Wikileaks or Saudi sheiks? Leaks: 1, Sheiks: 0

10 Feb 2011

In an article published earlier this month, I wished wistfully for better data on Saudi Arabia’s oil. Saudi leaders could decide its in their interest to be less secretive and more honest about their capabilities for supplying oil in the future. Or, if they decide to keep their lips zipped, perhaps someone would leak something useful via Wikileaks. (On my site, you can read the full article—“From Wikileaks or Saudi Sheiks?”, originally published in Islamic Monthly.)

Now we can chalk it up: Wikileaks: 1, Sheiks: 0.

The leakage has begun, as part of Wikileaks massive dump of diplomatic cables. Concerning one particular cable, sent in 2007, CNN’s headline sums it up well: “Saudi oil reserves exaggerated; decline inevitable.”

Of course, I didn’t have anything to do with this. But it will be interesting to see what happens. So far they’ve posted 3891 out of 251,287 cables they got—only posted about 1.5% of the total. They’ve got a long way to go.

The cable’s information from Saudis themselves is nothing new. It cites Sadad al-Husseini, a petroleum engineer and former manager of Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, who has already gone on the recordwarning publicly that the country won’t be able to boost their oil production much higher, and that it may not be long before their production starts declining.

What is new about the cable, though, is that now we know US officials were talking with al-Husseini, and passing the information back to Washington. Unlike some of the other cables that are snarky and deride other countries’ officials and businessmen, the cable about al-Husseini takes his warnings seriously.

The hard data that would be really useful is unlikely to be in any diplomatic cable. We’ll still have to wait for something along those lines. But these cables may help us tell if the Saudis think they can keep increasing their production for decades or not. They may help us tell whether the Saudis are confident in public but worried in private, or whether they’re confident to their cores. And it may help us find out who has been trying to issue warnings about the risk of a decline in oil production soon.

The Guardian has four relevant cables re-posted on their site so far:

Saudi oil company oversold ability to increase production, embassy told (Cable sent: 10/12/2007)

Saudi Arabia tackles western shift towards energy independence (Cable sent: 23/11/2009)

US concern over Saudi Arabia oil production (Cable sent: 07/05/2008)

US queries Saudi Arabia’s influence over oil prices (Cable sent: 03/06/2008)


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »