When is the planet going to run out of oil? ~ NanoThoughts 1.0

Monday, February 07, 2005

When is the planet going to run out of oil?

Ask Yahoo gets into the peak oil debate. Lots of nice links too: When is the planet going to run out of oil?


Jody said...

For a less pessimistic take, here's an article in opinion journal.

Rog said...

That article has a lot of dollar signs in it, but no mention of joules or BTUs, so it really misses the whole point. This is really a scientific issues, not a money-making one. The laws of thermodynamics will always trump the "laws" of economics.

(I'll post a more detailed critique later.)

Jody said...

The economics aspect is important as the level of oil reserves is dependent on what can be economically extracted.

For instance, Canada's massive sand oil fields are not counted in this listing.

That's the same link as used in your original article. Note what is written at the bottom of the table:

"Figures for Russia are “explored reserves,” which are understood to be proved plus some probable. All other figures are proved reserves recoverable with present technology and prices."

The 3.5 trillion barrels of known sand/clay oil in Alberta and Venezuela are more than all of the official world's reserves combined but are not listed because of the cost of recovering the oil is greater than the price the Saudis could cause oil to drop to.

If the cheap Saudi oil runs out, then the price of oil will go up (and stay up), but we'll still have hundreds of years of the more expensive sand oil to run on (which would actually be cheaper than the current price of oil).

Rog said...

Yeah, what I meant to do was to frame the debate in thermodynamic and ecological terms. In this way, we can come up with an "ideal" amount of oil to be used human beings. First, we can look at the total amount of oil, crude, tar sands etc. Most agree that this is more or less finite. (I believe that it is replenished by methanogens, but the amount replenished by them is inconsequential.) Ok, so we have a finite amount of oil. Now some of this oil is going to be thermodynamically infeasible to produce(i.e. pump out of the ground), so this will reduce our ceiling, but this ceiling is pretty much the most oil we will ever get out of the ground.

Geologists and economists already have terms for all this, proven/d reserves, recoverable reserves, etc. and the economists deal with the ceiling imposed by economic constraints, as they should. However, a lot of times they want to have their cake and eat it too. e.g. they claim "we have 100 years left at present consumption levels" and at the same time they talk about how recovery/exploration costs will go down in the future because of new technologies. This doesn't really jive. We have 2% increase in demand every year. The world is not going into a steady state demand for oil in Feb. 2005. When you factor in the 2% increase, those 100 or more years get considerably shorter.

Cheap oil. This also isn't about when the world "runs out" of oil. I believe it won't run out of oil for a very long time, what's more interesting to look at is when production peaks. e.g. in 1970 the United States peaked as an oil producer and because of rising demand had to become an net oil importer. When the world peaks, oil will no longer be cheap AND there will be a net energy (and matter) shortfall where previously there was none. This is what will cause some changes. One thing that is glossed over in regards to tar sands is that their energy return on energy invested is very low when compared to say light sweet crude oil. This means, you get less net energy out of barrel of oil derived from tar sand that you get from a barrel of oil pumped out of Ghawar. Also, I wonder (don't know anything about) the rates of productions of the Athabasca and Orinoco belts. (Btw, the US has a huge tar sand field near where Wyoming, Colorado and Utah meet called the Green River formation.)

If we can get all the oil out of those 3.5 trillion barrels in Venezuela and Canada in a timely and efficient manner, then that's great, but right now only about 1/5 of it is recoverable by current technological means.

I'll probably post about this again soon.

Solid Neon said...

EROEI aside, there's also the problem, in the case of oil sands like the Athabascan fields, of massive environmental problems and water requirements necessary to extract that oil.

One funny thing to me is how this is also a case where individuals can make a difference bia certain methods(using biodiesel via fast food oil waste), but said methods prevent a true large-scale implementation.