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The Deep Green Resistance News Service is an educational wing of the DGR movement. We cover a wide range of contemporary issues from a biocentric perspective, with a focus on ecology, feminism, indigenous issues, strategy, and civilization. We publish news, opinion, interviews, analysis, art, poetry, first-hand stories, and multimedia.

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07.08.2022 à 21:03

Sabotage In Defense of Mother Earth

DGR News Service
Texte intégral (2655 mots)

Editor’s note: Today we share an online fundraiser created by dissident author and journalist Christopher Ketcham. Ketchum is fundraising to meet with and complete his book about a Texas man who sabotaged electrical infrastructure across the American West “in defense of mother earth,” to use his own words.

We support strategic and moral acts of sabotage against industrial infrastructure that is destroying our planet, and look forward to reading Ketchum’s book when it is released.


By Christopher Ketchum / Kickstarter

What it means when you turn your rifle against techno-industrial civilization

Since 2016 I have been working on a book about a 62-year-old Texas man who was sentenced to 96 months in federal prison, charged with being an “ecoterrorist” for acts of industrial sabotage “in defense of mother earth,” as he put it.  He is now in the last months of his sentence, due to be released in August of 2022, a few weeks from now.  If I can raise the money, I’d like to be there when he gets out.

The idea is that we take a trip together upon his release to visit some of the places he sabotaged. For that I need your help: $1,000 is my fundraising goal.

My protagonist, who I will call Saboteur (his name will remain undisclosed for now), traveled the American West taking out various parts of our civilization’s fossil fuel infrastructure.  In the course of getting to know him – through letters, phone calls, and our many meetings in various jails and prisons since 2016 – I came to see his strange tortured tale of environmental vengeance as a vehicle for discussing the big questions that define our fraught moment.

For Saboteur, there was no doubt in his mind that the beauty of the world would be doomed by the continued march of technoindustrial civilization – a civilization addicted to technology, crazed in its obsession with material wealth, anthropocentric to the point of ecological insanity, totally dysfunctional in its relationship with the natural world.  “This is a crackhead,” Saboteur told me.  “The crackhead will keep on smoking until the last of the drug.”  Until the world, he said, is “turned to ash.”

He declared himself, by contrast, a “madly matriarchal, dirt worshipping, tree-hugging, godless feminist with a gun,” “a worshipper of Gaia.” “We have to destroy the existing order,” he is recorded saying on an FBI surveillance tape. “I have a political agenda to destroy industrial capitalism. I can shut down coal-fired power plants, costing millions of dollars, all by myself. God damn it! You really want me to tell you, or you wanna go see? I’m serious as a fuckin’ heart attack. And I’m willing to die for what I believe.”

In my book about him I seek to understand the psychological forces behind both the refusal to act and the turn toward violent disruption.  Why did Saboteur finally pick up his weapons?  What has inspired other ecosaboteurs?  Given the bleak future of a depauperate earth that business-as-usual promises, what shape does direct action take and how extreme should that action be?  In what circumstances is sabotage justified, if ever?   If Greta Thunberg’s “fairy tale of eternal economic growth” condemns future generations to apocalyptic suffering, what duty do we have to oppose that noxious and ultimately homicidal economic system?  What kind of sacrifice will that entail, now, today?   What are we willing to risk for the safety and security of the generations of tomorrow?

All subjects to be explored, questions to be answered, in my story about Saboteur.  Any help you can give to facilitate my book about him is most appreciated!


Letter to an Ecosaboteur

/ CounterPunch

Below is one in a series of letters to an ecosaboteur, declared by our government an  “ecoterrorist,” who is serving 96 months in federal prison.  In his most recent email, this individual, who I will call Saboteur, wrote: “Anatole France came close to the theme that Sartre was later to exploit: the tragic solitude of the thinker in a hostile community……….. Prison is the most hostile of all communities…”  The subject line of his email was “alone.”  He had written previously that he felt now, at the tail end of his sentence, that he was losing his mind.

