Exxon: What, me worrry?

Fun for the whole family: Poking peak-oil anthills

Published September 11, 2006 11:38PM (EDT)

Poke me! Poke me! How could anyone resist clicking on this Wall Street Journal headline: "Poking at peak oilers"? If you think peak oil is a crock, then schadenfreude simply demands following the link for a little evil cackling at the expense of hand-wringing Hubbert's Peak believers. Similarly, if you do think peak production is nigh, you must perforce read on to stoke the always satisfying flames of righteous indignation. It's a winner, any way you look at it.

The article in question turned out to be a MarketWatch report on a speech in Australia by Mark Nolan, the chairman of ExxonMobil's Australian unit. Among other things, Nolan said "We have reason to believe to be sure that the end of oil is nowhere in sight," and that we've got about two trillion barrels of "conventional recoverable oil resources" left in the ground. And then he criticized government subsidies of ethanol.

I'll leave it for the reader to decide whether an Exxon executive is a credible source for opinions on peak oil. What I really wanted to know was: Were the peak oilers feeling poked? Were they boiling around their anthills?

The best place I know to go for timely peak oil reaction sound bites is the Oil Drum blog, which has achieved the kind of Slashdot-pioneered critical mass that makes other peak oil blogs seem irrelevant. Sure enough, the MarketWatch story had received a prominent link by 9:13 EDT this morning. There were more than 200 comments by the time I checked in around 3:30 p.m. PDT.

I dunno -- maybe Nolan's assertions were considered so beyond the pale of what Oil Drummers hold as basic tenets of peak oil faith that they weren't considered worthy of refuting. The vast majority of posts in the ensuing conversation involved a rollicking (and mostly pessimistic) discussion of whether capitalism-as-we-know-it will survive peak oil. This required detours into a heated debate over just how to properly define capitalism, numerous references to the Great Depression, and a dollop of conspiracy theory as to whether the ongoing decline in oil prices is an orchestrated maneuver to help Republicans out in the upcoming midterm elections.

It's probably a sign of blog-success when the community discussions that erupt after each blog post metastasize into their own self-contained worlds, in which the discourse has only the slenderest of connections to the news tidbit that launched the original ark. The Oil Drum's anthill is in a state of perpetual boil. No poking necessary.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Globalization How The World Works Peak Oil