012, the fifteen-member UN Security Council voted unanimously, for the first time, to push the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, towards a diplomatic settlement, by ordering it to comply with the Six Point plan presented by Kofi Anan, the former UN Secretary-General. Assad, in fact, accepted the plan on March 27.

This diplomatic process was inscribed into a “Presidential Statement,” not a Council resolution. The difference between the two is that the former requires unanimous support from the Council, and it is also non-binding. The Statement threatened Syria with certain unspecified “further steps,” that do not necessarily include military action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, but that include tougher diplomatic and economic measures backed by Russia and China, which would harm and embarrass the Assad regime. Additionally, that would include sanctions against Syria’s First Lady, Asma, thus preventing her from traveling in the 27 nations that constitute the European Union.

The Presidential Statement expressed its “gravest concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria, which has resulted in a serious human rights crisis and a deplorable humanitarian situation.” The Statement, however, made concessions to Bashar al-Assad by not including “threats, ultimatums, and “unilateral demands.” It, moreover, appeased Assad by including a Russian proposal that condemned the mid-March bombing attacks on Syrian government installations in Damascus and Aleppo, describing them as acts of terrorism, rather than “resistance,” which the Syrian opposition claims.

This action by the UN Security Council, which was not vetoed this time by Russia and China, was meant to extract from Syria an agreement to endorse the Kofi Anan plan, which begins with a cease-fire, and culminates in a peace process demanding that all parties unite behind it, else those consequences, costs, penalties would be activated. Undoubtedly, the new attitude by Russia and China must have steered the Assad regime towards embracing the Anan Plan.

Such a plan, which has scrupulously avoided severe action against Syria, yet carefully avoided recriminations, seems to strike a balance between the intransigence of Bashar regime, heretofore backed by Russia and China, on the one hand, and the positions of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and even Israel, on the other.

This type of conflict resolution is cumbersome and complex, combining the local with the regional, and the latter with the international. Although Libya has many attributes similar to those of the Syrian situation, the former is essentially a tribal society. Libya is no Syria. Libya has neither the middle class, nor the sophistication of Syrian society. Syria, on the other hand, is a modern state which plays a leading role in the Middle East and is considered a center of Arab nationalism. It has developed a network of crucial regional alliances including the Soviet Union and later Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah.  Libya’s dictator for more than four decades, the late Moammar Qaddafi,  saw himself as a protégé of the Egyptian Leader, Gamal Abd al Nasser.

Not only is the Syrian conflict complex, but also regional and global, as well. Syria is the center of a cold war, not unlike that which prevailed during the second half of the past century. The Syrian faction consists of Iran, Hezbollah, some Lebanese elements, Russia, and China. Its opposite number includes The US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, and Jordan. Of course, these coalitions are not mutually exclusive nor are they permanent “alliances.” 

Shifting alignments, at the present, reflect shifting interests, and in fact, can be viewed as an attempt to settle ongoing competition for hegemony, domination, and super-ordination, if not re-colonization. Most probably, the latter applies to Libya, Syria, Bahrein, Yemen, and Iraq. The former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, expressed her optimism when she made her famous statement about an emerging new Middle East, i.e. a subservient region defined by a US, Saudi, Israeli hegemony in which Syria will cease to be the address for Arab nationalism and anti-colonialism.

Thus, the ongoing crises in Syria,  designed to marginalize the Assad regime, under the pretext of human rights, would represent an attempt to settle previous accounts: Syria’s close ally, Hezbollah would not be allowed to get away with an apparent military victory over Israel in 2006; Syria would not go unpunished for its alleged role in the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, the late  Rafiq Hariri; nor will Syria’s “coalition” remain exempt from the consequences that usually come with the counter revolutionary restraint presumably inherent in Rice’s “new Middle East” formula,  particularly in the aftermath of the seemingly successful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. These revolutions cannot run loose in a Middle East that is steadily becoming an American lake.

How long will the lake remain to serve the interests of colonial powers in an age of de-colonization will depend on the dwindling economies of the Anglo-Saxon world, which may face difficulties in trying to sustain a neo-colonialist order in the Middle East. It may also depend on the continuing readiness of NATO to support counter-revolutionary forces ala Libya, the enduring ability of America’s surrogates, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar .etc to escape the revolutionary tide in the Arab world and the rising expectations of a new public whose willingness to sacrifice for a democratic polity has proven to be boundless. A western lake and an Arab spring simply cannot co-exist.

