30 September 2007

Peak Oil - Roger Baker

These three references following represent the state of the art in thinking on peak oil so far as I am concerned.

We now know that oil will peak within about five years (2012), partly because of a convergence of opinion among experts like Chris Skrebowski skilled at estimating the time needed to bring new finds to market. When the previously more optimistic international advisory body like the IEA agrees, the matter is pretty well proven to me. See Exhibit A. The problems are that the price peak is likely to hit sooner and the solutions prove slower and more difficult than most environmentalists anticipate.

Exhibit A

ASPO conference confirms a peak in global oil production by 2012
by Douglas Low

A conference held in Cork, Ireland by the Association for the Study of Peak oil and Gas (ASPO) last week [1] heard representatives from industry forecast that the best data available data pointed to reserves of 250 billion barrels of yet-to-find global conventional oil, and as a result oil production would plateau at less than 100 million barrels per day before 2020.

This was followed up by a range of speakers who stated that current trends in bringing new projects onstream indicate that global oil production would peak on or before 2012, a forecast that coincides with the latest announcement from International Energy Agency that an oil crunch will occur by 2012 [2]...

Read all of it here.

This being the case, we could possibly imagine that we could have as much as five years to 2012 to ignore the fact that we are fossil fuel addicts in denial, and before the price goes up higher than average folks can easily afford. But if we believe this, we ignore the fact that newly prosperous producing nations like Saudi Arabia are using more of their oil themselves and exporting less, so that the actual real downturn for the rest of the world will happen sooner. Timing of the oil supply problem, reflecting the best thinking by retired federal energy analyst Tom Whipple, reflecting recent analysis on "The Oil Drum", etc. Exhibit B.

Exhibit B

The peak oil crisis: Has the media become the message?
by Tom Whipple

With every passing month, evidence peak world oil production has either passed or is getting very close becomes stronger. Last week, the world peak oil conference in Ireland, heard that the best available data now suggests there may only be about 250 billion barrels of oil left to find rather than the generally accepted figure of 700 billion barrels put forth by the USCGS in 2000. Keep in mind that 250 billion barrels is only about eight years worth at our current 31 billion barrel per year rate of consumptions and that, should these billions of barrels actually be found, they will be extremely difficult to find and exploit.

Optimists at the peak oil conference believe world oil production can keep growing for perhaps another 15 years, but those who are calculating the likely balance between depletion from existing oil fields, and production from new fields believe that declines will set in within three.

Add to this the phenomenon of falling exports from the major oil producer countries, and we have a situation where problems may be only months away. Last week the CEO of the U.S. Shell Oil Company told an audience in New Orleans the U.S. may be only one hurricane away from an energy crisis.

Unfortunately, public and congressional recognition of this situation remains virtually zero. Progress on energy legislation currently is stalled as the House and Senate attempt to reconcile un-reconcilable bills. From the perspective of appreciating the danger we face, there are probably not more than dozen members of the current Congress who understand the urgency of the situation...

Read all of it here.

This finally brings us to the timing and economic constraints of responding to this oil supply crunch, and in terms of the problem of transfer of the economy to energy alternatives. Since the US imports and burns so much oil for transportation, the following reflects the best thinking focusing on transportation by federal consultant Robert Hirsch. Whereas the oil supply crisis is within a few years, transitions to alternatives on a wide scale have typically taken much longer than that, more like 1-2 decades. See Exhibit C.

Exhibit C

Robert L. Hirsch, SAIC, Project Leader
Roger Bezdek, MISI
Robert Wendling, MISI
February 2005


The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented.

Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.

In 2003, the world consumed just under 80 million barrels per day (MM bpd) of oil. U.S. consumption was almost 20 MM bpd, two-thirds of which was in the transportation sector. The U.S. has a fleet of about 210 million automobiles and light trucks (vans, pick-ups, and SUVs). The average age of U.S. automobiles is nine years. Under normal conditions, replacement of only half the automobile fleet will require 10-15 years. The average age of light trucks is seven years. Under normal conditions, replacement of one-half of the stock of light trucks will require 9-14 years. While significant improvements in fuel efficiency are possible in automobiles and light trucks, any affordable approach to upgrading will be inherently time-consuming, requiring more than a decade to achieve significant overall fuel efficiency improvement...

Read all of it here. Full report available here (PDF format).

Roger Baker

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