Food-But-No-Fuel, Fuel-But-No-Food

April 23, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.
Image RemovedInteresting about the ways climate change will impact Saudi Arabia’s agriculture – already strained pretty much to the limit by inhospitable heat and drought:
The difference between ETo and precipitation indicates that there may be a loss of soil moisture by 0.181 m/year (0.042–0.236 m/year) during the period of 2011 through 2050. Increase in temperature was estimated to be 1.8–4.1 °C, which can increase agricultural water demands by 5–15 % to obtain the current level of agricultural productions. This study anticipates significant reductions in water sources, which can impose further stress on agriculture and drinking water sources. Deterioration of source water quality is also expected.
The fact that many nations can clearly predict that they will not be able to feed their populations is fueling a Global Land-Grab in which expected food-short nations are buying up land in nations with better agricultural production.  This will likely produce new colonialisms, and new international conflicts.  Food insecurity is dangerous for every nation, no matter how rich.
Saudi Arabia will have fuel to trade for a long time to come, as Kurt Cobb rightly points out, since super-giant fields are still the ones that actually matter for world oil production:
  1. The world’s 507 giant oil fields comprise a little over one percent of all oil fields, but produce 60 percent of current world supply (2005). (A giant field is defined as having more than 500 million barrels of ultimately recoverable resources of conventional crude. Heavy oil deposits are not included in the study.)
  2. “[A] majority of the largest giant fields are over 50 years old, and fewer and fewer new giants have been discovered since the decade of the 1960s.” The top 10 fields with their location and the year production began are: Ghawar (Saudi Arabia) 1951, Burgan (Kuwait) 1945, Safaniya (Saudi Arabia) 1957, Rumaila (Iraq) 1955, Bolivar Coastal (Venezuela) 1917, Samotlor (Russia) 1964, Kirkuk (Iraq) 1934, Berri (Saudi Arabia) 1964, Manifa (Saudi Arabia) 1964, and Shaybah (Saudi Arabia) 1998 (discovered 1968). (This list was taken from Fredrik Robelius’s “Giant Oil Fields -The Highway to Oil.”)
  3. The 2009 study focused on 331 giant oil fields from a database previously created for the groundbreaking work of Robelius mentioned above. Of those, 261 or 79 percent are considered past their peak and in decline.
  4. The average annual production decline for those 261 fields has been 6.5 percent. That means, of course, that the number of barrels coming from these fields on average is 6.5 percent less EACH YEAR.
  5. Now, here’s the key insight from the study. An evaluation of giant fields by date of peak shows that new technologies applied to those fields has kept their production higher for longer only to lead to more rapid declines later. As the world’s giant fields continue to age and more start to decline, we can therefore expect the annual decline in their rate of production to worsen. Land-based and offshore giants that went into decline in the last decade showed annual production declines on average above 10 percent.
  6. What this means is that it will become progressively more difficult for new discoveries to replace declining production from existing giants. And, though I may sound like a broken record, it is important to remind readers that the world remains on a bumpy production plateau for crude oil including lease condensate (which is the definition of oil), a plateau which began in 2005.


Many of the fuel-rich but food insecure nations recognize that their own political stability depends on ensuring a food supply for their people – and that they haven’t always done very well at it.  It only gets harder now with world food prices predicted to rise dramatically due to climate change, high energy prices and population growth. 

Saudi flag as water drop via shutterstock. Reproduced at with permission.

Sharon Astyk

Sharon Astyk is a Science Writer, Farmer, Parent of Many, writing about our weird life right now. She is the author of four books: Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front, which explores the impact that energy depletion, climate change and our financial instability are likely to have on our future, and what we can do about it. Depletion and Abundance won a Bronze Medal at... Read more.

Tags: climate change, Food, peak oil, Water Supplies