Skip to comments.Experts: Petroleum May Be Nearing a Peak
Posted on 05/29/2005 7:55:03 AM PDT by ex-Texan
Could the petroleum joyride - cheap, abundant oil that has sent the global economy whizzing along with the pedal to the metal and the AC blasting for decades - be coming to an end?
Some observers of the oil industry think so. They predict that this year, maybe next - almost certainly by the end of the decade - the world's oil production, having grown exuberantly for more than a century, will peak and begin to decline.
And then it really will be all downhill. The price of oil will increase drastically. Major oil-consuming countries will experience crippling inflation, unemployment and economic instability. Princeton University geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes predicts "a permanent state of oil shortage."
According to these experts, it will take a decade or more before conservation measures and new technologies can bridge the gap between supply and demand, and even then the situation will be touch and go.
None of this will affect vacation plans this summer - Americans can expect another season of beach weekends and road trips to Graceland relatively unimpeded by the cost of getting there. Though gas prices are up, they are expected to remain below $2.50 a gallon. Accounting for inflation, that's pretty comparable to what motorists paid for most of the 20th century; it only feels expensive because gasoline was unusually cheap between 1986 and 2003.
And there are many who doubt the doomsday scenario will ever come true. Most oil industry analysts think production will continue growing for at least another 30 years. By then, substitute energy sources will be available to ease the transition into a post-petroleum age.
"This is just silly," said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research in Winchester, Mass. "It's not like industrial civilization is going to come crashing down."
Where you stand on "peak oil," as parties to the debate call it, depends on which forces you consider dominant in controlling the oil markets. People who consider economic forces most important believe that prices are high right now mostly because of increased demand from China and other rapidly growing economies. But eventually, high prices should encourage consumers to use less and producers to pump more.
But Deffeyes and many other geologists counter that when it comes to oil, Mother Nature trumps Adam Smith. The way they see it, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway and other major producers are already pumping as fast as they can. The only way to increase production capacity is to discover more oil. Yet with a few exceptions, there just isn't much left out there to be discovered.
"The economists all think that if you show up at the cashier's cage with enough currency, God will put more oil in ground," Deffeyes said.
There will be warning signs before global oil production peaks, the bearers of bad news contend. Prices will rise dramatically and become increasingly volatile. With little or no excess production capacity, minor supply disruptions - political instability in Venezuela, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico or labor unrest in Nigeria, for example - will send the oil markets into a tizzy. So will periodic admissions by oil companies and petroleum-rich nations that they have been overestimating their reserves.
Oil producers will grow flush with cash. And because the price of oil ultimately affects the cost of just about everything else in the economy, inflation will rear its ugly head.
Anybody who has been paying close attention to the news lately may feel a bit queasy at this stage. Could $5-a-gallon gas be right around the corner?
"The world has never seen anything like this before and so we just really don't know," said Robert L. Hirsch, an energy analyst at Science Applications International Corp., a Santa Monica, Calif., consulting firm.
Still, he added, "there's a number of really competent professionals that are very pessimistic."
The pessimism stems from a legendary episode in the history of petroleum geology. Back in 1956, a geologist named M. King Hubbert predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in 1970.
His superiors at Shell Oil were aghast. They even tried to persuade Hubbert not to speak publicly about his work. His peers, accustomed to decades of making impressive oil discoveries, were skeptical.
But Hubbert was right. U.S. oil production did peak in 1970, and it has declined steadily ever since. Even impressive discoveries such as Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, with 13 billion barrels in recoverable reserves, haven't been able to reverse that trend.
Hubbert started his analysis by gathering statistics on how much oil had been discovered and produced in the Lower 48 states, both onshore and off, between 1901 and 1956 (Alaska was still terra incognita to petroleum geologists 50 years ago). His data showed that the country's oil reserves had increased rapidly from 1901 until the 1930s, then more slowly after that.
When Hubbert graphed that pattern it looked very much like America's oil supply was about to peak. Soon, it appeared, America's petroleum reserves would reach an all-time maximum. And then they would begin to shrink as the oil companies extracted crude from the ground faster than geologists could find it.
That made sense. Hubbert knew some oil fields, especially the big ones, were easier to find than others. Those big finds would come first, and then the pace of discovery would decline as the remaining pool of oil resided in progressively smaller and more elusive deposits.
The production figures followed a similar pattern, but it looked like they would peak a few years later than reserves.
That made sense too. After all, oil can't be pumped out of the ground the instant it is discovered. Lease agreements have to be negotiated, wells drilled, pipelines built; the development process can take years.
