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John_Gaunt

Peak Oil / Oil Reserves

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There's been so much news on oil and gas since this topic last came up. We've seen Canadian oil-sands being exploited, followed by a huge boom in North Dakota. Today, NPR reported on estimates that the U.S. oil-imports will actually drop between now and 2035, even taking into account all the growth in population and usage. Already U.S. dependence on imported oil is dropping significantly (in relative terms).

Now, better still, there are finds in China and in Argentina. While the U.S. delayed exploitation, and Obama recently delayed the new Keystone-XL Canadian pipe-line, it's a good guess that China won't dilly-dally. So, hopefully, the next decade will see them exploit their shale too. I suspect we will see more such exploitable finds as more people across the world look anew.

More wealth for the world!

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the myth of "peak oil" as all that it is is a myth.

It's totally unscientific to claim that fossil fuels will never run out...

As a geologist it concerns me that humanity is currently so reliant on a resource which will eventually run out, regardless of when it happens. To look the other way and not think about the obvious geological facts is anti-scientific.

I emplore people to support research and development of nuclear and renewable energy purely to ensure that humanity can continue to prosper in the long-term. There is an anti-environmental dogma within many fossil-fuel supporters that denies the obvious truth that they will eventually run out, and I fear that if fossil fuel reserves become appreciably depleted within the next century, pure market forces will not be adequate to innovate a transition to long-term energy sources and a path of long-term prosperity. But hopefully there are enough true innovators out there who are supporting energy R&D and will have the answers for us when we eventually need them.

I hope that in my line of work I'm contributing to this!

Edited by Tabernac

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It's totally unscientific to claim that fossil fuels will never run out...
Sure, but then even the sun will run out. So, if we take the strict meaning, there's no point talking about what will never happen. What's really important is: what is the outlook over the next few decades, and some feel for what could happen across a century.
  • Look at the history:100 years ago we were using crude for heat and lighting, for which cheap and clean alternatives have been around for a while. If crude were to rise in price, these alternatives become more economical. Nothing special needs to be done in this area if the free-market is allowed to do what it does best.
  • Every decade has seen more consumption of crude. Yet, every decade has left us with more, not less, proven reserves.
  • Today's reserves are estimated to last over 60 years at today's rates of production/consumption
  • As a geologist you know that reserves are not a function of material presence alone. Rather it is also a function of economics. If we allow for high-cost and look at what is technically feasible at (say) twice or three-times today's costs, there is far more oil that can be got from less traditional sources. If this can only be economical if oil goes to $200 / barrel, what of it? At that price, the U.S. will pay just about what other countries pay today, with their exorbitant taxes. With the correct political will, we can probably see will over 100 years of reserves if consumption really continues to grow
  • The number of road-miles driven in the U.S. has been dropping for the last few years. While this happens, cars are becoming more efficient. At a certain price-point ($/gallon), cars like the Volt become economical, and would save a whole lot of gas. U.S. car-buyers are sensitive to gas-prices. If oil-prices show signs of being up durably over years, car-buyers will adjust and just a single decade can see a significant reduction in gas consumption for cars. At the right price-point, trucks could switch to natural gas, as new trucks are phased in. It's really a simple "problem".
  • Geologists like you are essential to this process. More power to you. Discover a few more places like the Bakken
  • As for supporting nuclear and other sources, there is no need for anyone to go out of their way to support such things. For instance, nobody needs to "support" an alternative to the I-phone. If gas actually starts to become short, it will rise in price, and alternatives will become competitive. That's how the market directs money to substitute technology. The other source of support ought to be investors who think they can make substitutes that are cheaper than oil

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Thanks for the reply!

  • Geologists like you are essential to this process. More power to you. Discover a few more places like the Bakken

Oh I know, I'm not complaining there! Either way, I win.

  • As for supporting nuclear and other sources, there is no need for anyone to go out of their way to support such things. For instance, nobody needs to "support" an alternative to the I-phone. If gas actually starts to become short, it will rise in price, and alternatives will become competitive. That's how the market directs money to substitute technology. The other source of support ought to be investors who think they can make substitutes that are cheaper than oil

I get your points that technological efficiency etc has improved greatly. I just consider it to be a bit of an article of faith that the market will always have the solution (maybe I'm wrong of course) - can it act quickly enough to avoid unpleasant transitions?

Also a problem I have with fossil fuel exploitation, as a scientist, is that it strikes me as a huge exercise in thinking inside the box - sure, we can increase the efficiency of fossil fuel collection and usage, but it's still just ploughing along the same old track - not blazing a new path. My mind craves for true innovation - new energy sources, new applications for other energy sources etc. Although it's not like no one is working towards such things, I guess.

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I get your points that technological efficiency etc has improved greatly. I just consider it to be a bit of an article of faith that the market will always have the solution (maybe I'm wrong of course) ...
Aren't you shifting the onus of proof here? To make your case, shouldn't you do one of the following: either, point to a historical case that demonstrates that doubt or fear is legitimate; or, sketch out a hypothetical scenario where it would be so.

For instance, we could ask: what if a war in the middle east disrupts oil-supplies? what if China does not have a hard-landing, but instead quadruples consumption in the next decade? and so on. One could take a hypothetical like that and then work out what might happen. One might even conclude that some government policy is required. For instance, I often wonder about Western Europe's reliance on gas that is under Russian control, and whether those governments have policies in place that can deal with possible Russian pressure.

Human beings are worrying animals: it's what we do (though we don't do it all the time) ;) Some say it comes from the point in our evolution where we always had to look over our shoulder for predators; but, perhaps it's just an essential component of long-term thinking and rational planning. It is fine to use fear and doubt as a starting point, but we ought not accept it arbitrarily. I'm sure you'll agree that it should be based on something. Otherwise, we instead of hope as "an article of faith" we end up with fear as "an article of faith".

If I draw out one scenario, here's what I get: looking forward (say) one or two decades, crude oil production is (say) up 50% but potential demand at today's prices is up 100%. Since demand has to equal supply, the price has to rise. If demand and supply today are D and S, then D=S at today's equilibrium-price. In the future scenario, we have 1.5S and 2D. So, the price has to rise to bring demand to 1.5D. In other words, the price has to rise so that the marginal 25% is lopped off (compared to what it potentially would be if prices did not change). So, given something concrete like this, what exactly is the worry? What do you think will or will not happen?

Also a problem I have with fossil fuel exploitation, as a scientist, is that it strikes me as a huge exercise in thinking inside the box...
I don't think any consumer is really committed to fossil-fuel. It is merely a means to an end. Consumers who want to keep the government out of regulating fossil-fuels do not base this on some intrinsic love of fossil fuels. If you can come up with a little nuclear plant that makes my car do what it does today, my questions would be: how does it perform? what does it cost? etc. People used steam vehicles once and if someone can make a new steam-powered vehicle that's competitive with gasoline engines, why wouldn't people switch?

A popular meme is that Detroit killed the electric car. To demonstrate this, someone shows how such a car was technically feasible. However, that misses the point: it was not competitive. Even today, the Volt is not competitive with other cars in its size, for many consumers' usage patterns. What killed the electric car is the abundance of fossil fuel at cheap prices. If prices were to rise, what would stop people from switching to things like the Volt?

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If I draw out one scenario, here's what I get: looking forward (say) one or two decades, crude oil production is (say) up 50% but potential demand at today's prices is up 100%. Since demand has to equal supply, the price has to rise. If demand and supply today are D and S, then D=S at today's equilibrium-price. In the future scenario, we have 1.5S and 2D. So, the price has to rise to bring demand to 1.5D. In other words, the price has to rise so that the marginal 25% is lopped off (compared to what it potentially would be if prices did not change). So, given something concrete like this, what exactly is the worry? What do you think will or will not happen?

Interesting points - but my concern is with the way the market is simplified to mathematical fundamentals - and yet it is clearly more complex than that, and includes all sorts of human actions and emotions. For example: if there was a resource that humanity depended on for a huge number of uses, which was being exploited by a company or group of companies, and this resource was fast approaching depletion - who knows how the heads of the companies would act? Even if they're aware of the state of the resource, who's to say they wouldn't continue with exploitation until the resource was totally depleted, to serve their own self-interest and continue their own profit-making until the last minute, without telling wider society the facts regarding the state of the resource. In doing so they would enrich themselves but the final depletion would cause large-scale inconveniences to huge numbers of people. And by "inconveniences" I mean not just price rises but significant degradation to the functionality of infrastructure, transport etc.