His inspiration to act – he destroyed fossil fuel infrastructure – was his love of the natural world, wild places, wild flora and fauna.  My reply to Saboteur, who turned 62 this year, was an attempt to cheer him up:

I’m sorry I missed your last few calls.  I was out taking my 10-yr-old daughter backpacking.  And since she asks questions about you often enough (as I talk about you so often), I told her that you spent a good part (the best part?) of your 40s and 50s taking nieces and nephews into the wild with backpack, on foot and free and easy.  To assuage your loneliness, forthwith some random notes on my trip with Josie up Plateau Mountain in the Catskill range. 

Now the Catskills, mind you, is not a range at all, not orogenic, formed by tectonic folding of the earth’s crust, but is in fact an eroded plateau, an uplift dissected into pieces much like the Colorado Plateau has been dissected.  Except this violent erosive process was made gentle with the help of glaciers, the most significant of which was the Wisconsonan Glacier, which lasted 75,000 to roughly 11,000 years ago. This last glaciation rounded the edges of the high points of the plateau, carved rolling valleys and cirques, created shallow river corridors with fast run-off, and, where there might have been impossibly walled canyons in a plateau of the American West, fashioned instead narrow notches where the cols of the “peaks” gloomily come together.   The major peaks of the Catskills plateau ascend to a relatively uniform height, between 3500 and 4000 feet, and at a distance they have the table aspect of mesas.  What distinguishes them most clearly from the plateau country of the West is the rich rushing green: the deciduous oaks, beeches, birches, and the evergreen conifers, the Eastern white pine, balsam fir, spruce.

Plateau Mountain, as its name suggests, is the most canyon-country-like of these peaks. The climb to the top of Plateau is from a v-shaped col called Stony Clove Notch, also called the Devil’s Notch.  The trail from Stony Clove Notch rises nearly 2000 feet in the space of 1.3 miles.  A difficult climb — especially for a ten-year-old girl shouldering a 15-pound pack.   

It is of course as green as the ancient English mythic forests where the Green Man lives, he who peaks behind ferns in the woods, who might kill you, but is mostly loving.  A few years back, when she was six or maybe seven, Josie and I were planting seeds, building our vegetable garden, and I told her bedtime stories about the Green Man who leapt from the forest and could eat a fallen man, woman, or child who it saw as flesh to rejuvenate.  Human beings as compost.  Which we are.

There has been terrific heat over the last month in the lowlands around the Catskills: ninety degree highs, day after day of unbroken sun and blue sky, rarely seen here, probably a new weather regime of climate warming.  But in the higher reaches of the mountains this heat softens, takes on a delightful aspect, libertine and easeful, with silken zephyrs, and bringing, most importantly, the chance to travel in the backcountry with barely any weight.  A normal Catskills in summer is sunny for a minute, then rainy, foggy, dismal, doomy, blowing a gale, or still as death and full of bugs and humidity — and all these strange troubled faces of the mountains can show in the space of days.  Which means preparation and a lot of equipment.

Now that a hot calm clear-blue-eyed weather had stabilized, Josie and I traveled light on our ascent of Plateau Mountain, starting the climb late in the day, around 6 pm, with sunset not two and half hours away, and the long tail of twilight until 9:30 pm or a little later.

The trail was very steep.  We toiled and sweated.  Josie complained not one bit.  She rallied me to her side when I slowed.  The air was still.  The insects were quiet.  No brooks or streams or rills ran off the peak; we’ve had little rain lately, and the land is in the early stages of drought.  I worried about our water.  I had brought a gallon for the both of us, taken from the tap at home, and a water filter in case we found something running.  A few springs burble in wet years on the high Catskill peaks, but for the most part these are dry places.  We got thirsty.  Husbanded the water.  Lots of sweat and groans, the good and happy kind, as everywhere along the trail there were ledges and boulders and cobbles and minor difficulties galore.  I worried about the water, and I worried about the time — it was dusk now and we were hardly nearer the rim of the mountain (for Plateau is one of those “peaks” in the Catskills that really does form a mesa rim). 

At about 3,000 feet of elevation, relief: a breeze picked up, the satiny zephyrs of which I spoke.  We were both of us soaked in sweat, wet to the skin, wet down to our wool socks (for even in summer on the trail I’ve taught Josie to wear only wool socks).   The stirring air drove through our soaked clothes, acted with the effect of evaporative cooling, the same action of what they call a swamp cooler in the aridlands. 

