January 7, 2011

International Oil Projections Falling

As noted earlier, the International Energy Agency saw oil production rising from 85 million barrels of oil per day in 2006 to 116 mbd by 2030 in its 2006 report. The IEA subsequently reduced its projections to 106 mbd by 2030 in its 2008 World Energy Outlook. Its latest report, in 2010, sees oil production rising to only 96 mbd in 2035 under its "New Policies" scenario.

Undoubtedly, the "peak oil" argument has made a substantial impact in the IEA's thinking, as the following graph makes clear:

The sharply declining slope showing production from current fields is pretty remarkable. The next big category (crude oil from fields yet to be developed or found) is, shall we say, unclear on which is more important--the "yet to be developed" or the "yet to be found." In any case, the IEA expects the most incremental production to come from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Brazil, and Kazakhstan (but with the majority from OPEC members):

Unfortunately, the IEA does not define in its Executive Summary precisely what its assumptions are regarding these "New Policies," though they undoubtedly include substantial tax increases on carbon production (either directly, or indirectly via "cap and trade" schemes). Nor is it clear how the agency arrived at its very large estimates for an increase in Saudi production, though its analysis assuredly involves a total rejection of Matt Simmon's projections in Twilight in the Desert (where Simmons predicted a sharp fall-of in Saudi production).

The projections of world oil production of the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the U.S. government, are, not untypically, more optimistic than those of the IEA, though it too has been affected by the peak oil argument. Whereas the IEA sees 2035 world oil production at 96 mbd, the EIA puts it at over 110 mbd. Its projections, however, have fallen dramatically from a decade ago; the dramatic difference between 2001 and 2010 projections shows that the peak oil hypothesis has not been without its effects--estimates for 2015 (at 92 mbd) are, in 2010, 30 mmbd less than they were in 2001 (122mbd). A decade ago, most projections were based on the assumption that demand would create its own supply, whereas supply-side constraints now loom much larger.

The projections of world oil supply from Cambridge Energy Research Associates (headed by Daniel Yergin) are close to those of the EIA. In its latest publicly available report of November 2009, written by Peter Jackson, CERA argues the following:  
■Supply evolution through 2030 is not a question of resource availability.

■IHS CERA projects growth of productive capacity through 2030, with no peak evident.

■There is no unique picture of the course of future of supply: we are dealing with a complex, multicomponent system.

■Aboveground drivers—economics, costs, service sector capability, geopolitics, the timing and nature of government decision making, and, centrally of course, investment—are crucial to future supply availability.

■Market dynamics will remain highly volatile.

■The upstream oil industry faces major challenges in finding new oil and turning discoveries into commercial production.
It sees an "undulating plateau" rather than "peak oil" as the likely future.

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