When Hubbert extended the production curve into the future it looked like it would peak around 1970. Every year after that, America would pump less oil than it had the year before.
If that prognostication wasn't daring enough, Hubbert had yet another mathematical trick up his sleeve. Assuming that the reserves decline was going to be a mirror image of the rise, geologists would have found exactly half of the oil in the Lower 48 when the curve peaked. Doubling that number gave Hubbert the grand total of all recoverable oil under the continental United States: 170 billion barrels.
At first, critics objected to Hubbert's analysis, arguing that technological improvements in exploration and recovery would increase the amount of available oil.
They did, but not enough to extend production beyond the limits Hubbert had projected. Even if you throw in the unexpected discovery of oil in Alaska, America's petroleum production history has proceeded almost exactly as Hubbert predicted it would.
Critics claim that Hubbert simply got lucky.
"When it pretty much worked," Lynch said, "he decided, aha, it has to be a bell curve."
But many experts see no reason global oil production has to peak at all. It could plateau and then gradually fall as the economy converts to other forms of energy.
"Even in 30 to 40 years there's still going to be huge amounts of oil in the Middle East," said Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.
A few years ago, geologists began applying Hubbert's methods to the entire world's oil production. Their analyses indicated that global oil production would peak some time during the first decade of the 21st century.
Deffeyes thinks the peak will be in late 2005 or early 2006. Houston investment banker Matthew Simmons puts it at 2007 to 2009. California Institute of Technology physicist David Goodstein, whose book "The End of Oil" was published last year, predicts it will arrive before 2010.
The exact date doesn't really matter, said Hirsch, because he believes it's already too late. In an analysis he did for the U.S. Department of Energy in February, Hirsch concluded that it will take more than a decade for the U.S. economy to adapt to declining oil production.
"You've got to do really big things in order to dent the problem. And if you're on the backside of the supply curve you're chasing the train after it's already left the station," he said.
For example, the median lifetime of an American automobile is 17 years. That means even if the government immediately mandated a drastic increase in fuel efficiency standards, the conservation benefits wouldn't fully take effect for almost two decades.
And though conservation would certainly be necessary in a crisis, it wouldn't be enough. Fully mitigating the sting of decreasing oil supplies would require developing alternate sources of energy - and not the kind that politicians and environmentalists wax rhapsodic about when they promise pollution-free hydrogen cars and too-cheap-to-meter solar power.
If oil supplies really do decline in the next few decades, America's energy survival will hinge on the last century's technology, not the next one's. Hirsch's report concludes that compensating for a long-term oil shortfall would require building a massive infrastructure to convert coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels into combustible liquids.
Proponents of coal liquefaction, which creates synthetic oil by heating coal in the presence of hydrogen gas, refer to the process as "clean coal" technology. It is clean, but only to the extent that the synthetic oil it produces burns cleaner than raw coal. Synthetic oil still produces carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse warming gas, during both production and combustion (though in some scenarios some of that pollution could be kept out of the atmosphere). And the coal that goes into the liquefaction process still has to be mined, which means tailing piles, acid runoff and other toxic ills.
And then there's the fact that nobody wants a "clean coal" plant in the backyard. Shifting to new forms of energy will require building new refineries, pipelines, transportation terminals and other infrastructure at a time when virtually every new project faces intense local opposition.
Energy analysts say coal liquefaction can produce synthetic oil at a cost of $32 a barrel, well below the $50 range where oil has been trading for the past year or so. But before they invest billions of dollars in coal liquefaction, investors want to be sure that oil prices will remain high.
Investors are similarly wary about tar sands and heavy oil deposits in Canada and Venezuela. Though they are too gooey to be pumped from the ground like conventional oil, engineers have developed ways of liquefying the deposits with injections of hot water and other means. Already, about 8 percent of Canada's oil production comes from tar sands.
Unfortunately, it costs energy to recover energy from tar sands. Most Canadian operations use natural gas to heat water for oil recovery; and like oil, natural gas has gotten dramatically more expensive in the past few years.
"The reality is, this thing is extremely complicated," Hirsch said. "My honest view is that anybody who tells you that they have a clear picture probably doesn't understand the problem."
Goldman Sachs was hoping to start a speculation war so they could sell off and make tons of money on it...
If it is at it's peak, then I wonder if it has stabilized?
As an expert FReeper, I can confidently predict that the re-posting of this very same article is reaching a peak, as more FReepers learn to use the search function.
I remember the same old story in the 70's. At the height of the scare, I had lunch with a geologist from Shell. He told me it was all BS, there was more oil we didn't know about than oil we did.