NASEER ARURI is Chancellor Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. His latest book (with the late Samih Farsoun) is Palestine and the Palestinians: A Social and Political History.

The real problem for the planet and human society is not the imminent danger of running out of hydrocarbon fuels, but that an abundance of these energy sources will permit population and economic growth that will gradually diminish the planet’s biodiversity, degrade ecosystems, and disrupt global climate and other systems. (So much for "peak oil.")

The Real Problem is Not Too Little Oil, But Too Much
The Myth of Peak Oil

Each time there is a short-term shortage of oil or the price begins to rise, there is talk of running out of affordable oil, an idea captured by the concept of Peak Oil. Peak Oil is the theoretical point when the maximum rate of oil production is reached and after that time enters into a terminal decline. There is a lot of debate surrounding the Peak Oil theory, with some observers predicting rapid decline in oil production with serious implications for our entire economy and society.

No name is more closely associated with the concept of Peak Oil than geologist Marion King Hubbert.  Hubbert was a research geologist for Shell Oil Company and later the US Geological Service.  Hubbert is credited with developing a quantitative technique (Logistic Growth Curve) now commonly referred to as the Hubbert Curve, which he suggested could be used to predict the remaining oil supplies (or any other finite resource like gas, copper, etc.) and the time of eventual depletion.

In the 1956 meeting of the American Petroleum Institute in San Antonio, Texas,  Hubbert  presented a paper titled Nuclear Energy and Fossil Fuels where he suggested that overall petroleum production would peak in the United States between the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Since US oil production did indeed appear to peak in 1970, many Peak Oil advocates acclaim Hubbert as a prophet. However, an apparent peak in production does not necessarily represent a peak in oil availability, especially in a global market—something that Peak Oil advocates tend to overlook. In fact, a “peak” may just be one of many “spikes”.

Another point of confusion in the debate over the ultimate availability of oil and gas supplies is the question of “unconventional” fossil fuel sources like tar sands, oil shales, heavy oils, and shale oil. Hubbert did not include these other energy types in his estimates and many of the proponents of Peak Oil today tend to ignore these hydro-carbon sources.  However, since there is vastly more oil (and gas) found in these “unconventional” sources compared to “conventional” crude oil and traditional gas sources, the exclusion of them from any policy debate over oil’s demise leads to serious misrepresentation of our ultimate fossil fuel availability.

As Hubbert wrote in his paper, “if we knew the quantity (of some resource) initially present, we could draw a family of possible production curves, all of which would exhibit the common property of beginning and ending at zero, and encompassing an area equal to or less than the initial quantity.” In theory, Hubbert’s basic concept is sound. As a way of thinking about and approaching the issue of declining finite resources, Hubbert was a pioneer.  But that does not mean his predictions were accurate.

The problem for anyone trying to predict future resource availability is discerning the initial starting amount of a resource such as oil when one cannot readily see or gauge accurately the resource.  This lack of transparency presents huge opportunities for error, in particular, erring on the side of under estimation of the total resource.  And time has consistently shown that under estimation of total resource is the most common error, and as we shall see this is exactly the error that Hubbert made with regards to his estimates of our remaining oil and gas reserves.  Hubbert can be forgiven because new technology can make previously unavailable resources accessible, even less expensive to exploit. In fact, he even anticipated this to a degree in his paper, another point that Hubbert’s admirers today tend to overlook.


Few that credit Hubbert with a successful prediction have apparently actually read his paper. A reading of his presentation demonstrates that Hubbert grossly underestimated total oil supplies, and thus his predicted high point of the bell curve deviates significantly from reality. Indeed, there is good evidence we haven’t even reached the top of the bell curve, much less past it in 1970. He did not anticipate things like the discovery of oil in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay or shale oil like the North Dakota Bakken Formation,  among many other oil discovery that have significantly changed total oil supplies.

And because US oil production did peak in 1970, the same time period which Hubbert suggested oil reserves would reach their half-way point and start an inevitable decline, few bothered to ask whether the observed decline in US production might have any other explanation other than declining geological petroleum stocks as Peak Oil advocates suggest.

Predicting future oil and gas supplies is fraught with dangers. Many factors influence oil extraction other than geological limits. A rapid shift to renewable energy, a decline in global economies, new technological innovation, energy conservation, a high oil price that dampens consumer demand, political instability and wars all significantly affects energy production, thus when and how “peak” is achieved. Many believe a more realistic model rather than a bell curve is a rapid run up in production to a spike or series of spikes followed by a long drawn out plateau and production decline with ultimately more oil production occurring after the apparent peak, but less rapidly than prior to the “peak” which of course wouldn’t really be a peak in the traditional sense of the word.


