Deep Sea News

There Is Plenty Oil!

Every once in while, I read something on the internet that boils my blood. Last year it was the utter nonsense coming from the beauty industry about the benefits of deep-sea water (Which won me a Fuzzy). Now it is ramblings from Nick Szabo. Who is Szabo?

Nicholas Szabo holds a Juris Doctor degree from The George Washington University and a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Washington. He has substantial experience in the areas of Internet security, e-commerce, and software engineering, and is widely read in history, economics, and science.

Apparently, all this education has convinced Nick that peak oil is nonsense and deep-sea deposits will sustain us for years.

Peak oil is based on the Hubbert peak theory. Basically it states that single oil field is finite and thus production from that field will follow a normal curve, with production peaking and eventually dwindling due to resource depletion. Oil companies to predict future yields use this theory routinely.

This theory has been extended to predict a global peak for all oil reserves.
Hubbert himself accurately predicted the peak for U.S. oil (late 1970’s) in 1956. He predicted a global peak sometime around now. There are alternative models that largely make the same predictions. Have we already hit peak? Several advocates and members of industry think so. Of course, all this generates controversy and criticism. Most of the criticism centers on pointing to inability of the model to predict a definite year (e.g., we have passed many of the previous prediction dates). Irregardless of whether the peak is 1999, 2003, 2006, 2010, 2021, there seems to be little evidence that there will not be a depletion of oil in our lifetime.

So what does Szabo say?

There are any number of reasons why peak oil is nonsense, such as tar sands and coal gasification.

Szabo’s links direct you to the Wikipedia entry for the Athabasca Oil Sands, large deposit of oil-rich bitumen located in northern Alberta, Canada. What is bitumen you ask? It’s a petroleum relative that is heavily degraded. The World Energy Council has this to say…

The result of [bitumen’s] chemistry is an array of problems beyond those encountered with conventional petroleum with respect to exploitation, transportation, storage, and refining. This, of course, is reflected in the increased cost of extraction and processing and the physical limitations on production capacity…Because of the chemical nature of the crude, it may be assumed that enhanced recovery methods are required for production.

So how many barrels of crude does the Athabasca Deposit hold? 174 billion barrels. In 2003 the U.S. alone consumed ~16 billion barrels. Assuming our consumption has not gone up (it has), no one else needs oil (they do), and we will be to extract 100% for actual usage (we won’) this will last all of about 11 years. Based on another estimate of global consumption this is enough to last 5.6 years.

So what about coal gasification? Converting coal to gas. Of course the process itself, yields a C02 emissions and it takes nearly 1000lbs of coal to run a computer for one year. Current estimates place the total reserves of the globe enough to sustain our current energy budget for 600 years assuming energy usage does not rise (it has and will) and we can access all these deposits (we cannot).

So what else is there?

Perhaps the most overlooked, however, is that up until now oil companies have focused on land and shallow seas, which are relatively easy to explore. But there is no reason to expect that oil, which was largely produced by oceans in the first place (especially by the precipitation of dead plankton), is any more scarce underneath our eon’s oceans as it is under our lands. Oceans cover over two-thirds of our planet’s surface, and most of that is deep water (defined in this series as ocean floor 1,000 meters or more below the surface). A very large fraction of the oil on our planet remains to be discovered in deep water. Given a reasonable property rights regime enforced by major developed world powers, this (along with the vast tar sands in Canada) means not only copious future oil, but that this oil can mostly come from politically stable areas.

So what of these massive offshore deposits? There is Lease Sale 181 in the Gulf of Mexico, large enough to support 2/3 of the annual need for mobile homes in the U.S. for 15 years. The North Sea oil field hit peak production in 2004 and fell 18.5% in 2005. The USGS estimates that the total unexplored, offshore reserve is 300 billion barrels. So the amount we have not accessed as of yet would last the world 9.5 years (at 84,000,000 barrels a day).

Szabo is right, oil will sustains us for years to come, almost 20 or even 30. That means I can drive my Hummer around until I well into my 50’s. Those are going to be some very sweet times indeed. I can take my three-armed children down to the beach, its surely going to be a warm day, and play in the acidic ocean. And as I am driving home in my wonderfully large SUV, we can enjoy the beautiful sunset because of increased particulates in the air. What a glorious time!

Joking aside, clearly offshore deposits, tar fields, or coal are not going to solve the problem despite what Szabo says.

Comments

  1. #1 Miguelito
    February 11, 2007

    While Hubbert did correctly predict the year of peak of oil production, when you look at the smoothed production curve (because the curve based on yearly production is irregular), he guessed about 5 years too early. Having said that, it was quite a feat to make that estimate relatively accurate in the first place.