Still we climbed.  The trail faced west and now there was a sunset of marvelous red-pink-purple immensity that we caught sight of through the rustling leaves of the silver birches and the paper birches.  Soon, the full dark, moonless, time for headlamps.  Josie was afraid.  Bears, she said.  I had a pistol strapped to me, and showed her the gun to allay her fears, clearing the chamber and handing it to her.  “Looks like a blaster!” she said, being a Star Wars fan.  She held and weighed it without judgment, as one might any other tool, and correctly did not place her finger in the trigger guard while doing so. 

For the most part you don’t need a gun out here, not for bears or anyone else.   Subjective risk and objective risk are two explicitly competing worlds – often comically at odds – and the subjective risk, Josie’s perception of it, was allayed a bit (meaninglessly) with the knowledge that ol’ backpacker dad carried a gun to deal with an almost non-existent objective risk.  I told her the greatest risk on this wondrous mountain was that we might happen on another Homo sapiens playing music on a portable IJoy Beachbomb sound system.  Blind and deaf hominids as they hike deep in wilderness need to get terribly lost and never be able to recharge their Beachbombs. 

We climbed and climbed, the trail narrowed now to the cone of light from our headlamps, the breeze blew stronger and warmer, all the living world on the steep mountainside shook and danced and hushed.  With our lamps we groped up the final stretch along a series of ledges, and at the top, where the wind blew fiercest, we looked for a place to lay our sleeping bags, found one in the duff of high country firs and pines, and hugged.  We hugged!  And did a little dance, celebration of finding a place to sleep that was so endearing, so lovely.  The perfume of the balsam fir filled the air.  Here was the revealed edge of the world, here was a small taste of immensity.    

Let it never be said, however, that such glory is because of conquest.  It is not glorious by the measures of the deranged creature called the Competitive Man, who keeps by his side the sick concubine Competitive Woman-who-Wants-to-Be-Man.  It is not glorious by the measure of some inane clown-mimicry of a climb up K2, Kilimanjaro, fastest ascent (fastest masturbation), fastest descent, etc. etc., ad absurdum.

The glory is when the mere walker in the woods, the animal Homo sapiens, is at the still point of the turning world: “Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered….Except for the point, the still point.”

A small creature, a silly creature, a stupid and contemptible creature given the industrial culture he’s created, but also, free of that culture, a loving and sweet and gentle creature who needs only to find the still point.   

And on the rim of Plateau Mountain, two creatures, father and daughter, now lay down at their camp to sleep.  


Author’s Note: Since 2016 I have been working on a book about a 62-year-old Texas man who was sentenced to 96 months in federal prison, charged with being an “ecoterrorist” for acts of industrial sabotage “in defense of mother earth,” as he put it.  He is now in the last months of his sentence, due to be released in August of 2022, a few weeks from now.  If I can raise the money, I’d like to be there when he gets out.   The idea is that we take a trip together upon his release to visit some of the places he sabotaged. For that I need your help: $1,000.00 is my fundraising goal.

Christopher Ketcham writes at Christopherketcham.com and is seeking donations to his new journalism nonprofit, Denatured.  He can be reached at christopher.ketcham99@gmail.com.

Photo

05.08.2022 à 19:33

Prosecutors Seek Terrorism Enhancement for Eco-Saboteur

DGR News Service
Texte intégral (3119 mots)

Editor’s note: From 2016-2017, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya conducted a campaign of sabotage against the Dakota Access Pipeline (known as DAPL). The saboteurs had previously participated in the aboveground movement at Standing Rock and Mississipi Stand, but when that proved largely ineffective, they turned to underground direct action.

At the end of June, Reznicek was sentenced to eight years in federal prison after a controversial “terrorism enhancement” — which hasn’t been applied to January 6 defendants or to hate-crime terrorists — was added to her sentence. If you want to write to Jessica in prison, we’ve included her info at the end of this post.

Now, Montoya’s case is moving towards sentencing. It appears she may be collaborating with authorities. If that is true, it’s disturbing. If you join a revolutionary movement, study security culture and gird yourself for what comes.


By Ryan Fatica / Unicorn Riot

Des Moines, IA – Federal prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 96 months in prison for Ruby Montoya, admitted Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) saboteur, which includes a ‘terrorism enhancement’ that could tack years onto her sentence.

