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Peak Oil: “Show-Stoppers” – Peak Oil Matters

Peak Oil: “Show-Stoppers” – Peak Oil Matters.

IMGP1122_Watermarked

Freshly fracked wells sent U.S. oil production soaring 39 percent since 2011. That’s the steepest climb in history, and if production continues apace, the U.S. would become the world’s biggest source of oil by 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information  Administration.

Rapid well declines threaten to spoil that promise. The average flow from a shale gas well drops by about 50 percent to 75 percent in the first year, and up to 78 percent for oil, said Pete Stark, senior research director at IHS Inc.
‘The decline rate is a potential show stopper after a while,’ said Stark, a geologist with almost six decades in the oil patch. ‘You just can’t keep up with it.’ [1]

That’s an interesting comment, given that the company Mr. Stark works for is more commonly known for its sunny optimism about our future fossil fuel supply.

FRACKING ISN’T FREE OR EASY

The reality is that rapid decline rates are a common feature of fracked wells. Drilling faster, more, and at higher costs just to keep pace with current production is not exactly a winning strategy. Higher costs for them are supported by the higher costs we pay. At some point, consumers balk, and when they do, there goes a lot of investable funds for more production. Then what?

The article from which that quote was sourced describes some of the admittedly-fascinating overview of the artificial intelligence systems now being considered—and it some cases already deployed—to improve the drill results from fracking (the hydraulic fracturing of shale in order to facilitate the flow of “tight” oil trapped in those rocks.) The article notes that “four out of every 10 clusters of fractures in an average horizontal well are duds.” Given that each well can cost millions of dollars, much more than wells drilled in conventional crude oil fields, that can be a problem.

AN UNSPOKEN CHALLENGE OR TWO

The use of fiber-optics and 3D seismic imaging are among the technological advances now being used to aid scientists “scientists see and hear what’s going on two miles underground.”

An executive of Schlumberger Ltd is quoted in this same article announcing that the combination of their own scientists’ expertise with the “U-ROC” software program “has led to an almost 30 percent increase in production in some wells in the Eagle Ford [TX].”

An official from another petroleum company that after collaborating with Halliburton and using a “science-based approach,” his company’s “shares doubled in the five months after” a conference call with investors.

If that’s not enough good news, by last summer the company enjoyed its “best-ever results” in the shale formations of western Texas’ Permian Basis, “and that it was‘among the best’ among its competitors at that location. The improvements were attributed in part, as a spokesman noted, to the company’s “own internal efforts to pump more time and money into the science of drilling and production.”

A LOOK AT THE UNSPOKEN

Improved performance is improved performance. But for those of us interested in how depleting and finite fossil fuel resources—with a healthy concern that technology and economics will continue to make extraction and production feasible to begin with—will keep up with demand in the years ahead, the doubling of a company’s shares, “an almost 30 percent increase in production in some wells,” being “among the best,” and pumping “more time and money into the science of drilling and production” suggests that all is not well in Oil Production Land.

That’s precisely what those of us concerned about peak oil continue to stress to listeners and readers.

It’s probably safe to assume that none of those efforts or the technologies employed are inexpensive. It’s also a certainty that whatever costs are associated with developing, testing, supplying, and using those impressive advances get passed on to consumers.

The impressive technologies now in play, with their higher costs, to locate and produce a product harder-to-come-by and not of the same quality as the conventional crude oil we’ve used to power our civilization for more than a century all point to the fact that we clearly can no longer rely on Business As Usual in oil production itself and fossil fuel usage by all of us.

Taking a bit of a detour in the headlong pursuit of ever more expensive technologies in order to plan for what happens in years to come when that resource just doesn’t do what we all need it to do; or devote more resources to the alternatives which will be needed when it makes little sense to continue the fossil fuel chase; or even provide more information to the public now so that they can get into the game doesn’t seem all that unreasonable, does it?

~ My Photo: Corona del Mar, CA – 02.16.18

Why peak oil signals the world’s end, or at least the one we know – Zawya

Why peak oil signals the world’s end, or at least the one we know – Zawya.

By Joel Guglietta

While global financial markets are still levitating somewhere between the stratosphere and the Kingdom of Asgard, by 60°24′31″ North and 172°43′12″ West, in the middle of nowhere, an isolated island of 137.857 sq-mi holds the key of three major economic developments and risks:

  1. November 2013, Lawrence Summers raised the question whether the “secular stagnation” and the impossibility for the US and other major economies to grow without the help of recurring bubbles was not doomed to become the “new normal”.
  2. March 2014, the Conference Board released a study (figure 1) showing the falling trend in global total factor productivity, i.e. in the share of output not explained by the “accumulation of factors” (more on this economic jargon below).
  3. March 2014 again, the NASA published a research paper answering to “widespread concerns that current trends in resource-used are unsustainable, but possibilities of overshoot/collapse remain controversial”. This study tells us that, based on a well-known prey-predator model to which they add “wealth and economic inequality”, a total collapse is “very difficult to avoid” (figure 2).

w
Source: The Conference Board, January 2014

3
Source: NASA, 2014

1. – The tragic fate of the fat caribou, or why we have to fear the reindeer of St Matthew more than the wolves of Wall-Street

During World War II, the US Coast Guard decided to install long range aids to navigation in St Matthew Island, a remote rock in the Bering Sea in Alaska, and to stock emergency food source there. In August the same year, they released 29 reindeer (known as caribou in North America) on the island as a backup food source for the 19 men stationed there. As World War II drew to an end, the Coast Guard left the island and, by the same token, the population of reindeer growing unchecked as their only predators, the 19 men on duty there, were sent back home. It followed a dramatic boom & burst of population dynamics (figure 1). From 1944 to 1966 the number of these herbivores, which did not have to worry anymore about any predator and ate all the available lichen, increased from 29 to 6,000. In 1957, their body weight was found to exceed that of reindeer in domestic herds by 24.5 percent among females and 46.6 percent among males. Then, the following winter, as they faced a limited food supply to sustain their number and their massive body weight, they underwent a crash die-off, the population falling from 6,000 to 42 (figure 3).

There is a lot of food for thought in this story. First, as the NASA study suggests, when one species (for example the top 1 oercent living in the Galapogos, another rock ,as I put it in a paper issued last year “Why Kings of Galapagos are long equity under (mild) Mugabenomics?”) thrive to the abject detriment of another one (the lichen, or the “bottom” 99%), bad things eventually happen.

2
Source: The Conference Board, TED, January 2014

1
Source: Manicore

Second, and more generally, the point of this story boils down to the mundane fact that resources are everything, and when they vanish, the transition from a given state to another one, namely from unchecked growth and exuberance to complete obliteration, is dramatic most often than not. This holds all the more true for the key resource, i.e. oil, which brings us to the second chapter of our tale.

2. – The peak-oil: a conspiracy theory or a mandatory mathematical truism?

Most of the discussions on oil hover around the question of “reserves”. I am going here to state the obvious but the key argument to keep in mind is that these reserves are meant for one and only purpose: oil production. ….woooh!, that’s new, next please! Okay, but bear with me. Till someone proves me I am wrong, I assume that the volume of Earth is finite, so that oil reserves are finite.Now, for a given stock of non-renewable resource, all production functions obey to the same law: they start from zero, grow to a maximum and decline to zero in a “bell-shape” way (figure 4). Now, the area under this curve is called the integral of the production function and it is strictly equal to the oil reserves. Because oil reserves are finite, the integral is necessarily convergent and because they are non-renewable the production function (the derivative function of the oil reserve) cannot have another form than a bell shape. You can stretch it, you can squeeze it, but the general form is this one and not any other. This is mathematical certainty like 2+2=4. The peak-oil is a mandatory mathematical truism, not a “conspiracy theory”.

Obviously, the key question is: the “peak-oil”, is it for now?

Well, running the risk of stating one obvious thing after another, I assume that we all agree that a compulsory task to perform before extracting oil from the ground is to find it. This has profound implications as this makes us certain that a peak is mandatory given the resource potential of the oil field. It also tells us that the higher the proven reserves and the bigger they are with respect to production, the closer the peak of oil production (remember: the integral is the area under the production curve). If I take the example of the United-States, as evidenced by King Hubbert, there is a 35-year lag between discovery and production (figure 5). If evidence proves Hubert peak was a bit bad on timing, possible production curves, based on the world ultimate reserves. i.e. total extractable petroleum, suggest that the peak is now.

4
Source: Laherrere, 2003

f
Source: Manicore

This is old story and, as the world still goes around, one could dismiss all this analysis. However, what is new is that business conditions are becoming more challenging for the oil majors as figure 7 suggests. Indeed since 2009, the capital expenditures of ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have increased by 39-89 percent while their production has stalled. This is the balance-sheet-based proof that the peak-oil is happening now.

d
Source: Wall Street Journal

Now, the last point on the peak-oil, and this is key to understand the third and last chapter of our tale. We have to keep in mind that when we hear that we still have for 20 or 30 years of oil ahead of us it does not mean that we live the “good life” for the next 2 to 3 decades with constant consumption and then, the year after, we fall straight to zero consumption in a crash die-off as our reindeer herd experienced. Actually, consumption will be following the bell-shaped production function, it will be a slow death, and in the meanwhile, as the oil majors experience, the massive rise of capital expenditure will be weighting on the marginal energy return of energy. Indeed, according to Kopits, total upstream industry spendind since 2005 has been USD 4 trillion (about USD 2.5 trillion spent on legacy crude oil production), and legacy oil production has declined by 1 mmb/d since 2005. By comparison, between 1998 and 2005 the industry spent USD 1.5 trillion on upstream development and added 8.6 mmb/d to total crude production. This declining energy return in energy production, which is nothing but the by-product of declining/exhausting oil reserves and the very fact we are experiencing the peak-oil, drives the whole economy down.

Indeed, though we live in the age of the “information technology” it is worthwhile to remember that the information society is an energy ogre (not mentioning the globalisation mantra which gives a central role to the transport industry which consumes two-third of total oil). For example, according toASU engineer Eric Williams 227 to 270 kilograms (or 500 to 594 pounds) of carbon dioxide are emitted in manufacturing a laptop computer. Mark Mills , the CEO of the Digital Power Group, teaches us that a medium-size refrigerator will use about 322 kW-h a year whereas the average iPhone uses about 361 kW-h a year once the wireless connections, data usage and battery charging are tallied up.

3. – There is something deeply wrong about macro-economic theory

So how all this relates to the “secular stagnation” scenario and all the fall in total factor productivity. Well, this is where things get a little bit technical and where our tale comes (finally!) to an end.

Most economists are big fan of more or less complex equations designed to explain everything in a highly stylised fashion. In this quest, in order to explain the origin of economic growth, they use the so-called Cobb-Douglas production function which states that GDP (Y) is a function of technology (A), capital (K) and labour (L). More precisely, the Holy Grail equation takes this form: Y = A * Ka * Lb, with “a” and “b” the elasticity of production to capital and labour. Total factor productivity is for instance derived from this equation.

Now, as the purpose of this equation is to explain the origin of economic growth, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Neanderthals. While we are planning to go in the wild to bring back some proteins to the tribe, we look around us. We do find sturdy arms, sturdy legs and few well-functioning brains. In a word, we find “labour”. Do we find “capital”? A broad and outstanding No! However, as the time goes by, our species is evolving. We will find primal energy in the form of fire, and then, at a very latter stage fossil energy and we will understand how to use it. “Capital” will appear at a much latter stage based on accumulated labour (whatever it is “inspiration”, aka knowledge, or “transpiration”, aka sweat and hard work) and the use of energy around us.

The point is very simple: the central equation explaining economic growth is plain wrong and we need to transform it in order to make capital an inner feedback loop to the system as it is mentioned in the Report to the Club of Rome (2003) or suggested by Jean-Marc Jancovici . How to do this?

Well in order to make things simple, let’s assume that returns to scale are constant (if I multiply resources by 2, output will be increased by 2, which fares as a reasonable assumption) so that we get b = 1-a, and therefore Y = A * Ka * L1-a. Now, let’s make the capital K dependent on energy (E) and labor (L) (or accumulated labor, (integral of L), so that K = c * E * L (with “c” a constant and simply labour which does not change the qualitative properties of the model). Our equation becomes: Y = A * ba * Ea * L.

Add to this new equation a reasonable assumption about the dynamics of labour (I assume a logistic function for the dynamics of the population with a sharp increase followed by an asymptotic rise) and the knowledge we have gained over the shape of the oil production function and thus of the dynamics of how available reserves evolve, we can build a toy-model and easily simulate the path of the economy (figure 8) on an oil(energy)-dependent computer. This toy-model clearly shows how sensitive an economy can be to the downward shift in oil-production during and after the peak-oil.

Do not get me wrong here. I do not believe that the Stone Age ended because we were short of stones. My point comes down to say that we are smack in the middle of an energetic transition, that this transition has a much more profound current negative effect that many can believe and that the world as we know is coming to an end, evolving towards “something else”. The hope here is that, flawed economic models, lack of political will to manage this energetic transition or ideological foolishness from the Talibans of the “all-green” regarding the nuclear energy as “evil”, will not drive us toward the tragic fate of the reindeer herd of St Matthew Island and other unfortunate raging bulls (figure 9). Indeed, the NASA research suggests that high wealth inequality is sufficient to create a total collapse. Add inequality regarding access to energy, water and food (agriculture is oil-dependent too) on the top of that, and we have a Mad-Max-Moment ahead of us. In this state of urgency, do we attend a rise in global capex in renewable energy that could make us more optimistic? Well, unfortunately not. Global investment in renewable energy fell 11 percent in 2013 to USD 254 billion according to Bloomberg New energy Finance. This is the second decline in renewable investments since 2001. So, yes the crash die-off of our fat caribous is unfortunately still a scenario.

v
Source: Joel Guglietta

Joel Guglietta is Managing Director of OCTIS Asset Management in Singapore

Author Steen Jakobsen, Chief Economist & CIO, Saxo Bank
Saxo Bank provides an execution-only service. The material on this website does not contain (and should not be construed as containing) investment advice or an investment recommendation, or a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. Saxo Bank accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result.

Why peak oil signals the world's end, or at least the one we know – Zawya

Why peak oil signals the world’s end, or at least the one we know – Zawya.

By Joel Guglietta

While global financial markets are still levitating somewhere between the stratosphere and the Kingdom of Asgard, by 60°24′31″ North and 172°43′12″ West, in the middle of nowhere, an isolated island of 137.857 sq-mi holds the key of three major economic developments and risks:

  1. November 2013, Lawrence Summers raised the question whether the “secular stagnation” and the impossibility for the US and other major economies to grow without the help of recurring bubbles was not doomed to become the “new normal”.
  2. March 2014, the Conference Board released a study (figure 1) showing the falling trend in global total factor productivity, i.e. in the share of output not explained by the “accumulation of factors” (more on this economic jargon below).
  3. March 2014 again, the NASA published a research paper answering to “widespread concerns that current trends in resource-used are unsustainable, but possibilities of overshoot/collapse remain controversial”. This study tells us that, based on a well-known prey-predator model to which they add “wealth and economic inequality”, a total collapse is “very difficult to avoid” (figure 2).

w
Source: The Conference Board, January 2014

3
Source: NASA, 2014

1. – The tragic fate of the fat caribou, or why we have to fear the reindeer of St Matthew more than the wolves of Wall-Street

During World War II, the US Coast Guard decided to install long range aids to navigation in St Matthew Island, a remote rock in the Bering Sea in Alaska, and to stock emergency food source there. In August the same year, they released 29 reindeer (known as caribou in North America) on the island as a backup food source for the 19 men stationed there. As World War II drew to an end, the Coast Guard left the island and, by the same token, the population of reindeer growing unchecked as their only predators, the 19 men on duty there, were sent back home. It followed a dramatic boom & burst of population dynamics (figure 1). From 1944 to 1966 the number of these herbivores, which did not have to worry anymore about any predator and ate all the available lichen, increased from 29 to 6,000. In 1957, their body weight was found to exceed that of reindeer in domestic herds by 24.5 percent among females and 46.6 percent among males. Then, the following winter, as they faced a limited food supply to sustain their number and their massive body weight, they underwent a crash die-off, the population falling from 6,000 to 42 (figure 3).

There is a lot of food for thought in this story. First, as the NASA study suggests, when one species (for example the top 1 oercent living in the Galapogos, another rock ,as I put it in a paper issued last year “Why Kings of Galapagos are long equity under (mild) Mugabenomics?”) thrive to the abject detriment of another one (the lichen, or the “bottom” 99%), bad things eventually happen.