    Frankly, Hubbert’s method is flawed when trying to calculate conventional reserves. He (and Kenneth Deffeyes, his biggest fan) uses the assumption that the probability distribution is logistic when a gaussian curve makes for the best fit. Having said that, in the end, the peak is only delayed by about a decade. Even with the highly optimistic USGS prediction of 3 trillion barrels total, peak production would still occur before 2020.

    Finally, relying on the oil sands and other alternative sources (like oil shales) is extremely difficult because of the use of other resources like water and natural gas. In fact, the supply of natural gas to the oil sands could be problematic in the long run (because it is an important shared resource with the rest of the continent and is finite in supply as well) and it uses something like 3 barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced.

  2. #2 CR McClain
    February 11, 2007

    Miguelito,
    Thanks for the extra insights about the model and the alternatives sources.

  3. #3 Bud
    February 12, 2007

    Deep water oil has been a huge contributor to growth in oil supplies over the last decade. Without it, peak oil may have already arrived, and $100/barrel would have been easily passed in some of the latest price peaks.

    That being said, it is very expensive, and the deeper we go the more expensive it gets. For example, the Thunder Horse (or was it Atlantis) Gulf of Mexico deep water project is years behind (was supposed to be 2006, and is now probably 2008) because of technical problems. The high pressures and presumably other deep water issues (corrosion perhaps?)have caused problems in the underwater infrastructure. These problems will probably be solved but with increasing costs and delays. So deep water will reduce the decline rates we will see, but the high cost and resulting slow implementation means that new deepwater production may not offset the declines in conventional oil production.

    Tar sands costs are also increasing, and environmental degradation is calling into question how quickly this will be expanded. In addition, tar sands production is very energy intensive, primarily using natural gas. The natural gas may well limit the tar sands expansion, and potentially cause periods of reduced production while the gas is diverted to consumer markets — North American gas production is now flat, possibly declining, and the gas will likely be diverted to keep homes warm durig cold winter months.

  4. #4 Jim Bliss
    February 12, 2007

    I agree completely with the basic thrust of your argument, but just have a (very pedantic) point of fact to make.

    From the original piece:

    Hubbert himself accurately predicted the peak for U.S. oil (late 1970’s) in 1956

    And then from Miguelito’s comment:

    While Hubbert did correctly predict the year of peak of oil […] he guessed about 5 years too early.

    According to every article and book I’ve read on the subject (and I’ve been researching this topic for eight years or so), Hubbert predicted a lower-48-States peak for “1970 (plus or minus one year)”. Depending upon the methodology used, the actual production peak tends to be reported between 1970 and 1972. This puts Hubbert’s 1956 prediction at most one year too early.

    One source (of many): ASPO’s “Oil Prophets: Looking at World Oil Studies Over Time” (Word doc)

    Well, I warned you it was pedantic.

  5. #5 ExtraO
    February 12, 2007

    Let’s keep our facts straight. Dr. Hubbert did not guess about 5 years too early, he gave a range of time for the USA (1965-1970). And indeed, the US peaked toward the high end of the time he estimated. He also said “about” for his world peaking estimate — the relevant direct quotes from his 1956 paper are:

    �With due regard for these considerations, it is almost impossible to draw the production curve based upon an assumed ultimate production of 150 billion barrels in any manner differing significantly from that shown in Figure 21, according to which the curve must culminate at about 1965 and then must decline at a rate comparable to its earlier rate of growth.

    If we suppose the figure of 150 billion barrels to be 50 billion barrels too low -an amount equal to eight East Texas oil fields- then the ultimate potential reserve would be 200 billion barrels. The second of the two extrapolations shown in Figure 21 is based upon this assumption; but it is interesting to note that even then the date of culmination is retarded only until about 1970.�

    Hubbert, “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels” June 1956 pp. 23-24

    “On the basis of the present estimates of the ultimate reserves of petroleum and natural gas, it appears that the culmination of world production of these products should occur within about half a century…”

    Hubbert, idem p. 27

    That half century would have arrived in June 2006. All I can say is if Dr. Hubbert had been a duck hunter with that kind of aim, I wouldn’t have wanted to be a duck anywhere downrange of his Mossberg.

  6. #6 CR McClain
    February 12, 2007

    It’s good to make sure my post are accurate. I heard he put the estimate as 1970-1976. Either way he nailed it to the 70’s and it happened in the 70’s. Irrespective, the important point is that a peak does occur and things look bad after that (and we can ballpark the date). In global warming and oil production, I am willing to take a horseshoe perspective where close counts.

  7. #7 bud
    February 12, 2007

    FYI – EIA data shows US Crude oil production peaked in 1970 at 9.64 Million Barrels per Day. Some reports include Natural Gas Liquids and Refiniery processing gain which might have a different peak year. But peak of Crude Oil production, which Hubbert was predicting, was 1970.

