But deciphering the Saudi oil reserves, and Husseini’s estimates, is about as tricky as predicting when exactly the world will run out of oil — which, says Takin, “is a finite resources which will one day run out.” Firstly, Husseini retired in 2004 after being passed over for Aramco’s top job as chief executive, leading some experts to wonder whether he might hold a grudge against his former employers. Secondly, Saudi Arabia, like other Opec members, is thought to have long fudged its figures about how much oil they can practically bring to the surface. Indeed, oil experts say it is impossible to be certain how big any country’s oil reserves are, since those statistics are based on what countries report, and in many countries, those figures are tightly held secrets. “The fact of the matter is we simply do not know,” says Paul Stevens, senior research fellow for energy at the think tank Chatham House in London. “That is true of the reserves of most of the Opec countries.”
Stevens points out that in 1987, when Opec members were negotiating among themselves what production quota each country should have, about five countries with small populations — including Saudi Arabia — dramatically changed the figures of their oil reserves. “The way you do that is you creep along to the chief geologist’s office and say, ‘change the recoverable factor,’ ” says Stevens. “It led to a certain degree of skepticism.” And this week, WikiLeaks deepened those doubts.
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