Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Energy Information – A new area for Information Science research

I’ve been thinking about how to get a research angle on the issue of Energy Information for a while now, largely due to my reading of the Peak Oil issue.

On the web you will find various articles about Energy Information, or misinformation as some people call it (for example see: http://www.oilcrisis.com/debate/misinfo.htm - please note that parts of this article are very controversial indeed).

Of particular interest is the reporting of OPEC oil reserves, and the jumps in declared reserves in 1988 from many of these nations, (see the table in: http://www.oilcrisis.com/summary.htm). How can these jumps be justified? Are they new discoveries or is it new technology which allows them to extract more of the oil from the ground? Are they just politically inspired figures, so that these OPEC members could raise their production (ability to produce is pro-rata on current proven reserves).

Unfortunately, we just don’t know! Oil production data was provided from around 1950 and stopped abruptly in 1982 (Simmons, 2005). There is no way therefore and independent person or body can confirm the accuracy of these figures. The situation got so bad that “OPEC Secretariat’s staff in Vienna began using third-party media reports to estimate the probable production of its members, instead of trusting the reports they submitted” (Simmons, 2005: P80). I laughed out loud when I read that.

I think Matt Simmons, through his (mostly) excellent book, has finally given me a research angle to pursue. There are a number of issues to tackle (this is probably not exhaustive).

1. Secrecy of energy information: what impact does this have on the information stakeholders? By secrecy I mean documents which are hidden from public view for a certain period (say 50/100 years – the British Government does this a lot with sensitive documents). The information is available but only to a select few.

2. Transparency of energy information: Currently reserves are reported for a country as a whole, not on a field by field basis as it used to prior to 1982 (Simmons, 2005). Its much easier to get an overall picture of production with knowledge of individual fields, as you can see what is happening with regard to production on that field from previous years, and any problems such as the water cut or gas caps encountered. The ability to process information is much reduced with the lack of transparency.

3. Availability of information: because of the lack of transparency and secrecy of energy information, it may not be possible in any realistic sense to for information users to manipulate and utilise data/information given to them. This has had an impact on Oil prices (Simmons, 2005: p82).

Ok, this is a start. I need to develop these themes more and start picking out more issues.


De Winter, F. (1996). Misinformation Campaigns past and present: http://www.oilcrisis.com/debate/misinfo.htm [visited 16th October 2007]

Oil Crisis Summary: http://www.oilcrisis.com/summary.htm [visited 16th October 2007]

Simmons, M.R. (2005). Twilight in the Desert: the coming Saudi Oil Shock and the world economy, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey ISBN-13: 978-0-471-73876-3

1 comment:

andy said...

This post argues for more transparency of oil reserves: