Saturday, January 21, 2006

Peak Discovery

Its hard not to see what is happening if you live in Europe where a reasonable fourth estate is still functioning.

Here is the Independent with an important piece from Jeremy Leggett. Leggett, a former Greenpeacer, sees hope in all of this.

This is a pretty long read, but a good one.

What they don't want you to know about the coming oil crisis

Soaring fuel prices, rumours of winter power cuts, panic over the gas supply from Russia, abrupt changes to forecasts of crude output... Is something sinister going on? Yes, says former oil man Jeremy Leggett, and it's time to face the fact that the supplies we so depend on are going to run out

By Jeremy Leggett
Published: 20 January 2006

A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of an acute, civilisation-changing energy crisis. The latest wobble over disruptions to gas supplies from Russia is merely the latest in a series of reminders of how dependent our economies are on growing supplies of oil and gas. On Wednesday, Gazprom's deputy chairman was in London reassuring Britain that there would be no risk of disruption to British gas supplies in the fall-out from the ongoing spat between Russia and Ukraine over pricing. The very next day, temperatures in Moscow broke a 50-year record, plunging to minus 30C. Gas normally exported was diverted to the home front. Supplies to the West fell.

In December, Sir Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI, warned that any shortfall in gas could cause disaster for British industry. The problem, he said, was the likelihood - as forecast by the Met Office - of a particularly cold British winter. This would mean more gas burning in homes and power plants than our liberalised energy market - or its infrastructure - might be able to supply. There aren't enough pipelines from the continent to carry the imported gas that we need now that our North Sea production is dropping. Tankers that are supposed to be bringing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the UK are instead following market forces and going to the US, where gas prices have rocketed even higher than they have here. Meanwhile, not enough gas has been stockpiled, because market forces don't favour that kind of thing in relatively warm years.


Towards the end, Leggett offers this summary of Global Oil Discovery.

1. The biggest oilfields in the world were discovered more than half a century ago, either side of the Second World War.

The big discoveries on the Arabian Peninsula opened with the discovery of the Greater Burgan field in Kuwait in 1938. At that time, it supposedly held 87 billion barrels. The slightly bigger Saudi Arabian Ghawar field, supposedly holding 87.5 billion barrels before extraction started, followed in 1948. These fields, the two biggest in the world, are so big that they dominate the global figures in their years of discovery.

2. The peak of oil discovery was as long ago as 1965.

How many people appreciate this? I invite you to do a bit of personal market research. Line up ten of your better-educated friends. Preface your question to them with a few reminders about how many millions of dollars the oil companies make in daily profit, tell them, if you can, an anecdote or two about the technical wizardry they use, and ask them to imagine how many billions of dollars they must have spent on exploration over the years - both of the companies' own money and of the massive tax-deduction subsidies available to them. Then ask: in what year would you guess the most oil was ever discovered?

3. There were a few more big discovery years in the 1970s, but there have been none since then.

The biggest irregularity on the downside of the global discovery curve involved the discovery of oil in Alaska's giant Prudhoe Bay field, and the North Sea, in the late 1970s. I was a geology student then. I remember the thrill as the giant fields were discovered one after the other. They all had such serious-sounding names. Forties, Brent, Piper. I look back on those days now and I see something of the primeval attractions of the hunt in it. As a junior trainee hunter, I used to listen to the tales of the senior hunters, and how they had found their quarry, quite atremble with admiration. However, what I and the other hunters didn't know was that the days of giant discoveries were more or less over.

4. The last year in which we discovered more oil than we consumed was a quarter of a century ago.

Since then, despite all those generations of eager brainwashed geology students, we have been burning progressively more, and finding progressively less. This is another one to try out on the 10 educated friends.

5. Since then there has been an overall decline.

It's hard to imagine how Peak Production doesn't follow Peak Discovery

The question is when.

Fourty years later.

May be the answer.

Leggett finishes with this.

The good news is that it will be possible to replace oil, gas and coal completely with a plentiful supply of renewable energy, and faster than most people think.

When I began my time in Greenpeace, in 1989, the protestations my colleagues and I made that renewable energy could displace fossil fuels and run the world were ridiculed by energy experts and officialdom as naïve wishful thinking.

Now, more than a decade later, such views can be found in the heart of government, at least in Europe. The Blair Government published a report in 2003 that concluded: "It would be technologically and economically feasible to move to a low carbon-emissions path, and achieve a virtually zero-carbon-energy system in the long term, if we used energy more efficiently and developed and used low-carbon technologies."

Among the low-carbon technologies on offer, the government report placed heavy emphasis on renewable energy and hydrogen, rather than nuclear power. Of solar energy, the report concludes: "[It] alone could meet world energy demand by using less than 1 per cent of land currently used for agriculture."

I agree.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did I dream this or wasn't there a recent report of a vast oil field newly discovered in Canada?

7:30 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

you didn't dream it, they did. These are oil sands of Alberta. They have been around a long time. I have written about them, but these sands require large amounts of natural gas or nuclear energy to free the oil from them.

The net energy produced is very low.
They presently produce 1 million a day. They may be able to go to 2.

we use 84 million a day.

they are not a major discovery.

6:45 AM  

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