  8. #8 Brian
    February 12, 2007

    While 2/3 of the Earth is covered by the oceans, the vast majority of that deep sea floor does not host conventional hydrocarbons. You have to be near the continent and ideally, near a big river (e.g. Missiissippi –> Gulf of Mexico; Niger and Congo –> offshore west Africa) to get both the accumulation that will bury and “cook” the organic matter so it cracks to liquid/gas hydrocarbons. Then you need the seal, traps, and so on that come with a thick sediment accumulation.

    The deep-water provinces are by no means tapped out, but his article gives the impression that there is a bounty out there waiting to be discovered. As one commenter above noted, it will be more expensive and technically difficult to produce the deeper and farther offshore we go.

    To me, the big wild card in the Peak Oil discussion is not so much finding new fields out there, but recovering more of what we’ve already found. We typically only extract 20-40% of the oil in the ground for any given field. After that point, it becomes uneconomic to produce. Technological advancements in recovery combined with high prices (making the economics work) will let us produce all that remaining oil in old fields.

    Now whether we should…that’s another question.

  9. #9 jeff pardee
    February 12, 2007

    Just a quick correction on the resources in the Athabasca oilsands. The concervative estimate is 177 billion by the alberta govt but the oil industry publishes 300 billion. Geogical scientists have recently validated that up to 2 Trillion barrels exist in the deposit. Huge technology improvements have been made and the 177 billion is very concervative. A good source of information is http://www.oilsands.cc.
    As North Americans we do need to cut back on our consumption and work on alternative energy sources. Thanks for your time. Jeff Pardee

  10. #10 Sylvain Duford
    February 12, 2007

    Thanks for the excellent post. Peak oil is a real problem and when combined with Global Warming, it provides us with two compelling reasons to change our consumption habits, and move towards renewable energy. Let’s hope the world (and especially America) will wake up to that fact real soon.

    BTW, “irregardless” is not a word, the correct word is simply “regardless”.

  11. #11 CR McClain
    February 12, 2007

    Irregardless ;-) (nice catch), whether it is 177 or 300 billion it only adds a few years. What is the reference for the estimate of 2 Trillion barrels?

  12. #12 Jon
    February 12, 2007

    I saw a news magazine show a while back about the recruitment of young engineers to the oil sands of northern Alberta. Apparently, there is nothing to do there, but the big salaries at the oil companies are too tempting. Kids straight out of college getting six-figure jobs! I remember feeling it is unfortunate new talent is being seduced by the money to work in the name of prolonging our addiction to oil. In my mind, I really hope we are well past “peak oil” so economic pressures begin having positive effects on both our move to non-carbon-emitting energy AND our employment options for engineers/scientists.

  13. #13 Frank
    February 12, 2007

    These are the facts according to wikipedia–
    “The Athabasca Oil Sands (sometimes known as the Athabasca Tar sands) have estimated non-conventional oil reserves approximately equal to the conventional oil reserves of the rest of the world, estimated to be 1.6 trillion barrels (254 km?). With the development of new extraction methods such as steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), which was developed in Alberta, bitumen and synthetic crude oil can be produced at costs close to those of conventional crude. Many companies employ both conventional strip mining and non-conventional in situ methods to extract the bitumen from the oil sands. With current technology and at current prices, about 315 billion barrels (50 km?) of bitumen are recoverable. Fort McMurray, one of Canada’s fastest growing and liveliest cities, has grown enormously in recent years because of the large corporations which have taken on the task of oil production. As of late 2006 there were over $100 billion in oil sands projects under construction or in the planning stages in northeastern Alberta.”
    What this article doesn’t mention is that both Chinese and Indian people have been there looking at the prospect of buying in. What was mentioned by others is the horrendous pollution and environmental damage done by ALL of the big oil companies combined in this operation. Alberta now has the reputation of being the worst polluting province (per capita) in Canada as a result.

  14. #14 Jay
    February 12, 2007

    Your blog posts states two things that I believe are incorrect. It does not change the jist of your blog, which I agree with, but the facts are important.

    1) You stated the US consumed 16 billion barrels in 2003. This is not accurate. 20 million bopd X 365 = approx 7 billion barrels per year. Globally we consume about 30 to 31 billion barrels per year.

    2) The tar sands are estimated to have 1.7 trillion barrels of oils. They estimate that current technology can recover about 10% of the resource, thus providing the estimated 170 billion barrels. Most likely the techniques will improve and recovery will be slightly better, perhaps 15% to 20%, which would dramatically increase the potential reserves, but at a huge environmental cost. In short, Canada will provide 3 million to 5 million bopd for decades to come. Though it is still not enough to maintain our high energy demands. Venezuela has about 1.2 trillion barrels of heavy oil (non-conventional) which is not counted as part of their OPEC reserves. The same approximate estimates of 10% are typically used when discussing this resource. Much tougher than conventional oil, but it is there.

    None of this changes the debate much. There is still a lot of oil, of different types, but it is going to be much more expensive to get in the future. And the overall levels will drop dramatically as the largest oil fields mature and decline.

    We won’t run out of oil, but the global supply may be at half of the current supply in about 30 to 50 years.

  15. #15 T
    February 13, 2007

    Most ocean floor is pure basalt. You won’t squeeze one drop of oil out of it. Claiming that 2/3 of Earth’s surface is still open to fruitful exploration is like claiming that since nobody bothered to drill deeper than 50km, 99% of Earth’s volume is still waiting for oil prospectors. Good luck to them.

  16. #16 Abha
    February 13, 2007

    The term Peak Oil refers to the time when half of the easily recoverable (cheap) oil will have been extracted. This includes light sweet crude that is the fuel grade oil. When reserves are mentioned this includes all grades of Oil many of which are not at all suitable as fuel. Asphalt too is an Oil product. We are so dependent on OIL in every sector of our economy that once past peak, oil depletion will have enormous impacts upon our economy. Oil is used in manufacturing, transportation, and it is vital for food production. Fertilizers and pesticides are oil products, and it is fuel for all the farm machinery and the trucks to haul the food to market.

    It is predicted that once past peak oil, growth as we have known it will cease. To get some idea of how this will effect us, one only needs to consider what happened during the oil shocks occurring in the USA during the 1970’s. This time though–they will not end.

    For the full implications of Peak Oil go to this site and read up:
    http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/

    It is a very serious crisis indeed.

  17. #17 Doug
    February 13, 2007

    Most of the comments so far are about reserves. Peak Oil is not about reserves. It is about production. As conventional sources start to have a fall off in production, all the alternative reserves need to produce enough to cover the shortage from the conventional sources AND the increase in demand.

    It is necessary to demonstrate that not only are there reserves to cover the discrepancy but these reserves can be brought to the market quick enough to prevent a shortfall. There is nothing that I read here that demonstrates that.

    How fast can reserves below the bottom of the deep ocean be developed and brought to market? How fast can the oil sands in Canada be brought online? Weeks? Months? Years? Will it be enough fast enough?

    Once again, Peak Oil is about a peak in oil production. Focusing only on reserves is the only peak oil nonsense I know of.

  18. #18 nick
    February 14, 2007

    Perhaps your blood wouldn’t boil so much if you actually finished reading what I wrote. It’s a complete non sequitur to bring up global warming or ocean acidification from CO2 against my claims, because I went on to argue that the limits of our atmosphere and in particular global warming will kick in long before oil becomes prohibitively expensive. We thus can’t rely on the mythological “peak oil” to solve the global warming and ocean acidification problems you and I both are concerned about. It will take difficult political solutions in the face of normally priced oil.

  19. #19 Jim Bliss
    February 14, 2007

    Nick, I’m afraid I find it difficult to take anyone seriously who describes the concept of oil production peaking as “mythological”. It’s an historical reality that US crude oil production peaked in about 1970. Do you deny that? Are you honestly claiming that production in the US has continued to climb since then? If so, what are you sources?

    If not, what makes you believe that global production won’t peak at some point and then decline? Are you proposing an abiotic theory of oil? (i.e. we have a limitless supply because it’s being produced at a rate equal to, or greater than, the rate at which we extract it) Again, I find it difficult to take such claims seriously as they seem to be backed up by very little evidence when compared to the wealth of evidence that oil is, in fact, a fossil fuel.

    I have to admit, your claim that a peak in oil production is “mythological” takes me aback a little. This is despite the fact that you make the excellent point that peak oil (even the non-mythological type) cannot be relied upon to “solve the global warming and ocean acidification problems”. And that needs to be made clear to the increasing number of environmentalists who look upon peak oil as a godsend.

    A decline in oil and natural gas availability will indeed stimulate sustainable / carbon-neutral alternatives. But it will also stimulate an increase in other things. And I would suggest that unless managed correctly (i.e. “inevitably”) whatever positives the atmosphere and oceans receive from a decline in oil consumption will be significantly outweighed by an increase in coal consumption and deforestation rates.

  20. #20 nick
    February 14, 2007

    Jim, I call it a mythology because the calling of peak global oil production has been around a long time in various guises and it has turned out wrong every time. For more than a hundreds years, every time the oil price spikes due to political turmoil or monetary inflation we’ve heard wailing and gnashing of teeth about oil “running out,” “peak production,” and similar dire predictions. Every time it’s been just so much hot air. Real smoothed world oil production cost have been falling slowly for many decades now as technology advances, and there’s no good reason to believe such technological progress won’t continue in the future. Short of carbon taxes or requiring the purchase of carbon rights to fight global warming, which I have endorsed, outside of the worst political disasters real oil prices will remain quite affordable for our increasingly car-dependent culture.

