Saudi Oil Kingdom Resisting Renewables
Review of a recent documentary by 60 Minutes about the Saudi Oil industry, showing their world-preeminent infrastructure, new projects, and projections; but, more significantly, their denial of and resistance to any clean alternatives.
In watching this excellent documentary, it struck me the extent to which oil has a vested interest in perpetuating their dominance, and that they would likely have no compunction to take any measure to prevent serious alternatives that would make them obsolete.
Part I includes footage showing Saudi efforts to find new oil. Up until now in their history, they've extracted 260 billion barrels. After stating that, the executive confidently asserts that there is "potential to add another 200 billion [barrels] -- are there to be found." The documentary takes a look at two new major facilities and the high-tech (and more expensive) methods being deployed to extract it.
At the Sheva facility, they had to move mountains of sand in order to get at the bedrock to plant their new facility, roads, and airport. They had to install a 400-mile pipeline, and they are drilling guided holes underground horizontally as far as 5 miles to get to the oil under the sand. The facility will increase the country's production capacity from 10 to 12 million barrels per day; and will begin producing in the beginning of 2009.
Lesley Stahl also traveled to the Kareas (sp?) facility, which is "the biggest oil project in history." It will take more than 50 years to deplete the oil there. But because the oil is low pressure, in order to extract it, the Saudis will pump sea water into the ground at a rate of 50 million barrels a day, through a pipeline from 150 miles away. The project employs 22,000 workers laying thousands of miles of pipeline, will cost 50 billion dollars over a 5 year period -- paid in cash.
I should mention that this information affirms indirectly the "peak oil" premise that oil production on the planet has surpassed the half-way point, and that everything from here on will be increasingly more expensive and difficult to access. Given the abiotic oil data that shows a continual replenishment of some oil fields from deep within the earth, the "Peak Oil" dogma should not necessarily be taken at face value. However, the rate of new oil generation in these cases is not enough to keep up with current world demand.
The documentary talks about Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world, which began as a US company in the 1930s, but then was bought out by Saudi interests and nationalized. It's headquarters are huge -- a city within a city. The cultural ramifications are quite stark. Outside that enclave exists conservative Muslim culture and dress, but those same standards are not adhered to within the enclave, where women can drive, work along side men, and they don't have to wear the full-body cover that's required outside the enclave.
CBS was let into the nerve center complex that controls all facilities, every valve, every pipeline -- all of this from one humongous room. I couldn't help but think that they must be glad they don't have terrorists targeting them because that sure would seem like a point of devastating vulnerability.
The documentary addresses recent oil price fluctuations and the instability it creates for the Saudi government. It costs them only $2/barrel to produce their crude oil. The rest is used to run their country. They need at least $55/barrel to do that, so when oil drops below that point, they get nervous.
In discussing a recent oil summit, and pressure that was being brought to bear from Venezuela and Iran to push oil prices as high as possible, I found the Saudi Oil Minister, Al-Naimi's response humorous: "No one jams anything down our throat." He defended the Saudi support of the recent cut in oil production to curtail the recent drop in prices, explaining that if the price goes too low, then ability to tap additional reserves will be compromised, and future prices will skyrocket.
The documentary also mentions some of the extracurricular uses of the oil profits such as funding militias including Hamas. It didn't go so far as to mention the funding of terrorism or of hit men and tactics to keep alternatives from reaching the market. But it did come close.
Lesley pushes two of the Saudi oil executives about the "addiction to oil" that the West is trying to get out from under. "Is it Aramco's hope to prevent a switch away from oil? Someone said, 'The country IS the oil business. You absolutely need to do this for your own survival.' "
The executive responded, "What's wrong with that?" 
One thing the Saudi industry is doing to prevent a move away from oil toward electric cars is to assuage our concerns about the environment. They showed CBS their new $4 million dollar project with an experimental combustion engine that burns fuel more efficiently and produce less emissions. "Green oil," is the image they are trying to put forth with this token effort.
Pushing him even more about their vested interest in preventing the emergence of clean alternatives, he responded "We have to be realistic. We don't have the alternatives today."  Oil Minister, Al-Naimi, who was the first CEO of Aramco, says that he doesn't think that our high demand for oil is going to go away even 30 years from now.
Meanwhile, the Saudis are pursuing solar energy, sitting globally where some of the best solar input can be found. "Where else does the sun shine brighter?" They envision themselves exporting gigawatts of electricity. "Long after the world no longer needs oil, we'll still be in the energy business."
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The entire program is found on the CBS website. The below YouTube embeds are by CBS News and show the entire segment. The following CBS News links are for reference.