Italian Il Foglio Interview With Colin Campbell, Described As The World’s Foremost Authority on Oil Depletion

September 7, 2005: Italian Il Foglio Interview With Colin Campbell, Described As The World's Foremost Authority on Oil Depletion

This page contains two interviews. The first was done by the Italian newspaper Il Foglio with Colin Campbell. The second is a 2002 interview done by Michael Ruppert of “From The Wilderness” with Colin Campbell.

1. COLIN CAMPBELL's answers to Il Foglio interviewer

1. Would you define yourself as a pessimist?

I do urge you to avoid the appellations of optimist and pessimist.
These are moral attributes that have no place in this debate. The argument is between hose who try to measure something in Nature, and those who have a faith in market forces to deliver. One man is measuring something and reporting what the measurements are : the other is on his knees before an alter.

2. Do you think peak oil has already arrived? If so, do you believe
oil prices are doomed to increase more and more?

As you know, all public data are unreliable but my best present
interpretation of the data (including that from confidential industry
sources) is that we pass peak this year for Regular Oil and in 2007
for “All Liquids” (including heavy oil etc, deepwater, polar and gas
liquids). I don't think that the world has any sustainable spare capacity to produce more, nor is it in sight of any, so prices can only rise until demand is cut, which speaks of recession or depression.

3. Don't you think that, as oil price grows, companies will invest
more and ultimately will find new reserves large enough to counterbalance the current lack of resources?

No. Small oilfields are already highly profitable at low prices, so
those that are dependent on high prices are too small to have any
world impact. By all means, more dry exploration wells can be drilled with the cost being offset against higher taxable income. Neither companies nor countries have an incentive to increase production at higher prices because they can supply adequate financial returns while conserving their largely irreplaceable reserves : in fact they have an incentive to lower production.

Besides production limits are set by the immutable physics of the
reservoirs : if they step up production they may damage the
reservoirs. The world has been very thoroughly explored, and discovery has been falling for 40 years as confirmed by Exxon despite all the advances in technology and increases in geological knowledge. No amount of investment can find what is not there in the ground.

4. A growing demand, especially from China and the US, has put oil
prices under pressures. However, it is likely that in the medium term
demand will react to high prices, and that would drive prices down. What do you think about the process?

I indeed think that high prices will trigger an economic recession
such that demand will fall, and remove pressure on price so that it
may fall again to $20-30. If that stimulates an economic recovery, demand would again rise until it hits the declining ceiling of capacity. Thus I foresee a series of vicious circles of increasing severity until some new order is put in place.

5. Free market supporters claim that high oil prices will stimulate
human ingenuity by creating an opportunity to profit from the short-term scarsity, and a solution will ultimately emerge – after all, no natural resource has ever been exhausted in the entire human history. How would you reply?

Indeed that is what they say. We moved from stone to bronze to iron
to steel because we found better substitutes. This is the first time
we have faced the decline of a vital commodity without either having found or even foreseen a better substitute. It is therefore a discontinuity without parallel in history. Don't forget that the oil age is but a brief chapter in history. The First Half lasted only 150 years, but it transformed the world, providing the energy to allow the rapid growth of industry, transport, trade, agriculture and financial capital, allowing the population to expand six-fold in parallel. This exceptional and unique epoch also set the rules of economics whereby to manage money under the conditions prevailing.

6. If we are really going through the twilight of oil, what sources
are the best alternatives for humanity to pursue its path of development and growth?

As I say, the Second Half of the Oil Age dawns. It will see the
decline of oil and all that depends on it. The debate about the
exact date of Peak misses the point. The decline is at no more than 2-3% a year, which is not in itself devastating. What is devastating is the perception of the long decline that follows. In short it means that economic growth built on past methods is no longer possible, which means that debt is losing its collateral and that virtually all companies quoted on the stock exchange are over-valued because their accounts tacitly assume a “business-as-usual” supply of energy, which is no longer valid. Personally I think this spells The Second Great Depression, and an epoch of great tension and violence (similar to that already experienced in New Orleans or Baghdad fordifferent reasons). This may even spell the end of Homo Sapiens who may have to take his place in the fossil record along will all other species which became over-apted to their environment and did not survive
when the environment changed for natural reasons. But if there are survivors they may discover a new benign way of life of new simplicity in which they are in better equilibrium with themselves, each other and the environment in which Nature has ordained them to live.

