29 November 2008

World Oil Crunch Looming?

This is the title of a recent news article in "Science", which comments on the IEA World Energy Outlook 2008. So in writing about this report, I am in good company. The tenor of the article by Science's news writer Richard Kerr is clear: Slowly the reality of limitations to the world's oil supply is sinking in. As far as I can tell, most scientists are still largely unaware that there is a huge problem approaching fast, so maybe this news piece will have some alarming effect. Of course, the experts have been playing the issue down for a long time, but recently the tone seems to be changing. Some excerpts from the article:

“It’s getting harder and harder to find an optimist” on the outlook for the world oil supply, says Beijing-based petroleum analyst Michael Rodgers of PFC Energy, a consulting company. Indeed, the IEA report as well as one coming from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA, confusingly enough) see hints that the world’s oil production could plateau sometime about 2030 if the demand for oil continues to rise. Unless oil-consuming countries enact crash programs to slash demand, analysts say, 2030 could bring on a permanent global oil crunch that will make the recent squeeze look like a picnic. [...]
“Non-OPEC conventional production is definitely at a peak or plateau,” says Rodgers. “That’s starting to make people nervous. It’s not what even pessimistic people anticipated.” Three years ago, analysts in and out of the industry predicted that projects under way or planned would dramatically boost world production during the second half of the decade, sending prices back down (Science, 18 November 2005, p. 1106). Only in the 2010s would non-OPEC producers—who had boosted their output 35% in 25 years—falter and level off their production, analysts thought. That predicted plateau may be here already. “Despite all the work,” says Rodgers, “we can’t grow non-OPEC.”

So the view of the issue has changed over the past three years, and the pessimists proved to be right. The IEA's new perspective is less optimistic than before, but what if the true pessimists are still right? Then, in fact, things may be a lot worse. The old, 2005, Science article ended with the following words: "The downside of the optimists being wrong is dire". It seems this is exactly where we are heading...

The final sentence of the recent article is also interesting, where an American energy analyst is cited saying "I just hope the Obama Administration doesn’t look at the [current] price of oil and shove the problem to the back burner." Very appropriate, as I find it hard to see any sign of the crash programs to slash demand that seem to be so urgently needed (unless crashing the economy was meant to be such a program).

Oh, by the way, crash programs are also needed to curb CO2 emissions. If properly planned, one may be able to tackle two big problems at the same time (incidentally, Climate Progress just has a nice outline of how to do that). If not, the looming oil crisis will force us into using more coal, which is a sure recipe for climate disaster.


  1. I'd recommend today's EA WEO 2008 - World Oil Forecasts using Wikipedia Megaprojects, Dec 2008 over in The Oil Drum. I've been to one ASPO conference, and I'd suggest that there is more realism than pessimism.

    This is amplified by having several friends who worked at the Chairman/Vice-Chair level at major oil companies and who say the same things, including "we have to get very efficient very fast".

    The best summary slide I've seen for a while is World Crude Oil and Lease Production rate forecast from that TOD article, through 2100. Take the green line, and even move it out 20 years, and think about what's needed.

    Combine that with Charlie Hall's balloon chart to see the extent of the problem.

    As petro-states subsidize gas increasingly, net exports can drop much faster than total production, which says something to petroleum importers like Deutschland and USA.

    Finally, I recommend Michael T. Klare's "Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet" for more of the petroleum politics we're likely to see.

  2. There may be a shortage of cheap hydrocarbons in the near future,but there's definitely no shortage of ignorance and wishful thinking on the part of all these right-wing conservative redneck morons.They believe whatever unlimited abiotic oil propaganda big business tells them.They are like non-thinking,pre-programed robots of corporate America.There's no denying abiotic vs.fossil does indeed exist.But that still does NOT guarantee a major shortage and depletion won't happen.Especially if it can't be produced fast enough in commercial quantities.

    The agenda is perfectly clear: make money off oil right down to the last barrel,gallon and drop.Deliberately make America's infrastructure as wasteful and inefficient as possible in order to sell more of it.Fight against more efficient mass transportation systems.Fight against solar energy and all renewables.Outlaw industrial hemp(most benificial plant on earth)and turn it instead into an illegal drug good for nothing but smoking to get high.

    And then in the end,hang all human society and civilization out to dry.