In November 2016, on the night of the election of Donald Trump, Montoya and Jessica Reznicek, who had become convinced that an escalation of tactics was necessary, began their arson and sabotage spree. In a press release shared on July 24, 2017, the two admitted to their direct action campaign.

“After having explored and exhausted all avenues of process, including attending public commentary hearings, gathering signatures for valid requests for Environmental Impact Statements, participating in Civil Disobedience, hunger strikes, marches and rallies, boycotts and encampments, we saw the clear deficiencies of our government to hear the people’s demands,” the pair wrote.

According to federal law (18 USC § 2332b(g)), a crime is considered an act of terrorism if it is “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct,” and is a violation of a federal statute.

US Federal District Court, Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Ryan Fatica.

“While stopping the DAPL may have been the immediate purpose of their unlawful conduct,” wrote Assistant United States Attorney Jason T. Griess in his memorandum to the court, “Reznicek and Montoya’s ultimate goal was to address ‘the broken federal government and the corporations they continue to protect.’ A federal government which they described as ‘more like a Nazi fascist Germany as each day passes.’”

Montoya’s sentencing has been delayed several times and a date for the hearing is not currently set. Meanwhile, Reznicek was sentenced to eight years in prison with a domestic terrorism enhancement on June 30, 2021. She appealed the enhancement, but it was upheld on June 6, 2022 by judges Ralph R. Erickson, David R. Stras, and Jonathan Kobes, on the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (All three judges were appointed by former president Donald Trump.)

In recent pleadings to the court, Montoya has sought to withdraw her admission of guilt, admitting to the campaign of sabotage against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but claiming that she’d been coerced into doing it. Her co-defendant Jessica Reznicek, members of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community, her father, her mental health, and even an undercover federal agent were all to blame for her conduct, according to Montoya.

According to an article in The Economist, by the fall of 2020, Montoya had “agreed to cooperate with the FBI.” Although the contents of her meetings with the FBI have not yet come to light, such meetings usually involve providing information on other activists in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence. Montoya still denies cooperating with the FBI.

Graffiti on electrical equipment in Boone County, Iowa next to a pipeline damaged by Ruby Montoya and Jessica Reznicek on March 18, 2017. Photo source: US Federal District Court, S.D. Iowa.

“She’s saying anything and everything to avoid going to jail and that’s a deflated position to be in,” said Frank Cordero, co-founder of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community where Reznicek and Montoya lived during their sabotage campaign. “It’s just sad to see a person with such integrity and such hopes be destroyed like this. I pray for Ruby all the time.”

In a motion to the court last year, Montoya’s attorney, Daphne Silverman, pointed fingers at members of the Des Moines Catholic Worker, claiming that they had pressured Montoya into taking action against the pipeline.

“Ms. Montoya was then coerced by the activist community within the Catholic Worker Des Moines,” the motion reads. “This activist community offered the opportunity to engage in destruction but did not give Ms. Montoya the information and other tools she needed to evaluate what they requested.”

The allegation that other activists offered her the “opportunity” and “tools” to engage in crimes implies that members of the Des Moines Catholic Worker were aware of her ongoing sabotage campaign or had even encouraged or “requested” that she engage in it. Implicating others in serious federal crimes is a form of cooperation with law enforcement usually avoided by activists loyal to the movements they’re a part of.

Part of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Hedrick, Iowa cut with an acetylene torch by Ruby Montoya and Jessica Reznicek. Photo source: US Federal District Court, Southern District of Iowa.

Despite this breach of trust, Cordero said that for him, it’s the federal government and the pipeline companies that are to blame, not Montoya. “I feel sorry for her and I feel no resentment toward her,” Cordero explained.

“The real criminals are the ones running the government and creating the laws,” he said.

“The ‘justice system’ is hardly that,” Cordero continued. “The fear tactics that they use, piling charges on top of charges, that’s how the feds do it. Did you know that 95% of all criminal charges are pled? Rarely does anyone go to trial. The prosecutors lay on tons of charges and you are facing the possibility of never getting out of prison alive, so you plead. This is typical of how the justice system works.”