The first problem with Hubbert’s prediction is that his estimates of total oil and gas reserves are far too low. If the starting amount of reserves are low, than the top of the bell curve is reached much sooner than if there are greater amounts of oil–assuming that a bell curve actually represents what is  occurring–which many people dispute. Some suggest Hubbert just drew the curve to fit his assumptions.

In his paper, Hubbert estimated that the “ultimate potential reserve of 150 billion barrels of crude oil for both the land and offshore areas of the United States.”  Hubbert’s estimate was based on the crude oil “initially present which are producible by methods now in use.”  

Using the 150 billion barrel estimate he predicted US Peak Oil occurring in 1965. But to be cautious, he also used a slightly higher figure of 200 billion barrels which produced a peak in oil production around 1970—the figure that Hubbert advocates like to use to demonstrate that Hubbert was prophetic in his predictions.  However, by 2006 the Department of Energy estimated that domestic oil resources still in the ground (in-place) total 1,124 billion barrels.  Of this large in-place resource, 400 billon barrels is estimated to be technically recoverable with current technology.

This estimate was produced before horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking techniques were widely adopted which most authorities believe will yield considerably more oil than was thought to be recoverable in 2006.

Going back to Hubbert’s paper we find that he predicted that by 1970 the US should have consumed half or about 100 million barrels of oil of the original endowment of 150-200 billion barrels of recoverable oil. And by his own chart on page 32 of his paper if we use the assumption of 200 billion barrels as the total potential oil reserves of the US we should be completely out of oil by now. According to his curve and graph, by year 2000 we should have had only around 27 billion or so barrels of oil left in the US and fallen to zero sometime in the mid-2000s.

Yet the US government estimates as of 2007 that our remaining technically recoverable reserves are 198 billion barrels, and this excludes oil that may be found in area that are off limits to drilling (i.e. like most of the Continental Shelf).

And there are another 400 billion barrels that some suggest could be recovered with new methods (which itself is a subset of total in place oil which future technology may make available at an affordable price).

Obviously if Hubbert were correct, and we had reached Peak Oil in 1970 (point where we had consumed half of our oil) and we started out with only 200 billion, we could not have nearly 200-400 billion still left to extract—and total resources are likely even higher than this figure.

It’s also important to keep in mind that “technologically recoverable” resources are not the “total” amount of oil thought to exist in the US, so the total in-place reserves are much, much larger. It does not take a lot of imagination to predict that many of these oil resources will eventually be unlocked with new technological innovation thus added to the total “proven reserves.”

Another example of his under-estimation of oil is US off-shore oil. In his 1956 paper, Hubbert suggests we had 15 billion total barrels, but the US government now estimates there is closer to 90 billion barrels of oil left off-shore–and we have already extracted quite a bit. (I’m not sure if that figure is just for off -shore currently open to exploration or all off shore–since oil exploration is banned on 83% of the US coastline. If this figure refers only to those areas currently available to drill–then the number may be quite a bit higher if all off shore areas were opened to oil extraction).

Hubbert was even farther off in his estimate for global oil reserves, which is not surprising since in 1956 very few parts of the world had been adequately studied.  In his 1956 paper Hubbert  wrote that there was “about 1250 billion barrels for the ultimate potential reserves of crude oil of the whole world.” In his paper he estimated that the entire Middle East including Egypt had no more than 375 billion barrels of oil. Yet by 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that just the “proven reserves” in Saudi Arabia alone totaled 262.6 billion barrels.  Similarly in his paper Hubbert uses an estimate of 80 billion barrels for all of South America, yet Venezuela has 296 billion barrels of proven reserves.

By 2000, the point when Hubbert estimated that we would reach global Peak Oil we would have only around 625 billion barrels of oil left. Just the 558 billion barrels of proven reserves known to exist in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela alone (and a lot more in-place resources) is nearly equal the total global oil supplies that Hubbert estimated would remain in global reserves.  Obviously once again Hubbert’s global estimates were way too low.

The world has already burned through more than a trillion barrels of oil, clearly demonstrating how far off his prediction of oil supplies were. The estimated “proven reserves” left globally are today more than 1.3 trillion for the top 17 oil producing countries alone.


Part of the confusion in the Peak Oil debate is that people, agencies and organizations use different definitions and accounting methods that are often not explicitly acknowledged. For instance, most Peak Oil advocates rely upon “proven reserve” numbers to argue we have limited oil supplies remaining. However, it is important to note the term “proven reserves” has a very precise meaning that only includes oil that has a 90% certainty that the oil can be extracted using current technology at current price. It does not represent total oil that may over time be produced. The total estimated amount of oil in an oil reservoir, including both producible and non-producible oil, is called various terms including oil in place. Due to technological, political and other limitations, only a small percentage of the total “in place” oil can be extracted at the present time.  However, proven reserves are the bare minimum amount of oil that reasonably can be expected to be extracted over time.

One of the wild cards in predicting oil reserves is the recovery factor. Recovery factors vary greatly among oil fields. Most oil fields to this point have only given up a fraction of their potential oil holdings—between 20-40%.     By 2009 the average Texas oil field had only about a third of its oil extracted, leaving two-thirds still in the ground.     Using Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) techniques, many of them not even available when Hubbert wrote his paper, recovery can often be boosted to 40-60%. In essence if EOR were applied to many of the larger US oil fields, we could effectively double the oil extracted, hence “proven reserves.”

Even Hubbert recognized that we may eventually extract more oil from existing fields, though he still underestimated the effect of new discoveries and new technology.   Hubbert wrote ”… only about a third of the oil underground is being recovered. The reserve figures cited are for oil capable of being extracted by present techniques. However, secondary recovery techniques are gradually being improved so that ultimately a somewhat larger but still unknown fraction of the oil underground should be extracted than is now the case. Because of the slowness of the secondary recovery process, however, it appears unlikely that any improvement that can be made within the next 10 or 15 years can have any significant effect upon the date of culmination. Amore probable effect of improved recovery will be to reduce the rate of decline after culmination…..”

While no one realistically believes it’s possible to get every last drop of oil from an oil reservoir, new technologies are often able to get significantly more oil from existing fields than was possible in the past. The important fact is that the recovery factor often changes over time due to changes in technology and economics. Since the bulk of global oil still remains in the ground, and any shift upward in price and improvement in technology suddenly makes it profitable to exploit reserves that were previously not included in the “proven reserves” estimate. Thus proven reserve estimates are a minimum, not the maximum amount of oil available.

To demonstrate how technology and price can affect “proven reserves” estimates, just a few years ago Canada’s “proven reserves” of oil were only 5 billion barrels. Today, due to higher prices and improved technology that makes tar sands production economically feasible; Canada now has “proven” reserves of 175 billion barrels of oil. Nothing changed other than the price of oil and the technology used to extract it. Oil companies knew there was a lot of oil in the tar sands, but it took a change in technology and price to move it into the “proven reserves” category.  Even more telling is that the total minimum estimate of in place oil for the tar sands exceeds 1.3 trillion barrels of oil. Keep in mind that 1.3 trillion barrels is more oil than Hubbert thought existed in the entire world when he presented his 1956 paper.

People knew all along there were tremendous amounts of oil locked in Alberta’s tar sands.  But it took a change in price, along with some technological innovation to make it profitable for extraction. So proven reserves are not a static figure based on geology, rather it reflects economics and technology. Unfortunately too many writing about the presumed Peak of oil in the United States appear to ignore the distinction, and regularly use the “proven reserves” figure as if it were the ultimate geological limit on oil and/or gas supplies.

Although the major point of his paper was the potential depletion of traditional oil and gas reservoirs, he did mention “unconventional oil.” Unconventional oil reserves are oil or hydrocarbons found in geological formations other than a traditional oil reservoir. Examples of unconventional oil include  Alberta’s tar sands, oil shales of the Green River Basin of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, the heavy oils of Venezuela,  and other non-traditional hydrocarbons. There are far more of hydro-carbons in these formations than traditional oil reservoirs—a fact that many Peak Oil advocates frequently ignore. Or if they acknowledge their existence, they dismiss them as uneconomical or technologically impossible to exploit and therefore will never make a significant contribution to global energy supplies.

Hubbert failed to appreciate the potential contribution of these unconventional sources of synthetic oil. For instance, he put the total for US oil shales at around a trillion barrels of oil equivalent. Recently the USGS estimated that the Green River drainage area of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah may contain as much as   4.2 trillion barrels of in place oil equivalent in oil shale deposits. To put this into context, the US currently consumes around 24 billion barrels of oil in 2010, so even if a fraction of these oil shales are exploited it will significantly increase available energy to the US.

With unconventional oils like tar sands, oil shales, heavy oils, etc. included, it seems we have huge amounts of potential energy–even acknowledging that much of that oil may not be extracted until some future date due to cost and/or lack of technology.


As he did with his estimates of oil, Hubbert also appears to have underestimated natural gas supplies as well. He put total natural gas supplies to be around 850 trillion cubic feet (TCF) and maximum US production would be 14 TCF annually.  The Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates that shale gas reserve alone total  750 TCF and shale gas is only one source of natural gas.Total natural gas reserves are increasing. Estimates vary about total gas reserves, but they run between 1400 to 2000 TFC.  I see no reason to doubt these estimates.

If correct, then his estimate of natural gas was also a vast underestimate.  This link shows that gas supplies are increasing well into the future.   And new estimates for gas hydrates (methane locked in frozen ice) suggests there may be twice as much energy locked in these resources than all the coal, oil, and traditional natural gas supplies combined.  One estimate suggests there may be a 3000 plus year supply of natural gas in gas hydrates. Whatever the ultimate number may be, the important point is that we are not in any danger of running out of fossil fuels in the near future.


Was it just coincidence and luck that Hubbert picked 1970 as one of the possible peaks in US oil production even though his starting numbers were way too low?

This raises the question whether declining US production since 1970 is due to depletion of oil fields as asserted by Peak Oil advocates or whether economics explains it better. (This is not to deny that at some point we will see declining production due to real limits–the question of importance however is when that will occur).

Another explanation requires looking beyond the US. Keep in mind that oil is a commodity. Just because we may see a decline in production of some commodity does not mean we are running out of that substance or resource. The Northeast US was once the major producer of timber in the US. Today if you buy lumber in New England, there’s a good chance it was cut and shipped from the Pacific Northwest, not because there are no trees to cut in New England. Rather due to climate, vegetation, and infrastructure factors, it’s less expensive to cut trees in Oregon or British Columbia than to log New England forests.  It would be wrong to conclude that because New England imports most of its lumber that there are not enough trees left to provide wood locally.

Similarly attributing declining US oil production to geological depletion ignores the effect of global oil production. Immediately after WWii the US was easily the global leader in oil production. This dominance of global oil markets by US production and companies continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Then in the late 1960s and early 1970s oil production in other parts of the world began to increase substantially. In particular, Middle East oil production improved dramatically due to foreign investment and technology. For a variety of factors, once the oil infrastructure (pipelines, tanker ports, oil fields,) was built in these places, it became less expensive to import oil from Saudi Arabia, for example, than to build a new oil field in Wyoming or Texas.  Indeed in some cases producing oil wells in the US were capped and retired even though they were perfectly capable of producing more oil. Not only was oil production increasing in Saudi Arabia, but all over the world at this time including Venezuela, Mexico, and the Soviet Union. All of these new fields were producing lower cost oil than one could get from most US oil fields at the time. So could it be that US producers just decided it was a better business plan to invest in and/or buy oil from other oil producing countries? Did this low cost oil cause oil companies to import oil rather than invest in US oil production?

Worse for US producers, except for a few manufactured shortages like the 1973 oil crisis created by OPEC in response to US support for Israel or the War in Iraq, the abundance of relatively inexpensive oil kept oil prices depressed throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and into the early 2000s, discouraging new investment in US oil production.

It takes up to a decade or more to bring a new oil field on line, especially if the field is not located near other infrastructure.  For instance, Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay Oil field was discovered in 1968 and it wasn’t until 1978 before the first oil was sent to market.  Oil companies will only invest in major new production if they are certain that the prices are stable and will remain at a specific break-even point into the future. This lag time between changes in price or technology and significant production is why the oil industry cannot rapidly respond to short term price increases or politically created shortages.

Peak Oil advocates continuously point to the rise in oil prices during the latter part of the 2000s and suggest that an apparent lack of significant new oil production is due to depletion.  However, there is a time lag before higher prices result in a noteworthy increase in oil production.  Given the huge investments needed to bring on line new oil production, companies have to first wait for quite a number of years after an oil price hike before they start any new development to make sure that higher prices are going to stabilize, not rise and then fall suddenly as happened in 2008 when oil reached $145 a barrel then crashed to $30 a barrel. Such volatility does not lead to greater oil production.

Nevertheless, higher oil prices in the past few years have started to spur new development in the US and around the globe. The US, for instance, has reduced its import of foreign oil from 60% to 45% due to higher production at home as well as greater efficiency spurred by higher fuel prices.  These trends point to continued reduction in imports. However, because of the long delay between start up and full production, there is no quick relief.  This is one reason why “Drill, Baby, Drill” is a foolish response to any oil price increase.

From the oil producer’s perspective, there is no advantage in increasing spare production capacity. All this will do is flood the market (global market) with cheap energy. What company wants to reduce its profits by over production?  So far global oil production has largely been able to meet all demand, except for short term shortages as a result of political change, wars, and/or price speculation.  But none of these reflect a true geological short-fall or serious effect of depletion.

Despite Hubbert’s prediction that we would be just about out of oil by now, the US oil production (and gas) have both gone up in recent years. This is in response to higher prices and new technologies. But according to Hubbert this could not be occurring because we are long past our Peak and indeed, very near our bottom line for oil.

There is no doubt that a finite resource such as oil will continue to decline, and demand will likely grow at least into the foreseeable future, both of which should lead to higher fuel costs. But whether this leads to a long term chronic shortages that cause major economic disruption or even the collapse of civilization as some predict is subject to more uncertainty than perhaps some like to admit.  For one thing there is far more oil on the planet than most people recognize, and new technologies combined with rising price for fuels is spurring development of new oil supplies.  Rising prices also spurs shifts to other energy sources, as well as greater efficiency and conservation of energy.

Rather than running out of oil and/or gas any time soon, I think the bigger danger is that we have more than enough oil and other fossil fuel energy resources to sustain us for quite a few decades if not centuries. Any efficiency and/or conservation of energy, combined with some replacement of fossil fuel energy with renewables than these finite resources, will extend hydrocarbon resources quite a few additional decades.

The real problem for the planet and human society is not the imminent danger of running out of hydrocarbon fuels, but that an abundance of these energy sources will permit population and economic growth that will gradually diminish the planet’s biodiversity, degrade ecosystems, and disrupt global climate and other systems.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist. He is currently working on a book about energy.

Unlike today, where one can experience early social annihilation by flubbing a chord while playing Rock Band or accidentally forwarding a smack-laden e-mail to the person being trashed, entertaining oneself during my growing up years was chock full of chances for real extinction, courtesy of bug-collecting kits outfitted with actual medical syringes or mini-metal cauldrons designed to mold sparkly plastic critters that were more likely to brand you with an image of an unlikely caterpillar

The Erotic Education of a Bookworm
Leon Uris Taught Me About Sex

Leon Uris taught me about sex.  In sixth grade, no less.

I wasn’t a particularly precocious or debauched child, though I did have an unhealthy attachment to Almond Joys.  I was what sociologists have come to identify as “bookworm”.  But not by choice.

I came of age in antediluvian times, when the idea of video games or fat-free pudding cups was just crazy talk.  There was not much to do to entertain oneself as a child—at least not much to do without accruing the substantial risk of an early death.

Unlike today, where one can experience early social annihilation by flubbing a chord while playing Rock Band or accidentally forwarding a smack-laden e-mail to the person being trashed, entertaining oneself during my growing up years was chock full of chances for real extinction, courtesy of bug-collecting kits outfitted with actual medical syringes or mini-metal cauldrons designed to mold sparkly plastic critters that were more likely to brand you with an image of an unlikely caterpillar.  If you didn’t kill yourself or your friends by air embolisms or etched third-degree burns on  your forehead, you weren’t considered an active child.

I wasn’t an active child.

While my sister was dealing with her unconscious suicidal ideation by performing somersaults in a front yard booby-trapped by armies of yucca plants, I decided my best chance at survival was the great indoors, remaining as immobile as possible by embedding myself in the space between my twin-size bed and a bedroom cinderblock wall shielding me from giant African snails, leftover WWII ammo, and spontaneous play dates.  There I read anything I could get my chubby hands on, which in my house were pesticide labels and Japanese women’s magazines (interchangeable in terms of interest since both were in Japanese).  Rounding out my collection were Reader’s Digest, Stars and Stripes and the occasional forgotten Popular Science magazine found jammed in the back of a carved teak end table Dad bought during an assignment in the Philippines.

To be honest, I don’t consider the Japanese magazines an exercise in reading so much as early efforts in post-modernist thinking. Constructing stories from whatever I could deduce from grainy pictures of Enka singing stars, mosquito coil ads and the frequency of Chinese characters in the articles (the thought being the more characters, the higher the intellectual quotient, a theory that probably didn’t pan out in reality due to the abundance of black-and-white images of women wearing bug-eyed sunglasses and scarves, clutching handkerchiefs while seated in front of an array of microphones.) The fact that the magazines went from left to right added to the semiotic allure.  Books however,  were another matter.

In a household where books were either non-existent or in Japanese, my supply came from two sources: the library (sanctioned) or other people’s houses (undetected).  The library was the obvious route: living on an air force base on a teeny island off the coast of Japan with 25-cent taxi rides being the norm, getting myself to the library was simple, even encouraged by a stay-at-home mother whose overwhelming wish was not to be bothered by anyone living in her household who attended elementary school.  I spent hours there, hours that I would like to describe as unmolested, though unnoticed is would be more accurate.   I roamed the stacks like an impoverished dinosaur, scanning the tops of shelves in search of subjects of interest.  And what was of utmost interest?  Sex, or what approximated sex in a world where the closest thing I had in sex education were furtive peeks at “Little Annie Fanny” cartoons buried in my neighbor’s Playboy collection, which were way more engaging than the parade of centerfolds draped with checkerboard tablecloths (July) or oversized red jackets (December).

But finding books on the aforementioned topic in a Department of Defense-sponsored environment wasn’t easy.  I was terrified of venturing into the adult section lest I be spotted and revealed as the eleven year-old, 140-pound degenerate that I was. I lumbered through the children’s section, pawing through previously read accounts of ducks in China choked on a regular basis to catch fish or gangs of high-achieving middle-schoolers performing unspeakable acts with the laws of physics and baking soda.  Then I spotted it: a nondescript book left on a table next to the children’s section.  It had a peculiar title:QB VII.

Sidling up to table, I tried quietly slipping into the chair in front of the book, only to realize my polyester-clad abdomen was much too large to accomplish such a move.  After fifteen minutes of breathless contortions, I surrendered and pulled it out, wincing at the sound of the feet scraping against the linoleum.  I began to read.

It was a painful read, filled with agonizing detail about World War II that was only alleviated by loving asides describing Borneo tribes and a Jewish neighborhood in Virginia.  Confused and, more importantly, desperate to kill three hours before Mom arrived in the Rambler to pick up me and my sister, at that very moment was testing her skeletal resiliency with attempts at backward spins at the roller rink next door. As I slogged through the endless jumble of exposition, I came upon…the page.

It came out of nowhere. All I remember is a woman named Samantha reading books aloud to an Abe, one of protagonists (who is wearing bandages over his eyes), then she’s crying while giving him “gentle slaps” The episode ends with Samantha, after her “controlled frenzy” made Abe “succumb” apparently with eye bandages still in place.

I froze.  It’s one thing to spend unsupervised afternoons in a friend’s basement starting at cartoon boobs drawn to resemble the mammary equivalent of pre-exploding pastry bags, but this? This was…perplexing. What the heck was she doing?  And what was the connection between the “frenzy” and sticking her hands between his legs while kissing his feet?  And how was she able to accomplish such an act when I couldn’t even do a decent tumble during PE?

It was obvious the guy with the bandages wasn’t really minding Samantha’s behavior, though it did occur to me that if I couldn’t see what was going on, I’d be a little freaked out by someone whipping me with their hair, no matter how “feather soft” it was.

At this particular juncture of my existence, sex meant breasts, period.  I had a dim awareness of penises, but other than the ability to pee without coming into contact with lethal toilet seats (a concern my mother communicated to me by her determined wiping of any toilet I chose to use outside our home), they weren’t part of the equation.  Sex was simply a female body part that (according to “Little Annie Fanny”) frequently slipped into public view at the most inopportune times, much to the amusement of the hoards of pipe-smoking men in plaid blazers who perpetually surrounded her, even on desert islands.  Other than that, I had no idea that sex meant actually doing something.

After the shock wore off, I closed the book and spent the rest of my time pushing it away from me with my index finger in the hopes that by putting as much physical space between me and the foot-kissing, no one would realize I was reading smut.  To further hide evidence of my thought-crime, I grabbed a book from the kid’s section and steeled myself for Mom’s arrival, taking guilty peeks at the book lying accusingly at the end of the table.

I never mentioned the whole sordid episode to anyone because, quite frankly, there wasn’t anyone to tell.  My daily existence consisted of eating everything in sight, reading and going to school.  Since finding peers was a challenge, I denied myself the traditional method of sex education, which was huddling in a playground corner and having a classmate solemnly inform you in appalling detail exactly why those guys in plaid blazers were so interested in Annie.

I didn’t the exact mechanics of sex until the seventh grade, when I was forced to watch horrific film strips during PE class, provided to us courtesy of Kimberly-Clark, featuring daisies, anatomical outlines of teenage genitalia and excessive milkshake drinking.  To this day I get a slight twitch whenever I see a Dairy Queen.

Or an eye patch.

LINDA UEKI ABSHER is the creator of The Lipstick Librarian!  web site.  She works as a librarian in Portland, Oregon.

If baseball players can do their thing with tens of thousands of hostile fans urging them to fail, golfers should be able to handle hecklers - and Tiger is the biggest pussy golfer of them all!

The Dilettantes of the PGA
Golf is a Pussy Game

By all accounts, the most difficult thing to do in sports is hit a moving baseball.  Virtually every sports writer who ever lived agrees with that observation.  The ball is traveling at upwards of 95 mph.  You’re standing approximately 60 feet away.  The 5.25 ounce sphere reaches you in less than seven-tenths of a second.  Sometimes the pitch curves, sometimes it sinks, sometimes it hops.  You’re trying to hit a round object with a round club.

If you’re talented and fortunate enough to play in the Majors for 12-15 years, and you’re able to hit safely 3 out of every 10 times at bat, you have a good chance of not only being recognized as one of the game’s true stars, but of eventually being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Think about that.  You regularly fail 7 out of 10 times during your entire career, yet you’re still celebrated as one of the greatest players of all-time.  That’s how difficult baseball is.

But there’s another component to the art of hitting.  It’s called courage.  Not only do you have to instantaneously decide if the pitch is a fastball or breaking ball, a ball or a strike, you have to be aware that the object coming at you at close to 100 mph could hit you in the face, possibly crippling you, or even ending your career.  And you have to deal with these variables on every single pitch, during every single at-bat.

Add to all of this the ear-splitting noise being generated by a hostile crowd. You’re at the plate, your team is behind by one run in the ninth inning, there’s a runner on second base, there are two out, and the count is 2-2.  You’re in the batter’s box, scared spitless, being asked to do what is universally recognized as the most difficult thing in sports.

If there was ever a time that an athlete needed peace and quiet in order to concentrate on the task at hand, this is it.  But the crowd noise is so loud, so shrill, it approaches the decibel level of a jet engine.  It’s deafening.  These rabid fans are literally screaming themselves hoarse, all 60,000 of them.  Indeed, the stadium itself, solid and well-anchored in tons of cement as it is, is actually ever-so-slightly rocking.

Now let’s consider golf.  A pro golfer stands over a two-foot putt.  The gallery is dead silent.  The golfer studies the ball.  The crowd inhales; no one dares exhale. Then, just as he’s about to strike the ball, some guy in the crowd sneezes.  The golfer abruptly straightens up, steps away, and glares at the man.  People shush the hapless sneezer, who cringes in humiliation.  A moment later, with the gallery once again silent, the golfer taps the ball in.  Applause.

Why is no one permitted to scream during golf?  After all, it’s a sports event, isn’t it?  You paid your way in, didn’t you?  Why is no one allowed to shout at the top of their lungs, “Hey, mister! You’re going to miss it!”  But if you pull a stunt like that, the marshals escort you right off the course.  Still, what makes golfers so special?

Are these guys so refined that wisecracks and booing from the audience is going to give them the heebie-jeebies?  For crying out loud, the ball isn’t even moving.  It’s just sitting there.  You stare at it for as long as you like, then you wind up and hit it.  Simple as that.  Unlike baseball, it’s not suddenly going to fly up, hit you in the face, and shatter your cheekbone.

Granted, golf takes ability and finesse.  No one’s denying that.  But if baseball players can do their thing with tens of thousands of hostile fans urging them to fail, golfers should be able to handle hecklers.  “Hey, Tiger….you’re going to land in the sand trap! Har, har, har.”  If these PGA dilettantes can’t take the pressure of hostile crowds, let ‘em stick with miniature golf.

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.   He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.  He can be reached at