Welcome to the ODAC Newsletter, a weekly roundup from the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre at nef dedicated to raising awareness of peak oil.
For anyone watching peak oil this has been a busy week. The Harvard report by Leonardo Maugeri, covered in last week’s newsletter, has been seized upon by those waiting for a chance to consign peak oil to the dustbin of history. In Britain, columnist George Monbiot fell for it hook line and sinker, presenting the report as conclusive proof that peak oil is bunk — evidently without a moment’s critical appraisal.
So does the report stand up to scrutiny, or is this just another cornucopian fantasy based on dodgy numbers and worse analysis? Read on for exclusive commentary from Stephen Sorrell, senior lecturer, and lead author of the UKERC Global Oil Depletion report, and Christophe McGlade, doctoral researcher at the UCL Energy Institute.
Maugeri’s impending oil glut rests on three foundations: 1) high oil prices have unlocked huge amounts of investment which will result in a massive boost in new oil production by 2020, 2) new technology is allowing the industry to tap previously unproducible resources, especially shale oil in the US, and 3) global decline rates of existing wells have been overestimated by more than 50%.
The first two points are swiftly despatched by Dave Summers at The Oil Drum. Summers points out just some of the holes in the projected production figures and includes a demolition of the US shale oil projections.
Less attention has been paid to the decline side of the equation. In their analysis below, Stephen Sorrell and Christophe McGlade show how Maugeri has used decline rates less than half those established by the IEA, UKERC and CERA — which all broadly agree. Maugeri provides no justification for this, and his language suggests some confusion about the distinction between decline and depletion rates. Replacing Maugeri’s decline rate with that of the IEA slashes 2020 capacity from 110.6 mb/d to just over 95mb/d.
That Maugeri has authored such a rose tinted report is not remotely surprising; he has been rubbishing peak oil for many years. He may catch the market mood following the recent slump in the oil price, but the current apparent glut has more to do with weak demand following a record stretch of $100-plus prices (240 days this year against 170 in 2008) than any fundamental change in the supply outlook. Sadly the ability to hoodwink a credulous columnist has given his report far more currency than it deserves.
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Commentary on: Oil: ‘The Next Revolution: The Unprecedented Upsurge of Oil Production Capacity and What it Means for the World’ – Leonardo Maugeri, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
Maugeri’s projections are very sensitive to the assumed rate of decline of production from currently producing fields – and his assumptions appear inconsistent with the available evidence.
A decline rate is a measure of how rapidly the rate of production from a field or group of fields is declining, while a depletion rate is a measure of how rapidly the remaining recoverable resources in a field or region are being produced (see box). To avoid confusion, these concepts need to carefully defined and measured. But instead, Maugeri uses the term depletion rate when he means decline rate and fails to provide adequate definitions.
Both theIEA (2008) and CERA (2008) have estimated decline rates from a globally representative sample of post-peak fields, including the majority of the world’s giant fields. These studies allow ‘global average’ decline rates to be estimated. Maugeri claims that the IEA’s results conflict with CERA’s results, but this is incorrect. As shown in Sorrell et al (2011), the IEA and CERA studies use the same data source (the IHS field by field database) and reach broadly the same conclusions. The IEA estimate the production-weighted decline rate of their sample of post-peak fields to be 5.1%/year, while CERA estimate 5.8% a year. A third and comparable study by Hook et al. finds 5.5%/year. Allowing for minor differences in samples and definitions, these three estimates may be considered consistent.
The above numbers underestimate the global average decline rate for all post-peak fields since the mean size of the sample of fields is greater than that of the global population of fields, and small fields decline faster than large fields. Under the (probably optimistic) assumption that that decline rate for smaller fields is the same as that for the ‘large’ fields in their sample (10.4%/year), the IEA estimate a production-weighted global average decline rate of 6.7%/year for all post-peak fields.
To estimate the global production capacity that is lost each year, it necessary to estimate the production-weighted aggregate decline rate of all fields, including those in build-up and plateau. Using the IEA data, we estimate this figure of ~4.1%/year which is comparable to CERA’s estimate of 4.5%/year. This implies that around 3 mb/d of capacity must be added by new investment each year, simply to maintain global production at current levels.
A critical question for supply forecasting is how global average decline rates may be expected to develop in the period to 2030. Most existing fields will enter decline over this period, with a growing proportion of production from younger, smaller, and offshore fields that tend to have higher rates of post-peak decline. The IEA (2008) anticipates the production-weighted global average decline rate of post-peak fields increasing to 8.5%/year by 2030, leading to an estimated loss of 61% of current capacity by that date.
On page 19, Maugeri states that: “….The IEA projected the world oil average decline rate up to 2030 would increase to over 10% by 2010, while IHS-CERA predicted a 4.5% depletion rate”. But this sentence is ambiguous, two different terms are being used to mean the same thing and it is not clear how decline rates are being defined. The 10% figure appears to refer to the IEA projection for natural decline rates (see box) for post-peak fields in 2030, while the 4.5% figure refers to a CERA estimate of overall decline rate for all fields in 2008. In other words, Maugeri is comparing apples and oranges.