2
Source: The Conference Board, TED, January 2014

1
Source: Manicore

Second, and more generally, the point of this story boils down to the mundane fact that resources are everything, and when they vanish, the transition from a given state to another one, namely from unchecked growth and exuberance to complete obliteration, is dramatic most often than not. This holds all the more true for the key resource, i.e. oil, which brings us to the second chapter of our tale.

2. – The peak-oil: a conspiracy theory or a mandatory mathematical truism?

Most of the discussions on oil hover around the question of “reserves”. I am going here to state the obvious but the key argument to keep in mind is that these reserves are meant for one and only purpose: oil production. ….woooh!, that’s new, next please! Okay, but bear with me. Till someone proves me I am wrong, I assume that the volume of Earth is finite, so that oil reserves are finite.Now, for a given stock of non-renewable resource, all production functions obey to the same law: they start from zero, grow to a maximum and decline to zero in a “bell-shape” way (figure 4). Now, the area under this curve is called the integral of the production function and it is strictly equal to the oil reserves. Because oil reserves are finite, the integral is necessarily convergent and because they are non-renewable the production function (the derivative function of the oil reserve) cannot have another form than a bell shape. You can stretch it, you can squeeze it, but the general form is this one and not any other. This is mathematical certainty like 2+2=4. The peak-oil is a mandatory mathematical truism, not a “conspiracy theory”.

Obviously, the key question is: the “peak-oil”, is it for now?

Well, running the risk of stating one obvious thing after another, I assume that we all agree that a compulsory task to perform before extracting oil from the ground is to find it. This has profound implications as this makes us certain that a peak is mandatory given the resource potential of the oil field. It also tells us that the higher the proven reserves and the bigger they are with respect to production, the closer the peak of oil production (remember: the integral is the area under the production curve). If I take the example of the United-States, as evidenced by King Hubbert, there is a 35-year lag between discovery and production (figure 5). If evidence proves Hubert peak was a bit bad on timing, possible production curves, based on the world ultimate reserves. i.e. total extractable petroleum, suggest that the peak is now.

4
Source: Laherrere, 2003

f
Source: Manicore

This is old story and, as the world still goes around, one could dismiss all this analysis. However, what is new is that business conditions are becoming more challenging for the oil majors as figure 7 suggests. Indeed since 2009, the capital expenditures of ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have increased by 39-89 percent while their production has stalled. This is the balance-sheet-based proof that the peak-oil is happening now.

d
Source: Wall Street Journal

Now, the last point on the peak-oil, and this is key to understand the third and last chapter of our tale. We have to keep in mind that when we hear that we still have for 20 or 30 years of oil ahead of us it does not mean that we live the “good life” for the next 2 to 3 decades with constant consumption and then, the year after, we fall straight to zero consumption in a crash die-off as our reindeer herd experienced. Actually, consumption will be following the bell-shaped production function, it will be a slow death, and in the meanwhile, as the oil majors experience, the massive rise of capital expenditure will be weighting on the marginal energy return of energy. Indeed, according to Kopits, total upstream industry spendind since 2005 has been USD 4 trillion (about USD 2.5 trillion spent on legacy crude oil production), and legacy oil production has declined by 1 mmb/d since 2005. By comparison, between 1998 and 2005 the industry spent USD 1.5 trillion on upstream development and added 8.6 mmb/d to total crude production. This declining energy return in energy production, which is nothing but the by-product of declining/exhausting oil reserves and the very fact we are experiencing the peak-oil, drives the whole economy down.

Indeed, though we live in the age of the “information technology” it is worthwhile to remember that the information society is an energy ogre (not mentioning the globalisation mantra which gives a central role to the transport industry which consumes two-third of total oil). For example, according toASU engineer Eric Williams 227 to 270 kilograms (or 500 to 594 pounds) of carbon dioxide are emitted in manufacturing a laptop computer. Mark Mills , the CEO of the Digital Power Group, teaches us that a medium-size refrigerator will use about 322 kW-h a year whereas the average iPhone uses about 361 kW-h a year once the wireless connections, data usage and battery charging are tallied up.

3. – There is something deeply wrong about macro-economic theory

So how all this relates to the “secular stagnation” scenario and all the fall in total factor productivity. Well, this is where things get a little bit technical and where our tale comes (finally!) to an end.

Most economists are big fan of more or less complex equations designed to explain everything in a highly stylised fashion. In this quest, in order to explain the origin of economic growth, they use the so-called Cobb-Douglas production function which states that GDP (Y) is a function of technology (A), capital (K) and labour (L). More precisely, the Holy Grail equation takes this form: Y = A * Ka * Lb, with “a” and “b” the elasticity of production to capital and labour. Total factor productivity is for instance derived from this equation.

Now, as the purpose of this equation is to explain the origin of economic growth, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Neanderthals. While we are planning to go in the wild to bring back some proteins to the tribe, we look around us. We do find sturdy arms, sturdy legs and few well-functioning brains. In a word, we find “labour”. Do we find “capital”? A broad and outstanding No! However, as the time goes by, our species is evolving. We will find primal energy in the form of fire, and then, at a very latter stage fossil energy and we will understand how to use it. “Capital” will appear at a much latter stage based on accumulated labour (whatever it is “inspiration”, aka knowledge, or “transpiration”, aka sweat and hard work) and the use of energy around us.

The point is very simple: the central equation explaining economic growth is plain wrong and we need to transform it in order to make capital an inner feedback loop to the system as it is mentioned in the Report to the Club of Rome (2003) or suggested by Jean-Marc Jancovici . How to do this?

Well in order to make things simple, let’s assume that returns to scale are constant (if I multiply resources by 2, output will be increased by 2, which fares as a reasonable assumption) so that we get b = 1-a, and therefore Y = A * Ka * L1-a. Now, let’s make the capital K dependent on energy (E) and labor (L) (or accumulated labor, (integral of L), so that K = c * E * L (with “c” a constant and simply labour which does not change the qualitative properties of the model). Our equation becomes: Y = A * ba * Ea * L.

Add to this new equation a reasonable assumption about the dynamics of labour (I assume a logistic function for the dynamics of the population with a sharp increase followed by an asymptotic rise) and the knowledge we have gained over the shape of the oil production function and thus of the dynamics of how available reserves evolve, we can build a toy-model and easily simulate the path of the economy (figure 8) on an oil(energy)-dependent computer. This toy-model clearly shows how sensitive an economy can be to the downward shift in oil-production during and after the peak-oil.

Do not get me wrong here. I do not believe that the Stone Age ended because we were short of stones. My point comes down to say that we are smack in the middle of an energetic transition, that this transition has a much more profound current negative effect that many can believe and that the world as we know is coming to an end, evolving towards “something else”. The hope here is that, flawed economic models, lack of political will to manage this energetic transition or ideological foolishness from the Talibans of the “all-green” regarding the nuclear energy as “evil”, will not drive us toward the tragic fate of the reindeer herd of St Matthew Island and other unfortunate raging bulls (figure 9). Indeed, the NASA research suggests that high wealth inequality is sufficient to create a total collapse. Add inequality regarding access to energy, water and food (agriculture is oil-dependent too) on the top of that, and we have a Mad-Max-Moment ahead of us. In this state of urgency, do we attend a rise in global capex in renewable energy that could make us more optimistic? Well, unfortunately not. Global investment in renewable energy fell 11 percent in 2013 to USD 254 billion according to Bloomberg New energy Finance. This is the second decline in renewable investments since 2001. So, yes the crash die-off of our fat caribous is unfortunately still a scenario.

v
Source: Joel Guglietta

Joel Guglietta is Managing Director of OCTIS Asset Management in Singapore

Author Steen Jakobsen, Chief Economist & CIO, Saxo Bank
Saxo Bank provides an execution-only service. The material on this website does not contain (and should not be construed as containing) investment advice or an investment recommendation, or a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. Saxo Bank accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result.

OPEC Update and my argument that OPEC is producing flat out » Peak Oil BarrelPeak Oil Barrel

OPEC Update and my argument that OPEC is producing flat out » Peak Oil BarrelPeak Oil Barrel.

The OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report is just out with OPEC crude only production numbers for February 2014. OPEC Crude production was up 258.6 kb/d in February on the strength of a big jump from Iraq. Iraqi crude oil production was up 400 kb/d to 3,397 kb/d. OPEC crude only production, less Iraq, was down 141.4 kb/d.