    Of course average production costs spike when oil prices spike, as they’ve done recently, but that’s for straightfoward economic reasons (it pays to work on more marginal wells) and in no way changes the long-term trend. It’s much slower progress than Moore’s law to be sure, but it is nevertheless a general trend that has radically increased the efficiency of oil production while reducing its environmental footprint (albeit failing to do so in the area of greenhouse gases). And my blog post talked about three big areas for future expansion: tar sands, coal liquification, and deep sea oil. There is vast potential for future improvement — areas where we’ve sometimes quite literally just scratched the surface.

    And as I stated this continued expansion will probably be very hard on our atmosphere. It’s sheer wishful thinking that “peak oil” is going to save us from having to make the hard long-term political choices needed to combat global warming.

    Indeed, I hope oil and coal production both _do_ peak due to requirements in all nations to purchase carbon rights and the legal restirction of the supply of those rights — or (second best solution) due to a carbon tax. My point is that we have to actually accomplish this kind of difficult international political feat to make oil production peak and to keep oil prices high. It isn’t going to magically happen by wishing fervently for nature to turn off the oil reservoirs and magically disappear the coal and tar sands or to pretend that all of a sudden human beings are going to stop figuring out ways to improve technologies in these areas.

    Oil production did indeed peak in the U.S. in particular, but the cause had nothing to do with Hubbert’s silly attempts at reasoning. You may recall that the 1970s ushered in a radical new era of environmental regulation. Up until that time industries had been rather free to pollute without the high costs of that pollution being borne by them. During that decade and since high costs have been imposed on U.S. businesses like oil and we’ve reaped the rewards of a much cleaner environment. Those rewards came at a cost, including switches from domestic to import supplies in steel, oil, minerals, and other polluting industries. Much of our pollution reduction was just the outsourcing of pollution. Many promising new areas such as most U.S. offshore oil were banned outright in the 1970s. I’m sure almost all of us would agree these costs have been more than worth improving the environment, such as keeping the wonderful California coast that Peter and Craig and I enjoy free of oil spills. But if you think that doesn’t come at a cost you’re daydreaming. One of those costs was radically restricting further U.S. oil production — thus creating “peak oil” in the U.S.

    The other big contributor to “peak oil” in the U.S. has been very cheap imports. U.S. oil production costs were _never_ nearly as cheap as Saudi, Iranian, Russian, and Venezualan costs have been from the 1960s to today. Once these foreign wells were developed and the tanker fleets built it was inevitable that they would substitute for U.S. oil production.

    Econ 101 says that if you cut domestic supply (as with 1970s regulation and bans) domestic price will go up, and if there is a risk of a flood of cheap imports it won’t pay to operate domestic wells or drill new ones any more. Thus domestic production peaked in the U.S. for reasons that have nothing to do Hubbert’s theory or “running out of oil.”

    We still have vast oil fields producing at the lowest costs they have ever produced in world history, and we will still have such vast cheap supplies many decades into the future. But these are in political questionable areas and charge prices far in excess of production costs due to political problems and the cartel. Tar sands, coal, and deep sea oil in politically more desirable areas are all well known to be areas with vast reserves.

    So there needn’t be any abiotic hydrocarbons to keep our Hummers (and Craig’s and Peter’s boats) going for well over a century at current prices or lower. The astronomical perspective is however quite interesting if merely theoretical — there are trillions of trillions (to one-up Carl Sagan) of oil-barrel equivalents of hydrocarbons on a wide variety of solar system bodies but practically no free oxygen. It’s an undisputed fact that our solar system formed with vast amounts of abiotic hydrocarbons. They are found on the gas giant planets, on their moons (Titan has lakes, clouds, and rivers of ethane and methane), on comets, and so on. Move your perspective wider a bit and you see what is going to “run out” far sooner than hydrocarbons are the qualities we depend on in our atmosphere. The very oxygen we breath and use to burn hydrocarbons is far scarcer than hydrocarbons, but long before even scarce oxygen we face the greenhouse gas pollution problem. The earth must have also formed with abundant abiotic hydrocarbons, though it’s quite possible these were mostly “eaten” by early forms of life and reformed biologically later. Whether biotic or otherwise, it’s our atmosphere that is the far scarcer resource.

    This whole excursion into abiotic hydrocarbons is just a theoretical point to answer your question about it, and my argument in no way depends on it, but it’s a quite illuminating thing to widen one’s perspective.

    BTW, are “peak oil” folks also predicting “peak gold,” “peak bauxite,” “peak corn,” “peak citrus,” and so on also? Oil prices are about the same now relative to gold that they’ve been at for most of the last century. Indeed oil prices relative to other commodities, even renewable commodities like farm products and lumber, are well within their normal range. Occam’s Razor says that the nominal price rises in not just oil but all commodities over the last half decade are mainly due to the same cause of this problem in the 1970s — a growing money supply rather than the rather improbable sudden and simultanerous decrease in the supply in almost every mineral and other commodities that a supply crunch theory implies.

