Peak oil and failing mass media

How can we solve a problem that we do not know exists? Who will speak out?

by Nathan Paulsen

Initially, I had planned on writing my final column in this series on the politics of the oil industry. However, after observing the ongoing neglect of peak oil in the media for the past few weeks, it occurred to me that our nation’s complacency in addressing our energy crisis might have less to do with the corruption of our elected officials than the tight control of information exercised by today’s mega media conglomerations.

Corporate media’s failure to report on the urgent discussions now under way among government agencies and petroleum geologists concerning our energy situation has left the American public dangerously oblivious.

The facts are not in question: Reports commissioned by the U. S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have warned that the days of cheap energy rapidly are drawing to a close. Global oil production is poised to decline sharply in the next two decades – if not sooner – leading to steep and irreversible energy price hikes. The permanent loss of inexpensive petroleum will pave the way for an economic crash unparalleled in U.S. history.

The mass media remain silent.

Where were the national media when an internal report from Mexico’s state-owned oil company was leaked last month, disclosing that Mexico’s super-giant Cantarell Oil Field – the world’s second-biggest reserve – recently passed its peak and now is facing significant production declines? Considering that Mexico is the second-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, one would expect this kind of revelation to spark discussion and widespread trepidation. Hardly a word was spoken.

Maybe peak oil just doesn’t sell as many newspapers as the latest murder mystery. Perhaps good, old-fashioned American hubris has so clouded our judgment that we simply cannot imagine the possibility. Whatever the cause, the public marginalization of an imminent peak in world oil production is not for lack of well-credentialed spokespeople willing to talk about the subject.

Take, for instance, Matthew Simmons. He is the chief executive of the world’s largest energy investment firm and a former adviser to President George W. Bush. According to Simmons, “We’ve basically used up the vast majority of the world’s high-flow rate, high-quality sweet oil at prices that were effectively so cheap, you basically couldn’t sustain an industry.” In other words, peak oil cannot be long in coming. “And now we’re left with lots of oil. But it’s heavy, gunky, dirty, sour, contaminated-with-various-things oil. It doesn’t come out of the ground very fast, is very energy intensive to get out of the ground and we’re going to pay a fortune for it,” Simmons said. How much is a fortune? Well, I’m not sure, but in Simmons’ estimate, “$5-10/gallon is a real bargain.”

Matthew Simmons is only one of many voices sounding alarms and clamoring for attention on peak oil. Because they routinely are shut out of public consciousness, the United States is woefully unprepared for tomorrow’s energy disaster.

In writing this series, I received a large volume of responses from students, professors, government employees and concerned citizens on campus and around the country in regard to the serious threat posed by our nation’s continued dependency on petroleum. Since the Daily failed to publish opinions on peak oil, I’ve chosen to close this column by reproducing a letter that was sent to the Daily three weeks ago by U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md.,  and U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. For those who would like more information about peak oil and how your support of local economies and renewable power is crucial, I’ve included sources in the online version of my column at the Daily’s Web site,

“We are writing to alert readers to the Congressional Peak Oil Bipartisan Caucus – a forum to discuss how the United States can prepare for the coming peak in world oil that was the topic of Nathan Paulsen’s March 6 column, “Complacent and addicted.”

The United States has only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. Our country produces 8 percent of the world’s oil and consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil, of which nearly 60 percent is imported from foreign countries. U.S. oil production reached a maximum or peak in 1970. It has declined every year since then. Thirty-three of 48 major oil producing countries also have peaked in oil production. Global peak oil is inevitable and many experts predict that it is imminent.

Mr. Paulsen identified the potential consequence of global peak oil if we are not prepared: “As worldwide demand for oil outpaces worldwide production, the price of a barrel of oil will skyrocket and economies everywhere will grind to a screeching halt.”

We have introduced House Resolution 507 that expresses: ‘The sense of the House of Representatives that the United States, in collaboration with other international allies, should establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency that was incorporated in the ‘Man on the Moon’ project to address the inevitable challenges of ‘Peak Oil.’ “

Nathan Paulsen welcomes comments at [email protected]


Goodstein, David, Out of Gas, W. W. Norton and Company, New York, 2004.

Kunstler, James Howard, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2005.

Leggett, Jeremy, The Empty Tank: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and the Coming Global Financial Catastrophe, Random House, New York, 2005.