A conference held in Cork, Ireland by the Association for the Study of Peak oil and Gas (ASPO) last week [1] heard representatives from industry forecast that the best data available data pointed to reserves of 250 billion barrels of yet-to-find global conventional oil, and as a result oil production would plateau at less than 100 million barrels per day before 2020.

This was followed up by a range of speakers who stated that current trends in bringing new projects onstream indicate that global oil production would peak on or before 2012, a forecast that coincides with the latest announcement from International Energy Agency that an oil crunch will occur by 2012 [2].

The case for a plateau in global oil production of less than 100M barrels/day before 2020 was put by Ray Leonard, Vice President (Eurasia) of Kuwait Energy Company, who presented a summary of the results from the Hedberg Conference [3]. The Hedberg conference concluded that there were about 250 B barrels of conventional oil yet-to-find, 200 -1000 B barrels will be available from reserves growth, and future production from unconventional oil [4] is unlikely to exceed 6 Mb/d. Taking all these factors into account, Leonard forecast that global oil production will plateau at less than 100 M barrels/ day before 2020. This forecast was reiterated by Mike Rodgers, Senior Partner with the highly respected US-based energy consultancy PFC Energy.

There then followed a series of speakers led by Chris Skrebowski, editor of the London-based Energy Institute’s Petroleum Review [5], who share the previous speakers’ views on reserves, but concluded that global oil production will peak about 2011. Skrebowski presented data from his MegaProjects database [6] that showed oil production from new projects will peak in 2009, then decline such that by 2011-2012, depletion from existing fields will outstrip growth from new fields. Skrebowski stated that it is possible to forecast production capacity from new fields 5-6 years ahead because it takes an average of 6-7 years to take a major oil field from first discovery to first production. While there may be 250B barrels of conventional oil yet-to-be discovered, if any particular field was not already being developed, it was unlikely to be producing before 2013. There are exceptions, but for every field that could be developed in less than six years, there was one that would take longer. A global peak in oil production by 2011 was backed up by James Buckee, CEO of Talisman Energy Inc.

Summarising, Douglas Low, Director of ODAC, said: “The conference speakers from both industry and the Peak Oil community agreed that there were two scenarios for a maximum in global oil production.

The emphasis from the first group of speakers was that based on the best oil reserves data, global oil production would plateau before 2020, at less than 100M barrels / day.

The second group agreed with the reserve figures quoted, but said that due to constraints in implementing new projects such as lack of skilled staff, resource nationalism and oil depletion, global oil production was likely to peak rather than plateau no later than 2011.

Now that this analysis is backed up by the IEA’s recent forecast that we are facing a global supply crunch by 2012, we have to start asking why our governments are not treating the oil supply issue with an increased sense of urgency.”

1. Time to React? The sixth annual conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, 17-18 September, Cork, Ireland.

2. Medium-Term Oil Market Report (MTOMR) – July 2007. omrpublic.iea.org/mtomr.htm. From the Executive Summary: “Despite four years of high oil prices, this report sees increasing market tightness beyond 2010, with OPEC spare capacity declining to minimal levels by 2012… It is possible that the supply crunch could be deferred – but not by much… Indeed, any easing in expected tightness may be even less than this snapshot analysis suggests.”

3. The Hedberg Conference on World Oil reserves, held in Colorado Springs in November 2006, was a gathering of industry and government experts to debate the level of world oil reserves and future production potential. Represented were the six “super major” private firms, the leading national oil firms, such as Aramco, Petronas, Pemex and Petrobras, leading independent oil companies and state organizations and think-tanks. Participants were invited based on expertise and willingness to give a detailed presentation on a significant petroleum province. Press was not invited and presentations were only shared between participants in order to allow a free exchange of information and ideas. The conference was divided into three sections; new reserves to be found through exploration, additions to existing fields and future production from unconventional (tar and oil sands, shale oil) methods.

4. Unconventional oil – Canadian tar sands, Venezuelan heavy oil and USA shales.

5. Chris Skrebowski is also a member of the ODAC Board of Trustees.

6. See Table 1 in: www.odac-info.org/bulletin/documents/MegaProjects_Feb2007.pdf.

7. The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC) is a UK-registered educational charity working to raise international public awareness and promote better understanding of the world’s oil and gas depletion problems. Further information is available at www.odac-info.org/. ODAC is the ASPO branch in the UK and produces two free e-mail newsletters.