One of the more famous portraits of peak oil. Image: Wikimedia
In a year that saw the United States reach near-historic levels of fossil fuel production, it seemed that the words ‘peak oil’ were scarcely uttered. But it’s still a looming question, that we have yet to satisfactorily answer—when are we going to run out of oil? Have we already started to? A renowned geologist, and a former top analyst for BP no less, says the answer is yes.
“We are probably in peak oil today, or at least in the foot-hills,” Dr. Richard Miller said recently at a talk in London. According to the Guardian, Miller “prepared BP’s in-house projections of future oil supply for BP from 2000 to 2007,” and is bringing peak oil back into focus at the end of a petroleum-soaked year. He says that oil production has already peaked in 37 oil-producing countries, and that global production is declining at about 3.5 million barrels every year. Continued reliance on oil, and the coming shortage, will do nothing less than “break economies.”
Per the Guardian:
“We need new production equal to a new Saudi Arabia every 3 to 4 years to maintain and grow supply… New discoveries have not matched consumption since 1986. We are drawing down on our reserves, even though reserves are apparently climbing every year. Reserves are growing due to better technology in old fields, raising the amount we can recover– but production is still falling at 4.1% p.a. [per annum].”
Bottom line being, oil companies and governments are jazzed on new technologies and extraction techniques like fracking and tar sands—Exxon and co are running shiny ads touting domestic energy production—but none of that changes the fact that oil is running out. We’re getting better at scraping the bottom of the barrel, but you can only get so much.
“Production of conventional liquid oil has been flat since 2008,” Miller said. “Growth in liquid supply since then has been largely of natural gas liquids [NGL]—ethane, propane, butane, pentane—and oil-sand bitumen.”
Add Miller’s warnings to a long list of geologists, economists, and environmentalists who say we’re outrunning our dependence on the black gold. In 2008, the Germany-based Energy Watch Group proclaimed “peak oil is now.” In 2005, a group of respected geologists and physicists started the Oil Drum, and warned that demand had begun to outpace production. Their prognosis was repeatedly vindicated.
In 2009, the UK Energy Research Centre concluded that “A global peak is inevitable. The timing is uncertain, but the window is rapidly narrowing.” And even the US Department of Defenseforecast a shortage of oil as soon as 2015.
Which is to say, Miller finds himself in some pretty sterling company, and in a year where the nation had fossil fuels on the brain, his cautions are especially worth considering.