OPEC 12

Iraq was the only big gainer this month.

Iraq

 

Saudi Arabia was down 102 kb/d but that was after January production had been revised up by 99 kb/d.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi admitted, early that their old giant fields were in steep decline. Ravensworth.org published the following quote about eight years ago however their web site has since been taken down:

One challenge for the Saudis in achieving this objective is that their existing fields sustain 5 percent-12 percent annual “decline rates,” (according to Aramco Senior Vice President Abdullah Saif, as reported in Petroleum Intelligence Weekly and the International Oil Daily) meaning that the country needs around 500,000-1 million bbl/d in new capacity each year just to compensate.

That quote by Abdullah Saif was widely circulated. and in 2007 International Business Publications published this on page 144:

One challenge for Saudi in achieving their strategic vision to add production capacity is thattheir existing fields sustain, on average, 6 to 8 percent annual “decline rates”(as reported by Platts Oilgram) in their existing fields, meaning that the country needs around 700,000 bbl/d in additional capacity each year just to compensate for natural decline.

However in 2006 Saudi Arabia’s Center for Strategic and International Studies claims they have gotten this decline rate down to almost 2%.

Without “maintain potential” drilling to make up for production, Saudi oil fields would have a natural decline rate of a hypothetical 8%. As Saudi Aramco has an extensive drilling program with a budget running in the billions of dollars, this decline is mitigated to a number close to 2%.

The drilling program they are talking about is those horizontal wells placed at the very top of the reservoir.  Now imagine, that with all those brand new horizontal wells sucking the oil right off the top of the reservoir, they still had a decline rate of  over 2%! Of course that was in 2006. It is likely that the water has already hit many of those horizontal wells and their decline rate is now well over 2%. More likely it is a lot higher than that.

But they have brought on Khurais and Manifa since then with a combined production capacity of 2 mb/d. That has enabled them to keep their production levels up… for now. Saudi may, just may, be able to produce half a million barrels per day more than they are right now but I doubt it.

Okay then is OPEC producing flat out? There is absolutely no doubt that, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia, they are. Eight OPEC nations have serious declining production since 2005. Even to suggest that these eight nations are not producing flat out is to deny reality. To believe that they would deliberately cut production while four countries, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE, are increasing production is delusional.

Algria et al.

What about the other four? Iraq makes no bones that they are producing every barrel possible and hope to produce more. And I have discussed Saudi Arabia but what about Kuwait and UAE?

Kuwait+UAE

Kuwait and the UAE were later than Saudi Arabia in getting their infill drilling program going. They both started their infill drilling program around 2007, delayed it during the drastic OPEC cuts from late 208 until early 2011, but have since gone full steam with that program. They reached their peak about a year ago. I expect them to hold at this level for two or three years before they start a not too slow decline.

Yes, it is my sincear opinion that OPEC is now producing every barrel they possibly can. OPEC production may increase slightly as Iran dlowly increases their production as sanctions are lifted. And there is even a slight chance that peace may break out in Libya and their production increases, but not likely.

My point is there is OPEC has no spare capacity. If anyone seriously doubts my opinion on this subject then please post your reasons, and name the countries you believe are not producing flat out, in the comments section below.

Updated charts of all 12 OPEC countries can be found here: OPEC Charts

Energy & Capital is a web site that pushes energy stock. They are usually bullish, very bullish on shale oil and usually deny peak oil. That is why it was so surprising to get their latest edition in my email box. However this is just one writer for Energy & Capital. I am sure most others have a different opinion.

Peak Oil: It’s Baaaack

Over the past few months, I’ve been sharing my concerns about shale oil.

Namely, that it’s more comparable to a Ponzi scheme than any sort of boom.

I’ve articulated the reasons for my thesis, including fast decline rates, the amount of new rigs and wells needed, and a cost of production that’s been higher than the price of sale for some time now.

And further down he says:

Predictions are tough, especially with a still-struggling economy. If I had to say, prices at least need to rise to the marginal cost of production at $115ish. Trouble with that is anything over $110 for a sustained time causes recession, which of course would send prices lower making projects unviable once more.

It’s classic peak oil. It never went away, we’ve just been able to paper over it with free money for the past half decade.

Seems like the majors realize the gig is up. They’re selling unconventional assets in a big way, wanting to mitigate risk and capex by getting back to conventional. Still, conventional peaked in 2005 and that strategy seems like a last-ditch effort.

Note: I send out an email notification to about 110 people when I have published a new post. If you would like to be added to that list, or your name removed from it, please notify me at: DarwinianOne at Gmail.com

Peak Oil: Facts Annoy – Peak Oil Matters

Peak Oil: Facts Annoy – Peak Oil Matters.

IMG_4756_Watermarked

TRUTH BE TOLD

 

Crude oil production is heavily concentrated in a small number of countries and a small number of giant  fields….Future global production is therefore heavily dependent on the future prospects of the giant fields, but this remains uncertain—in part because the required field-level data are either unavailable or unreliable. (links/citations in original) [1]

Those of us who’ve been paying more attention to fossil fuel production information than most citizens are well aware of the fact that precise information about remaining crude oil supplies—notably in the petro-states of the Middle East—is all but impossible to come by.

What’s more important than whether we have accurate information is letting most others know that what oil industry spokesman offer as definite responses to any peak oil concerns isn’t exactly iron-clad, either. A lot of it is also the end result of some careful massaging and specific extraction of the “best” parts of their stories, with most of the factual content and context intentionally omitted. It’s helpful, but only to them and their interests. Consumers are left high and dry.

This is a nice summary of some of those other inconvenient facts left out of the conversation:

In interpreting these numbers, it is essential to recognize that large quantities of resources within the Earth’s crust provide no guarantee that these can be produced at particular rates and/or at reasonable cost. There are huge variations both within and between resource types in terms of size of accumulation, depth, accessibility, chemical composition, energy content, extraction cost, net energy yield (i.e. the energy obtained from the resource minus the energy required to find, extract and process it), local and global environmental impacts and, most importantly, the feasible rate of extraction—to say nothing of the geopolitics of access. Higher quality resources tend to be found and developed first, and as production shifts down the ‘resource pyramid’, increasing reliance must be placed upon less accessible, poorer quality and more expensive resources that have a progressively lower net energy yield and are increasingly difficult to produce at high rates. [2]

None of that is off-the-charts complex. We’ve been relying on a select group of genuinely bountiful conventional crude oil fields to supply our ever-growing needs for decades now. The ride has been a marvelous one, and the technologies developed and creativity let loose have been nothing short of incredibly impressive.

 

BUT….

 

Those conventional crude oil fields are finite resources. Despite the nonsense uttered by a handful of nitwits who proclaim (based on the solo work by a Russian more than half a century ago), oil is not self-replenishing. There’s no hose in Earth’s center filling those fields once the tanks run low.

So we’re now turning to fossil fuel supplies whose primary drawbacks are set forth above. That’s a problem. It’s an even bigger problem because instead of offering up those realities to both officials to whom we turn for solutions and to us lowly consumers who ought to know that what we rely upon may not be so reliable for much longer, the standard MO is to offer up feel-good messages.

One big potential challenge gets crossed off the consumer’s list; oil industry continues to insist on high prices (which—shockingly!—turn into enormous profits, not that that’s always such a bad thing, but….), and another day passes with all of us losing another opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about what to do when the Happy Talk stories run their course. Reality won’t bend to half-truths. Production rate declines and oil field depletions will continue on their not-so-merry path notwithstanding.

Another part of this same story which should get much more airplay than it does:

This is not simply an issue of the steeply rising production costs of poorer quality resources because technical and net energy constraints may make some resources inaccessible and some production rates unachievable regardless of cost. Kerogen oil is especially constrained in rate and net energy terms and may never become economic to produce, yet it accounts for 19% of the IEA estimate of remaining recoverable resources. Hence, a critical evaluation of future supply prospects must go beyond appraisals of aggregate resource size and examine the technical, economic and political feasibility of accessing different resources at different rates over different periods of time. (links/citations in original) [3]

And for all the ongoing talk about our recent energy bonanza/boom/you pick the descriptive phrase, the basic realities about fracking and tight oil production increases aren’t changing to accommodate the industry cheerleading efforts:

The production cycle for tight oil resources is driven by a slightly different set of mechanisms since this resource is located in continuous formations rather than discrete fields. Nevertheless, the outcome is similar to that for conventional oil. With exceptionally high decline rates for individual wells), regional tight oil production can only be maintained through the continuous drilling of closely spaced wells. But tight oil plays are heterogeneous, with much higher well productivity in the ‘sweet spots’ than elsewhere. So when the sweet spots become exhausted, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain regional production. (links/citations in original) [4]

So much for good news! How about we find room in the narrative for some truth-telling and planning?

~ My Photo: Quebec City skyline – 09.19.09

 

 I invite you to view my other work at richardturcotte.com

The Peak Oil Crisis: A Winter Update

The Peak Oil Crisis: A Winter Update.

Posted Feb 20, 2014 by Tom Whipple

As the years go by, those studying peak oil are beginning to develop a better understanding of what has been happening since the concept of limits to oil production came to widespread attention. First of all, it is important to understand that in one sense, production of what had been thought of as “conventional oil” really did peak back in 2005. While there has been growth in certain sectors of the “oil” industry in the last nine years it has come in what are known as “unconventional liquids”; and, as we shall see, the maintenance of existing conventional oil production has come at a very high price.

The recent growth in the “oil” production has been nowhere near what had been normal prior to the “Great Recession,” so that if anyone should wonder why our economy has been stagnant in recent years, one can take the price and availability of oil as a good starting point. US consumption has been falling at 1.5 percent a year since 2005 as opposed to a normal growth rate of 1.8 percent in prior years.
In the last decade global oil production grew by only 7.5 percent and not the 23 percent that would have been needed to support the growth in the world’s GDP at a rate we would have liked to have seen. Since 2005, total “oil” production has grown by 5.8 million b/d, of which 1.7 million consists of natural gas liquids (NGL). While NGL’s are valuable and a useful form of what we now call “oil” they do not contain the same energy as crude and have a more limited range of uses, thereby contributing less to economic growth.
US unconventional liquids (shale oil and NGL’s) are up by 5.1 million b/d since 2005. Along with an additional million b/d from the Canadian tar sands, North American non-conventional liquids constitute nearly all the growth in the world’s oil supply in recent years. Production of conventional crude has remained essentially flat during the period. Moreover, OPEC production has dropped by nearly two million b/d in the last three years largely due to wars, insurgencies, and embargoes, and another 1.7 million b/d of its “oil” production has been NGL’s and not crude.
The world’s existing fields are depleting at rate of circa 4 million b/d each year, so without constant drilling of new wells in new fields global production will quickly wither and prices will climb still more. A good estimate is that the oil which now costs about $110 a barrel will be at $140 or above by the end of the decade unless some major geopolitical upheaval sends it still higher.
To keep the oil flowing, the world’s oil companies have invested some $4 trillion in the last nine years to drill for oil. About $2.5 trillion of this was spent on simply replacing production from existing oil fields. Even this gigantic expenditure was not enough since conventional oil production fell by 1 million b/d during the period.
About $350 billion went to drill shale oil and gas wells in the US, and increase Canadian oil sands production. This was clearly a bargain as compared to maintaining conventional oil production which is now focused on ultra-expensive deep water wells.
Recent announcements by the major oil companies indicate that they have reached their limit. Profits and production are falling. Expenditures for finding and developing oil fields have tripled in the last decade and the return from these expenditures has not been enough to justify the costs. Nearly all of the major oil companies have announced major reductions in their exploration and drilling programs and several are selling off assets as they are caught in a trap between steady oil prices and rapidly rising operating costs.
Note that the major oil companies do not constitute the whole oil industry as most of the world’s oil production is now in the hands of state-owned companies and small independent producers. These firms are obviously facing the same problems as the large publicly traded companies, without as much publicity.
What is going to happen in the next few years? First, investments in future production are going down, meaning that in a few years depletion likely will overwhelm new production and output of conventional oil will drop.
Then we have the Middle East which, to put it mildly, is coming unglued. Oil exports from several countries have nearly disappeared and the spreading sectarian violence is likely to reduce exports from other countries before the decade is out.
Venezuela, from which the US still imports some 800,000 barrels of crude a day, is not transitioning to the post-Chavez era gracefully. The current student riots could easily morph into reduced oil exports.
With much of the growth in global oil production coming from US shale producers, a fair question is just how long fracked shale oil production will continue to grow. Opinions vary. Some foresee the possibility that growth will slow considerably this year, while others think there are two or three years of large production increases ahead. The three months of extremely cold and snowy weather we have had this winter is already hurting production, but most believe production will rebound in the spring.
Even though production of conventional oil peaked nine years ago, massive investment and a five-fold increase in oil prices has allowed the economical production of shale and deepwater oil at a profit since 2005. Further growth in shale oil production, however, clearly has a half-life, be it one, three or five years.
Recent news concerning deepwater oil production is not encouraging. Brazil’s deepwater oil fields which are thought to contain many billions of barrels of oil are not looking too good at the minute due to the very high costs and risks of production. All in all, the recent news from the oil industry tends to be one of growing pessimism.
Originally published at Falls Church News-Press
Barnett peak image via Post Carbon Institute

Peak oil is not a myth | Chemistry World

Peak oil is not a myth | Chemistry World.

20 February 2014
One might have the impression that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale deposits is the answer to world energy security. Certainly fracking has received much attention and investment, but its prospects must be considered in a broader context.
In the US, where practically all such operations have been conducted to date, fracking now accounts for 40% of domestic gas production and 30% of oil production. The price of natural gas has plummeted, and overall US oil production has increased for the first time since 1970, which had otherwise been falling in accordance with the predictions M King Hubbert made in 1956.
© Shutterstock

However, this last point is the salient one. Sources of unconventional oil (listed below) such as tight oil (or ‘shale oil’ in popular discourse) are only commercially viable because the need to match the declining rate of conventional oil production has raised oil prices. It is the rate of production of oil that determines its supply, rather than the size of the reserves: ‘The size of the tap, not the tank.’

Oil check

Current data for the decline in oil fields’ production indicates that around 3 million barrels per day of new production must be achieved year on year, simply to sustain supply levels. This is equivalent to finding another Saudi Arabia every 3–4 years. In this context, fracking is at best a stop-gap measure. Conventional oil production is predicted to drop by over 50% in the next two decades and tight oil is unlikely to replace more than 6%.
Once conventional oil’s rate of loss exceeds unconventional oil’s rate of production, world production must peak. Production of sweet, light crude actually peaked in 2005 but this has been masked by the increase in unconventional oil production, and also by lumping together different kinds of material with oil and referring to the collective as ‘liquids’. (More recently, the term ‘liquids’ is often upgraded to ‘oil’, which is highly disinformative since the properties of the other liquids are quite different from crude oil.)
Fracking produces mostly shale gas (rather than oil), and the major growth in global ‘oil’ production has been from natural gas liquids (NGL; in part from shale gas). But the principal components of NGL are ethane and propane, so it is not a simple substitute for petroleum.

Energy in, energy out

The energy return on energy invested (EROEI) is worse for all unconventional oil production methods than for conventional oil.

‘Oil production is predicted to drop by over 50% in two decades’

This means that more energy must be invested to maintain output. As a rough comparison, conventional crude oil production has an EROEI in the range 10–20:1, while tight oil comes in at 4–5:1. Oil recovered from (ultra)deepwater drilling gives 4–7:1, heavy oil 3–5:1, and oil shale (kerogen) somewhere around 1.5–4:1. Tar sands is around 6:1, if it is recovered by surface mining, but this falls to around 3:1 when the bitumen is ‘upgraded’ by conversion to a liquid ‘oil’ substitute.

As conventional oil production has fallen, so has oil’s EROEI as we recover it from increasingly inhospitable locations, and with new technologies. The price of a barrel of oil has trebled over the past decade, but output has effectively flatlined. We may be close to the ceiling of global oil production, and the prospect of filling the gap with oil from alternative sources is daunting.

Different rocks

Although fracking has produced sizeable volumes of oil and gas in the US, there is no guarantee that a similar success will be met elsewhere, including the UK, in part because the geology is different. Even in the US, it is the sweet spots that have been drilled, and the shale plays elsewhere across the continent are likely to prove less productive.
The shale gas reserves in Poland have been revised down from 187 trillion cubic feet (tcf) to 12–27 tcf: at best, a mere 14% of the original estimate. And most of the production is likely to be gas. Even if we can exhume large volumes of gas at a generous production rate, converting our transport system to run on it would be a considerable undertaking, particularly given the timescale imposed by conventional oil production’s rate of decline. And there are many uses for oil other than to provide liquid fuels, for which substitutes must also be found.
Renewables do not provide a comparable substitute for crude oil and the liquid fuels that are refined from it, since the potential contribution from biofuels is relatively minor. Replacing the UK’s 34 million oil-powered vehicles with electric versions is an unlikely proposition, given the limitations of time and resources such as rare earth metals. Mass transit is the more likely future for electric transport than personal cars. The end of cheap, personal transport is a real possibility and may seed changes in our behaviour, such as building resilient communities that produce more of their essentials, such as food and materials, at the local level.
There are many uncertainties, but it seems clear that the age of cheap oil is over. We are entering a very new and different phase of human experience.
Chris Rhodes is an independent consultant based in Reading, UK, and author of  University shambles

Peak Oil is Real and the Majors Face Challenging Times « Breaking Energy – Energy industry news, analysis, and commentary

Peak Oil is Real and the Majors Face Challenging Times « Breaking Energy – Energy industry news, analysis, and commentary.

By  on February 18, 2014 at 9:32 AM

Surging Oil Industry Brings Opportunity To Rural California

The idea that global oil production was nearing its peak, only to plateau and then decline was a common view in the energy world for many years. The geophysicist M. King Hubbard predicted in the 1950’s that US oil production would peak in the 1970’s, a forecast that held true until technology allowed companies to economically extract oil and gas from tight geologic formations like shale.

The recent surge in US liquids output – crude plus natural gas liquids (NGLs) – quieted the peak oil community. A well-known, largely peak oil-focused website – The Oil Drum – shut down in 2013, an event some considered the death knell of the peak oil theory.

But not so fast says Steven Kopits from energy business analysis firm Douglas-Westwood. Total global oil supply growth since 2005 – 5.8 million barrels per day – came from unconventional sources, shale oil and NGLs in particular, Kopits recently told the audienceat Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

“Not only US, but global, oil supply growth is entirely leveraged to unconventionals right now,” and the legacy, conventional system still peaked in 2005, he said. This gets a bit technical, as shale oil and liquids produced with natural gas are fed into the main crude oil stream and priced as such. But the strong degree to which increasing oil supply growth is dependent on unconventional sources is important to remember and often gets lost in the exuberance over top-line output figures.

And despite prolific incremental oil and gas production made possible by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling advances, maintaining legacy production has been expensive and arguably of limited success.

Total upstream spend since 2005 has been $4 trillion, of which $350 billion was spent on US and Canadian unconventional oil and gas, with an additional $150 billion spent on LNG and GTL, according to Kopits’ presentation. About $2.5 trillion was spent on legacy crude oil production, which still accounts for about 93% of today’s total liquids supply. And despite that hefty investment, legacy oil production has declined by 1 mmb/d since 2005, said Kopits.

By comparison, between 1998 and 2005 the industry spent $1.5 trillion on upstream development and added 8.6 mmb/d to total crude production. The industry “vaporized the GDP of Italy,” with its $2.5 trillion upstream spending for oil since 2005, which barely maintained the legacy oil production system. Kopits argues this level of investment by the major oil companies appears unsustainable, and the major’s current cost structure is troublesome.

Collective oil production of the world’s largest listed oil companies has faltered, while upstream capex soared, Kopits said. Profits have suffered because costs are rising faster than revenues in a range-bound crude oil price environment. “E&P capex per barrel has been rising at 11% per year,” he said, but Brent oil prices have largely been flat. As a result, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Statoil and BP all recently put major projects on hold or cancelled them outright.

“If your costs are rising faster than your revenues, do you sell your assets? The majors have been doing this, but is it sustainable?” asked Kopits. The industry was able to maintain conventional crude oil production levels by throwing $2 trillion dollars at the system – essentially “putting it on steroids” – but now that’s run its course and capex is being curtailed, a trend that looks set to continue, in his view.

Should we be worried about ‘peak oil’?  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

Should we be worried about ‘peak oil’?  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

Every now and then, in reading about global warming and other environmental issues, I come across a reference to ‘peak oil’, usually as yet another example of how humans blindly pursue their own short-term interests, scarcely heeding the crisis that is waiting for them ahead. And of course we humans do have a tendency to do just that, some of the time, at least.

Anyway, I marked down ‘peak oil’ as a subject to read about, and after some time at the computer, protected by air-conditioning that is doubtless increasing the heat outside, offer you the results of my reading. First, ‘peak oil’ is as contentious as AGW itself. The phrase itself prompts 55,600,000 hits on Google, and there are a dozen or so variants of the phrase as well. You may not be surprised to learn that there are ‘peak oil deniers’ as well.

What is it, exactly? ‘Peak oil’ is defined as the moment of maximum production from a well or basin, when approximately half the recoverable oil is left, so there can be only a declining productivity. It’s not the same as ‘depletion’, which occurs during a period of falling reserves and supply. The term ‘peak oil’ was invented by Marion King Hubbert, a Shell geoscientist who also worked as an academic at Stanford and Berkeley and as a research scientist for the US Geological Survey. He was a serious and distinguished contributor to the geosciences.

Hubbert argued that the supply of oil was finite (no one much would now disagree), and that US production would peak in 1970, which seemed at the time to have been the case. He also predicted that global oil production would peak in 1995 ‘if present trends continue’. This prediction has been much less easy to verify, if only because the expansion of the oil industry from the 1980s onwards, both geographically and in scale terms, has made it much more difficult to say how much oil there actually is.

Both oil companies and oil-producing countries have become coy about how much of their own information they release publicly, and international agencies that monitor energy and oil have to rely on what countries and companies say. BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy provides the data for the following diagram, constructed by Willis Eschenbach, and the trends are most interesting.

 

Very simply, proved American oil reserves, according to this chart, have continued at much the same level for some 35 years, while production has gone onwards and upwards. At about 1988 the reserves would have seemed to have equalled total production to that point, which should have meant declining production. But no. New fields came into production that had not been known about in the past.

How long can this go on? We don’t know. In the AGW domain, the scare has moved from ‘right now’, which was the case ten years ago, to the second half of the century. In the case of peak oil, some estimates now say we may reach peak oil globally in 2035. Others say we have already passed it, or it’s next year. You take your pick. One assessment I read suggested that peak oil was an almost silly concept, because both supply and demand for oil are greatly affected by the world price (and oil is a globally traded commodity with global prices for different grades of oil). What will happen, from this perspective, is that oil will become slowly more expensive, to the point where we change what we are doing in many diverse ways: engines made more and more efficient, we shift to different forms of transportation, we bring in alternative forms of energy, and so on. You can see that these changes have occurred to some degree already.

I came to the conclusion that worrying about peak oil is probably unnecessary. It may be that most of the easily recoverable oil has already been recovered, but when a well is ‘dry’ there is still about 40 per cent left: at the moment no one knows how to get it out cheaply enough for the effort to be worthwhile. The ‘unconventional’ oil held in oil sands, shale and other forms is very much larger in volume again, and while, yes, it is also more expensive to get the oil out from shale and sands, that is a technological matter, and technologies do tend to improve, especially when there is a big money prize awaiting. Oil was once very cheap, and its very cheapness was a basic cause of industrial expansion everywhere. Now it is much more expensive, but then GDP has risen a great deal everywhere, so we can still afford it. It’s unlikely to be cheap again.

And here’s a final thought. Australia still had 3.9 thousand million barrels of oil left in 2011, according to BP, and in 1992 we only had 3.2 thousand million barrels left. So we seem to have followed the global trend, as has ‘oil-rich Brunei’, to our north. Actually, Brunei has much less oil than Australia. But there are only a little more than 400,000 people in Brunei, compared to the 23 million in Australia, so its oil-richness is simply a function of its population. You can find out all sorts of interesting things when you can get your hands on some data!

Peak oil isn’t dead; it just smells that way – SmartPlanet

Peak oil isn’t dead; it just smells that way – SmartPlanet.

Energy analyst Chris Nelder fires back at the latest fact-free commentary on peak oil.

The Oil Drum, a Web site dedicated to informed discussions about peak oil and energy, announced on July 3 that it is closing down. (For a brief primer on peak oil, see my conversation with Brad Plumer in theWashington Post.) Those who hate the peak oil story didn’t bother to conceal their glee at the news; some even saw occasion to claim victory for their side in the “debate” over the future of fossil fuels.

“We could say ‘I told you so,’ not as a school-yard epithet, but simply as a fact,” crowed Mark Mills, co-author of a lightweight book entitled The Bottomless Well, which Publishers Weekly described as “Long on Nietzschean bombast but short on some crucial specifics.”

David Blackmon, a Houston-based consultant with a 33-year career in the oil and gas industry who is one of Forbes’ 1,300 advertorial “contributors,” called The Oil Drum “a site devoted a theory based on lack of imagination and growing irrelevance” in his mouthful of nuts.

Economist Karl Smith, another Forbes contributor, scoffed at the crucial distinction between crude oil and “all liquids” in his confusing word salad, asserting that “liquids like butane, propane and ethane are important petroleum products” without explaining why he believes they should be counted as crude oil, when they are not.

Emboldened by the recent exuberance over fracking in the United States, these pundits now claim that the only thing that has peaked “was the ability to argue that the era of oil, and hydrocarbons, was over.”

Not one of them said a single word about the global rate of oil production, which is the essence of the peak oil question. Why get into the data when merely slinging mud at your opponents and proclaiming your faith will do?

A handful of other writers offered less ideological takes. Matt Yglesias confessed that he “always found the ‘Peak Oil’ debate to be a little bit confusing” but recognized that there has been a profound price revolution: “The good old days of genuinely abundant liquid fuel really do appear to be behind us,” he wrote. Noah Smith had the most informed post of the bunch, noting that the transition to unconventional oil is a big part of why prices have been rising, and that “there is no substitute on the horizon” for good ol’ crude.

But neither of them mentioned the rate of oil production either.

Keith Kloor borrowed an Energy Information Administration (EIA) chart of U.S. production from aBBC article that repeated all the industry’s favorite talking points about how new technology has produced “a new oil rush.” Apparently, neither Kloor nor the BBC author realized that the chart represented “all liquids” production in the United States, not just crude oil, nor bothered to explore the detailed EIA data for themselves, nor tried to explain how this recent boom in U.S. production might dismiss the specter of a global peak. Kloor concluded that The Oil Drum was closing because “the numbers aren’t in your favor right now.” But like the others, he didn’t actually mention any numbers.

In short, all of these authors used The Oil Drum news to comment on the debate about peak oil — the poor predictions and demagoguing and pollyannish posturing and name-calling, which have, truth be told, tainted both sides of the issue — but none of them discussed peak oil.

I really didn’t think I’d have to say this again, but peak oil is about data, and specifically data about the production rate of oil. If you want to claim that peak oil is dead (or alive), you have to talk about data on production rates. There is no other way to discuss it.

Just for the record

Then what’s really going on here?

First, what did in The Oil Drum was volunteer burnout, falling visitor traffic, and an insufficient flow of high-quality original work and contributors. It’s unfortunate, because for the past eight years The Oil Drum has been the best free site on the Web for good rigorous work and informed discussion about energy data. I owe it a great debt for the education, the contacts, and the visibility that I gained through it.

I learned of its closing the same day I learned that Randy Udall had died. It was truly a sad and dark day for the peakists, one of those watershed moments that felt like a real turning point in the peak oil dialogue. Using the occasion to dance on their graves, as some ardent peak oil opponents did, was a low blow.

But the reason The Oil Drum has been lacking for good original content wasn’t that it had lost the argument and there wasn’t anything left to say. Far from it. The flow of content simply moved to where good analysts and writers on the subject could actually get paid for their work. That was inevitable, because a publishing model that relies on a steady flow of free articles that take days or weeks or even months of hard, highly skilled work to create simply isn’t sustainable. Freelance writers like me moved on to paying publications like SmartPlanet where we could actually make a living. Consultants and hedge funds began restricting their work to their private clients and subscribers, with maybe a teaser of free stuff posted in their blogs and newsletters. Investors and oil and gas companies began hiring capable analysts to do the work privately, after many years of enjoying the assembled intelligence on The Oil Drum (and trading it very profitably, I might add) for free. The volunteers who had put so much time into the site all these years discovered that they needed to spend their energies elsewhere. And the public got accustomed to higher prices, so the media stopped talking about peak oil, which led to a dropoff in traffic. Hey, that’s show biz.

It’s also true that many of us, having cut our teeth on the data and the dialogue at The Oil Drum, moved on to other pursuits. Once you’ve learned something, you don’t need to keep relearning it. Just speaking for myself, I moved on to grappling with the solutions to the peak oil problem: efficiency upgrades, financing, policy issues, transportation paradigms, and the transition to renewables. Merely revisiting the peak oil problem didn’t seem like a good use of my time, though I have continued to write about it as a context. I know that some other former contributors to the site changed their tacks similarly.

Second, fracking mania has been fairly well confined to the United States, because that’s where it is happening. Get outside the States for awhile, as I have done this year, and you quickly discover thatpeople are still worried about the future of oil and gas. Probably because their oil and gas prices haven’t gone down, and their reserves haven’t gone up. There is absolutely no evidence that fracking will produce significant volumes of oil outside the United States any time soon.

Third — and I know this is gonna hurt a few writers out there, but it has to be said — very few people who have written about peak oil outside of sites like The Oil Drum ever did the hard study required to really understand it. They just picked a side, usually on tribal or ideological grounds, and commenced to defend that. Many of them don’t have a clue, even now, what the difference is between, say, proved reserves and resources, or what a reserves to production ratio is, or what a P50 estimate actually represents, or the production costs and energy content of non-crude liquids. Not a clue. I’d be willing to bet that 95 percent of them have never even built a spreadsheet of oil and gas data and tried to analyze it.

Most of what you’ve read about peak oil in the broader press has been written by generalist journalists. It’s an insanely complex topic that really takes thousands of hours of study to understand. But most of them haven’t done that study, and much of what they write is wrong. Usually they just rewrite the summary of a long and technical report written by someone in the industry. They don’t read the whole thing; they don’t have the time, or they may not have the chops to understand it. They don’t do original analysis or fact-checking. And too often they don’t seem to understand the context of the data, so they don’t give you any. What does 7, or 19, or 91 million barrels a day mean to the average person? Nothing. So they don’t talk about it. But they can certainly write the hundredth variation of a story about incipient U.S. “energy independence” and how that will overturn geopolitics, blah blah blah, while playing into the mythos of American exceptionalism, without understanding the data.

Likewise, it’s easy to speculate that the solution du jour — ethanolbiofuels from algae, the ‘hydrogen economy’, space-based solar powerfuel cellsmethane hydrates, and so on — will save the day if you don’t actually dig into the data. Generalist journalists love to do that. Those articles generate lots of traffic and no one will ever hold them accountable for writing about a popular fantasy.

Actually, I’m being generous here by attributing their inattention to being generalists on tight deadlines. After a decade of this innumerate nonsense, I’ve begun to suspect either disinterest or laziness, or worse. Especially on the part of science and economics writers who clearly do have the chops to research and understand data. As Robert Bea, an expert who has studied some of the biggest civil engineering disasters in recent history, recently observed, failure is usually the result of hubris, shortsightedness, and indolence, not engineering. Our failure to prepare for peak oil is no different.

The only thing that most writers seem to have grasped is the hard reality of price. That’s easy enough; It’s published every day by a variety of agencies. A quick Google search will find it. It requires no study. Everybody cares about it. It’s cake. When prices are high, as they are now, those who only understand price look at it as evidence that the peak oil explanation has some merit. But price is fickle. When prices crashed into the $30s per barrel at the end of 2008, everybody was writing about how it was proof that the peak oil theory was wrong.

Those who do understand the technical aspects of the data are generally in the oil and gas industry. Most don’t talk about it because the data tells a story they don’t want told. So they try to divert the focus away from the data and onto the attitudes of the debaters. Or they just talk about the data that favors their point of view, like increasing technically recoverable resources and booming production in North Dakota and Texas. Most of the time, the ruse works.

So the tiresome “debate” about peak oil goes on, repeated as an endless Kabuki theatre of Malthusians vs. Cornucopians, ignoring the data in favor of another thousand words about attitudes and beliefs.

And in the middle, dear reader, is you. Caught between unwary and innumerate journalists on one side, and propaganda carefully constructed by those who are ‘talking their books’ on the other. Paying $4 a gallon for gasoline one day, then $2 six months later, then $4 again four years later. You don’t know why because the press never really explains it to you, the industry deliberately tries to confuse you, and politicians tell you whatever is needed to get your vote.

