The death of peak oil

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The death of peak oil

via Econbrowser by James Hamilton on 4/3/13

“Peak oil is dead,” Rob Wile declared last week. Colin Sullivan says it has “gone the way of the Flat Earth Society”, writing

Those behind the theory appear to have been dead wrong, at least in terms of when the peak would hit, having not anticipated the rapid shift in technology that led to exploding oil and natural gas production in new plays and areas long since dismissed as dried up.

These comments inspired me to revisit some of the predictions made in 2005 that received a lot of attention at the time, and take a look at what’s actually happened since then.

Here’s how Boone Pickens saw the world in a speech given May 3, 2005:

“Let me tell you some facts the way I see it,” he began. “Global oil (production) is 84 million barrels (a day). I don’t believe you can get it any more than 84 million barrels. I don’t care what (Saudi Crown Prince) Abdullah, (Russian Premier Vladimir) Putin or anybody else says about oil reserves or production. I think they are on decline in the biggest oil fields in the world today and I know what’s it like once you turn the corner and start declining, it’s a tread mill that you just can’t keep up with….

“Don’t let the day-to-day NYMEX (New York Mercantile Exchange) fool you, because it can turn and go the other direction. I may be wrong. Some of the experts say we’ll be down to $35 oil by the end of the year. I think it’ll be $60 oil by the end of the year. You’re going to see $3 gasoline twelve months from today, or some time during that period.”

But others, like Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, were not as concerned. Yergin wrote on July 31, 2005:

Prices around $60 a barrel, driven by high demand growth, are fueling the fear of imminent shortage– that the world is going to begin running out of oil in five or 10 years. This shortage, it is argued, will be amplified by the substantial and growing demand from two giants: China and India.

Yet this fear is not borne out by the fundamentals of supply. Our new, field-by-field analysis of production capacity, led by my colleagues Peter Jackson and Robert Esser, is quite at odds with the current view and leads to a strikingly different conclusion: There will be a large, unprecedented buildup of oil supply in the next few years. Between 2004 and 2010, capacity to produce oil (not actual production) could grow by 16 million barrels a day– from 85 million barrels per day to 101 million barrels a day– a 20 percent increase. Such growth over the next few years would relieve the current pressure on supply and demand.

Let’s start by taking a look at what happened to global oil production in the years since those two very different views were offered. Total world liquids production as reported by the EIA had reached 85.2 million barrels a day at the time Pickens issued his pronouncement. It briefly passed that level again in June 2006 and June 2008, though mostly was flat or down over 2005-2009 before resuming a modest and erratic climb since then. The most recent number (December 2012) was 89.3 million barrels a day, 4 mb/d higher than where it had been in May 2005, and 12 mb/d below the levels that Yergin had expected we’d be capable of by 2010.

Figure 1. Global liquids production, monthly, Jan 2000 – Dec 2012, in millions of barrels per day. Includes field production of crude oil, crude condensate, natural gas plant liquids, refinery process gain, and other liquids such as biofuels. Vertical line marks May 2005. Data source: EIA

But more than half of that 4 mb/d increase has come in the form of natural gas liquids


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