Iraq war and its aftermath failed to stop the beginning of peak oil in 2005

It is now 10 years that the coalition of the willing, err… peaking (US peak 1970, UK peak 1999, Australia peak 2000) invaded Iraq. This was not just an oil war. It was a peak oil war. GW Bush and Cheney were oilmen. In his famous 1999 oil-is-not-leisurewear speech Dick Cheney identified the Middle East as the place where the “prize lies”. While Saudi Arabia was at peak or approaching peak, Iraq had under-produced oil for 20 years and production in the 90s was capped by UN sanctions because of Saddam ruling Iraq. The idea was to get at Iraq’s “easy” pre-peak oil to push the global peak a couple of years into the future.

But oil wars don’t solve any problems, they only create new ones. One blow-back of the Iraq war is the situation in Iran where (again) sanctions accelerate Iran’s 2nd and last oil peak. So as oil production in Iraq finally goes up, Iranian oil production goes down. The net difference is a meagre +200 kb/d in 2012. Thus 10 years down the track, still no lessons have been learnt. Instead of implementing projects which get us away from oil like rail electrification, the world is even more addicted to oil now than it was 10 years ago.

(1) Introduction

Former Australian Prime Minister Fraser asked for an inquiry in August 2012. On his website we read this 2013 update:

The 10th Anniversary of Australia’s commitment to the Iraq War in 2003 falls this month. The decision in that case was taken by the Prime Minister and a handful of Ministers alone. Parliament barely entered into their calculations, apart from the fact that they ‘controlled’ the House of Representatives. As for consulting Parliament or accounting to Parliament at any stage subsequently for their actions, barely a word.

Fraser’s initiative last year was promptly dismissed by Defence Minister Stephen Smith:

16/8/2012   ”You always learn lessons from a former or previous conflict,” he told ABC TV.

Really? What would be a lesson from an oil war? For example, to:

(1) Educate the public about peak oil

(2) Stop building additional oil-dependent infrastructure

(3) Reduce oil consumption as planning objective in all projects

(4) Use of alternative fuels like our natural gas as CNG or LNG

(5) Build new, electrified rail lines.

But this is just not done and Australia’s oil & fuel import dependency has grown, not decreased. Even the Australian automobile club NRMA got worried and challenged official laissez faire policy in this report:

Fuel security report

(2) What was known about the oil supply situation at the time before the Iraq war?

GW. Bush started to work in the Texas oil industry in 1975, 3 years after Texas oil production had peaked and 2 years after the 1st global oil crisis. It was also the time when Iranian oil production started to peak under the Shah, which triggered the 2nd oil crisis.

This graph shows that despite an increasing number of wells after the peak, Texas production continued to fall. The 2nd oil crisis resulted in a global recession with low oil prices. So in this difficult environment it was no surprise that GW Bush sold out of his last oil business Harken in June 1990, 2 months before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. A description of this background information can be found in the Washington Post:

Bush Name Helps Fuel Oil Dealings

But the story of Bush’s career in oil, which began following his graduation from Harvard Business School in the summer of 1975 and ended when he sold out to Harken and headed for Washington, is mostly about his failure to succeed, despite the sterling connections his lineage and Ivy League education brought him.

Autumn 1999

Dick Cheney’s speech at the Institute of Petroleum in London

“For the world as a whole, oil companies are expected to keep finding and developing enough oil to offset our seventy one million plus barrel a day of oil depletion, but also to meet new demand. By some estimates there will be an average of two per cent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead along with conservatively a three per cent natural decline in production from existing reserves. By 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from?

… Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature. We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world’s economy.”

“While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East with two thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies, even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow.”

July 1999

Only months earlier the Irish  oil geologist Colin Campbell had made a

Presentation to a House of Commons All-party Committee

The Imminent Peak of World Oil production

in which he already warned of spurious reserve additions in OPEC countries

and showed the peaking production forecast for Norway

End 2000

UK statistics showed that all large fields had already peaked in the mid 80s and that new, much smaller fields were in rapid decline. Shaping up to a 2nd and last peak (the dip after the 1st peak was exacerbated by the accident on the Piper Alpha platform in 1988). The impending peaking (= lack of growth) of the North Sea was one of the reasons why oil prices went up, setting the scene for what was to follow.

January 2001

GW Bush comes to power as US gas prices had tripled in just 2 years to around $1 a gallon and California suffered from blackouts

Therefore, energy was top on his agenda and his Vice President, Dick Cheney established an energy task force. A legal battle over its proceedings started almost immediately.

Conservative Watchdog Group Demands Energy Task Force Records

The monthly ASPO newsletter represents a good historic record – publically available – of what was known about peak oil at the time.

February 2001

The ASPO newsletter #2 reports:

“Mr Simmons, a Houston banker, who has been in touch for some years, has joined President Bush’s Energy Committee. He has taken a keen interest in the idea of a Depletion Protocol and is to bring it to the attention of the US cabinet.”

March 2001

Maps and Charts of Iraqi Oil Fields

These are documents turned over by the Commerce Department, under a March 5, 2002, court order as a result of Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit concerning the activities of the Cheney Energy Task Force. The documents contain a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” The documents are dated March 2001

April 2001

US gas prices have tripled to $ 1 a gallon since a minimum in December 1998 and almost doubled compared to a long term average of 56 cents.

April  2001

The Baker Institute publishes its own energy policy paper


Here are some extracts:

“Oil is still readily available on international markets, but prices have doubled from levels that helped spur rapid economic growth through much of the 1990s. And with spare capacity scarce and Middle East tensions high, chances are greater than at any point in two decades of an oil supply disruption that would even more severely test the United States’ security and prosperity.

For the most part, U.S. oil policy has relied on maintenance of free access to Middle East Gulf oil and free access for Gulf exports to world markets, relying heavily on military preparedness. The U.S. has forged a special relationship with certain key Middle East exporters that had an expressed interest in stable oil prices and, we assumed, would adjust their oil output to keep prices at levels that would neither discourage global economic growth nor fuel inflation. Taking this dependence a step further, the U.S. government has operated under the assumption that the national oil companies of these countries would make the investments needed to maintain enough surplus capacity to form a cushion against disruptions.

But recently, things have changed. These Gulf allies are finding their domestic and foreign policy interests increasingly at odds with America’s strategic considerations.

They have become less inclined to lower oil prices in exchange for security of markets, and evidence suggests that adequate investment is not being made in a timely enough manner to increase production capacity in line with growing global needs.


Develop a diplomatic program ensuring GCC allies remain prepared and willing to maintain stable prices for global economic growth and also to fill any unexpected supply shortfalls in times of turmoil in the oil markets, whether created by accident or by the adverse political actions by any producing nation.

Review Iraq policies to lower anti-Americanism in the Middle East and elsewhere; set the groundwork to eventually ease Iraqi oil field investment restrictions

Take a pro-active government position on demand management”


MATTHEW SIMMONS, President, Simmons & Company International 

May 2001

What is important here now is a report version of the Energy Task Group, signed by Dick Cheney and titled “National Energy Policy”

Perpetual oil consumption growth needed for the US

The document is available here

An alternative site:
but the download did not work on the day of writing this article.

September  2001

Attack on the World Trade Centre in New York

The hijackers come from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The ASPO newsletter of this month makes the link to oil:

“Approximately half of what is left of this precious commodity lies in just five Middle East countries, which have been forced into a swing role making up the difference between World demand and what the other countries can supply within their natural depletion profiles”

On the same page is a graph on the peaking of conventional non-swing oil

January 2002

In his State of The Union Address GW Bush names Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the axis of evil.

January 2002

Throughout the year 2001 Matt Simmons, the late peak oiler from Houston, Texas, and author of the 2005 book “Twilight in the desert, the coming Saudi oil shock and the world economy” works on his giant oil fields study which is published in January 2002


The World’s Giant Oil Fields

How many exist? How much do they produce? How fast are they declining?

“What I found, after extensive digging, is that a small percent of the world’s oilfields comprise a surprisingly large percent of current daily supply. Almost all of the biggest giant oilfields are old. Many are very old. The new giants found over the past 50 years have been progressively smaller over time, particularly in terms of peak production rates.”

On Saudi Arabia, Simmons writes:

“In 2001, Saudi-Aramco will drill 246 wells, an increase of 50% over last year’s drilling and double what was drilled in 1999. Their latest 2002 budget calls for drilling 324 wells at a total cost of $1.5 billion. Many of these wells will be drilled in Ghawar, which suggests that this ultra-giant field is now in its early state of decline.”