    For all those who like Craig still take intensive offense that anybody might dare challenge the cult of peak oil, I suggest moving beyond faddish ideas and hitting the economics and history books. It doesn’t do anybody any good for Craig’s “blood to boil” though I guess that’s a natural reaction when one’s cherished wishes are debunked.

  21. #21 Jim Bliss
    February 15, 2007

    I’m sorry Nick, but that’s just plain barmy.

    I call it a mythology because the calling of peak global oil production has been around a long time in various guises and it has turned out wrong every time.

    You realise that makes precisely no sense don’t you? “Numerous predictions of the timing of Event A have been incorrect in the past, therefore Event A will never happen”. It’s spurious reasoning and would get you laughed out of a first-year undergrad course in Discourse or in Logic.

    When someone makes this point (and you’d be amazed at how many people do) I always ask them to imagine beginning a long car journey. You start driving, but your passenger keeps annoying you by insisting that you’re going to run out of fuel in 10 miles. Every half mile they make this prediction, up to the 9.5 mile mark. It’s very irritating and you wish you could shut them up as it’s hard enough concentrating on this treacherous. So you naturally feel triumphant when the mileometer reaches 10.1 miles. “Haha!” you gleefully cry, “See? You were wrong! That proves we’ll never run out of fuel”

  22. #22 bud
    February 15, 2007

    I think it is narrrow minded to view peak oil as a mythology, although there are certainly fanatics who have turned it somewhat cultish. I have been looking at peak oil for years now, first skeptically, but now more with a more open mind. Much of peak oil is based on simple geologic considerations that are fairly straightforward and clearly valid. For example conventional oil production (which does not include tar sands, seep water, etc) in North America has almost certainly peaked. However adding in deep water, tar sands, shale oil, coal to liquids and others could with adequate investment could tell a different story. If we truly did not care about the cost and extreme environmental degradation we could raise production for many years to come. Although we would not leave a nice world for future generations.

    On a world wide basis this is also true. Peak of conventional production is probably not far away here as well, although add in a healthy dose of geopolitical variables. Again with adequate investment and desire non-conventional sources could allow for long term growth here for many generations.

    It really boils down to how much of our daily wage and long term envirnmental health of the planet we are willing to spend to keep on this course of what I would consider profligate consumption. At some point society will put a cap on that cost, and that is the true peak of oil.

  23. #23 nick
    February 15, 2007

    I see there’s no argument left against my position here except name-calling. Along those lines Jim Bliss needs to actually learn some of that logic he claims to know as well as reading comprehension 101.

    “Peak oil” type ideas have been repeatedly wrong in the past, therefore have been mythology. And one can indeed often make probable predictions of futures from past repetition, as in predicting the sun will rise again tomorrow, even though it too will one day “run out.” Apparently Jim you missed the part of logic called “induction.” Without it one could not do any science, as all science is based on observing data and finding patterns. Jim however as a true believer in mythology would prefer to remain ignorant of any facts that contradict his beliefs, including apparently the entire content of my post after the first paragraph.

    Because in those successive paragraphs I’ve done far more here than simply project a repetition. I’ve shown that peak oil ideas are still quite wrong today. We can therefore still safely call it a mythology.

  24. #24 Andrew Dodds
    February 19, 2007

    Nick –

    Looking at oil production cost is very misleading, due to the nature of the resource and market. Price is set at the margin; just because a particular middle eastern country can produce at $5/day dosen’t mean is can supply the entire market at that price. In any case, production costs even in Saudi Arabia are increasing rapidly.

    Basic geology (and if you don’t believe that, than the ODP at http://www-odp.tamu.edu/) shows that the vast majority of the deep ocean has zero hydrocarbon prospects, and the best areas have already been explored.

    As far as the US goes, the idea of the peak being a result of environmental regulation is frankly BS; the only undrilled area of the US and offshore is ANWR which may or may not have a decent field. The rest of the ‘closed’ areas are passive continental margin settings with minimal oil prospects.

    Abiotic hydrocarbons don’t exist in the inner solar system for very simple reasons; they break down rapidly under UV. Combined with water breakdown, this means that planets close enough to the sun (Mars, Earth and Venus) see all of their primordial hydrocarbons turned to CO2 and hydrogen, the hydrogen excaping to space. Due to it’s size, Earth should have been last to finish this process, circa 2-2.5 billion years ago. This marks the point where oxygen could start accumulating in the atmosphere. So no, you are not going to find significant quantities of abotic hydrocarbons.

    Moving on to things that actually exist, I have to point out that strict peak oil refers to convnetional oil in any case, which excludes oil sands. And the bulk of precitions are in the 2000-2010 range; assuming that technology gives us some help extends that to 2015 at the latest. Tar sands cannot cover the gap, although it does mean that shortages of essential prtrochemical feedstocks are unlikely this century.

