Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Oil Fields

One of the most common responses from someone hearing about the concept of peak oil is to point to some new exciting oil field and say look, we are still finding all this oil! How can oil production have peaked when there is this huge field in Cuba, or this other huge field in Brazil.

The answer to that question can be easily seen by looking at the History of the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field in northern Alaska. This field is the largest ever discovered in the United States, originally containing 25 billion barrels of oil. It is twice the size of the second largest oil field in America, the East Texas Oil Field. What makes this oil field particularly relevant to the question of peak oil is the year it was discovered, 1968. Just two years before the United States hit its peak production. Someone in 1968 could be forgiven for reading the news that huge amounts of oil had just been discovered in Alaska and concluding that American oil production could increase forever.

What happened however was quite different. We hit peak oil in 1970, and production coming online in Alaska in 1977 was just running to try to stay in place. If you notice in the graph from yesterday, U.S. oil production did increase a couple of years after 1970 as a result of this oil field. It did not however prove to be enough to stop the forty year long decline in production we have had. We never again reached 1970 production levels.

There could even be news about finding a new field the size of Ghawar, containing 170 billion barrels of oil in the next few years. At a rate of world consumption of around 20 billion barrels a day it would only delay peak oil a couple of years, and might not even do that.

The only real plausible situation for us not being at world peak would come from middle eastern countries containing a lot more oil than we think. The rest of the world has been pretty well explored, but countries like Saudi Arabia have been so secretive that some hold out hope that there can be enough oil to delay the inevitable. Perhaps they could be proven right, but I am not betting on it. I can't see them sitting idly on such resources all this time.

No comments: