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Export land model



The Export Land Model or ELM is a possible corollary of peak oil theory. It is based on the observation that the citizens of most oil exporting nations use less oil per capita than northern European nations, but their oil use per capita is steadily increasing. It predicts that oil exporting nations will continue to place a high priorty on internal oil use even if their oil production starts to decline. If so, as oil production starts to decline, the oil available to importing nations will decrease significantly faster than the production decline rate.

The ELM has also sometimes been suggested to apply to other exportable commodities.


The Export Land Model (ELM) is a phenomenological, qualitative model of oil exports developed by Dallas geologist Jeffrey Brown. It starts with the observation that most oil exporting nations (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, etc) have citizens who currently use less oil and oil derivatives per head than northern European nations, but that their oil use per head is steadily increasing. In the scenario that an oil producing nation starts to experience a decline in their oil production (due to oil-field depletion and only an ever decreasing number of more difficult-to-access fields being discovered), the hypothesis is that its government will experience ineluctable pressure to ensure enough oil is available for constantly increasing domestic consumption, even if this requires reducing oil exports. (Implicit in this is an assumption that the citzens will prefer the actual oil products to the second-order advantages they would get from continuing to export the same oil volume at presumably rising oil prices.) For such a country, its oil export volume will decline faster than its oil production declines. This is shown schematically in the following fictional graph (originally from Wikipedia page on ELM).

Schematic graph of Export Land Model predictions

To see the practical relevance of the ELM in sustainability, consider the possibility of a point in the near future where most of the oil producing nations have entered production decline. In such a situation, it is likely that oil importing countries would be attempting to rapidly expand their renewable/sustainable energy generation capacity. Constructing things such as dams, wind turbines, nuclear power plants, etc, will generally involve using construction machinery which is powered by oil or oil derivatives. However, the ELM predicts that the amount of oil available to oil importing countries will decline significantly more rapidly than would be expected from production decline rates. Thus, it may be advisable to bring forward building sustainable infrastructure to be done significantly in advance of compelling observational evidence that it is needed.

It is worth noting that the ELM has sometimes been suggested to apply to other exportable entities, eg, grain, that satisfy the model’s assumptions (primarily constrained “production” and rising internal demand).

Observational support for the ELM

As the basic ELM posits only that exports will decline more rapidly than production declines, it is relatively easy to find sets of countries satisfying this criterion, such as this list:

Country Production Consumption net exports

2002 2007 2002 2007 2002 2007

Argentina 806 698 364 492 442 206

Bahrain 49 48 23 35 25 14

Colombia 601 561 222 228 379 333

Egypt 751 710 534 651 217 59

Indonesia 1289 969 1137 1157 152 -188

Malaysia 757 755 489 514 268 241

Syria 548 394 256 262 292 132

Turkmenistan 192 180 78 117 114 62

Vietnam 339 350 192 294 146 56

Yemen 438 360 112 143 326 217

All figures above are in in thousand barrels/day.

A comparison between predictions for the top 5 oil exporters by Brown and Foucher made in using data up to 2006 (made in 2007) and net export figures for the following years is illustrated in the following graphs (by Brown):

ELM slide

Note that the fit is a best-fit across all data points rather than a spline based fit, so the “displacement” between the last of the “modeled data” and the prediction is not unusual. It is also of course open to argument whether circumstances over the past few years should be considered “unusual” and a reversion to high net output expected in the near future.

The Wikipedia page contains more details of observational support for the ELM.


  1. The ELM is only strongly relevant to sustainability if it is indeed the case that oil/gasoline/diesel is irreplaceable for current construction machines. Is this the case?


This article was originally distilled from this Wikipedia article:

Further discussion of the ELM occurs in various posts listed here:

category: energy