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The Day Oil Peaked
Prophecy - Signs
Monday, November 08, 2010
Ed DeShields

It is a certainty that one day oil production will begin declining.  And, shortly thereafter the era of cheap oil will be over.  The consequences will be ugly, even it we start preparing for this profound change now.

The concept of oil production “peaking”, then rapidly declining is controversial.  But it’s only controversial to politicans, economists and everyone else who isn’t paying attention.  Not to an oil (wo)man.

Politicans avoid the subject because it could cause widespread panic.  Economists won’t discuss it because modern market economies are, in theory, immune to the kinds of limits that constrain such natural systems; the two main ones concern substitution and efficiency theory.  Running out of oil is said to simply cause the market to shift to an alternative.  But energy isn’t so easy to replace.

And, for those not paying attention, well, what could be said to them until it is too late. 

As an aside, I wondered about writing on this subject because it will keep you up at night thinking about a future without oil and all that comes with it.  So I researched dozens of sources.  The information isn’t hard to find.  Every oil well is well documented and summarized by any data you’d like to examine.  What these data are saying is that few oil industry professionals disagree with the concept of Peak Oil – they just can’t decide if it has already begun, or will start in 2010, 2015 or 2030.    Once it begins, an oil crisis will appear shortly thereafter and have profound and  immediate affect on everyone on the planet.

The oil story is simple.  We use a lot of it – about 72 million barrels a day.  The industry thinks its maximum capacity is about 85 million barrels a day.   Presently, due to the Great Recession, oil consumption has temporarily flattened out.  But the world’s population hasn’t. 

Anyone who examines world population growth must be astounded, and quite possibly alarmed.  The global population first reached one billion in 1804.  In 1927 it passed two billion.  Sixty years later, in 1987, the world population was five billion, and 12 years later, in October 1999, it is estimated to have passed six billion and in 2013 it will surpass 7 billion. 

Many are concerned about what this bodes for our future.  Population growth surely will continue for one to several generations.  Most of that growth will occur in developing nations.  An eventual world population of 10 billion is expected around 2030, or about twice today’s number of people on the planet. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the need for oil to be 105-million barrels per day by 2030 – well above the industry’s current peak production rate.  But it’s not clear how this 20-million barrel-per-day gap will be filled.

But to extract oil you first have to find it. 

The world is heavily dependent on 120 oil fields that account for 50 percent of world production, and contains two-thirds of remaining known reserves of fields in production. New discoveries of oil fields off Brazil's coast, under the Arctic and elsewhere, will not be enough to replenish the current "drawdown" that is occurring.  When you drill an oil well, its output starts declining almost immediately until it runs so slow it’s too costly to operate, or it runs dry.   When the drawdown exceeds production you’ve reached Peak Oil.  If we haven’t reached Peak Oil yet, we could be very close. 

As oil becomes harder to find, it becomes more expensive.  Many of these fields take investments that require oil to be priced over $100 or $120 a barrel, so they will not be producing for a number of years after such investments are made; in other words, far beyond 2015.  "The challenge is that if oil prices reach the levels necessary to justify these high-cost investments, economic growth may be imperiled," says the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Without oil, our modern life as we know it doesn’t exit.   It is certain that oil will peak and then decline.  When, is the only uncertainty. 

About Ed DeShields

Last week: A Warm Jacket



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