Watching the Watchdog

The International Energy Administration is, supposedly, the gold standard for projections of future oil supply.  In 2004 they projected that the world would produce 121 million barrels per day of crude oil.  In 2005 they lowered that to 115 million bpd.  Last year they lowered it again to 106 million bpd.  Today, the Guardian reports that a “whistleblower” at the IEA says that even this number is rubbish and the IEA knows it:

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves….”The 120m figure always was nonsense but even today’s number is much higher than can be justified and the IEA knows this.

“Many inside the organisation believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90m to 95m barrels a day would be impossible but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further. And the Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil resources,” he added.

….A second senior IEA source, who has now left but was also unwilling to give his name, said a key rule at the organisation was that it was “imperative not to anger the Americans” but the fact was that there was not as much oil in the world as had been admitted. “We have [already] entered the ‘peak oil’ zone. I think that the situation is really bad,” he added.

It’s pretty much impossible to know how seriously to take this.  It’s almost certainly true that analysts within the IEA disagree with each other about long-term projections, and it’s also probably true that there are regional pressures of various kinds within the organization.  That’s pretty normal for international groups.

But is the U.S. actively pushing the IEA to produce figures that it knows to be wrong?  And are these two anonymous sources the first ones to ever go public with this?  Hmmm.  I’m not so sure about that.  But the IEA’s 2009 World Energy Outlook comes out on Tuesday (last year’s projections are above), and we’ll see what they have to say then.

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