And on Iraq:

“Iraq has a multitude of fields that have never produced or fields that are in need of a massive rehabilitation. Its 15 billion barrel West Qurna field could potentially produce around 400,000 barrels per day. Its one billion barrel Rataw oilfield, its Majnoon field, which has an expected initial output of 300,000 barrels per day with later development yielding possibly 600,000 barrels per day or more and its Nahr Umar field with potential of producing around 400,000 to 500,000 barrels per day of light gravity crude are all great examples of new giant fields yet to be exploited. But all these projects are merely “on the drawing board,” awaiting the lifting of United Nations sanctions before beginning. In the meantime, Iraq’s Kirkuk field and the two Rumaila fields are old, badly overproduced and could soon decline as rapidly as the Western Siberian oilfields did after years of bad reservoir management.”

Simmons’ table put in a graph to illustrate the dependency on giant oil fields (click to enlarge)

March 2002

The EIA publishes the International Energy Outlook 2002

 Oil prices are seen not changing much with $30 dollar a barrel being a high price (click to enlarge)

World oil consumption to reach 120 mb/d by 2020

The reference case projects that about two-thirds of the increase in petroleum demand over the next two decades will be met by an increase in production by members of OPEC rather than by non-OPEC suppliers.

March 2002

John Akehurst, Managing Director of Woodside Energy, does a presentation at the ABARE event “Outlook 2002” in the National Convention Centre in Canberra, opened by Federal Resource Minister Ian McFarlane

“World Oil Markets and the Challenges for Australia”

With following graph showing an Australian oil production peak in the year 2000.

Figure 5: Australian Oil and Condensate Production by Field

August 2002

Iraqi crude oil production had reached minimum levels of 1,5 mb/d

Iraq’s crude production after Desert Storm was first limited by sanctions to the use of oil in local refineries. After the introduction of the UN oil for food program (OFF ) in Dec 1996, an erratic production pattern emerged with an apparent peak in 2000, interrupted by many problems associated with the OFF implementation.

The role of oil was discussed at length in various newspaper articles like in the following excerpts, but peak oil was not on the radar of these journalists, although this information was readily available on the internet with a couple of simple search words like “oil reserves”.

September 2002

What the White House really wants

The unifying element in an often-contradictory US foreign policy is the dream of toppling OPEC and controlling the world oil market. And Iraq is the key, writes Paul McGeough from Riyadh.

SMH News Review Sep 28 2002

December 2002

Defence redefined means securing cheap energy

Behind George Bush’s high-minded rhetoric on why America may go to war with Iraq is a long history of weighing the price of securing its oil supplies. Ritt Goldstein writes.

Over several months beginning in April last year a series of military and governmental policy documents was released that sought to legitimise the use of US military force in the pursuit of oil and gas.

Providing a summary of the US military’s coming role, over the summer of 2000 the Army War College (a foundry for the US military’s strategic thinking) published a declaration that security “is more than protecting the country from external threats; security includes economic security”.

January 2003

The Energy Infrastructure Planning Group, which planned for the period after the Iraq war, completes a document titled “Planning for the Iraqi Petroleum Infrastructure, Briefing for the Secretary for Defence” with a table showing that Iraqi oil capacity was to be lifted to 5-8 mb/d. This paper was published by Greg Muttitt, author of the book “Fuel on the Fire” on July 17, 2012

These cold-blooded calculations show that the cost of the war was assessed to be much higher than revenue from future oil sales. The phasing of Iraqi oil development was seen as follows:

(1) Current actual production: 2.4 mb/d, revenue of $ 16-25 bn with oil prices of $18-28/barrel

(2) Current production capacity: 2.8 – 3.1 mb/d, with investments of $1-8 bn over 6-20 months

(3) Mid-term capacity: 3.6 mb/d, reachable 1 year after 3.1 mb/d have been achieved, additional $ 3-5 bn required

(4) Economically reasonable capacity: > 5mb/d within 3-5 years with investments of $ 20 bn


February 10, 2003

Matt Simmons speaks about President Bush and Iraq

Q10: Can you tell us about your role in advising the Bush administration on energy matters?

SIMMONS:  “….. By the fall [of 2000], I have had the privilege of, effectively, editing every word that went into the George W. Bush comprehensive energy plan that he put forward four times during October as a candidate…

…..I’m told that maybe the first actual business meeting held on Sunday morning, the inauguration was on a Saturday, was beginning to form this emergency team that became known as the, not the transition team, but the Cheney Energy Task Force. Which, really, the only people who served on that were Cabinet Officers. This big controversy that finally erupted about who were all the people who were talking to…. I have no earthly idea of who… Lots of people were lobbying to make presentations, and I don’t know who those people were, because I had already done my work…

I’ve, basically, only briefly shaken hands with Vice President Cheney, and I haven’t seen President Bush very often, but the few times I have, he’s a very serious guy, he is a unbelievably quick study, and he clearly understands a lot about energy and takes it very seriously.”

