The Oil Depletion Protocol: How Alternative Fuels Can End Our Wars

Access to petroleum has been mentioned again and again as the primary reason for our nation’s current military engagement in Iraq. However, little discussion or emphasis on oil has been a part of our nation’s negotiating position, other than requiring the Iraqi government to approve extremely favorable terms, tantamount to expropriation, in an oil agreement for the long-term development and management of Iraqi oil resources by the major international oil companies. This is a position that the Iraqi government has rejected as an inequitable arrangement.

In 2003, at the beginning of the Iraq war, it occurred to me as well as to many others that sufficient energy supplies, as alternatives to oil, would reduce the perceived need for applying military force to ensure continued access to oil. That’s when I began to study alternatives to oil. At first it seemed that the development of alternatives, like wind and solar, would be sufficient to replace oil for transportation if clean, renewable electrical energy could be stored as hydrogen, which could be burned in vehicle engines. I quickly came to the view that fuel cells would be too expensive, too long in development, and thus impractical. But initially it seemed that burning liquid hydrogen in converted internal combustion engines could be a solution. After reading technical papers on the subject, this solution also seemed impractical due to the volatility of hydrogen and the fact that it takes more energy to produce hydrogen than hydrogen yields. Biofuels seemed to hold promise, but further investigation indicated that corn ethanol requires huge amounts of fossil fuels, yielding only a 10 to 20 percent return on energy invested. Both corn ethanol and biodiesel also require vast amounts of crop acreage and thus compete with food crops, which is a moral issue as food prices rise and the less affluent suffer.

Then in 2005, a paper produced by a research team at the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), under contract to the U.S. Department of Energy, convinced me that the one-time phenomenon known as global "peak oil" would change everything. A peak and then decline in global oil production, according to SAIC, will shrink economic activity globally and severely impact our way of life in the United States, where virtually all economic activity depends on cheap oil. The SAIC paper predicted that there is no combination of energy alternatives that can mitigate the shortfall in petroleum, unless a massive energy mitigation investment initiative had been started 20 years in advance of the eventual peak. The paper further estimated that if the start of the mitigation effort is delayed until peak oil production is reached, then the United States will begin experiencing a shortfall in transportation energy, reaching 30 percent 20 years beyond peak. Development of coal liquefaction would mitigate the effect by 25 percent, but it would more than double CO2 greenhouse gas emissions on a gallon-for-gallon equivalent compared with gasoline unless CO2 could be sequestered, a theoretical but yet unproven technology. A subsequent 2007 update by the lead researcher of the SAIC report projected that every 1 percent decline in oil production will produce a 1 percent decline in U.S. economic activity. Many geologists and energy analysts have predicted a 2 to 5 percent annual decline in global oil production following peak.

Already, as this was written in February 2008, economists were attributing rapidly rising gasoline prices to increased demand for petroleum that is outstripping global supply. But exports to the United States from key producers are also a problem. For example, Mexico is the second-largest foreign provider of oil to the United States, and the giant Cantarell oil field in Mexico is in decline. As Mexico continues to satisfy increasing domestic consumption, the New York Times, on December 9, 2007, reported that within five years Mexico is projected to cease exporting oil.

As competition for remaining global oil supplies increases, the moral issue of using military might to secure oil at gunpoint may become ever more apparent. Since our administration currently considers access to oil from the Middle East a national security imperative, the pressure to use military force is likely to increase unless a countervailing alternative is promoted. Currently, there appears to be none publicly visible.

But there is an alternative. It is the Oil Depletion Protocol. My own Friends meeting has endorsed it, as has the local Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center, and it is circulating nationally and internationally. It was developed by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) several years ago. To me and to many Friends, the Oil Depletion Protocol offers a thoughtful, rational, and loving context for negotiating the equitable division of the world’s remaining oil reserves. Given the tremendous and escalating stress among nations that competition for the remaining oil will produce, the Oil Depletion Protocol offers a hopeful basis for the start of international negotiations that would encompass settlement of the Iraq war but also serve to defuse future warfare that could spread far beyond Iraq.

