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Article in Nature: "Oil's tipping point has passed"

The prominent scientific journal Nature has just published an article that supports what we in the peak oil world have been saying for years.

James Murray of the University of Washington and David King of the University of Oxford say that global oil production peaked in 2005 at about 75 million barrels a day.

The "supply of cheap oil has plateaued," said King. "The geologists know where the source rocks are and where the trap structures are," according to Murray. "If there was a prospect for a new giant oil field, I think it would have been found."

(Excerpts from news articles about the article.)

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage.


Oil Supply as a Strategic Risk

Justin Gillis, Green (blog), New York Time
... In an opinion piece released on Wednesday by the journal Nature, James Murray of the University of Washington and David King of the University of Oxford point out that global oil production appeared to hit a cap of about 75 million barrels a day in 2005. Since then, they note, small supply bumps have caused big price gyrations, yet even when prices spike above $100 a barrel, supply appears incapable of rising to meet the demand.

The professors make only a glancing mention of the term “peak oil,” a widely promoted and widely attacked concept, but their argument resembles some of the less feverish versions of the peak oil case.

They essentially argue that oil supply now represents a large strategic risk to global economic growth, and that smart governments ought to be developing comprehensive plans and pushing hard to move their citizens into more efficient cars, onto public transit and so forth – a greener energy path that would also be good for the climate.

Variations of the oil-peaked-in-2005 argument have been made by others, but rarely in the pages of Nature, the world’s most august scientific journal. ...

The required energy transformation “will take decades, so we must begin as soon as possible,” the professors write. “Emphasizing the short-term economic imperative from oil prices must be enough to push governments into action now.”
(25 January 2012)



Has Petroleum Production Peaked, Ending the Era of Easy Oil?

David Biello, Scientific American
... the world is now living off an oil plateau—roughly 75 million barrels of oil produced each and every day—since at least 2005, according to a new comment published in Nature on January 26.

... given the locations of the remaining oil, getting the next trillion is likely to cost a lot more than the previous trillion. The "supply of cheap oil has plateaued," argues chemist David King, director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford and former chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government.

... Nor do King and his co-author, oceanographer James Murray of the University of Washington in Seattle, hold out much hope for future discoveries. "The geologists know where the source rocks are and where the trap structures are," Murray notes. "If there was a prospect for a new giant oil field, I think it would have been found."

King and Murray based their conclusion on an analysis of oil data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

... An easy-oil plateau is not good news for the climate, either. Harder to extract oil means increased burning of dirtier oil like that from the tar sands—or even dirtier coal. In fact, there are trillions more barrels of carbon-intensive fuel out there in the form of huge coal fields, such as the one currently being brought into production in Mongolia. "There will still be enough CO2 produced to result in significant climate warming," Murray notes.

Even with large supplies of coal and natural gas, the world faces a potential energy shortfall, one reason that the U.S. Department of Energy suggested in a 2005 report (pdf) [the Hirsch Report] that a "crash program" to cope with any decline in oil supplies be instituted.
(25 January 2012)
The article refers to the Hirsch Report, one of the ground-breaking pieces on peak oil. The Department of Energy (DOE) apparently suppressed it at first, so that websites like Energy Bulletin were the first publications to make note of it. Now it the report is on a DOE website -- how times have changed! -BA


We've hit "peak oil"; now comes permanent price volatility

John Timmer, Ars Technica
... The strongest argument against this being a real peak is the increasing volume of petroleum reserves reported by many countries. Even assuming those estimates were reliable (which the authors aren't entirely certain about), these reserves have clearly not enabled increased production. In the US, for example, production as a percentage of total reserves has dropped from nine percent to six percent over the last three decades.

"We are not running out of oil," the authors argue, "but we are running out of oil that can be produced easily and cheaply." This creates significant delays before any of the new reserves can be tapped, and it limits the amount of oil that can be economically extracted from them.

Non-conventional sources like oil sands have the potential to contribute to the global supply but, so far at least, they haven't managed to do so; current production estimates indicate that they won't any time soon.

The struggle to mobilize supplies has taken place against a backdrop of falling production and rising demand. Most established sources of oil are seeing declines in the area of five percent annually. Given that decline, it will be extremely difficult to meet demands projected for 2030—in fact, we'd have to add the equivalent of our total current production. In a fit of understatement, the authors deem this "very unlikely to happen."

... Unfortunately, since most governments are unwilling to admit the prospect of indefinite economic stagnation due to our reliance on fossil fuels, they've been unable to generate the political will to even begin these efforts. Murray and King clearly hope their commentary will help get the ball rolling.
(25 January 2012)




Climate policy: Oil's tipping point has passed

James Murray & David King, Nature

The economic pain of a flattening supply will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels, say James Murray and David King. (Comment)

Nature 481, 433–435
(26 January 2012 issue)
doi:10.1038/481433a

(25 January 2012)
The article is behind a paywall.

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