Maugeri does not explicitly state what decline rate assumptions he is using for his study, although he claims (contrary to the above) that there is no evidence for an average decline rate greater than 2-3%. However, Maugeri’s assumptions can be derived from his Table 2, which projects gross and net capacity additions over the period to 2020. Subtracting, column 5 from column 4 in this table suggests a projected loss of 11 mb/d of production capacity between 2012 and 2020, owing to the decline of production from post-peak fields. This translates to an average annual decline rate for all fields of 1.6% over this period, which is less than half of the IEA and CERA estimates for 2008 (4.1%/year and 4.5%/year respectively). The discrepancy is even greater since the IEA and other analysts project an increase in average decline rates over the 2011-20 period.
If we replace Maugeri’s 1.6% decline rate assumption with the IEA estimate of 4.1%, the projected loss of production capacity over the period to 2020 increases from 11 mb/d to 26.5 mb/d. In turn, the projected global production capacity in 2020 reduces from 110.6 mb/d to 95.1mb/d (a reduction of 14%). Since average decline rates would be expected to increase over this period, this projection must be considered optimistic.
The bottom line is that Maugeri has made some very optimistic assumptions about global average decline rates, failed to provide adequate justification for them and misrepresented the estimates made by others. Adopting more realistic estimates would significantly change his results.
The rate of oil production from an oilfield normally rises to a peak or plateau and then declines. The term decline rate refers to the percentage annual reduction in the rate of production (in barrels/day) from an individual field or a group of fields. When measuring the average decline rate for a group of fields, it is important to distinguish between the overall decline rate which refers to all currently producing fields, including those that have yet to pass their peak, and the post-peak decline rate which refers to the subset of fields that are in decline. Some analysts also estimate the natural decline rate, which indicates the rate at which production would decline in the absence of any additional capital investment. When estimating the average decline rate for a group of fields, it is common to weight the decline rate of each field by its contribution to the total production from that group, thereby giving a ‘production weighted decline rate’. The amount of new capacity that needs to be replaced every year to maintain current levels of production is given by the product of the production-weighted overall decline rate for a region and the initial level of production.
The term depletion rate refers to the percentage of recoverable resources (in barrels) in a field or region that are being produced each year. For an individual field, this is defined as the ratio of annual production to some estimate of recoverable resources, where the latter could be proved reserves, proved and probable reserves, the remaining recoverable resources (i.e. allowing for future reserve growth) or the estimated ultimately recoverable resources. Depletion rates can also be estimated at the regional level, although the uncertainty on recoverable resource estimates will necessarily be greater since they must also include undiscovered resources. In all cases, higher estimates of recoverable resources will lead to lower estimates of depletion rates.
Sorrell, S., J. Speirs, R. Bentley, R. Miller and E. Thompson (2012), ‘Shaping the global oil peak: A review of the evidence on field sizes, reserve growth, decline rates and depletion rates‘, Energy, 37 (1), 709-724
IEA World Energy Outlook 2008; International Energy Agency, OECD: Paris, 2008
CERA Finding the Critical Numbers; Cambridge Energy Research Associates: London, 2008
Höök, M.; Hirsch, R. L.; Aleklett, K., Giant oil field decline rates and the influence on world oil production. Energy Policy 2009, 37, 2262-2272
Christophe, McGlade, doctoral researcher at the UCL Energy Institute
The facts have changed, now we must change too. For the past 10 years an unlikely coalition of geologists, oil drillers, bankers, military strategists and environmentalists has been warning that peak oil — the decline of global supplies — is just around the corner. We had some strong reasons for doing so: production had slowed, the price had risen sharply, depletion was widespread and appeared to be escalating. The first of the great resource crunches seemed about to strike.
Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted it to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case…
In the run-up to credit crunch of 2007, whistleblowers were warning that an incumbency, the financial-services sector, had its asset assessment fundamentally wrong. The incumbency poured scorn on this, many of them professing that they had invented a new asset class — mortgage-backed securities and related complex derivatives — that represented an entirely new method of generating wealth.
Today, rather more whistleblowers are saying that another incumbency, the oil and gas sector, has its asset assessment fundamentally wrong. The incumbency pours scorn on this, insisting that they have opened up another new asset class — unconventional oil and gas — and that it represents another unforeseen road to riches. Some go so far as to say that North America is en route to being self-sufficient in hydrocarbons…
Oil fell a second day in New York, trimming a weekly gain, after interest-rate cuts in Europe and China failed to assure investors the moves will be enough to boost economic growth and support demand.