All I can say about that is: I’m sorry. It’s sad. I’ve been trying to get the facts out for years. It doesn’t seem to help.

The data

Now let’s talk about some data.

The world currently produces around 91 million barrels a day (mb/d) of ‘oil’ in the International Energy Agency’s definition, which is for all liquids. For the past two years, actual crude oil production (which includes lease condensate in the EIA’s definition) has been hovering around 75 mb/d on an annual basis, just slightly over the 74 mb/d plateau established in 2005.

The moment of truth for peak oil will be when the decline of mature fields finally overwhelms new production additions, and global supply begins to turn south. (A vogue alternative is that we’ll reach “peak demand” first, where oil is replaced by other fuels and demand falls due to greater efficiency, but as yet I find the proof that this has happened, or will happen, unconvincing.)

That moment of truth isn’t quite here yet. Fracking, along with all the other methods the world is employing to squeeze a bit more oil out of the earth, has barely budged global oil production. Here is the chart:

Chart: Peak Fish Data: EIA

What do you see there? An ignominious end to an unimaginative story perpetrated by self-interested mavericks looking to raise their profiles and sell some books, or a plateau of production that just barely broke higher in the past two years after an absolutely heroic effort that required hundreds of billions of dollars of investment and a quadrupling of oil prices?

Now let’s look at non-OPEC production, without U.S. production:

Source: Peak Fish

See how production has been falling off in recent years? That’s happening because the the aggregate decline rate of all fields is around 5 percent per year. In other words, the world loses around 3.0 to 3.8 mb/d of production each year (depending on whose numbers you use). Most of the 2 mb/d “tidal wave of oil” from U.S. fracking was absorbed by the decline in the rest of non-OPEC, as we can see from the aggregate non-OPEC production in this chart:

Source: Peak Fish

The question isn’t “Can fracking save the world from peak oil?” but “How long can America make up for declines in the rest of the world?” The answer is probably not much longer. The growth rate of tight oil production has cooled considerably over the past year, and per-well production is falling.

Now let’s look at U.S. production in isolation. Here’s the “all liquids” chart that Kloor reprinted, presumably without realizing that it wasn’t just for oil:

Looks great, right? Huge turnaround. We’re back to 1985 levels!

Now let’s look at the chart of actual U.S. crude and condensate production, without all the natural gas liquids and biofuels and refinery gains:

Source: EIA

Hey, what happened to that huge spike in production returning us to 1985 levels?

Now look at the article where I explained the difference between those numbers, and why the “all liquids” numbers overstates actual U.S. oil supply by about one-third. Do you still believe Karl Smith, who explained none of that and offered no data but simply asserted that “ ‘liquids’ is not a weaselly term” and that we should count all liquids equally “because the US Presidential Primaries begin in Iowa?”

A few more facts about U.S. oil, since there has been so much confusion disseminated about it in recent months: America consumes 19.5 mb/d of oil and produces 7.4 mb/d. On an annual basis through 2012 it was the world’s largest crude oil importer, but has probably been surpassed since by China on a monthly basis. It exports more refined products like gasoline and diesel than it imports, but that’s simply because it has a very large refining complex and falling domestic demand, not because it’s on its way to energy independence. The United States will never be a net oil exporter, nor will it surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production, no matter what you may have read about “Saudi America.”

Now let’s talk about price. Since 2003, who forecast the global repricing of oil best, the peakists who expected prices to spike into record territory, or the Cornucopians who consistently predicted that oil prices would return to historical levels? The answer is indisputable: the peakists.

For the past decade, the Cornucopians have told us that a new abundance was coming from deepwater oil, tar sands, enhanced oil recovery, biofuels, and other unconventional sources. Global oil production would rise to 120 million barrels per day, and prices would fall back to $20 or $30 per barrel. Those stories were all completely wrong. The peakists called it.

Here’s what happened: Oil repriced in response to scarcity. Triple-digit prices were responsible for the new flush of unconventional production. That production, including fracking for tight oil in the United States, raises prices, it doesn’t lower them. We’ve hit and fallen back from the consumer’s price tolerance repeatedly for the past six years.

For a last bit of data, look at this forecast from the final post that petroleum engineer Jean Lahèrrere did for The Oil Drum:

(I used another of Laherrère’s charts in my post from March.)*

Laherrère concludes: “With the poor data available today, it seems that world oil (all liquids) production will peak before 2020, Non-OPEC quite soon and OPEC around 2020. OPEC will cease to export crude oil before 2050.”

Looking closely at Laherrère’s data, it seems essentially in line with my view that in another 18 months or so we’re going to get the signal that oil needs to reprice higher still to maintain production. That will be very difficult for U.S. and European consumers to stomach. Whether that repricing will bring more oil to market, or simply kill demand, remains to be seen.

This is what the data — not beliefs or rhetoric — tell me.

What’s your bet?

So here’s what we know.

High value crude oil — the good stuff with 5.8 million BTU per barrel that we can make into diesel and gasoline and a million other things — has been generally holding on to a global production plateau since 2004. Global production will fall when the decline of mature fields overwhelms new additions. When, precisely, that will happen, no one can say for certain. But it’s almost definitely before 2020.

Most of the non-crude liquids are not equivalent to crude. Apart from tar sands and heavy oil, they contain less energy and are far less useful. Some of them can’t be made into gasoline and diesel. But with regular crude production trapped at around 75 million barrels a day, these other liquids must meet all future increases in demand for oil. As they take an increasing share of the liquid fuel market, they gradually increase the price of “oil.” Nothing on the horizon will change that.

Eventually, the price will become too high, and we’ll have “peak demand” alright, but it will be primarily because of price, not efficiency gains, and will lead to economic contraction, not growth. That price will owe to increasingly marginal and difficult — hence, expensive — prospects. In that sense, it’s a supply side problem, a concept at the heart of peak oil. Is it clear now why the “peak demand” vs. “peak supply” argument isn’t really that interesting?

If U.S. consumers are able to tolerate, say, $5-7 a gallon for gasoline by 2020, then it’s possible that the production plateau could extend a bit farther, and my expectation that global supply will begin to slip around 2015 could be wrong. It won’t be off by much, and in the grand scheme of what it means for the global economy, a year or three plus or minus is essentially irrelevant. But if I am off by even six months, you can be sure that my detractors will come out of the woodwork to say I’m all wet, and that production is going to da moon.

But my bet is that U.S. and European consumers can’t tolerate significantly higher prices. Price tolerance is something that Cornucopians never talk about, so you won’t hear that argument from them. If I am correct on that point, then production will have to decline as prices become intolerable. By virtue of its upward pressure on price, unconventional oil production contributes to, not cures, peak oil.

I expect world oil production to rise, weakly, for another two years or so, as America falls into a deeper slumber believing that fracking has cured everything. The media will reinforce that belief. And when it comes, the wake-up call is going to be harsh. In the meantime we’re just going to be waiting for the punchline.

So to those who can grasp the data, here’s my final thought: How will you prepare yourself for The Great Contraction? You’ve got perhaps two good years left of business as usual, and maybe another three or four after that before things really get difficult. I encourage you to use them well, and do what you can to make yourself resilient and self-sufficient. What will you do 10 years from now if the price of gasoline is $10 a gallon?

Yes, we do need to have a serious talk about our values, hopes, beliefs, mythologies, and ambitions; about the embedded growth paradigm, the debt overhang, and economic theory in an age of diminishing marginal returns. Those are all important discussions. But let’s have them after we understand the facts about energy. Not before.

Whatever you do, don’t think that peak oil is dead just because some guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about said so in a fact-free blog post. It’s coming. Later than some thought, but sooner than you think.

Photo: Mark Rain (AZRainman/Flickr)

*Correction July 25, 2013: In the original version of this post, I said that Laherrère’s chart “leaves out extra-heavy oil volumes which may or may not materialize from Venezuela and Canada.” Laherrère responded that this chart does in fact include those heavy oil volumes. The text has been corrected accordingly. — CN

Jul 23, 2013

Chris Nelder

Columnist (Energy)Chris Nelder is an energy analyst and consultant who has written about energy and investing for more than a decade. He is the author of two books on energy and investing, Profit from the Peak and Investing in Renewable Energy, and has appeared on BBC TV, Fox Business, CNN national radio, Australian Broadcasting Corp., CBS radio and France 24. He is based in California. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure
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