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Energy body rejects whistleblower allegations of oil cover up

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
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World oil supplies
  • IEA rejects reported whistleblower allegations body has exaggerated oil supplies
  • Senior IEA source told newspaper that world is closer to running out of oil than official estimates suggest
  • IEA's 2009 World Energy Outlook outlines two scenarios for future world oil use
  • Urges world leaders to agree a global treaty to reduce reliance on fossil fuels

London, England (CNN) -- The International Energy Agency has rejected reported allegations from a whistleblower that world oil reserves have been exaggerated to avoid panic buying in the oil market.

A senior source within the IEA is reported to have told The Guardian newspaper that many within the agency believe the body's prediction for oil supplies "is much higher than can be justified."

In its annual outlook released on Tuesday, the IEA repeated its prediction that oil supplies would rise to 105 million barrels by 2030 under current government policy.

"We're the ones that are out there warning that the oil and gas is running out in the most authoritative manner. But we don't see it happening as quickly as some of the peak oil theorists," Richard Jones, deputy executive director of the IEA, told CNN.

"Generally, we're viewed as more pessimistic than we should be by the (oil) industry," he added.

The whistleblower, who reportedly refused to be identified for fear of reprisals, told the newspaper that: "Many inside the organization believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90 million to 95 million barrels a day would be impossible, but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further."

Video: Oil prices up and down

Another second senior source also reportedly told the newspaper that within the energy body, it was "imperative not to anger the Americans" who were said to play an influential role in encouraging the body to underplay potential supply shortfalls.

"I don't see why that would be in the U.S. interest. I don't see the logical chain of that allegation," Jones told CNN.

The IEA source is also reported to have said: "We have already entered the 'peak oil' zone. I think that the situation is really bad."

Peak oil theorists argue that the world is rapidly running out of oil. A report released by The UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security warned in 2008 that a "peak in cheap, easily available oil production" was likely by 2013.

Jeremy Leggett, CEO of Solar Century and a member of the taskforce, told CNN that the allegations from within the IEA were particularly worrying, but not surprising.

"I increasingly think there are parallels between [the oil industry] and what we now know of the banking culture," Leggett told CNN. "It's the systematic, cultural burial of risk. Investment bankers did it with complex derivatives. And I very firmly believe that the oil and gas industry culturally does the same thing with the depletion of reserves."

"The bankers hit the buffers -- they buried the risk until it exploded in their faces. It's going to be the same with the oil industry," he added.

The IEA's 2009 World Energy Outlook is explicit in its warnings about the impact of a "business as usual" approach to energy over the next 20 years.

"The scale and the breath of the energy challenge is enormous -- far greater than many people realize. But it can and must be met," the report said.

It presents the results of two scenarios: The "Reference Scenario" assumes government policy remains the same, while the "450 Scenario" projects what may happen if governments take action on climate change.

The 450 refers to the long-term concentration of 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent needed to limit to 50 percent the probability of a global average temperature rise of two degrees Celsius.

Under the "Reference Scenario" -- where global temperatures could rise by up to six degrees Celsius -- demand for fuel is predicted to rise 40 percent on 2007 levels between now and 2030.

Non-OECD countries led by China and India are behind more than 90 percent of predicted rise, along with the Middle East.

Despite the push towards renewable energy, the IEA predicts three quarters of the increased demand would be for fossil fuels.

Demand for oil is expected to rise from 85 million barrels per day to 105 million barrels per day by 2030. While demand for coal would jump by 53 percent and natural gas by 42 percent from 2007 to 2030.

The report assumes that gas, coal and oil prices would rise along with demand.

Crude oil would be expected to cost as much as $115 per barrel by 2030. This year, the IEA estimates oil prices will average around $60 a barrel. Crude is currently trading around $80 a barrel after a spike earlier this week.

The IEA says the worst case scenarios can be avoided if world leaders agree a global climate change treaty at next month's U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen (COP15).

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Limiting the temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, the report says, would require a "low-carbon energy revolution."

It acknowledges the challenge is "formidable," but says the reductions in energy-related CO2 emissions can be achieved through emissions caps, a move to low or zero carbon energy sources and new technologies including carbon capture and storage.

The IEA concludes that trillions of dollars in additional investment is needed to avoid the worst case scenario of climate change.

"In the climate friendly scenario, we see the demand for investment at around $10.5 trillion higher, but that's spread well over 20 years so it's a manageable amount," Jones said.

World leaders are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen from December 7 to agree a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which is due to expire at the end of 2012.