Monday, March 24, 2008

Is this a war for Iraqi oil? Do the math.

Today we learned that American # 4000 has died in the current Iraq War. Many say this is a war for Iraqi oil. So many people make this claim that it is worth investigating. Is this a war for Iraqi oil?

Let’s answer this question with numbers, because numbers don’t lie.

That 4000-Americans number is irrelevant to answering whether this is a war for Iraqi oil, because those 4000 bodies have all been shipped back to the US. More relevant is the number of Iraqis who have died. Estimates vary from tens of thousands to nearly a million, but for this calculation I’ll put the number of Iraqi dead at 85,000 as stated at Iraqi Body Count.

I’ll further assume that of these 85,000 bodies most of them were buried, mostly whole, in Iraqi soil. Because some bodies were blown to bits and so left insufficient remains for burial, some bodies were probably missing appendages that were not recovered, and some bodies belonged to faiths who do not bury their dead, it is reasonable to assume from these 85,000 dead we can only piece together 80,000 entire bodies that have been buried in Iraq because of the war.

There remains much dispute about exactly where crude oil comes from. Most people believe that it is a result of a biogenic process whereby organic matter buried within the soil and subject to pressure and heat over time turns into crude oil. I’ll assume, for the sake of answering the question at hand (remember the question at hand?) that this biogenic theory is correct and that oil really does come from buried organic matter.

I was unable to find any results (even from Cecil Adams) for how many pounds of dinosaur turn into how many barrels of oil, so for the sake of this calculation I’ll assume that 100% of a dead body’s carbon turns into oil carbon through the biogenic process. For these 80,000 bodies, I’ll further assume that each one weighed a low average of only about 100 pounds, because many of the 80,000 dead were probably small children or adults otherwise malnourished by years of liberation-caused privation.

This source tells me the human body is 18% carbon, which gives 18 pounds of carbon for each of our 80,000 buried small-but-whole bodies. This source says there is about 242 pound of carbon in a barrel of oil.

Throw all these numbers into a bit of math (80000 * 18 / 242 = 5,950) and the result is that these 85,000 deaths in Iraq may turn into something like 6000 additional barrels of Iraqi oil.

Based on these numbers, some may say, “Yes, this is a war for Iraqi oil: about 6000 barrels of it.”

At the current global rate of 83 million barrels per day, those 6000 barrels will last about 6 seconds. That additional Iraqi oil will be available (assuming biogenic theory is correct, otherwise they’re just dead bodies) in thousands to millions of years. I hope our great-great-great-etc-grandchildren appreciate those extra seconds of oil. I hope this war is finished by then.


  1. I heard through the grapevine that the initial name for the current Iraq invasion was Operation Iraq Liberation till someone noticed that the acronym was OIL.