The Azimuth Project
Blog - on peak oil

This page is a blog article in progress, written by Lorenz Borsche. To see discussion of this article while it is being written, visit the Azimuth Forum.

“Peak oil” or the “Hubbert Peak” states that after a continuing rise in extracting oil from an oil field there will be a peak of production followed by a decline. Collecting and processing known data Hubbert predicted this peak for all US oil fields to take place in 1970, which proved to be correct.

This formula then had been used to predict a world wide oil production peak as early as 1995 (Hubbert) and again for 2007 (by others), but researchers are quite at odds with each other if at all and when this peak has taken place. Certainly it didn’t in 1995.

As demands more or less always have been growing in the last decades, a peak in production followed by a decline is seen as a threat to world wide economics, oil being the most important energy source.

Many facts on peak oil are given and discussed here:

Peak oil, Azimuth Wiki.

and there there is also a quite substantial Wikipedia page:

Peak oil, Wikipedia.

What I found difficult to judge or extract from this and other pages were the following questions:

What I will NOT discuss here is what a growing or even stable consumption of oil or hydrocarbon alternatives will do to our athmosphere wrt CO2 and the climate change discussion.

I tried to find some figures and although the sources are certainly debatable, I assume them to be near something we may call the truth, as one seeems to back up the other.

I unified all given units to ‘kg’ (oil equivalent) and therefore choose to set 1 litre of oil = 1 kg. Not really accurate, but - given the uncertainties of other factors - that’s ok in my view. Just as well as I set 1 cbm (1000 ltr) of natural gas equivalent to 1 kg of oil as they both contain about 10 kWhrs of energy. The error in both cases is well within 10% and shouldn’t be taken serious.

I also stayed away from the word “billion”, as an english “billion” is a german “Milliarde” (Mrd), and what we call “one Billion” in German is known to you as “one trillion”. Thus I choose 10^12 kg or “tera kg” respectively as unit throughout.

Def: “reserves” mean known supplies to be produced at the known economical conditions of today (>40 < 60$ / barrel AFAIK)

Def: “ressources” mean known supplies to be produced at unknown economical conditions (or even never ever).

This site (http://urly.de/7eb27) states the

reserves___: (226 Mrd t) = 226 tera kg ressources_: (332 Mrd t) = 332 tera kg demand p.a.: (3.8 Mrd t) = 3.8 tera kg

and is copyrighted 2013. A similar page (http://urly.de/4785c) obviously based on 2010 data (to be found at “www.IWO.de”) says:

reserves___: (228 Mrd t) = 228 tera kg ressources_: (410 Mrd t) = 410 tera kg demand p.a.: (3.9 Mrd t) = 3.9 tera kg

So especially the ressources have been revised downwards from 2010 to 2013 quite a bit.

The overall production of oil worldwide - according to the last source - from 1860-2010 has been 163 tera kg.

So yes, even if there’s no ‘peak’ in production and even if there’s no growth in demand, the reserves numerically would reach out for some 30 to 50 years, which puts up an unpleasant question: when will a gap between production and demand open up?

Actually, to be honest one should put another question first: are we sure that a gap has to develop anyhow?

As for now, peak oil has been predicted more than once and never came true (this is a bit like the fusion discussion: fusion is always “only one or two magnitudes” away from a self sustaining reaction and the researchers will bridge that gap within ten years, they assure us. I was a child of 10 first reading this, and just read it again for the ITER to come, and that’s more than 40 years and billions of Euros later).

Well, the “peak” may never occur if demands on ‘real’ oil (like light oil of the ‘Brent’ type) dwindle faster than production will. And as production is often a question of the prize, alternatives may come in sight.

Especially with the upcoming discussion on “Hydraulic Fracturing” or just “fracking” to produce natural gas we have to talk about alternatives. How valid are those alternatives in the sense of stock or supply?

This article here (http://urly.de/17071) gives the reserves/ressources on fracking gas to be:

USA______: 24 x 10^12 cbm = 24 tera kg (oilequivalent) China____: 36 x 10^12 cbm = 36 tera kg Argentine: 21 x 10^12 cbm = 21 tera kg Mexiko___: 19 x 10^12 cbm = 19 tera kg Sth Afrca: 13 x 10^12 cbm = 13 tera kg GB_______: 5 x 10^12 cbm = 5 tera kg France___: 5 x 10^12 cbm = 5 tera kg Poland___: 5 x 10^12 cbm = 5 tera kg Germany__: 2 x 10^12 cbm = 2 tera kg

All in all 130 tera kg oil equivalent compared to oil reserves of ~ 226 tera kg.

