Friday, March 07, 2014

Andrew Neil is right. "Peak Oil" is a very long way away!


Back in the early 1980s I worked in Energy forecasting for Shell in the Netherlands. Energy supply and demand is a complex and interesting subject. On the supply side we analysed all Primary Energy sources - basically oil, gas, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables. For the first three (the hydrocarbons) we were dealing with finite resources. Every tonne of them we consumed depleted that finite resource. That was not in dispute. The areas where there were differences of opinion were about the size of the reserves per se, and the amount of these reserves that could be commercially exploited. How much did we have and what percentage could we extract?

Reserves are a function of man's capability to find hydrocarbons. The extractability is partly technical - did we have the actual ability to get the reserves from the ground so that we could use them? It is also a commercial issue. Given the current price of energy was it economic to produce? Could you cover your production costs and make an acceptable return? 

The oil companies assessed reserves, as did independent bodies and governments. One of those involved with whom I had some contact was the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and especially their Professor in the appropriate Department Peter Odell. He was a colourful and clever man one of whose claims to fame was that he believed that oil companies, including Shell (for whom he had once worked) were far too conservative in assessing reserves. 

Over time Peter Odell was proved right. The main driver of this was technology improvements. The ingenuity of scientists and engineers to extract more oil or gas from a reservoir just grew and grew. This was helped by a rising oil/gas price. At higher prices fields that were not economic at lower prices became attractive. This was a virtuous circle as the commercial driver facilitated the technology advances. Similarly the search for new resources was done in the context of a paradigm which said (say) if it cost $10 a barrel to produce but the market price is $20 it's worth doing.

The idea of "Peak Oil" - a point in time when oil/gas production peaked before falling back was and is in the lexicon. But Peter Odell never believed it and, after a while, nor did I. The most obvious area where this is currently true relates to oil and especially gas from Shale. Twenty years ago the ability to exploit these reserves did not exist. Now it does and this means that, for example, the United States can become self-sufficient in hydrocarbons. An almost unthinkable possibility as recently as five years ago! 

Any exploitation of commodities like minerals and hydrocarbons must be done in an environmentally friendly way. Shale reserves can only be utilised if environmental controls exist. But if they do there is no logical reason why these massive reserves cannot be used. 

Intellectually it is true that at some point in the future oil and gas production will peak. But it is a long way off. Before then technology,  ingenuity and political will should  allow us to use resources that not long ago we didn't even know we had let alone how to exploit them. Peter Odell told us this thirty years ago - he was right. He still is!


1 Comments:

At 9:38 pm , Blogger The Universe said...

"The most obvious area where this is currently true relates to oil and especially gas from Shale. Twenty years ago the ability to exploit these reserves did not exist..."

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have been around for decades. They're being employed economically now because the price of oil has quadrupled.

"Now it does and this means that, for example, the United States can become self-sufficient in hydrocarbons..."

That statement wasn't thought out at all.

In 1970 the US was producing way more oil per day than it is now and it still wasn't "self-sufficient" in hydrocarbons.

The oil production from tight oil wells probably will never even reach the 1970 peak production rate let alone somehow spike 8 million barrels per day above that to take all US oil consumption into account.

The shale oil wells are nothing to be that proud of either. Your average Bakken or Eagle Ford well produces about 665,000 barrels of oil over its 45 year lifetime.

The US consumes that much in 45 minutes. Globally that much is burnt every 11 minutes.

 

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