Is this a scenario that should actively be avoided, or is it just something people would have to adapt to if it happens? You could say that in disrupting their energy supply service the companies have violated rights or contracts, but legal protection might not be of much practical use in such a situation of breakdown.

Perhaps it's an irrational fear, but it's still a possible scenario.

I don't think any consumer is really committed to fossil-fuel. It is merely a means to an end. Consumers who want to keep the government out of regulating fossil-fuels do not base this on some intrinsic love of fossil fuels. If you can come up with a little nuclear plant that makes my car do what it does today, my questions would be: how does it perform? what does it cost? etc. People used steam vehicles once and if someone can make a new steam-powered vehicle that's competitive with gasoline engines, why wouldn't people switch?

A popular meme is that Detroit killed the electric car. To demonstrate this, someone shows how such a car was technically feasible. However, that misses the point: it was not competitive. Even today, the Volt is not competitive with other cars in its size, for many consumers' usage patterns. What killed the electric car is the abundance of fossil fuel at cheap prices. If prices were to rise, what would stop people from switching to things like the Volt?

Oh I know that - fossil fuels aren't really the object of anyone's desires themselves (except to us geologists!) and alternatives may one day become economical. I just hope that should a major switch ever become economically necessary, there is enough time for the massive technological changeover to occur without disruption to human endeavours.

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Interesting points - but my concern is with the way the market is simplified to mathematical fundamentals...
Not sure what you mean. Some schools of modern economics spend too much time on math. Most good explanations of fundamental principles of economics use almost no math at all.

...if there was a resource that humanity depended on for a huge number of uses, ...
I can't imagine that there would be such a resource and yet people would not have a set of opinions about its availability.

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In a 2006 post in this topic, I quoted from a source that showed how oil-reserves have increased despite all the fears. Every decade we use more oil, and we're left with more reserves! here are the figures from the previous post, updated with the 2011 estimate (from Wikipedia):

1980: 645 bbl

1985: 700 bbl

1990: 1,002bbl

1995: 999 bbl

2000: 1,016 bbl

2005: 1,277 bbl (mainly from the addition of Canadian "sands-oil")

2006: 1,293

2011: 1,482

Oil from shale and sands is almost old news now, with the boom in Alberta and North Dakota.

It is also old news that there's a natural gas boom going on in the U.S., driving down prices. There's another source for gas that is largely untapped: gas-hydrates. It is estimated to be larger than fossil sources.

Today, some folk in Japan said they have made a breakthrough in tapping gas hydrates. It could be many years before this comes to fruition, but this is good news. Barring interference by environmentalists, we can expect a future of cheap energy. (And, while the enviros have slowed down the Keystone pipeline, it will happen in the end.)

Edited by softwareNerd

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The U.S. has now crossed Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil-producer. Ofcourse, the relative position is not so important, but this comes from an increase in U.S. production. The U.S. had high production in the 1970s and 1980's, but that fell off. Now, its back to its hey day and crossing it, going to new highs.

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On 4/6/2004 at 1:24 AM, DavidV said:

The deeper answer is that the human mind is the ultimate resource -- and it's one we'll never run out of, as long as men are free.

Quoted for being insightful, 12 years later.

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Checking back a few years later to see what has happened. The previous post said 2011 reserves were about 1500 bbl. Now, 2016, they're about 1600 bbl
A recent article in Bloomberg talks about how "proven reserves" have dropped, Not because we've used them, but because the price of oil has fallen, and because companies are saying they'll take a longer time to extract the oil. 

Here's the price of oil (WTI, i.e. a US-focus). The world didn't end when prices were over $100 a barrel. Indeed, given the huge taxes in Europe, I'd expect that the US could cope with $200-250 a barrel with a few years of adjustment. Of course, a price like that will increase the amount of proven reserves! 

oil_prices.png

Edited by softwareNerd

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