If I were Mr Berlesconi, I would adopt the principles of the Rimini
Protocol and cut imports by 2-3% a year to match world depletion rate. This would encourage people to reduce the current monumental levels of waste and inefficiency, and turn to renewables from wind, wave, tide, geothermal,solar, hydro, biomass and even nuclear energy. I would look forward to seeing the return of the Vespa and Fiat 500 to the Italian roads. I would close the frontiers and hope that the population would naturally decline to perhaps half its present level this century to a sustainable level, and finally I would buy my grandchildren a lovely olive grove in the Tuscan hills, where they could live happy, smiling lives, singing folksongs and drinking Brunelo di Montalcino. I would pull down all those Television and Radio masts so that local cultures could thrive again. But I am not Mr Berlesconi and I rather doubt that he would agree, preferring to
live in the past and wait for the crisis to hit – that is by all means easier politics, and he is in good company with most other governments, including the EU which arrives absolutely unprepared for what even the simplest analysis could see coming


2. Michael Ruppert's Interview With Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell on Oil

Perhaps the World's Foremost Expert on Oil and the Oil Business Confirms the Ever More Apparent Reality of the Post-9-11 World

by Michael C. Ruppert

[ COPYRIGHT 2002, Michael C. Ruppert and FTW Publications, all rights reserved. May be reprinted or distributed for non-profit purposes only.]

Oct. 23, 2002, 17:30 PDT (FTW) — Colin Campbell is both an academic and a businessman. Educated at Oxford and holding a Masters degree he has served as a geologist for Oxford University, Texaco, British Petroleum and Amoco (prior to the BP Amoco merger). He has served in executive positions with Shenandoah Oil, Amoco, Fina and was Chairman of the Nordic American Oil Company. He has served as a consultant on oil for the Bulgarian government as well as for Statoil, Mobil, Amerada, Total, Shell, Esso and for the firm Petroconsultants in Geneva. He is the Convener and Editor of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and a Trustee of the Oil Depletion Analysis Center in London.

As a member of The American Society of Petroleum Geologists, The Geological Society of London, and the Petroleum Institute of London he has delivered more than 35 lectures on oil depletion on three continents. His hosts have included universities, governments, and auto manufacturers. He has been published more than 150 times in the field including the 1997 book “The Coming Oil Crisis” (Multi-Science Publishing Co. & Petroconsultants).

Before beginning this interview it is necessary for the reader to understand several critical factors about oil and oil production. All of these factors affect how much you or industry pays for oil, how much is available, and what this life-essential commodity can do. Almost every current human endeavor from transportation, to manufacturing, to plastics, and especially food production is inextricably intertwined with oil and natural gas supplies. Commercial food production is oil powered. All pesticides are petroleum based, and all commercial fertilizers are ammonia based. Ammonia is produced from natural gas.

All oil production follows a bell curve, whether in an individual field or on the planet as a whole. On the upslope of the curve production costs are significantly lower than on the downslope when extra effort (expense) is required to extract oil from reservoirs that are emptying out. The best and easiest to produce oil is always extracted first to maximize profits. In 100 years mankind has used half of all the oil on the planet, oil that took billions of years to produce and is the result of climactic conditions that have existed at only one time in the earth's 4.5 billion- year history. Oil is a non-renewable resource.

The key event in the Petroleum Era is not when the oil runs out, but when oil production peaks, especially as demand and population are rising. World per capita oil production peaked in 1979 and has been in decline since. The peak in volume of total world oil production is upon us right now, even as the demand or better said — the need — for oil is increasing rapidly.

Several things are a given. First the total remaining conventional oil on the planet is estimated to be around 1 trillion barrels. Second, at present rates (not those of five or 10 years from now), the world is using close to 80 million barrels per day. At the current rate there would be only enough oil to sustain the planet for another 35 years under the best of scenarios. But the oil that remains is going to be increasingly expensive to produce and it will tend to be of a lesser quality, necessitating higher refining costs, than what has already been used. All of those costs will have to be passed on in the form of price hikes or — in some cases — spikes. Oil price spikes invariably lead to recession. The world's economy is based upon the sale of products that are either made from oil or which need hydrocarbon energy (including natural gas) to operate, either via internal combustion or via electricity.

Different regions of the world peak in oil production at different times. The U.S. peaked in the early-1970s. Europe, Russia and the North Sea have also peaked. However the OPEC nations of the Middle East peak last. Within a few years they — or whoever controls them — will be in effective control of the world oil economy, and, in essence, of human civilization as a whole. Two of the nations that will peak last are Saudi Arabia and Iraq, both of which will not peak until the middle of the next decade. Saudi Arabia contains 25 percent of all the oil on the planet. Iraq contains 11 percent of all the oil on the planet.

Science and the oil industry have confirmed that there is very little oil left to be found, certainly not enough to make a difference in this grim picture, a picture which goes a long way toward explaining the events of 9-11 and since.


FTW: What will be the likely effects of hitting the downslope of production?

Campbell: Big question. Simply stated: war, starvation, economic recession, possibly even the extinction of homo sapiens, insofar as the evolution of life on earth has always been accomplished by the extinction of over-adapted species (when their environmental niche changed for geologic or climatic reasons) leaving simpler forms to continue, and eventually giving rise new more adapted species. If Homo sapiens figures out how to move back to simplicity, he will be the first to do so.

FTW: How soon before we start to feel the effects of dwindling oil supplies?

Campbell: We already are — in the form of the threatened U.S. invasion of the Middle East. The U.S. would be importing 90 percent of its oil by 2020 to hold even current demand and access to foreign oil has long been officially declared a vital national interest justifying military intervention. Probable actual physical shortage of all liquid hydrocarbons worldwide won't appear for about 20 years, especially if deepening recession holds down demand. But people are coming to appreciate that peak is imminent and what it means. Some places like the U.S. will face shortage sooner than others. The price is likely to soar as shortage looms, which itself may delay peak.

If the U.S. does invade there will likely be a repeat of Vietnam with many years of fruitless struggle in which the U.S. will be seen as a tyrant and an oppressor, killing all those Arabs. It can't hope to subjugate the place in perpetuity as the people don't surrender easily — as the Palestinians have shown. So when the U.S. has finally gone, Russia and China will likely be welcomed there to produce whatever is left in the ruins.

FTW: Are the major oil companies currently downsizing? If so why?

Campbell: The majors are merging and downsizing and outsourcing and not investing in new refineries because they know full well that production is set to decline and that the exploration opportunities are getting less and less. Who would drill in 10,000 feet of water if there were anywhere else easier left? But the companies have to sing to the stock market, and merger hides the collapse of the weaker brethren. The staff is purged on merger and the combined budget ends up much less than the sum of the previous components. Besides, a lot of the executives and bankers make a lot of money from the merger.

FTW: How much oil is really left?

Campbell: You have to think of different categories of oil. Speaking of conventional, which is the easy cheap stuff that has supplied most uses to date and will dominate all supply far into the future, there is about 1 trillion barrels left. To this you have to add:

A) Oil from coal, “shale,” tar sands, heavy oil — the resource is very large, but extraction rate is low and costly, sometimes giving negative net energy.

B) Deepwater oil — (from a depth of greater than 500 meters) about 60 billion barrels

C) Polar — about 30 billion, maybe.

D) Natural gas liquids — about 300 billion barrels

FTW: I take it that it is a given that in any particular oil field, or globally, costs of extraction increase as one progresses down the curve. What is the usual nature of these increased costs? Do they usually require additional investment of capital for infrastructure? Is there a chart which shows how costs increase as production declines?

Campbell: Yes of course costs go up and every situation is different. In Texas they can still profitably use wells producing 5 b/d. But offshore the threshold is higher. It is more complex because they have the sunk costs of the platform and also face substantial abandonment costs. Furthermore tax distorts the picture, with most operating cost being written off against taxable income either in the host or home country or both. But reserves are defined as recoverable under current or foreseen economics, so non-economic tail-end theoretical production is not included anyway. I think the key issue is not so much the economic cut off but when production of even highly profitable oil heads into decline. The tail end, which is susceptible to economic constraints, is small and not very relevant. Oil has a polarity being either there in profitable abundance or not there at all — mainly because it is a liquid that flows to accumulate somewhere, unlike coal where extraction is a matter of concentration in seam thickness and access.

FTW: Is all oil in the ground recoverable? If not, why not?

Campbell: Only a fraction of the oil in the reservoir is recoverable because it does not sit in one big cavern down there but in the very small pore spaces between the grains of sand. These grains are coated in water and when it coalesces, it blocks the pore spaces preventing the further movement of oil. Also there are many nooks and crannies in the rocks that are not in communication. Obviously light oil is easier to extract than heavy. You can pump in steam etc. to try and move it, which is now routinely done where feasible.

