The June 2008 issue of the National Geographic Turkey magazine includes a review on Paul Roberts’ book “The End of Oil” published in 2004. In this article, I want to share with you the outlines of this review on the book which analyzes the future of the oil.
According to the calculations of Sadad Al Husayni, an oil geologist who has been leading for years the oil research and production team of Saudi Aramco, which is a public oil company, the world oil production has been standing firm since 2004, meaning earlier than expected. What is worrying to the same extent is that this “flat” course of the oil production could only last 15 years according to the best forecasts and then the traditional oil production is expected “to fall down gradually but irreversibly”.
In case Hüseyni, who retired from Aramco in 2004 to supply consultancy services to the oil industry, is right, the world which is actually dependent on cheap and abundant oil for all its critical systems from defense to transportation and food production is going to face radical transformations.
The speed of the global production, which was less than a million barrels in 1900 and reached today 85 million barrels with a continuous increase, will stop soon or later. Ready or not, we will face the “post-oil period” and this could be a period of recession and even marked by wars – depending on the wish of US and other big oil exporters to strategically secure their oil resources.
People that are pessimist on oil issue believe that we are either very close to the peak point in oil production or we are already at that point, as asserted by Husayni –but that this reality is hidden from public with daily fluctuations.
And the optimists believe that we still have twenty to thirty years to reach this critical point, because there is still too much oil waiting to be discovered.
In a report published by the International Energy Agency in the last autumn, it is foreseen that the global oil demand would triple today's level and reach to 116 million barrels a day and that some oil company managers express their doubts that the production wouldn’t keep up with this demand. Christopher de Margerie, President of the French oil giant Total, stated that the daily oil production would only be around 100 million barrels a day “under the best conditions”, what means that the global oil demand would exceed the supply before 2020. This year, Jeroen van der Veer, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell anticipated that “easily accessible oil and natural gas resources wouldn’t meet the demand after 2015”.
According to them, the major factors, that hinders the increase of oil production are not the geological factors under the ground by the political and economical factors over the ground. It is said that, Irak, victim of the war, despite its huge reserves under the ground, can only produce around one fifth of the level produced by Saudi Arabia, due to security reasons. Also, in countries like Venezuela and Russia, there are laws that restrict international oil companies drilling new tower and developing other infrastructure investments.
Throughout the world, the production in existing fields decreases up to 8 % a year and this means that oil companies, in order to keep the production of oil at its existing level, must produce an extra 7 million barrels a day and they must produce billions of barrel more to satisfy the increase in demand which is yearly 1,5 %. And it becomes more and more difficult to find these new barrels due to the decrease of the size of oil fields, increase of the prices and political barriers. Most of the big oil companies, including Shell and the Mexican public company Pemex can find less oil than they sell. And this deficit will become gibber and bigger as the existing oil fields grow mature and the global oil demand increases. According to the CEO of ConocoPhillips, James Mulva, about 40 % of the daily oil production of the world will have to be supplied from non-drilled – and even not yet discovered- fields, around 2010. And 2030, almost all the oil will be produced in the fields which are not operated now. Whatever it will happen, there is one thing that is certain in all these forecasts: the era of cheap oil is over. If we draw a lesson from the history, we may say that the world will probably live though days.
As Saudi Arabia and the other members of OPEC control 75 % of the total reserves of the world, the oil production of these countries will reach to its peak long after than the other countries and this will give them a bigger power on the prices and the world economy. The peak or stagnation in the oil production means that the gasoline, kerosene and diesel amount per capita shall seriously diminish compared to today’s figures, with the population growth. If this is bad news for energy focused countries like USA, it may be seen as a catastrophe for developing countries that use oil based fuels, not only for transportation but also for cooking, lightening and irrigation.
Husayni is worried that the world is very slow to understand the existing critical picture and to take measures. Fuel effective cars and alternative energy sources like bio-fuels may partly fill the gap created by the exhaustion of the oil. But the real challenge is to mobilize the countries that consume too much oil to decrease the demand. Husayni says that a logical discussion for changing our life style, which depends too much from energy, is “still far away from the table”. Taken into account the cruel arithmetic which points out that the oil is going to deplete, the date when this issue is going to be seriously discusses may not be so far.
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