June 30, 2003
by Doris Leblond
The Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO)a network of scientists, universities, and government departments met near Paris at the Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP) late last month to push their strong warning that conventional oil production will peak before 2010.
Backing ASPO is the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC), which is self-described as “an independent, UK-registered educational charity working to raise public awareness and promote a better understanding of the world’s oil-depletion problem.”
Both ASPO and ODAC openly denounce the “politically correct” view held by most policymakers and institutions not to mention oil companies that “near-term oil supply is mainly an economic and geopolitical concern.”
Urgency, alternate fuels stressed
There is urgency, the agencies believe, to “make the world aware that the party is over,” in the words of Kjell Aleklett, professor of physics in the Department of Radiation Sciences at Uppsala University. Aleklett started the Uppsala Hydrocarbon Depletion Group in January 2002. “The depletion of oil, which furnishes 40% of traded energy and 90% of transport fuel, should, by all means, be a sensitive subject for all governments as well as for you as an individual. It heralds for humanity a discontinuity of historic proportions,” he warned.
Kenneth Deffeyes, a colleague of M. King Hubbert at the Shell Oil Co. research laboratory in Houston, explained the implications of “discontinuity”: “After the peak, the world’s production of crude oil will fall, never to rise again. The world will not run out of energy, but developing alternative energy sources on a large scale will take at least ten years. In the meantime, there will be chaos in the oil industry, in governments, and national economies.” Hubbert is known for his prediction in 1956later proven correct that US oil production would peak in 1970.
Deffeyes believes, as does Pierre-René Bauquis, a retired petroleum engineer and now an associate professor at the IFP School, that replacement energies will need to take nuclear into account. For transportation, Bauquis sees synthetic fuels playing a major role not only that known today but also new synthetics such as carbonated hydrogen produced by the nuclear industry.
Natural science approach
The speakers claimed, in the words of Aleklett, that they are presenting the evidence for a “natural-science approach to oil depletion, addressing the geological constraints, the technical basis of reserve estimation, the distribution of field sizes, and the obvious correlation between discovery and production after a time lag.”
They also claim that the reason why there has been so far the little response to the threat that conventional oil will soon peak is that most published data on energy, population, and the economy are unreliable. Jean Laherrère, a former exploration and production executive with Total SA and now an associate consultant with the Zurich-based Petroconsultants, noted that “in many cases, authors have political motives, selectively choosing data from a wide range of uncertainty to give the desired image.
“In addition to the uncertainty of the measurements themselves, as in the case of the population or the confidentiality of oil reserves, they often indulge in manipulation,” Laherrère said, adding that “our present culture of eternal growth makes the word ‘decline’ politically incorrectU.”
Colin Campbell, ODAC director, and a former Amoco PLC exploration manager and executive vice-president of Fina Norway, was one of the first to warn of the modeling of depletion produced estimates that were “incorrect.” Campbell brought forth the fact that “since 1980, the world has consumed some 500 billion bbl [of oil] but has only found 300 billion [bbl] as it eats into its inheritance from earlier discoveries.”
Pessimists vs. optimists
IFP Pres. Olivier Appert, while admitting that the debate is “an open-ended one,” sets himself firmly among the optimists, because, he says, “the playing field is growing, technology is offering new opportunities, and demand is lower than anticipated.”
But for ASPO, technology will not be able to prevent the inevitable decline. Indeed, it says, breakthroughs have hastened, and not pushed back, oil depletion, Concerning the “growing playing field,” Ali Samsam Bakhtiari, senior expert at National Iranian Oil Co., warned that there are limits even to Middle East output. “For those believing that for Middle East oil, ‘the sky’s the limit,’ some shattering surprises might result over the next two decades,” he said.
Conventional natural gas reserves also are heading for peak production, as endowment is probably about the same as oil. Less gas has been used so far, but the global peak in conventional gas production is already in sight, in perhaps 20 years, forecast Robert W. Bentley of ODAC, “and hence the global peak of all hydrocarbons [oil plus gas] is likely to be in about 10 or so years.”
So, will the US, which will become more dependent on imported petroleum in the years ahead, be forced to resort to “resource wars,” asked Michael T. Klare, the Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies. Klare noted that foreign energy policy “is one of the driving factors behind the Bush administration’s military buildup. And while the war in Iraq has several causes, the protection of US oil imports from the Persian Gulf is one of the most important.”
Original article: Oil & Gas Journal
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