from Energy, Security, and Climate and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Wikileaks Hysteria Meets Peak Oil

February 10, 2011

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The energy blogosphere is in a tizzy over a series of Wikileaks cables that entertain the possibility that world is heading toward peak oil. The FT’s Energy Source goes with the headline “US fears Saudi Arabia cannot keep up with oil demand”, Fast Company settles on “WikiLeaks May Have Just Confirmed That Peak Oil Is Imminent”, and Joe Romm goes all in with “WikiLeaks peak oil bombshell: Saudi Arabian reserves overstated by 40%, global production plateau imminent”. I don’t know about you, but I’m buying gold and stocking up on tinned meats as soon as I finish writing this post.

Or not. There is nothing much new in these cables. As the FT notes, the main source for the cables, Sadad Al Husseini, has said many times in public precisely what he told the U.S. diplomats who wrote the cables. Nor do the cable authors, who no doubt are talented diplomats, appear to have any particular expertise on oil.

What we have here is a classic case of what Dan Drezner has cleverly called “document fetishism”: people have an awful habit of believing that if something is classified then it must be true. In reality, classified analysis is no more sophisticated than what you can read in the open literature. Indeed in many cases, it’s less so, in large part because it isn’t subject to the open criticism that most analysis faces.

So relax a bit. We don’t know anything more about peak oil than we did last week. And besides, if everyone else calms down a bit, there will be more gold (and at great prices) for me.