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Peak Oil, Part 2: Crunching the Numbers

How will peak oil affect a planet addicted to industrialization? How will peak oil affect a planet addicted to industrialization?

“One thing is clear: the era of easy oil is over. What we all do next will determine how well we meet the energy needs of the entire world in this century and beyond.” – David J. O’Reilly, Chairman & CEO of Chevron.

Even China, which manufactures the world’s “stuff,” uses less than half the petroleum of the US.

We live in what many call the Age of Oil. Characterized by the discovery and exploitation of petroleum some 150 years back, the Age of Oil represents the ‘big bang’ in history that precipitated contemporary civilization – industrialization, transportation, technology, and 6.8 billion people. The Age of Oil unequivocally relies on cheap and easy to find oil (the technical term being “conventional oil” reserves) to literally fuel virtually all aspects of life, from eating to drinking, electricity to manufacturing. We collectively assume that oil will always flow out of the earth in great abundance. And indeed, every human alive today was born into the Age of Oil and doesn’t know otherwise. But what if this oil, a finite resource, begins to run dry? What would happen to the edifice of global industrialized civilization that is constructed from and for petroleum? If we today live in the Age of Oil, and we are soon to run out of oil, what age will we transition into?

Crunching the Numbers

There are two very simple laws in oil production that are the basis for the Peak Oil analysis:

Oil is a finite resource, and is therefore subject to depletion.

An oil field has to be discovered before it can be produced.

So let’s crunch some numbers to understand the science behind Peak Oil.

It is important to first take a look at America – it has only 5 percent of the world’s population yet consumes much more oil than all other countries (25 percent of the planet’s total consumption). Even China, which manufactures the world’s “stuff,” uses less than half the petroleum of the US.

At the time of the industrial revolution, America was a land rich in oil. Some wells had so much pressure that, when drilled, would literally explode into the air and could not be capped. Fossil fuel was in enormous abundance, leading many to speculate that humans would never deplete the natural stock. However, America’s oil production peaked in 1970 and has been in irreversible decline since. It now imports 70 percent of its crude oil. So where is it coming from?

The Middle East, mostly. It holds the lion’s share of the world’s known oil. So, logically, its output would reveal much about the future of oil production.

There is an overwhelming amount of information revealing that Saudi Arabia has already passed its peak.
Saudi Arabia, with the biggest known oil field, contains roughly 25 percent of all

known conventional oil on the planet. Although it is hard to know the exact data and dates (much of it is kept secret), there is an overwhelming amount of information revealing that Saudi Arabia has already passed its peak. The increasing body of hard evidence suggests it has, or will very soon, pass its peak and will enter what might prove to be a dramatic decline. Saudi oil platforms have begun moving offshore into what is called “unconventional” oil fields (meaning much more difficult to retrieve) in an attempt to make up for a reduction in conventional oil. Moving offshore would not make economic sense if conventional oil was still plentiful – it requires a much larger investment of energy to retrieve the same amount of oil. If Saudi Arabia has passed its peak in oil production, what about the rest of world?

Join me in Part 2 where I discuss global oil production and the exploration and discovery of new fields, along with the legendary M. King Hubbert, an oil geologist and physicist who warned of Peak Oil in 1949. We ignored and laughed at his claims at our peril.

Read Peak Oil, Part 1 – click here.

Read Peak Oil, Part 3 - click here.

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A look at how oil depletion affects industrialized society and climate change.
Last modified on Saturday, 01 September 2012 09:46

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