By Ryan McGreal
Published November 18, 2010
A November 14 blog entry on the New York Times asks the provocative (for the Times) question: Is 'Peak Oil' Behind Us?
It opens with a chart sourced from the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook report showing overall daily oil production by source from 1990 to 2035.
Daily oil production by source, 1990-2035 (Source: IEA)
The most interesting part of the chart in the entry is the light-blue area on the right, "Crude oil: fields yet to be found".
What the IEA is saying here is that, starting in five years, the oil industry is going to discover enough new sources of conventional oil to keep total production increasing steadily (albeit at a drastically slowed rate) until an overall peak some time around 2040.
There's just one problem: There's absolutely no reason to expect that so much conventional oil is still lying somewhere waiting to be discovered. Conventional oil discovery peaked around 1960 and the number of new discoveries has declined steadily since then. It's astoundingly unlikely that we'll suddenly reverse that 50-year decline in new discoveries at just the right moment for our overall production rate to go on increasing.
What the report really tells us is this: Declining overall oil production is so unthinkable that the IEA would rather invent fanciful sources than admit that the current plateau in oil from all sources, which started around 2005, will slide into permanent decline five years from now.
It acknowledges what we've been saying for years: that non-conventional oil will not be able to achieve a rate of production high enough to cover sustained shortfalls in conventional production, let alone continue growing the overall daily production.
The IEA, keep in mind, already has by far the most optimistic outlook among industry analysts; and they admitted last year that they have been finessing the numbers to push out the production peak.
Their idea of an "undulating plateau" in which the current flat production rate persists with slight growth until the 2030s is sheer wishful thinking.
(h/t to RTH user JonD for sharing the link.)
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