Beyond negotiation over the remaining oil reserves is the issue of the global impact of peak oil, which in a November 2007 survey of oil analysts was pegged to occur between 2008 and 2010 with a 95 percent confidence level. What this indicates is the need to develop local contingency plans based on the study of a broad array of issues at the community level in order to make a transition to a far lower level of consumption of both energy and manufactured products and to ensure food security as well. Adequate supplies of food will be under stress from less fertilizer, higher transportation costs, higher manufacturing costs for prepared and packaged foods, and the dearth of farmers’ markets serving local growers and consumers. But these issues only compound the central issue of peacefully and justly resolving the continuing conflict and cost in lives and material conflicts over oil.

My hope is that Friends in every yearly meeting and at the FCNL will devote serious study to the support of the Oil Depletion Protocol as an integral part of our nation’s negotiating position to help bring the Iraq war, and all war, to an end.

The Oil Depletion Protocol:
A Plan to Avoid Oil Wars, Terrorism, and Economic Collapse

  • Whereas the passage of history has recorded an increasing pace of change, such that the demand for energy has grown rapidly in parallel with the world population over the past 200 years since the Industrial Revolution;
  • Whereas the energy supply required by the population has come mainly from coal and petroleum, having been formed but rarely in the geological past, such resources being inevitably subject to depletion;
  • Whereas oil provides 90 percent of transport fuel, essential to trade, and plays a critical role in agriculture, needed to feed the expanding population;
  • Whereas oil is unevenly distributed on the planet for well-understood geological reasons, with much being concentrated in five countries, bordering the Persian Gulf;
  • Whereas all the major productive provinces of the world have been identified with the help of advanced technology and growing geological knowledge, it being now evident that discovery reached a peak in the 1960s, despite technological progress, and a diligent search;
  • Whereas the past peak of discovery inevitably leads to a corresponding peak in production during the first decade of the 21st century, assuming no radical decline in demand;
  • Whereas the onset of the decline of this critical resource affects all aspects of modern life, such having grave political and geopolitical implications;
  • Whereas it is expedient to plan an orderly transition to the new world environment of reduced energy supply, making early provisions to avoid the waste of energy, stimulate the entry of substitute energies, and extend the life of the remaining oil;
  • Whereas it is desirable to meet the challenges so arising in a cooperative and equitable manner, such to address related climate change concerns, economic and financial stability and the threats of conflicts for access to critical resources.

Now it is proposed that

  1. A convention of nations shall be called to consider the issue with a view to agreeing to an Accord with the following objectives:
    1. to avoid profiteering from shortage, such that oil prices may remain in reasonable relationship with production cost;
    2. to allow poor countries to afford their imports;
    3. to avoid destabilising financial flows arising from excessive oil prices;
    4. to encourage consumers to avoid waste;
    5. to stimulate the development of alternative energies.
  2. Such an Accord shall have the following outline provisions:
    1. No country shall produce oil at above its current Depletion Rate, such being defined as annual production as a percentage of the estimated amount left to produce;
    2. Each importing country shall reduce its imports to match the current World Depletion Rate, deducting any indigenous production.
  3. Detailed provisions shall cover the definition of the several categories of oil, exemptions and qualifications, and the scientific procedures for the estimation of Depletion Rate.
  4. The signatory countries shall cooperate in providing information on their reserves, allowing full technical audit, such that the Depletion Rate may be accurately determined.
  5. The signatory countries shall have the right to appeal their assessed Depletion Rate in the event of changed circumstances.

(Note: the Oil Depletion Protocol has elsewhere been published as "The Rimini Protocol" and "The Uppsala Protocol." All of these documents are essentially identical.) This plan has been endorsed by the North Meadow Circle of Friends, Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting.

David W. Pilbrow

David W. Pilbrow is clerk of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of North Meadow Circle of Friends in Indianapolis, Ind. He began educating himself about alternatives to oil at the beginning of the Iraq War. For the past three years he has served as a lobbyist for the Indiana Friends Committee on Legislation with a primary focus on an array of issues to support energy conservation, localized agriculture, and sustainable living. He retired from the Indiana State Department of Health in 2003 where he was editor of employee newsletters.