Peak oil

In late 2001, whilst working on an assignment in Origin Energy’s Brisbane office, I spotted a wall poster outside the exploration department.  The heading read “ARE WE RUNNING OUT OF OIL?” by L. B. Magoon”.

That evening I downloaded a copy of the poster for myself, from the US Geological Survey’s website.  For the first time it dawned on me that there might be some truth in this peak oil issue.

There is a plethora of information and many discussion groups  dealing with the issue of peak oil. For those new to this idea, you can see peak oil primers at, for example, the well known Energy Bulletin website (this website recently changed it’s name to Resilience.org, see here).

In one sense – global conventional oil production per capita – has already peaked. That occurred in 1979.

Oil & Gas Journal leads the discussion

Starting with the November 11, 2002 issue, the Oil & Gas Journal has run a number of cover story articles under the heading “Future Energy Supply“.

Here are some of the milestone articles in this reputable journal.

“Worlds oil production peak reckoned in near future”, Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton University, NJ. Oil & Gas Journal / Nov. 11, 2002

“Industry urged to watch for regular oil production peaks, depletion signals”, C. J. Campbell, Cork, Ireland, Oil & Gas Journal / July 14, 2003

“World oil production capacity model suggests output peak by 2006-07″, A.M. Samsam Bakhtiari, National Iranian Oil Co., Tehran. Oil & Gas Journal / Apr. 26, 2004

The public debate in Australia

A government released the Energy White Paper in June, 2004. It stated “…despite increasing demand for oil, there are sufficient reserves to supply world demand for around 40 years“.

In February 2005 Australia’s BTRE (Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics, a section of the Department of Transport) put out a Working Paper No. 6, headed “Is the world running out of oil? A review of the debate“.  The report adopted the then International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) view that prices will settle down to the US$20-US$30 level up to 2030.  There was nothing in both reports to suggest our soup was getting cold.

The public debate on peak oil was given a kick in May 2005 by Australia’s then Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson’s comments. He said “…you have to wonder whether over the next decade we won’t start to get towards peak oil production and that could be a very interesting time and a very challenging time.” (ABC News,  May 20, 2005).

The 2005 annual conference of Australia’s primary oil & gas industry body, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) led to probably the most significant public TV exposé of peak oil worries.  This was summarised on the ABC TV ‘Catalyst’ program screened On November 27, 2005.

The idea of immanent peak oil is not exactly good news for governments and oil industry executives. As the late Dr Ali Samsam Bakhtiari saw it, when speaking in July 2006 to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s future oil supply:-

“Naturally, a politician will never say that there is such a thing as peak oil. It is suicide to give bad news so a politician will never do that. He will always say, ‘The IEA says that we will be having 118 million barrels in 2030 so why worry?’  Secondly, you have the media. The media does not like peak oil. Why? There is no sponsorship for peak oil. The oil companies do not like peak oil because you should not say that your soup is cold; you should always say that it is very hot and very tasty, yes?  So nobody wants to hear of this phenomenon of peak oil”. Full transcripts (PDF, 333 KB)

December 2009.

At this time when 16,000 government officials have increased their carbon footprint by all flying to Copenhagen to discuss how to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint – I found this recent paper by an energy philosopher named Andrew McKillop. What is interesting about his views is he  introduces Peak Oil into the Man-made Global Warming debate.  View on scribd here.

Around this time we were able to read of  a significant country-by-country study of past and foretasted global oil production, done by BITRE.     The bottom-line chart forecasts that peak oil will occur around 2017 at a global all-liquids production of some 32 billion barrels per year (or a little under 90 million barrels per day).

 

The full report has since been censored and withdrawn from the government website.  In our opinion this may be due to the syndrome pointed out by the late Mr. Bakhtiari, as mentioned above.  However a leaked copy of the report has found its way on to the Australian Institute of Energy website (PDF, 4.76 MB).

April 2012

At the APPEA conference held in Adelaide the general mood of the keynote speakers seemed generally buoyant, due to the perceived US-led revolution in unconventional oil and gas production, and the Australian CSG-LNG export bonanza.  All talk of peak oil was off the agenda – considered passé – unlike as at the 2005 APPEA industry meetup.  There was a general festive mood in the air, celebrating the achievements of the industry in bringing much-needed energy to the human population.  Take a look at the conference’s opening video that quite rightly celebrates the evolution of energy supply, and played to the 2000 odd attendees (YouTube, 5.25 minutes).

Some reporters at the conference, following the mindset pointed out by Bakhtiari, announced in big headlines “Peak oil debate is over, say experts“.  The comments to this Adelaide Advertiser story make lively reading, and probably sum up people’s diverse attitudes at this time.  The presentation on which this peak-oil-is-dead story was based was that of Total’s chief executive Christophe de Margerie (Scribd, PDF 530 kB).

Conclusions.

  1. Peak oil is not so much about reserves in the ground, but achievable global oil production.
  2. Global all-liquids petroleum production could well peak in the near future as predicted in the above-mentioned BITRE 117 report, however the huge potential for unconventional oil production (shale oil and kerogen oil) as Christophe de Mangerie reported above, could well make these predictions wrong.
  3. Peak oil will only be verified when we see it through the rear-vision mirror, after several years of continuous decline in global production.

 

Now sit back and enjoy a little nostalgia for old Australian oil & gas industrial professionals.