Of course one might ask: is there possibly a factor of 1.000 missing? No, that isn’t so, although the numbers given above seem to be a bit exaggerated, possibly by a factor of 10 (realistically) or only 3 (optimistcally) when compared with an official statement like this one:

03 April 2012 Polnisches Institut fuer Geologie (PGI) veroeffentlicht erste

Abschaetzung

der Schiefergas- und Oelvorkommen in Polen.

Eine mit Spannung erwartete Untersuchung der Schiefergas- und Oelvorkommen in Polen hat ergeben, dass die geschaetzte Menge an foerderbarem Schiefergas zwischen 346 und 768 Milliarden m3 betraegt. In seiner optimistischsten Annahme geht das fuer die Studie verantwortliche Polnische Institut fuer Geologie (PGI) von bis zu 1,92 Billionen m3 aus.

[remember: Milliarden = billion, m3 = cbm, Billionen = trillion].

https://www.pgi.gov.pl/en/dokumenty-in/doc_download/769-raport-en.html

So the above citation of the study “The Assessment of Shale Gas and Shale Oil Resources of the Lower Paleozoic Baltic-Podlasie-Lublin Basin in Poland” says that in Poland there are round about 500 x 10^9 cbm = 0.5 tera kg oil equivalent. And optimistically 1.9 tera kg.

Which means a factor of 3 to 10 less compared to the number for Poland (5.000) given in the table above. So with a factor of 3 we’re talking of 45 tera kg oil equivalent world wide compared to oil reserves of ~ 226 tera kg.

There’s other hydrocarbon alternatives worth while to be named: methane hydrates, shale oil and oil sands (tar sands).

This article http://urly.de/ac8b9 gives the Methanehydrates to be

3000 gigatonnen C in Form von Methan

which is 3.000 tera kg C equivalent to 4.000 x 10^12 cbm methane or 4.000 tera kg oil equivalent - 5 to 7 times more than known oil reserves and resources.

About how to extract the methane from the hydrates (ie. their ice cage) there seems to be a quite desirable option: CO2 can replace Methane in the crystal structure and this CO2 filled ice cages then are said to be even more stable. Thus pumping fluid CO2 into Methanehydrate ice could kill two birds with one stone.

On shale oil this link http://urly.de/9b426 states:

Oelvorraete fuer 200 Jahre in einer einzigen Schieferformation

Die Green-River-Formation eine Ansammlung einer ueber 1.000 Fuss [ca. 300 m] dicken Schicht aus Sedimentgestein, die unter Teilen von Colorado, Utah und Wyoming liegt enthaelt die groessten Vorraete an Schieferoel weltweit. Es wird geschaetzt, dass die Green River Formation etwa drei Billionen Barrel Oel enthaelt. Im Mittelpunkt dieser Schaetzung steht, dass etwa die Haelfte davon foerderbar ist. Diese Menge ist in

etwa

genauso gross wie die gesamten nachgewiesenen Oelvorraete der Erde.

It mainly says that under Colorado, Utah und Wyoming there’s a 1000 foot layer of shale oil containg (3 x 10^12 x 159) = 450 tera kg oil, which is “about as much as the known oil reserves and ressources” (not quite, but 450 is near enough to 600-700) and double as much as the known reserves.

Then there is the oil sands (http://urly.de/f1c34):

According to the WEC, natural bitumen is reported in 598 deposits in 23 countries, with the largest deposits in Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia. Discovered original oil in place is 2,511.326 billion barrels

That’s 2500 x 10^9 x 159 = 400 tera kg oil equivalent, about 2/3 of the known oil reserves and resources.

So then the question “Will there be ‘peak oil’ and when?” has to be put more precisely as (for example):

Will there be a production peak of light oil (Brent/WTI) at production costs of less than 40$/barrel?

Yes, and it most certainly has passed us by, for “Brent” already. But raising the second parameter (price) you might find other cross points in the near or far future, dependent on the price tag you are willing to set and able to push through on the market.

And the implicit question: “Does peak oil threaten us economically?” can be answered like this: No, it will not.

Not only there are plenty of hydrocarbon alternatives progradiating the peak point far into the future, also ‘costs’ are always labour force costs to 100% (it’s the miner, that costs money, not the coal. It’s the engineer and machine builders delivering the mining machines to the mines, that cost money, not the machines themselves, and it’s the steelworkers costing money, not the steel being used for the machines etc. Nature doesn’t charge us for its gifts on and under its surface).

Thus if more people have to work on providing us with “oil” or its alternatives, we may buy not as many iPhones and other gadgets but instead spend more money on heat and light and have more people making a living on hard labor like mining methane hydrates and oil sands instead of working at Foxconn (which is even harder labor).

category: blog, energy