Cordero also pointed out that none of the actions claimed by Montoya and Reznicek caused harm to any living thing. “Jess is no terrorist, neither of these women did any violence,” said Cordero. “They did a great thing, trying to bring down an oil pipeline.”

Frank Cordero, right, is arrested at a direct action at the Iowa Air National Guard Drone Command Center on Armed Forces Day, 2018. Photo Source: Des Moines Catholic Worker Community.

In the sentencing memo to the court, the federal prosecutor performed the same sentencing guideline calculation that they’d performed for Reznicek prior to her sentencing. For Reznicek, the prosecutor sought a sentence of 180 months—15 years in federal prison—but sought only 96 months, or eight years, for Montoya “to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct.”

Whatever information Montoya has provided to authorities, it appears that it may not result in a lighter sentence.

In January 2021, Montoya signed a plea agreement admitting to ten acts of sabotage committed between November 2016 and May 2017. In each case, Montoya and Reznicek admitted to either setting fire to construction equipment associated with the DAPL project or using an oxy-acetylene torch to cut holes in the pipeline itself at various locations along its route.

“We began in Mahaska County, IA, using oxy-acetylene cutting torches to pierce through exposed, empty steel valves, successfully delaying completion of the pipeline for weeks,” the pair wrote in a public statement in 2017. “After the success of this peaceful action, we began to use this tactic up and down the pipeline, throughout Iowa (and a part of South Dakota), moving from valve to valve until running out of supplies, and continuing to stop the completion of this project.”

Montoya’s new oppositional stance toward her co-defendant and former movement allies worried many involved in climate justice and related movements, as did her new attorney’s series of sealed motions in court.

eco-saboteur location of confession
The Iowa Utility Board Office of Consumer Advocate, where Reznicek and Montoya publicly admitted to their arson and sabotage campaign in 2017. Photo by Ryan Fatica.

Despite her attempts to cast blame on others and her claims that she was not capable of fully understanding the consequences of her actions, in June of this year, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Ebinger rejected Montoya’s motion to withdraw her guilty plea, stating that Montoya had failed to prove that she’d received ineffective legal representation. Judge Ebinger also cited Montoya’s statements under oath that she understood her plea agreement and was satisfied with her legal representation. (Ebinger was appointed by former president Barack Obama.)

“Montoya confirmed she was not pressured in any way to plead guilty,” Ebinger wrote in her nine-page ruling. “On this record, Montoya cannot demonstrate a fair and just reason to withdraw her guilty plea.”

The 1,172-mile-long Dakota Access Pipeline, which now stretches from the northwest corner of North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, was heavily contested by Indigenous and environmental activists. Indigenous people and those fighting alongside them staged a yearlong direct action campaign in 2016 and 2017 in hopes of preventing the project’s completion.

Fierce battles with law enforcement and private security companies near the encampment on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota involved thousands of people and gained national support, but were ultimately unable to stop the project’s completion. On June 14, 2017, a federal judge found that the Army Corps review of DAPL’s potential impacts to wildlife, hunting and fishing rights, and the environment did not fulfill their obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), yet the pipeline has remained operational.

In Montoya and Reznicek’s press release shared on July 24, 2017, they expressed how “the courts and public officials allowed these corporations to steal permissions from landowners and brutalize the land, water, and people.” They concluded that “the system is broken and it is up to us as individuals to take peaceful action and remedy it, and this we did, out of necessity.”

This prosecution unfolded in the Southern District of Iowa, which has played a key role in many probes of leftist groups since 2004, hundreds of pages of FBI records involving ‘domestic terrorism’ investigations obtained by FOIA showed. This included the 2004 and 2008 Republican National Conventions, a 2004-2007 Crimethinc investigation, and a 2009 grand jury in Davenport that held a Minneapolis resident without charges for four months.


Photo via YouTube screenshot.

Write to Jessica Reznicek:

Instructions:  All correspondence needs to be on white paper and white envelopes. Do not use stickers, return address labels, tape, or markers. You cannot send Jessica unused paper or stamps.

Be aware that prison authorities will read all mail. Don’t include any sensitive information and don’t ask Jessica questions about her case.

For more information look at the Waseca mail instructions.

