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School: Oil Crisis News from Around the World • Quest 01: Oil Crisis News • Task 01: Submit your articles here
updated 3/25/2000 12:22:00 PM by Colin Campbell
Report: Misleading USGS Report
Dr. Campbell comments on the US Geological Survey Press Release of March 22, 2000, "USGS Reassesses Potential World Petroleum Resources: Oil Estimates Up, Gas Down"

The USGS has released a most unfortunate preliminary statement of its latest study of world oil. But we have been there before. Let us not forget that McKelvey, a previous director of the USGS, succumbed to government pressure in the 1960's to discredit Hubbert's study of depletion, which was subseqently vindicated in the early 1970's after US production actually peaked as Hubbert had predicted. It did so by assuming that all the world's basins would be as prolific as Texas in a very damaging report by Bernardo Grossling that successfully misled many economists and planners for years to come. This conspiracy was unearthed by a Senate Investigating Committee and is a matter of public record. [The National Energy Conservation Policy Act of 1974, Hearings before the Subcommittee on the Environment of the committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, June 6, 1974.]

It is no coincidence that the present press release appeared on the eve of a critical OPEC meeting. By issuing these bald numbers they seek to stake a position without revealing the definitions or detailed assumptions behind the study that could be contested.

To claim that Europe can find 22 Gb more oil is utterly implausible on the basis of the past discovery rate. But I too could easily deliver such a number by taking every undrilled prospect and attributing a 5-10% probability of success to it. No geological assessor will ever give a zero probability, despite the fact that most prospects fail absolutely and many basins turn out to be barren.

Adding up a large number of low probability estimates will give a high number but it is a statistically flawed procedure as only mean estimates may be summed.

It is curious that technology has made great advances over the past years; that the USGS has increased its estimates, but that actual discovery should have fallen.

When the details become available, we will probably find that the USGS has denied itself critical knowledge of discovery rate. As in the past, they will no doubt protect their professional integrity by carefully chosen qualifying words in the accompanying text.

In any event it is an exceedingly unfortunate development, especially as they are also seeking now to influence the International Energy Agency, which recently did manage to come out with a sound assessment (World Energy Outlook), however obliquely stated.

It is ironic that OPEC puts out excessive numbers to discourage western investments in renewables, energy saving etc, and the US does the same thing to try to undermine OPEC's confidence.


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