UK Scientists Say World Oil Reserves Are “Exaggerated”
Researchers from Oxford University claim that OPEC’s oil reserve estimates are inflated but have been accepted by public agencies that compile statistics on oil and energy, reported the Daily Telegraph of London. The researchers warned that organizations like the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) are aware that OPEC’s estimates are misleading, and could be failing to prepare governments for the oil shortages and price spikes that would accompany “peak oil.”
The Oxford researchers said that estimates of global oil reserves are “exaggerated by one-third,” and that conventional oil reserves amount to only 850–900 billion barrels—not the 1.2–1.4 trillion barrels that are currently estimated. The researchers wrote that the errors in statistics of oil reserves are “broadly acknowledged but not taken into account due to political sensitivities.” David King put the matter more bluntly, saying the IEA couldn’t afford to give unpleasant information to Western governments that pay its bills: “The IEA…has to keep its clients happy.”
IEA data has come under fire before, from outside analysts and a whistleblower in its own agency who said the agency overestimated the role that unconventional oil, such as the oil sands of Alberta, would play in future global oil supplies.
The IEA advises its member countries, which are nearly identical to the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), on energy policy. Because of the influence of the agency, its estimates and statistics are closely watched and hotly debated. The IEA has previously said that peak oil—the moment at which global oil production will have irrevocably peaked, and which some observers believe will never occur—would happen in roughly 2020. This latest paper from Oxford avoids picking a date for peak oil, but says demand will outpace supply by 2014, the year that Kuwaiti scientists have predicted oil production will peak.
These findings come out just as the British energy minister meets with members of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Security, a business group that grabbed headlines in February when it issued a report warning that peak oil was imminent. A spokesperson for the British energy ministry said the meeting did not signify any change in British energy policy, but the report from Oxford gives academic backing to the Industry Taskforce’s argument that oil shortages may strike Britain earlier than previously expected. With business leaders and Oxford researchers in agreement, British public opinion—and public policy—may follow.