Address:

Jessica Reznicek # 19293-030

FCI Waseca

PO Box 1731

Waseca, MN 56093

Deep Green Resistance conducted this interview with the pair shortly after they publicly admitted to the sabotage, but before they were arrested:

02.08.2022 à 00:10

Will Civilization Collapse Because It’s Running Out of Oil?

DGR News Service
Texte intégral (2053 mots)

Editor’s note: Oil has been called the “master resource” of industrial civilization, because it facilitates almost every other economic activity and subsidizes almost every other form of extraction. Chainsaws, for example, run on gasoline; tractors run on diesel fuel; and 10 calories of fossil fuel energy (mostly oil) is used to produce 1 calorie of industrial food. From transportation to shipping, industrial production, plastics, construction, medicine, and beyond, industrial civilization is a culture of oil.

Richard Heinberg presents an interesting conundrum for us. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on peak oil, and understands the energy dynamics (such as EROI, energy density, transmission issues, and intermittency) that make a wholesale replacement of fossil fuels by “renewables” impossible. And while he understands the depths of ecological crisis, he is not biocentric.

This leads to our differences from Heinberg. While he calls for mass adoption of “renewables” as part of the Post Carbon Institute, we advocate for dismantling the industrial economy — including the so-called “renewables” industry — by whatever means are necessary to halt the ecological crisis.

Nonetheless, Heinberg is an expert on peak oil, and we share this article to update our readers on the latest information on that topic.


by Richard Heinberg / CommonDreams

 

Will civilization collapse because it’s running out of oil? That question was debated hotly almost 20 years ago; today, not so much. Judging by Google searches, interest in “peak oil” surged around 2003 (the year my book The Party’s Over was published), peaked around 2005, and drifted until around 2010 before dropping off dramatically.

Keeping most of the remaining oil in the ground will be a task of urgency and complexity, one that cannot be accomplished under a business-as-usual growth economy.

Well, civilization hasn’t imploded for lack of fuel—not yet, at least. Instead, oil has gotten more expensive and economic growth has slowed. “Tight oil” produced in the US with fracking technology came to the rescue, sort of. For a little while. This oil was costlier to extract than conventional oil, and production from individual wells declined rapidly, thus entailing one hell of a lot of drilling. During the past decade, frackers went deeply into debt as they poked tens of thousands of holes into Texas, North Dakota, and a few other states, sending US oil production soaring. Central banks helped out by keeping interest rates ultra-low and by injecting trillions of dollars into the economy. National petroleum output went up farther and faster than had ever happened anywhere before in the history of the oil industry.

Most environmentalists therefore tossed peak oil into their mental bin of “things we don’t need to worry about” as they focused laser-like on climate change. Mainstream energy analysts then and now assume that technology will continue to overcome resource limits in the immediate future, which is all that really seems to matter. Much of what is left of the peak oil discussion focuses on “peak demand”—i.e., the question of when electric cars will become so plentiful that we’ll no longer need so much gasoline.

Nevertheless, those who’ve engaged with the oil depletion literature have tended to come away with a few useful insights:

  • Energy is the basis of all aspects of human society.
  • Fossil fuels enabled a dramatic expansion of energy usable by humanity, in turn enabling unprecedented growth in human population, economic activity, and material consumption.
  • It takes energy to get energy, and the ratio of energy returned versus energy spent (energy return on investment, or EROI) has historically been extremely high for fossil fuels, as compared to previous energy sources.
  • Similar EROI values will be necessary for energy alternatives if we wish to maintain our complex, industrial way of life.
  • Depletion is as important a factor as pollution in assessing the sustainability of society.

Now a new research paper has arrived on the scene, authored by Jean Laherrère, Charles Hall, and Roger Bentley—all veterans of the peak oil debate, and all experts with many papers and books to their credit. As its title suggests (“How Much Oil Remains for the World to Produce? Comparing Assessment Methods, and Separating Fact from Fiction“), the paper mainly addresses the question of future oil production. But to get there, it explains why this is a difficult question to answer, and what are the best ways of approaching it. There are plenty of technical issues to geek out on, if that’s your thing. For example, energy analytics firm Rystad recently downgraded world oil reserves by about 9 percent (from 1,903 to 1,725 billion barrels), but the authors of the new research paper suggest that reserves estimates should be cut by a further 300 billion barrels due to long-standing over-reporting by OPEC countries. That’s a matter for debate, and readers will have to make up their own minds whether the authors make a convincing case.

