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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hubbert's Valley

I posted earlier regarding those who think worldwide peak oil production will happen this year or soon. I'm skeptical. Here's an alternative view:
Our new, field-by-field analysis of production capacity, led by my colleagues Peter Jackson and Robert Esser, is quite at odds with the current view and leads to a strikingly different conclusion: There will be a large, unprecedented buildup of oil supply in the next few years. Between 2004 and 2010, capacity to produce oil (not actual production) could grow by 16 million barrels a day -- from 85 million barrels per day to 101 million barrels a day -- a 20 percent increase. Such growth over the next few years would relieve the current pressure on supply and demand.

Where will this growth come from? It is pretty evenly divided between non-OPEC and OPEC. The largest non-OPEC growth is projected for Canada, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Azerbaijan, Angola and Russia. In the OPEC countries, significant growth is expected to occur in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Algeria and Libya, among others. Our estimate for growth in Iraq is quite modest -- only 1 million barrels a day -- reflecting the high degree of uncertainty there. In the forecast, the United States remains almost level, with development in the deep-water areas of the Gulf of Mexico compensating for declines elsewhere.

While questions can be raised about specific countries, this forecast is not speculative. It is based on what is already unfolding. The oil industry is governed by a "law of long lead times." Much of the new capacity that will become available between now and 2010 is under development. Many of the projects that embody this new capacity were approved in the 2001-03 period, based on price expectations much lower than current prices.

There are risks to any forecast. In this case, the risks are not the "below ground" ones of geology or lack of resources. Rather, they are "above ground" -- political instability, outright conflict, terrorism or slowdowns in decision making on the part of governments in oil-producing countries. Yet, even with the scaling back of the forecast, it would still constitute a big increase in output.

This is not the first time that the world has "run out of oil." It's more like the fifth.

And yet people still listen to the doomsayers. Why?

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