Q 13: Many people view the proposed US military attack on Iraq as really being mainly about oil – is that your view?

SIMMONS: “It’s about WMD….made more serious because Iraq happened to have a lot more money.. because of oil”

Q: “If the US somehow was able to massage more oil out of Iraq by whatever means, would that seriously help the energy situation in the US?”

SIMMONS: “We have some real serious concerns about who the regime running Iraq is, as to how badly damaged the oil industry already is as a result of a decade of abuse of their fields. Lack of the ability having the sort of modern equipment and just gross overproduction of the fields. And so my worry is that the morning after… what we need to do is a very rapid diagnostic review of what can be saved and what is probably not throwing good money after bad money. Then figure out how you basically, economically come in as fast as possible and rehabilitate a very sick oil field because it’s really far-fetched to re-build Iraq and let the oil industry collapse…..”

So in relation to WMD and as a supporter of the Republicans, Simmons was towing the line of President Bush. But he warned of a difficult task ahead to revive Iraq’s oil industry.

February 14, 2003

Peace rally clogs Melbourne city streets

Protesters gathered outside the State Library in Swanston Street, waving placards with slogans including: “No War for Oil”, “Howard’s End” and “Will the Pollies’ Kids Go to War?”

February 17,  2003

Howard rejects global protests

The Prime Minister insists he will not be swayed by the human tide of protest against a war with Iraq – not by the more than 250,000 people who marched in Sydney yesterday, nor the 10 million who rallied worldwide.

February 22, 2003

Anti-war march in Brunswick

March 18, 2003

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES   Official Hansard (excerpts)

Mr HOWARD (Bennelong—Prime Minister) (2.03 p.m.) I move that this House:

5. commit Australian Defence Force elements in the region to the international coalition of military forces prepared to enforce Iraq’s compliance with its international obligations under successive resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, with a view to restoring international peace and security in the Middle East region;

Early this morning, President Bush telephoned me and formally requested Australia’s support and participation in a coalition of nations who are prepared to enforce the Security Council’s resolutions by all necessary means. This request was subsequently considered and agreed to by cabinet.

We hope that Iraq will be able to establish a government which has the support and reflects the will of its people. This is the only way to ensure that the wealth generated from the oil reserves, which belong to the people of Iraq, is directed to achieving their wellbeing and prosperity

Mr ANDERSON (Gwydir—Deputy Prime Minister) (3.18 p.m.)—

The idea that this is about oil has been raised many times; I hear it a little less now. But I do want to say again that America’s concerns are patently real, as are ours, and its motivation in seeking a more secure and prosperous world should not be so lightly dismissed. Again, history is always a valuable guide as to the sort of role that countries play internationally for better or for worse

Mr DOWNER (Mayo—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (4.24 p.m.)—

We want to ensure the Iraqi people control Iraqi oil and that it is used for their benefit

Mr BRERETON (Kingsford-Smith) (5.33 p.m.)—

What we are witnessing is an exercise of imperial domination. It is an exercise that will change the regime that controls Iraq’s oil wealth, and it is an exercise that will put in place a regime supportive of US military presence in the Middle East.

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (6.23 p.m.)—

The French were the first in there to start negotiating on the use of the oil reserves immediately after the Iraqi war. The first negotiations about oil that have been recorded were in May 1992 when Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law and then minister for industry and oil, and the adviser of Monsieur Jacques Chirac started negotiations. The bodies were not cold, and the French were in there negotiating for their cut of oil

Mr TRUSS (Wide Bay—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (8.02 p.m.)—

I do not want blood for oil, or wheat or free trade or for anything else;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22chamber/hansardr/2003-03-18/0000%22

March 19,  2003

Invasion of Iraq

May 2003

Mission accomplished

(3) The aftermath and revelations

May 2003

The Energy Markets Unit of DTI (Department of Trade & Industry), London, defines the objectives in Iraq as follows:

  • A modern, well managed and transparent oil sector that acts as a role model for how other ME countries might open their oil sectors to foreign and private participation
  • Iraq as a reliable world oil supplier where production is robust to potential disruptions caused by political unrest, strikes, breakdown of infrastructure etc.
  • If Iraq is a member of OPEC, then on the dovish side – favouring greater output at more sustainable prices
  • An oil sector using modern technologies with oil produced in a way which balances sustainability, efficiency and environmental objectives
  • Arrangements for the management of oil revenue that ensure they are used in an efficient, equitable and sustainable way in the interest of the Iraqi people
  • An oil sector open and attractive to foreign investment, with appropriate arrangements for the exploitation of new fields
  • A level playing field in which all interested parties can bid for development contracts on an open and equal basis with investment decisions based on commercial considerations and not clouded by previous negotiations or politics


April  2004

In a 2004 PFC Energy presentation to the Washington based Centre for Strategic and International studies (CSIS Iraq is shown to be depleted by only 22%

PFC Energy’s Global Crude Oil and Natural Gas Liquids Supply Forecast

The smoking gun in this graph: target was Iraq’s “easy” pre-peak oil.

Note that Iran was assessed as being depleted by 50%

Let’s have a look at Iraq’s oil production history

Iraq – on a national level – had under produced oil for around 20 years, compared to Iran, for example. At end 2002, Iraq’s official reserves (BP Statistical Review 2003) were 112.5 Gb while Iran’s was lower at 89.7. Despite higher reserves, Iraq’s production was lower:

The first dip occurred during the Iran-Iraq war,

and then under the UN sanctions in the 1990s.


October 2004

ASPO letter #46 calculates on the basis of the PFC presentation at CSIS that Iraq has the 2nd highest remaining reserves after Saudi Arabia (column 5)

Chris Skrebowski writes:

“….The immediate conclusions are that OPEC with the exception of Indonesia, Algeria, Libya and just possibly Nigeria are supplying BP with their total discovered rather than their remaining reserves.

A second conclusion is that OPEC’s reserves are around the 500 billion barrel mark, or in other words some 300-400 billion barrels short of what is widely assumed.”

November 2005

Document Says Oil Chiefs Met With Cheney Task Force

A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force in 2001 — something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.

The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated. 

Energy Task Force Meetings Participants

July 2007

Papers Detail Industry’s Role in Cheney’s Energy Report

In all, about 300 groups and individuals met with staff members of the energy task force, including a handful who saw Cheney himself, according to the list, which was compiled in the summer of 2001. For six years, those names have been a closely guarded secret, thanks to a fierce legal battle waged by the White House. Some names have leaked out over the years, but most have remained hidden because of a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that agreed that the administration’s internal deliberations ought to be shielded from outside scrutiny.

July 2007

Iraq deployment linked to oil: Nelson

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson says securing the world’s oil supply is one of the Federal Government’s considerations as it decides how long to keep troops in Iraq.

Government admits oil is the reason for war in Iraq

HOWARD [at launch of 2007 defence update]: “Many of the key strategic trends I have mentioned, including terrorism and extremism, challenging demographics, WMD aspirations, energy demand and great power competition converge in the Middle East”

Back in 2003:

Q: “Prime Minister, has oil anything to do with this conflict?

HOWARD: “No I don’t believe for a moment it has”

PM denies Iraq-oil link

July 5, 2007
HOWARD: “I haven’t said in my speech that the reason we went to Iraq is oil or the reason we’re staying there is oil.
“We are not there because of oil and we didn’t go there because of oil. We don’t remain there because of oil. Oil is not the reason.”


(4) Present situation

March 2013

10 year anniversary of invasion

It took Iraq 10 years to get back to 1990 production levels. And we see another blow-back of this war shaping up. As Iraq’s production goes up, Iran’s production – on its 2nd and last peak – goes down, accelerated  (again) by sanctions. But this is a topic of another story. All in all, with so many lives lost, in 2012, production from both countries together was not even 200 kb/d higher than in 2000.  When will the world learn to get away from oil?

And what happened to US oil consumption as depicted in Fig 2 (page x) of Dick Cheney’s National Energy Policy document? Let’s superimpose on this graph actual consumption and oil production data:

What we see here very clearly is that US oil consumption did not continue to grow as planned in the 2001 Energy Policy Report. Incidentally, the kink in the consumption curve was in 2005. The recent uptick in tight oil production not only came too late but that oil has not brought down oil prices and the consumption curve remains basically flat. That is what peak oil is all about.


Oil wars don’t stop peak oil.