  25. #25 David C
    February 19, 2007

    Nick
    Good to see you taking a devils advocate position!
    I suspect if you had your time again you would not use the word mythology as it implies a fictional story. It maybe you will want to acknowledge this mistake on your part – as they say “never defend a losing position”! it maybe the word “crywolf” would be more accurate?
    On the peak of oil production in the US not having anything to do with Hubbert prediction – i am not sure how you got to this on the basis of high oil production costs in the US could you clarify this in relation to production every year since and, importantly, the level of reserves left. Also as it seems you are across this subject better than I can you apply your same logic to the North Sea oil peak plus the recent Burgen and Canterell(Spl?) oil field peaks in Bahrian and Mexico respectively as I would find this most useful. (oh and the Iranian oil production peak)
    great many thanks
    Cheers

  26. #26 David C
    February 20, 2007

    Nick
    Any news on this probably still early on your side of the pond. looking forward to your reply.
    Cheers

    David

  27. #27 Clark Thompson
    February 22, 2007

    Nice lively debate.

    A couple thoughts; the “proven reserves” figure on which most estimates of peak oil are based rely on figures from the Saudi Government that, as I recall but can’t source have never been independently validated–and were adjusted upwards substantially in the 1980’s–so it may be we actually hit peak a while back.

    Second, Hubbert’s theory was based on depletion from mining in general, and his application to oil was just one of several applications that showed his basic bell curve theory worked.

    Third–and here’s the big question; if oil really came from prehistoric plankton or dead dinosaurs, why haven’t we run out already? Does anyone have a good figure as to how much prehistoric biomass would have had to exist to support the dead dinosaur theory? I’d hazard I may well be more biomass than could possibly have existed. So…if the oil didn’t come from ancient biomass, where did it come from?

    Could it be, as has been suggested by at least one scientists a natural product of the earth’s core–and if true, is there really any scarcity?

    On the flip side to counter this admittedly outrageous postulate, I note the amount of $$ the UAE are spending on becoming a tourist spot, as they freely admit THEIR oil runs out in 10 years. Would they be doing this if peak oil were just a myth?

  28. #28 nick
    February 22, 2007

    David C: “devil’s advocate”? That is a position one takes in a theological debate, not in a scientifc one. Perhaps this explains why so many “peak oil” advocates think that anecdote is a convincing form of argument. Anyway, no, I am not going to “admit” that what has been demonstrated in this thread as very probably true is false and vice versa. If you can’t go through the abundance of scientific facts about reserves generally (as opposed to the many figures shown to have been misreported and the mere anecdotes about individual oil fields) in the thread above and become at least a bit skeptical about “peak oil”, providing more evidence still is probably not going enlighten true believers in mythology, including those who do “science” by counting heads instead of weighing evidence.

    Clark T: Why do you assume that oil producers have an incentive to over-report their reserves? If anything they have an incentive to under-report them, to generate a perceived scarcity that drives oil prices up.

    And a general comment re: abiotic hydrocarbons: because of our planet’s active geology, the first billion or so years of geology and life here are a huge gap in our knowlege. There is wide disagreement among geologists and planetary scientists around the world about how much abiotic hydrocarbon was incorporated when our planet formed, what early forms of life might have done with that hydrocarbon, and where (if anywhere) that abiotic hydrocarbon might be now. We are also quite ignorant about the chemical details of the earth’s crust more than a few kilometers down. We are actually far more knowledgeable about the heavens above. It is well known among planetary scientists that abiotic hydrocarbons are abundant in our solar system, and indeed vastly more abundant than liveable atmospheres. Beyond that we quickly get into unknowns and speculation when talking about abiotic hydrocarbons on our planet. The evidence against peak oil is quite solid without such speculation, but I do think the questions being posed here about it are good ones and eminently worth exploring — with real scientific observation rather than speculation or anecdote.

  29. #29 David C
    February 28, 2007

    Nick: good to hear from you!
    I suspect I was giving you the benefit of the doubt that you were attempting to broaden the debate so that at least other points of view were being discussed…..
    Perhaps I was being too subtle for you:
    my post was entirely focused on historic evidence of peaks in production.
    One of you reasons for stating that peak oil was a “myth” was because there were cost reasons as to why US oil production peaks in the early 70’s and not because the oil supply in the US had reached the point where the remaining supplies were harder to get out.
    I have said, okay in that case explain:
    why US oil production has fallen every year since and that US reserves as calculated by any agency/group has also fallen each year.
    I have then also asked you to explain a series of other country/ oil area peaks on the basis that according to your theory this was because of cost issues and not because it was getting harder to get the stuff out.
    Importantly what I have asked you to comment on is the clear factual evidence over a number of decades that oil production does peak. i.e. it is not a myth……..
    Your response has been to effectively say “i’m not playing anymore” by saying you are not going to give me any more evidence because I will not listen to it! not very scientific that approach, peer review etc etc
    Come on Nick explain the other peaks, get involved mate!
    In terms of reserves – happy to have that discussion once you have answered the above I am a skeptic of when peak oil will happen – not least because no-one knows what the worlds usuable oil reserves are hence we get a lot of “crywolf” claims……

