Oct 8, 2009 – 8:41:11 AM
A new report, launched on the 8th October 2009 by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), argues that conventional oil production is likely to peak before 2030, with a significant risk of a peak before 2020. The report concludes that the UK Government is not alone in being unprepared for such an event – despite oil supplying a third of the world’s energy.
Simply maintaining global production at today’s level would need the equivalent of a new Saudi Arabia every three years. The report finds that we are entering an era of slow and expensive oil as resources get harder to find, extract and produce. Major new discoveries, such as those announced recently in the Gulf of Mexico, will only delay the peak by a matter of days or weeks.
According to the report’s chief author, Steve Sorrell, the senior researcher at UKERC, “In our view, forecasts which delay a peak in conventional oil production until after 2030 are at best optimistic and at worst implausible.”And given the world’s overwhelming dependence upon oil and the time required to develop alternatives, 2030 isn’t far away. The concern is that rising oil prices will encourage the rapid development of carbon-intensive alternatives which will make it difficult or impossible to prevent dangerous climate change.”
The report defends more optimistic estimates of the size of oil resources but notes that much of this is in smaller less accessible fields which may only be produced relatively slowly and at high cost. It also highlights the accelerating decline in production from existing fields; more than two thirds of current crude oil production capacity may need to be replaced by 2030 to prevent production from falling.
Steve Sorrell said “It makes no sense to provide precise forecasts of when a peak in oil production will occur. The data is unreliable, there are multiple factors to consider and a ‘bumpy plateau’ seems more likely than a sharp peak. But we can say that the window is narrowing rapidly. The effects of global oil depletion will depend greatly on the response from governments and on the scale of investment in new energy technologies.”The Report says, “The growing popular debate on ‘peak oil’ has had relatively little influence on conventional policy discourse. For example, the UK government rarely mentions the issue in official publications and “…..does not feel the need to hold contingency plans specifically for the eventuality of crude oil supplies peaking between now and 2020.” (BERR, 2008). But beginning in 2003, a combination of strong demand growth (especially in China, India and the Middle East), rising prices, declining production in key regions and ominous warnings from market analysts has increased concerns about oil security. A milestone was the 2008 World Energy Outlook (WEO) from the International Energy Agency (IEA) which included a detailed examination of the accelerating decline in production from existing fields.”
UKERC’s report addresses the following question: What evidence is there to support the proposition that the global supply of ‘conventional oil’ will be constrained by physical depletion before 2030?
The main conclusions of the report are as follows:
1. The mechanisms leading to a ‘peaking’ of conventional oil production are well understood and provide identifiable constraints on its future supply at both the regional and global level.
2. Despite large uncertainties in the available data, sufficient information is available to allow the status and risk of global oil depletion to be adequately assessed.
3. There is potential for improving consensus on important and long-standing controversies such as the source and magnitude of ‘reserves growth’.
4. Methods for estimating resource size and forecasting future supply have important limitations that need to be acknowledged.
5. Large resources of conventional oil may be available, but these are unlikely to be accessed quickly and may make little difference to the timing of the global peak.
6. The risks presented by global oil depletion deserve much more serious attention by the research and policy communities.
This Report is an important contribution to the debate on the depletion of resources and needs to be widely read, not only by policy-makers.
Download the Full Report