For readers who just want the bottom line, here goes. The most sensible figure for the aggregate amount of producible “conventional oil” originally in place (what we’ve already burned, plus what could be burned in the future) is about 2,500 billion barrels. We’ve already extracted about half that amount. When this total quantity is plotted as a logistical curve over time, the peak of production occurs essentially now, give or take a very few years. Indeed, conventional oil started a production plateau in 2005 and is now declining. Conventional oil is essentially oil that can be extracted using traditional drilling methods and that can flow at surface temperature and pressure conditions naturally. If oil is defined more broadly to include unconventional sources like tight oil, tar sands, and extra-heavy oil, then possible future production volumes increase, but the likely peak doesn’t move very far forward in time. Production of tight oil can still grow in the Permian play in Texas and New Mexico, but will likely be falling by the end of the decade. Extra-heavy oil from Venezuela and tar sands from Canada won’t make much difference because they require a lot of energy for processing (i.e., their EROI is low); indeed, it’s unclear whether much of Venezuela’s enormous claimed Orinoco reserves will ever be extracted.

Of course, logistical curves are just ways of using math to describe trends, and trends can change. Will the decline of global oil production be gradual and smooth, like the mathematically generated curves in these experts’ charts? That depends partly on whether countries dramatically reduce fossil fuel usage in order to stave off catastrophic climate change. If the world gets serious about limiting global warming, then the downside of the curve can be made steeper through policies like carbon taxes. Keeping most of the remaining oil in the ground will be a task of urgency and complexity, one that cannot be accomplished under a business-as-usual growth economy. We’ll need energy for the energy transition (to build solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, heat pumps, electric cars, mass transit, etc.), and most of that energy, at least in the early stages of the transition, will have to come from fossil fuels. If oil, the most important of those fuels, will be supply-constrained, that adds to the complexity of managing investment and policy so as to minimize economic pain while pursuing long-range climate goals.

As a side issue, the authors note (as have others) that IPCC estimates of future carbon emissions under its business-as-usual scenario are unrealistic. We just don’t have enough economically extractable fossil fuels to make that worst-case scenario come true. However, even assuming a significant downgrade of reserves (and thus of projected emissions), burning all of the oil we have would greatly exceed emissions targets for averting climate catastrophe.

One factor potentially limiting future oil production not discussed in the new paper has to do with debt. Many observers of the past 15 years of fracking frenzy have pointed out that the industry’s ability to increase levels of oil production has depended on low interest rates, which enabled companies to produce oil now and pay the bills later. Now central banks are raising interest rates in an effort to fight inflation, which is largely the result of higher oil and gas prices. But hiking interest rates will only discourage oil companies from drilling. This could potentially trigger a self-reinforcing feedback loop of crashing production, soaring energy prices, higher interest rates, and debt defaults, which would likely cease only with a major economic crash. So, instead of a gentle energy descent, we might get what Ugo Bardi calls a “Seneca Cliff.”

So far, we are merely seeing crude and natural gas shortages, high energy prices, broken supply chains, and political upheaval. Energy challenges are now top of mind for policymakers and the public in a way that we haven’t seen since oil prices hit a record $147 barrel in 2008, when peak oil received some semblance of attention. But now we run the risk of underlying, irreversible supply constraints being lost in the noise of other, more immediate contributors to the supply and price shocks the world is experiencing—namely lingering effects from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russian oil and gas, and far stricter demands for returns from domestic investors. Keeping the situation from devolving further will take more than just another fracking revolution, which bought us an extra decade of business-as-usual. This time, we’re going to have to start coming to terms with nature’s limits. That means shared sacrifice, cooperation, and belt tightening. It also means reckoning with our definitions of prosperity and progress, and getting down to the work of reconfiguring an economy that has become accustomed to (and all too comfortable with) fossil-fueled growth.


Richard Heinberg is a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of fourteen books, including his most recent: “Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival”(2021). Previous books include: “Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy” (2016), “Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels” (2015), and “Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines (2010).

 

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash.

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