    best regards
    David

  30. #30 mike vanhutstaton
    March 6, 2007

    what is one debate on peak oil in the United States

  31. #31 nick
    March 7, 2007

    DavidC: I’m not sure why you think peak oil in a few regions such as the U.S. implies global peak oil. Could you please explain that? But I’ll take a few more nibbles at your bait just for fun. Proven oil reserves in U.S. have fallen for the same reason as oil production: very poor incentives. In this case it’s lack of incentives to explore, when (1) most of the most promising areas (such as offshore of California) are banned or highly regulated, and (2) anything that would be found would have, just as with all major U.S. fields of yore, a much higher cost of production than today’s costs in the Persian Gulf, leaving a risk of a repeat of the 1990s when global oil prices hit all-time historical lows and only the very cheapest fields were economical.

    Note that the choice of the U.S. and a narrow definition of “oil” makes for a quite convenient but very misleading anecdote. Change the region and the definition to be slightly more inclusive of reality and the anecdote comes out dramatically in the other direction. If we slightly expand the region to include all of North America, and expand our narrow definition of “oil” to include related other hydrocarbons from which gasoline can be economically refined, we will find that proven reserves of such hydrocarbons in North America have vastly increased over the last few decades, due to technology progress that has greatly lowered the real production costs of Canadian tar sands over the last few decades.

    Obviously, individual fields based on a fixed technology will tend to reach a peak and deplete. Nobody needs to bother with “peak oil” ideology to figure that out. Sometimes, as another poster pointed out, new technology or a temporary rise in prices can allow the less accessible oil previously “depleted” fields to be further extracted. Not only does this provide exceptions to “peak oil” theory for individual fields — many fields have a double (or more) hump rather than a single-hump history — it puts a ceiling on how much (the purely technological, i.e. non-political component of) global production costs can go up in the future. As of course do new sources such as deep sea oil and methane, methane clathrates, tar sands, coal gasification, etc. which “peak oil” advocates blithely ignore. And technology does not in fact remain static: with ROVs and other digital automation, better drill bit materials, better corrosion resistance, and many other technologies recently developed or coming down the pike we can expect extraction efficiency to continue to improve and new areas such as the deep sea to be opened up — the subject of my original article which triggered this thread.

    Of course you can come up with a plethora of anecdotes about certain areas, regions, or countries where depletion of oil, narrowly defined, has occurred faster than technology can adapt. But the claims of “peak oil” that I am debunking are about global trends in supply and production costs of hydrocarbons that can be economically refined into gasoline. Since at least the dawn of the kerosene lamp the consistent trend over every period twenty years or longer has been that technology has progressed slightly faster than the combined local depletions, with the result that in the entire history of oil, the all-time lows in real production costs so far were achieved in late 1990s. This trend has since been interrupted by a small acute rise in political costs (and thus a temporary rise in marginal and mean production costs) and by a monetary inflation in the U.S. (which, as it usually does, has driven up commodities across the board much faster than prices generally) — two all too common events in the long history of oil prices.

  32. #32 David C
    March 9, 2007

    Nick
    I think we are getting to the crux of it now.
    The thing I am pushing at is your view about the mythology of Peak Oil. I have tried to give you a way out by suggesting it should be better termed a Cry Wolf instead of a Myth as one day it will happen but just not now – you have not gone for that.
    I have then asked you to explain the other peaks of other oilfields, groups of oilfields or countries – you have not answered this at all.
    You’re response to the US oil peak in 1970’s is to redefine the area of the US 47(?) states to include Canada! i.e moving the goal posts!!!
    Your other line of argument is to state that technology will stop peak oil happening! Actually it will delay it not stop it which is why I have alluded ealier to me questioning the total recoverable reserves in the world. The steam pressure announced recently undelines this point.
    Nick you are running out of options now my friend –
    no explanation of the other peaks in production,
    actually stating that “Obviously, individual fields based on a fixed technology will tend to reach a peak and deplete” – if you accept that peak production will happen in an individual field that it is very hard to argue against a peak production occuring for a comibination of fields and then for a country, then a region, then the world,
    come on deep breath now Nick admit it Peak oil production is not a myth it is a fact.
    When it actually happens is an entirely different thing – dependant on technology, total amount of oil etc, but one day five years, twenty years, two hundred years time conventional oil production on a worldwide basis will peak
    Best David

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.