There is no question that peak oil is a contentious issue among those familiar with the discussions and considerations. Some adamantly deny that we are even close to producing the maximum rates of oil, while others ardently insist we are—or that we have already passed that point.

Let me start with just a few basics, to give you an idea as to why proponents like me think that we’re already at the point (or soon will be) when we have maxed out the rate of oil that is produced on this planet, and are just looking at declining amounts of oil production from here on in.

My next post will weigh in with an initial discussion of the opposing viewpoint.

Keep in mind that this is just a small sampling of facts supporting the imminent challenges of peak oil. Future posts will discuss the evidence in greater detail (but without getting bogged down in the heavy technical aspects. The Oil Drum and Energy Bulletin do a significantly better job at that than I could hope to, and they have access to better sources of expert opinion. See the links for each in my Blogroll.)

What the following facts each and collectively suggest seems fairly evident without the requisite professional expertise, but I’ll leave that to you to decide.

  • Just 20 years ago, 15 oilfields were able to supply at least one million barrels of oil per day (the world now uses approximately 85 mbpd). Now there are only 4 such fields. [1]
  • The world began using more oil than it was finding nearly thirty years ago. Nothing has changed since. This year we are on pace to discover nearly 20 billion barrels of oil. Sounds great up until the moment you learn that the world uses approximately 30 billion barrels per year, and that roughly 80% of the Earth’s population is just starting to use energy as we do. [2] Make no mistake: they will be looking to use more.  (Think China and India, for starters.)
  • A substantial majority of petroleum geologists agree that about 90% of all the conventional, recoverable oil on the planet has now been located. [3] Most of the Earth’s favorable geological formations conducive to oil formation have been identified.
  • Here in the United States, we reached peak oil production almost forty years ago, at about 9.5 million barrels per day. We’re down to about 5 million now. We’re not alone.
  • One third of global oil supply comes from 20 large fields—all discovered more than thirty years ago. Production rates for each of those 20 fields have now peaked. [4]
  • The International Energy Agency [IEA] is an organization which serves as an energy policy advisor to its 28 member countries, including the U.S. Its recent studies prove that the oil produced from 580 of the largest 800 fields is declining [5]
  • The largest oil field in the world is Ghawar in Saudi Arabia. It was discovered in 1948 and reached its peak production rate of 5.6 million barrels per day in 1980. It now produces 5 million barrels per day [6], and when oil prices shot through the roof last year, at a price nearing $150 per barrel, Saudi production levels did not increase.  (What greater incentive to get more oil out of the ground than such sky-high prices, especially when you can produce it as  inexpensively as the Saudis? That didn’t happen because it couldn’t.)
  • Back in the 1960s, more than 25 giant and super-giant fields were discovered. Super-giants are identified as those with “5 billion barrels of initial proven and probable reserves.” (The number is 500 million for “giant” fields). [7] By contrast, super-giant Ghawar had tens of billions of barrels of proven and probable reserves. Impressive, certainly, but the number of such finds has declined steadily over these past 40-plus years.
  • We’re at a grand total of two such discoveries so far this decade (although none come close to matching Ghawar).

It’s probably safe to assume that the intensive and technologically-advanced explorations in these last few decades have not been designed to hunt for tiny fields. The giant/super-giant fields aren’t being found because there aren’t any. 8-10 billion barrel fields are now being touted as the “huge” finds of our time, and we’re not discovering nearly enough of them.

This does not mean we’re running out of oil next Tuesday, or next month, next year, or maybe even five years from now. “Running out” is not what Peak Oil is all about. Peak oil is about the rates of oil production, and declining rates mean declining supplies at a time when demand is and will be increasing significantly in certain parts of the world.

If the facts stated above are true, then waiting until it’s too late to do anything probably isn’t the best strategy.

Many developing nations feel entitled to seek levels of prosperity once enjoyed almost exclusively by Americans. By what right can we deny them? “We’re Americans so we get to do anything we want first” isn’t likely to get us very far in this day and age, much as some wish it were otherwise.

China, India, and other rapidly-developing economies are not going to sit on their collective hands while the United States and others make certain they are taken care of first.

What this does mean is that we are now on a slippery slope. Competition for diminishing supplies in the next few decades will become our reality as the demand for oil in the developing nations increases.

It’s important that we understand what this means, and how it will affect each and every one of us in our daily lives. Changes are in the offing.

I’ve designed this blog to help readers understand what those changes will be, what they mean, and how we turn a potential catastrophe into opportunities to revitalize our economies, our industries, and our way of life.

It will be a crisis only if we let it be, and that will happen because we all decide to … wait until some undefined “later” to start doing something/anything.

We’ll never be able to restructure our petroleum-based economies overnight, and without some planning now, attempting that is precisely what we’ll be faced with.

That approach won’t work, so let’s find better ways.
 
Next: What the opponents of peak oil have to say

Sources

[1]: http://www.canada.com/story+glimpse+future+chapters/1333692/story.html; The oil story and a glimpse at future chapters –  By Ray Grigg, Courier-Islander February 27, 2009
[2] http://www.oildecline.com/
[3] ibid
[4] Earth Policy Institute: Is World Oil Production Peaking? Lester R. Brown www.earthpolicy.org/Updates/2007/Update67_data2.htm
[5] http://www.energybulletin.net/node/48582; The IEA warns of shortages – “The next oil crisis is coming” by Michael Kläsgen
[6] http://seekingalpha.com/article/130145-200-oil-is-coming-while-we-waste-a-perfectly-good-crisis-part-2
[7] Running Faster To Stand Still – By: John Kemp http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2008/11/24/running-faster-to-stand-still/