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Coal and oil: the dark monarchs of global energy (student thesis)

Mikael Höök spiking his thesis on coal and oilMikael Höök spiking his thesis on coal and oil

Remarks by Kjell Aleklett: My student Mikael Höök has now made his thesis public by using a nail and hammer and this ”nailing” is an old tradition at Uppsala University, Sweden. The thesis "Coal and Oil: The Dark Monarchs of Global Energy: Understanding Supply and Extraction Patterns and their Importance for Future Production” can be downloaded from Uppsala University (go to download). You can read the articles in the thesis by downloading the “Authors version“ of the listed publications.

The public defense of the thesis will be on September 24th at 9 AM at Ångström Laboratory, Uppsala. This is the third thesis about Peak Oil related subjects from Uppsala Global Energy Systems.

Mikael Höök is also secretary of ASPO International.

Abstract:

The formation of modern society has been dominated by coal and oil, and together these two fossil fuels account for nearly two thirds of all primary energy used by mankind. This makes future production a key question for future social development and this thesis attempts to answer whether it is possible to rely on an assumption of ever increasing production of coal and oil. Both coal and oil are finite resources, created over long time scales by geological processes. It is thus impossible to extract more fossil fuels than geologically available. In other words, there are limits to growth imposed by nature.

The concept of depletion and exhaustion of recoverable resources is a fundamental question for the future extraction of coal and oil. Historical experience shows that peaking is a well established phenomenon in production of various natural resources. Coal and oil are no exceptions, and historical data shows that easily exploitable resources are exhausted while more challenging deposits are left for the future.

For oil, depletion can also be tied directly to the physical laws governing fluid flows in reservoirs. Understanding and predicting behaviour of individual fields, in particularly giant fields, are essential for understanding future production. Based on comprehensive databases with reserve and production data for hundreds of oilfields, typical patterns were found. Alternatively, depletion can manifest itself indirectly through various mechanisms. This has been studied for coal.

Over 60% of the global crude oil production is derived from only around 330 giant oilfields, where many of them are becoming increasingly mature. The annual decline in existing oil production has been determined to be around 6% and it is unrealistic that this will be offset by new field developments, additional discoveries or unconventional oil. This implies that the peak of the oil age is here.

For coal a similar picture emerges, where 90% of the global coal production originates from only 6 countries. Some of them, such as the USA show signs of increasing maturity and exhaustion of the recoverable amounts. However, there is a greater uncertainty about the recoverable reserves and coal production may yield a global maximum somewhere between 2030 and 2060.

This analysis shows that the global production peaks of both oil and coal can be expected comparatively soon. This has significant consequences for the global energy supply and society, economy and environment. The results of this thesis indicate that these challenges should not be taken lightly.

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