It is said that recovery has increased from 30 percent to 40 percent thanks to technology and is set to rise from more technology in the future. But most of this improvement has nothing to do with technology. It is an artifact of reporting. The industry has always made conservative initial estimates (liking to build an inventory of unreported reserves to tide them over bad years and also reduce taxes) so reserves naturally grow over time.

Besides, extracting a bit more has a minimal impact on peak, which is the critical turning point, much more important than eventually running [completely] out, which we may never do as the tail end can drag on.

FTW: What would you say to the people who insist that oil is created from magma, or that there's really so much that we don't have to worry?

Campbell: Oil sometimes does occur in fractured or weathered crystalline rocks, which may have led people to accept this theory, but in all cases there is an easy explanation of lateral migration from normal sources. Isotopic evidence provides a clear link to the organic origins. No one in the industry gives the slightest credence to these theories: after drilling for 150 years they know a bit about it. Another misleading idea is about oilfields being refilled. Some are, but the oil simply is leaking in from a deeper accumulation.

FTW: Will Central Asian-Caspian pipelines have an impact on the crisis? How long will it take them to come on line?

Campbell: There was talk of the place holding over 200 Gb [billion barrels] (I think emanating from the USGS [U.S. Geological Survey]), but the results after 10 years of work have been disappointing. The West came in with high hopes. The Soviets found Tengiz onshore in 1979 with about 6 Gb of very deep, high sulfur oil in a reef. Chevron took over and is now producing it with difficulty. But offshore they found a huge prospect called Kashagan in a similar geological setting to Tengiz. If it had been full, it could have contained 200 Gb, but they have now drilled three deep wells at huge cost, finding that instead of being a single reservoir it, like Tengiz, is made up of reefs. Reserves are now quoted at between 9 Gb and 13 Gb. BP-Statoil has pulled out. Caspian production won't make any material difference to world supply. There is however a lot of gas in the vicinity.

To put it in perspective this would supply the world for a little over a year, but it is broadly the same as U.S. potential

It is quite possible that the Afghan war was about securing a strong point in this area. But interest in it has now dwindled along with Caspian prospects as the U.S. turns to Iraq, which does have some oil. It is curious that these two U.S. military exercises had different pretexts

A) Afghanistan was to find the supposed architect of Sept. 11 — in which it failed; and

B) Iraq is about a sudden and unexplained fear that it might develop some objectionable weapons that might pose a threat to someone in the future. North Korea, which already has nuclear weapons and long range missiles — and isn't exactly a friendly place — is not deemed a threat. The cynic can be forgiven for thinking there is some other motive for these military moves: could it be oil?

FTW: When and how was it discovered that the Central Asian reserves were much smaller than anticipated?

Campbell: I guess you could say over the past 24 months as the different pieces in the jigsaw fell into place. There is no single event or date, but rather an evolving picture

FTW: What about replacement sources and alternative energy? Tar sands?

Campbell: Of course there is a range of alternatives from wind, sun, tide, nuclear, etc. but today they contribute only a very small percentage, and do not come close to matching the oil of the past in terms of cost or convenience. No doubt production from tar sands and heavy oils can be stepped up in the future but it is painfully slow and expensive, carrying also environmental costs. It will help ameliorate the decline but has minimal impact on peak. The simple solution is to use less. We are extremely wasteful energy users. But it involves a fundamental change of attitude and the rejection of classical economic principles, which were built on endless growth in a world of limitless resources. Those days are over, exacerbated by the soaring population, itself now set to decline partly from energy shortage.

FTW: Has anyone determined what percentage of oil is used for military purposes worldwide? If so, how much?

Campbell: I don't know how much is used for military purposes, but it must be considerable. The U.S. has built a huge stockpile in the Middle East for the war.

FTW: Is China the end game of competition for oil?

Campbell: Yes, China is in desperate need of imports as its own supply depletes. It has been very thoroughly explored. It will be vying with the U.S. for access to foreign oil. It is already well established in Iraq.

That is about how I see it.

[A more detailed discussion of the world oil crisis, its connections to 9-11, and its implications for the future will be contained in FTW Editor Michael C. Ruppert's forthcoming book, “Across the Rubicon: 9-11 and the Last Empire,” scheduled for release by Feral House in spring 2003.]

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