Futures slid as much as 1.6 percent, extending yesterday’s 0.5 percent drop, after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said some “downside risks to the euro-area economic outlook have materialized” as the ECB cut rates to a record low. The People’s Bank of China also reduced borrowing costs. Data today may show the pace of hiring in the U.S. accelerated in June while unemployment was unchanged. London’s Brent crude slipped amid speculation Norway’s government will stop a strike by energy workers…
Iran’s daily oil exports in July could fall below half the average shipped in 2011 before tough new Western sanctions stemmed the flow.
Japan and South Korea, among Iran’s top oil buyers, have halted all Iranian imports this month due to sanctions imposed by Brussels on Sunday that aim to cut Iran’s oil revenues and force Tehran to curb its disputed nuclear program…
Brent crude’s rebound to more than $100 a barrel is “sustainable” given China’s record-high import demand and Saudi Arabia (SABIC)’s reductions in export volumes, according to Mirae Asset Securities.
Escalating geopolitical tensions in Iran following the official start of the European Union embargo on July 1 should add further support for rising oil prices in the third quarter, Gordon Kwan, the Hong Kong-based head of energy research at Mirae Asset Securities, said today in a research note…
The crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant was “a profoundly man-made disaster”, a Japanese parliamentary panel has said in a report.
The disaster “could and should have been foreseen and prevented” and its effects “mitigated by a more effective human response”, it said…
Japan ended two months without nuclear power on Thursday when the No. 3 unit at Kansai Electric Power Co’s Ohi plant became the first reactor to resume supplying electricity to the grid since a nationwide safety shutdown after the Fukushima disaster.
Japan’s last working reactor was idled in early May, leaving the country without nuclear power for the first time since 1970…
When the world’s appalled gaze turned to Japan’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in March last year, few paid much attention to its sister atomic plant, Fukushima Daini, just 10 km south…
The government is under intensifying pressure over its wind energy policy with a lobby group threatening legal action and a key investor warning that a planned £200m facility could be at risk.
Renewable UK, the wind power lobby group, said it would consider a judicial challenge if ministers caved in to Tory backbenchers and implemented a major cut in onshore wind subsidies…
A revolt in the shires against windfarms has begun with Wiltshire council passing a policy that would effectively ban new turbines, following a similar move by Lincolnshire in June. But the move by the Conservative-controlled Wiltshire council was denounced by the Liberal Democrat opposition as a “small-minded political stunt” and by campaigners as an “ambush”.
A new national opinion poll on Tuesday shows support for windfarms has dropped from 75% in 2008 to 58% in June, with opposition doubling to 18% over the same period. In February, 100 Conservative MPs demanded that David Cameron deliver larger cuts in windfarm subsidies, a position reported to be backed by George Osborne’s Treasury…
Wind power firms warn they may take the government to court if they get caught in a political row over subsidies.
After conducting technical studies, the energy department proposed a subsidy cut of 10% for power from onshore wind…
The UK’s nascent geothermal energy industry has today received a major boost after it emerged that one of the UK’s largest energy companies is working on plans to develop five new deep geothermal heat and distribution systems.
Ireland-based geothermal technology specialist GT Energy today revealed that it has inked a memorandum of understanding with energy giant E.ON that will see the two companies jointly develop a range of urban geothermal heat power plants…
The government should ban all food leftovers from landfill by the end of the decade to boost technology which can turn it into energy, a study from thinktank CentreForum suggested on Tuesday.
Councils should be given financial support to help them bring in separate food waste collections for households and businesses to ensure a steady supply of organic waste for anaerobic digestion, a renewable power source…
A facility designed to make the UK a world leader in green chemistry has opened at the University of York.
The Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC) aims to bridge the current gap between laboratories and the chemicals industry, say researchers…
The UK’s £1bn carbon capture and storage (CCS) commercialisation competition closed at midday yesterday after “significant interest from industry”.
Around 15 companies are expected to be in the running for the funding, although the number of prospective bidders has shrunk slightly after Peel Energy last week pulled out of plans to build a new 1,852MW plant at Hunterston in Ayrshire…
The CBI has today launched a major report urging ministers to bolster the government’s support for the green economy, after new research revealed a change in policies could help add £20bn to annual GDP by 2015.
The report sets out 10 key policy recommendations that the CBI maintains would increase investor confidence in the low carbon market over the next decade, including ensuring the £3bn Green Investment Bank can borrow as soon as possible, reforming the carbon taxation regime, and introducing incentives and regulations to help drive green consumer markets…
The government’s environment policy to kickstart a mass overhaul of the UK’s draughty homes to save energy passed the final hurdle to become law on Monday amid growing concern that the scheme has become too costly to succeed.
As the Green Deal secondary legislation was finalised by a committee of MPs, it emerged that the energy secretary, Ed Davey, has indicated that the government is assuming that the loans to home owners to make the improvements will be charged at an interest rate of 7.5% — many times the Bank of England lending rate of half of one percent…