With oil at $50/barrel; now oil that was previously economically unavailable due to it's depth or location, becomes viable.
That said, we also now have incentives to work on fuel cells, and Thermal Depolymerization (TDP) plants, which can 'create' oil from practically any organtic waste we throw into the process. We currently have 2 plants up and running, producing over 10,000 barrels a day at a cost of $15/barrel.
Get ready. China and India have only had thier first, highly addictive, petroleum cocktail, and they are a lot closer to the liquor cabinet.
Me too. I remember a story in National Geographic on the end of oil. It predicted that we ran out of oil about 10 years ago.
Again? I mean, eventually they are going to be right, but it is meaningless because they keep saying it every 5 years.
The bright spot in this is that the majority of the research community in this area doesn't sound off the alarms - just the quacks.
As the price of oil goes up we will start looking for alternatives, Not so mch in alternative power , but in alternative means to get oil. Such as turning coal into oil synthetically, the oil shale rocks, bio-fuel, and other things. The internal combustion engine and heating homes isnt goig to change nuch except to get more expensive using these alternative means of getting something that burns like oil.
We should just go and take the oil from the Saudis and Kuwaitis/Iraquis as payment for American blood spilled to save their sorry asses. I remember back the mid seventies seeing a picture in (Soldier Of Fortune) of a Green Beret with his boot pinning the neck of a muslim to the ground and saying, "What Price Now OPEC?" Maybe we should make that picture come to life and unleash hell on them. NSNR
""Even in 30 to 40 years there's still going to be huge amounts of oil in the Middle East," said Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. ""
That don't mean the US is entitled to recieve any of that foreign oil so it is naive to include those reserves as "America's".
We were told 30 years ago oil was not infinite, and the naysayers sat on their hands and contributed nothing to
solving the problem. Now we are at the mercy of the speculators and the price they think they can get from oil.
We can't check the oil reserves because all the dipsticks are in Washington DC.
Goldman Sachs, the firm that laundered Corzine, Rubin, and various other Dems and Clintonistas, simply peddling their 'Peak Snake Oil'.
Please pardon many obvious puns!
BTW, we also have massive amounts of coal in the US. Put down the tinfoil.
The obvious way to stay ahead of the curve is to make more efficient use of the oil we buy.
The process looks like this:
And one of the test plants is in operation RIGHT NOW, and is running in Philadelphia. One of the problems is getting a continuous stream of good organtic waste into the process. Once we start the factory, it's efficient; if we have to start and stop the factory, the efficiency goes out the window.
Thanks for the new links!
That is why I am driving a diesel automobile that gets about 30 mpg in town and about 40 mpg on the highway.
I remember Bud was $1.75 a six pack.
As long as states refuse offshore drilling and have other policies that interfere with energy production, the cost is not high enough.
Drivel, pure simple and unadulterated drivel.
If Hodar is correct about using natural waste products to make fuel, then perhaps we can add "pure and unadulterated drivel" to the mix? What a better way to get rid of human and animal waste (Shi'ite) than driving your car down the freeway!
Hah! I nominate this for Post of the Day!
An acquaintance of mine says the same thing. He spent 25 years flying to Gulf oil rigs and has talked with many execs and geologists about the subject.
Out dependency on oil for fuel is idiotic beyond belief. It also guarantees increasing tensions in the Middle East and other oil producing nations. Venezuela is just one more example. Who controls Chavez? Castro. Why is Venezuela reducing its oil production? Castro may have more to do with oil production than the we would like to think about. This dependency on foreign oil has too many hidden social, political and economic costs to list here.
Feel free to flame away. I wear asbestos underwear. Just an old geezer living in the Peoples Republic of Oregon.
f(x) technolgy & private investment. It's near limitless.
What time is it now in Iraq? You make a lot of posts during the morning hours on the US west coast.
I am not in Iraq anymore :) I have been home for nearly 5 months now....
when I was over in Iraq, I worked the midnight shift quite often and, as an IT guy, I had ready access to a computer and the internet. If everything was working well, as it is today, then I had some time on my hands.
Right now it is approximately 943 PM or 2143 hrs in Iraq
Come on that is actually paying attention to global trends in relation to geopolitical concerns with massive economic and military impact. Now why would we something insignificant like that get in the way of us driving Hummers? Cause you need a Hummer man.
From everything I've read, it looks like we're a long away from $105 oil. In an apparent paradox, I think it will take a major increase in vehicle fuel economy combined with a huge increase in the number of vehicles for oil to ever reach $105. Only through a big improvement in fuel economy will people be able to afford the $4 per gallon gasoline that would result from $105 oil. But with big gains in fuel economy combined with a billion new vehicles in China, India, etc, we could hit $105 oil in 15-20 years. It could happen, but IMHO it ain't likely in this decade.
What peak? Not price, certainly. They are talking about production.
Many times I have tried to get up an interest in economics, those marginal demand curves, the air of old-style magic. But, it's no good. I can picture a time chart of the price of oil and refined products superimposed on the price of bread. There is a limit to how far the prices will climb, of course, but we will think $2 bread and $2 gasoline was cheap and probably wonder how they did it. Those who are left to wonder. That is the dark side of the Hubbert scenario--the reduced population.
That was an obvious and clumsy attempt to manipulate the market.
Are you serious in posts 35 and 36 or are you being sarcastic and mocking the gloom-and-doomers?
Said it 4, say it again: Gotta stop them dern Indians and Chinese from all getting motorscooters! They'll RUIN the enviroment!
In those days nobody had a clue about the odds of running out. They knew we had 20-40 years of proven reserves, which is quite a bit different from thinking we will run out. Proven reserves have always been in that range, ever since Oil City. Proven reserves are in that range even now.
What is changing is the quality of the oil and the cost to produce it.
My own belief is that we can avoid falling into the abyss if we begin building nuke plants on a crash basis and convert our motor fleet to something other than gasoline/diesel. It would not be cheap, crashing the program never is, but it would be better than the alternative, which is to go sailing off the cliff at maximum speed.
The worst case is if there is a long interruption now of oil supply due to international war or embargo like 1973. The immediate effect would be felt in America of course, but it would devastate Korea, Japan, China, and Europe. The longer term effects would not be good anywhere.
I'm not a Petroleum Engineer but even I know that production capacity has been increased by technology & improved recovery techniques.
Lie #2: Yet with a few exceptions, there just isn't much left out there to be discovered.
This guys 'exceptions' must be known and are not new discoveries. What's left out there to be discovered is anybody's guess.
These people sound more & more like the "We're running out of oil!!" chicken littles of the 1970's. But if you really believe we are about to run out of oil you ought to buy the stocks of companies that are involved in oil exploration and off shore drilling, such as DO and RIG etc. because they are about to make a bundle.
That's not where the money is. Every amateur is playing that game and it just isn't returning a lot. It has always been the adventurous who come to town one day with pockets full of gold, and most of them go bust, but the few that make it make it big. The surest way to fame and fortune these days is to go where the gold is, and that is Federal contracts. Dept of Energy gives away $5 billion a year for nothing, try to horn in on that racket.
That price forecast may come to be considered very cheap. Think in terms of the "worst case scenario" of what possibly could happen to effect the price of oil adversely.
1. King Fahd dies and the 'next little prince in line' is assassinated;Which brings me back to my central theme: Depending on oil for our fuel supply is foolishness beyond belief.
2. Venezuela decides to nationalize foreign oil companies and begins cutting oil production generally;
3. Wahabbi militants take control of Saidi Arabia and at the same time force Musharraf out taking take power in Pakistan;
4. Pakistan's three stealth submarines equipped with nuke cruise missles are now in the hands of Islamic militants running their military.
The U.S. must develop cheap alternative enegry sources. Out national security depends on new technology, like the program suggested by Hodar. Converting Shi'ite to fuel is a great idea. We need this new fuel source "like yesterday." Otherwise, we are being led over the cliff like a bunch of confused lemmings.
The Euroweenies are probably paying $4 a gallon by now, and they don't seem to be fazed by it.
Yes they are paying $4 and probably much more with all the taxes they put on gasoline. They drive much smaller cars than we do that get much higher mileage and they don't drive as many miles commuting to work. Given the inefficiency of the current automobile and the lack of intense research into efficiency because of cheap oil, I'd bet we can improve mileage by another 50-75% without making cars too much smaller. Gas/electric hybrid engines are one way to go and people will develop all kinds of new technology to improve mileage now that we have a strong need for higher mileage.
Is this what you are talking about?
Anything into Oil(solution to dependence on foregn oil?)
DISCOVER Vol. 24 No. 5 ^ | May 2003 | Brad Lemley
Posted on 04/21/2003 7:57:41 AM CDT by honway
This article can't be correct. I thought that there was:
Oil, Oil Everywhere
The Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal ^ | Sunday, January 30, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST | PETER HUBER AND MARK MILLS
Posted on 01/30/2005 10:24:37 AM CST by Woodworker
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