Casaubon's Book

Food-But-No-Fuel, Fuel-But-No-Food

Interesting about the ways climate change will impact Saudi Arabia’s agriculture - already strained pretty much to the limit by inhospitable heat and drought:

The difference between ETo and precipitation indicates that there may be a loss of soil moisture by 0.181 m/year (0.042–0.236 m/year) during the period of 2011 through 2050. Increase in temperature was estimated to be 1.8–4.1 °C, which can increase agricultural water demands by 5–15 % to obtain the current level of agricultural productions. This study anticipates significant reductions in water sources, which can impose further stress on agriculture and drinking water sources. Deterioration of source water quality is also expected.

The fact that many nations can clearly predict that they will not be able to feed their populations is fueling a Global Land-Grab in which expected food-short nations are buying up land in nations with better agricultural production.  This will likely produce new colonialisms, and new international conflicts.  Food insecurity is dangerous for every nation, no matter how rich.

Saudi Arabia will have fuel to trade for a long time to come, as Kurt Cobb rightly points out, since super-giant fields are still the ones that actually matter for world oil production:

 

  1. The world’s 507 giant oil fields comprise a little over one percent of all oil fields, but produce 60 percent of current world supply (2005). (A giant field is defined as having more than 500 million barrels of ultimately recoverable resources of conventional crude. Heavy oil deposits are not included in the study.)
  2. “[A] majority of the largest giant fields are over 50 years old, and fewer and fewer new giants have been discovered since the decade of the 1960s.” The top 10 fields with their location and the year production began are: Ghawar (Saudi Arabia) 1951, Burgan (Kuwait) 1945, Safaniya (Saudi Arabia) 1957, Rumaila (Iraq) 1955, Bolivar Coastal (Venezuela) 1917, Samotlor (Russia) 1964, Kirkuk (Iraq) 1934, Berri (Saudi Arabia) 1964, Manifa (Saudi Arabia) 1964, and Shaybah (Saudi Arabia) 1998 (discovered 1968). (This list was taken from Fredrik Robelius’s “Giant Oil Fields -The Highway to Oil.”)
  3. The 2009 study focused on 331 giant oil fields from a database previously created for the groundbreaking work of Robelius mentioned above. Of those, 261 or 79 percent are considered past their peak and in decline.
  4. The average annual production decline for those 261 fields has been 6.5 percent. That means, of course, that the number of barrels coming from these fields on average is 6.5 percent less EACH YEAR.
  5. Now, here’s the key insight from the study. An evaluation of giant fields by date of peak shows that new technologies applied to those fields has kept their production higher for longer only to lead to more rapid declines later. As the world’s giant fields continue to age and more start to decline, we can therefore expect the annual decline in their rate of production to worsen. Land-based and offshore giants that went into decline in the last decade showed annual production declines on average above 10 percent.
  6. What this means is that it will become progressively more difficult for new discoveries to replace declining production from existing giants. And, though I may sound like a broken record, it is important to remind readers that the world remains on a bumpy production plateau for crude oil including lease condensate (which is the definition of oil), a plateau which began in 2005.

Many of the fuel-rich but food insecure nations recognize that their own political stability depends on ensuring a food supply for their people – and that they haven’t always done very well at it.  It only gets harder now with world food prices predicted to rise dramatically due to climate change, high energy prices and population growth.

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Comments

  1. #1 c.
    April 22, 2013

    I remember one of your writings mentioning that as these things change we should look to the worst off neighborhood in our town or city and expect that’s what our life will look like. I just finished a book that really blew my mind. Off The Books: The economy of the urban poor

    What blew my mind was what the community as a whole does in response and how it impacts the community. It was fascinating. Not that I dream of living in a place where a struggle to get drug dealers and prostitutes out of my local park sounds like fun, but it was interesting to see how the police only police certain things and the rest is left to the community mediate those problems.

  2. #2 JvD
    April 25, 2013

    I think you should have included a few words about Saudi Arabia’s major nuclear power program, which includes numerous new power plants and which will allow saudi “The fact that many nations can clearly predict that they will not be able to feed their populations is fueling a Global Land-Grab in which expected food-short nations are buying up land in nations with better agricultural production. This will likely produce new colonialisms, and new international conflicts. Food insecurity is dangerous for every nation, no matter how rich”

    Actually, Saudi Arabia is well aware of this challenge, and is already addressing it, though not by a ‘land grab’. In fact, Saudi Arabia will switch from fossil fueled electricity production to nuclear electricity production. This will allow indefinite cheap electricity production, seawater desalinization and irrigation in Saudi Arabia. The details of the Saudi Arabian nuclear program can be found here:

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-O-S/Saudi-Arabia/#.UXj2DrXJSC0

  3. #3 JvD
    April 25, 2013

    “The fact that many nations can clearly predict that they will not be able to feed their populations is fueling a Global Land-Grab in which expected food-short nations are buying up land in nations with better agricultural production. This will likely produce new colonialisms, and new international conflicts. Food insecurity is dangerous for every nation, no matter how rich”

    Actually, Saudi Arabia is well aware of this challenge, and is already addressing it, though not by a ‘land grab’. In fact, Saudi Arabia will switch from fossil fueled electricity production to nuclear electricity production. This will allow indefinite cheap electricity production, seawater desalinization and irrigation in Saudi Arabia. The details of the Saudi Arabian nuclear program can be found here:

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-O-S/Saudi-Arabia/#.UXj2DrXJSC0

  4. #4 Julien Peter Benney
    Carlton North, Victoria, Australia
    April 27, 2013

    This is an interesting thought to me.

    Australia, my homeland, is really very similar to Saudi Arabia, as is noted by the book “The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability” – rather than being a so-called developed country, Australia is a high-income resource exporter whose major resource (mining) companies largely control the government. Although Australia is less arid than the Middle Eastern oil states, its extremely poor soils and consequent high rooting densities and low runoff coefficients mean storage sizes have to be three times as large for a third the draft compared to similar climes in the northern and western hemispheres. (See “Australian water resources are different” for some details).

    In the mineral-rich west of Australia, climates are changing at an exceptionally rapid rate: if we discount a temporary reversal via the 1991 Pinatubo eruption, Perth has lost its entire water supply to man-made climate change in a mere 40 years. If these trends continue, we could see Australia privatise critical land for conservation of unique and often endangered species en masse – and especially if the Enriched World has to reduce its agricultural subsidies these sub-marginal lands could become the world’s breadbasket at enormous costs judging by what has already happened in desertifying Western Australia.

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