A look back at North Sea oil production projections
(Note: Commentaries do not necessarily represent the ASPO-USA position.)
In 1999, I wrote a paper concerning the production decline of North Sea oil fields and made projections for the future of Norwegian and United Kingdom (U.K.) oil production (crude + condensate). For comparison purposes, I compared my projections with those by the U.S. Department of Energy/Energy Information Administration (US DOE/EIA). Table I is from that paper.
Figures 1 and 2 are graphs of historic (through 1998) and projected (after 1998) production for Norway and the U.K. based upon my projections.
Figures 3 and 4 are graphs of historic (through 1998) and projected (after 1998) production for Norway and the U.K. based upon projections by the US DOE/EIA.
How did the US DOE/EIA and I do in our projections of Norwegian and U.K. oil production for 2010? Table II shows the comparison.
Why did the US DOE/EIA do such a poor job at projecting future Norwegian and U.K. oil production?
It’s obvious that it did not base its projections on actual field production data. It appears that its objective was to be optimistic rather than realistic.
By the late 1990s it was clear that most of the large (+50,000 b/d) oil fields in both Norway and the U.K. that had been in production for more than 4 years were in decline with decline rates of typically 10%/year or higher. There were also a limited number of large fields scheduled to come on-line after 1999 in both countries that could negate the rapid decline of the older fields. It should have been obvious that the peak production years wouldn’t occur as late as, and that the decline rates would be higher than, the US DOE/EIA was projecting.
The poor performance of the US DOE/EIA in Norway and the U.K. suggests that its projections for other regions, as well as globally, should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism.
An example of the optimism that still permeates the US DOE/EIA is exemplified in its Annual Energy Outlook 2010 (AEO2010). The AEO2010 projects that Lower 48-Offshore oil production will increase from 1.67 mb/d in 2010 to 2.36 mb/d in 2035. For the projection in 2035 to be valid, the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM) would have to produce at least 1.4 mb/d in 2035. I see no possibility that the deepwater GOM will produce anything remotely close to 1.4 mb/d in 2035.
Even prior to the restrictions placed on U.S. offshore oil exploration due to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, I was making the case that deepwater GOM oil production would peak around 2010 (see Drill baby drill-a reality check) and I stand by that prediction.
Seven +50,000 b/d fields were brought on-line in the deepwater GOM during 2007-2010 with a summed peak projected production of ~900,000 b/d. That led to a substantial increase in deepwater production for 2009 and 2010. Just as in the case of North Sea oil production, there are a limited number of large fields to bring on-line in a timely manner to negate the decline of the older deepwater fields. Only 2 significant fields are expected to come on-line during 2011-2013 with a summed peak projected production of 90,000 b/d.
If, as I expect, yearly deepwater GOM oil production starts declining in the near future*, I expect to hear that the decline was due to drilling restrictions. That sounds good but production over the next 4-5 years will depend on production projects that had started by the time of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, not on wildcat drilling.
The media, public, and politicians like the optimistic projections by the US DOE/EIA, US Geological Survey** (on-shore), and Minerals Management Service (off-shore), but that optimism doesn’t mean their projections and assessments are accurate.
*Looking at 6-month increments for total GOM oil production, production reached its highest level in the second half of 2009 at 1.73 mb/d. In the first half of 2010 it was down to 1.63 mb/d and for the first 4 months of the second half it was down to 1.59 mb/d suggesting that deepwater GOM production may have peaked although yearly production in 2010 should be higher than in 2009.
**In 2010 the USGS had to downgrade its assessed volume of technically recoverable oil in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to about 1/10 of its previous estimate
Roger Blanchard teaches chemistry at Lake Superior State University and authored the book, The Future of Global Oil Production: Facts, Figures, Trends and Projections by Region, McFarland & Company, 2005. He also grows fruit trees and hay on acreage outside Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
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