On March 5, the New York Times broke their near silence on peak oil by publishing an article by energy correspondent Jad Mouawad, entitled Oil Innovations Pump New Life Into Old Wells. (Also posted at Energy Bulletin and Mobjectivist.)

Below is a response from ASPO member Kurt Mueller.

Overall, the thrust of the article is much of what we have come to expect from a lot of the mainstream media: don’t worry, we have plenty of oil left, and we will use technology to recover a great deal of what has heretofore been regarded as unrecoverable, especially now that high oil prices make enhanced recovery more attractive. The phrase or paraphrase “running out of oil” is used in a couple of different places, one a quote from Yergin at CERA. This tends to perpetuate the seemingly purposeful and continuing obfuscation of the critical significance of getting just half way to running out – the Peak Oil phenomenon.

The article goes on to quote Saudi officials about what they think are extremely large oil reserves approaching 1 trillion BBL that they will tap and recover from Saudi fields.

This is worth a look and some thoughtful (not knee jerk) consideration of the major points made in the article and in the graphics (check out the production from the Kern River field dropping like a rock after about 1999). Also, look at the adjacent graph depicting oil prices that will stimulate additional production from certain sources: the trigger for “North Sea and Oil Sands-with old facilities” set at $25? What about that enhanced recovery in the North Sea? I have heard little about it and, furthermore, with the present oil price at over twice that $25 level for some time now, we still aren’t seeing much ER mitigation of the steep drop in production from the North Sea. Where did that odd North Sea reference come from? Sources cited include CERA.

A couple of other interesting quotes.

…forecasts that the world’s reserves are drying out have given way to predictions that more oil can be found than ever before.

And this doozy

There is still a minority view, held by a small band of retired petroleum geologists and some members of Congress, that oil production has peaked, but the theory is fading.

These quotes are not at all consistent with my own observations and even public data from Big Oil. Despite a general lack of coverage of Peak Oil in the mainstream media, there is still a lot more of it now than a couple of years ago. And more people taking the proposition seriously. The theory isn’t fading, it’s gaining broader acceptance as time passes and more production data becomes available each month. At least this is what my impression is.

I wonder how this article came to be – and in the NY Times?

Feel free to use any part of what I have dashed off about this article, including my name and the ASPO connection. I agree with you that someone should post a thoughtful reply that is not just some scattered pot-shots back. We have had too much of that on both sides. There are some targets, though, that are tempting right away and tend to contradict the main message. The falling production curve for Kern River being one.

I am only generally informed as to the enhanced recovery business (such as we heard in Boston) and do not feel qualified to offer informed perspective about the subject matter of the article. It would indeed be interesting, and most importantly, truly informative, to hear from folks with significant and recent experience in the area. For example, does 3D imaging really bring a lot of additional recovery? In what situations (heavy oil, primarliy?) does that and other advanced ER really help in ways we have not before seen and how much recovery, not previously expected, can we anticipate? Not just from the few examples cited, but in the major producing nations or even worldwide. Production from the examples cited are unimportant themselves. One implication of this article is that the fields described represent a much larger situation and forecast a much larger recovery potential. A broader survey would be interesting and, I suspect, dispel the notion of the panacea, the take-away message that is the real harm of an article like this.

The article should have at least briefly considered how this technology fits into the broader picture, especially its overall estimated contribution to world oil production in the future, to be journalistically responsible. There may not actually be any such estimates, other than generalities. And how did the self-serving quotes from the Saudi official get in there? They were 90% about the huge reserves the country has, and were tangentially related, at best, with the subject of the article, which was enhanced recovery. I sense a successful Saudi PR effort.

…I hope [the article] stimulates a high-level conversation that is not just a short-term critical shot, much as that is easy and warranted. We have seen some good responses to the CERA article from last Fall. We can do it, but it could be a bit different. My best constructive suggestion: prepare a solid response that is not primarily critical, negative rebuttal, contact Mr Mouawad, and arrange a face to face interview (live video works and is convenient) about the facts of enhanced recovery worldwide that he may then choose to write up and submit to the Times for publication. If it represents a high level discussion, they might just publish it. Could be naive idealism here, but you never know. Nothing like a good story well told and we need to help – always constructively.