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The Limits on Global Oil Production

The Coming Oil Crisis

Podcast: The Arrival of Peak Oil

The growth of the global economy in the last one hundred years has been largely fueled by the use of non-renewable sources of energy, principally petroleum. The development of oil reserves and natural gas fields has proceeded at a steady pace, aside from relatively minor problems associated with Middle Eastern wars and the OPEC price rises of the 1970s. Oil supplies about 95 percent of all transportation fuels and 40 percent of the world’s commercial energy. It also provides feedstock for thousands of manufactured products and is critical for food production (International Workshop on Oil Depletion
Institut Français du Pétrole, Paris, France
May 26-27, 2003).

It has been understood for many years that this non-renewable source of energy would at some stage run out, but "not yet". The United States Geological Survey in 1993 reported a range of 2.1 to 2.8 trillion (1012) barrels for worldwide recoverable reserves of conventional oil. See International Energy Agency statement in their Report to the G8 Energy Ministers' Meeting 31 March - 1 April 1998 meeting in Moscow.

The Club of Rome addressed the issues of sustainable development in the 1960s, but their findings have been largely forgotten. Concerns about energy have been seen largely as the ill-informed opinions of organizations like Green Peace and Friends of the Earth; the great unwashed, who stand in the way of global capitalism. Europe has recently seen a massive boom in low-cost air travel enabled by inexpensive and untaxed aviation fuel - our grandchildren will look back in total disbelief.

However the peak in global oil production will occur at some time within the next fifty years and the IEA states that "It indicates that a peaking of conventional oil production could occur between years 2010 and 2020, depending on assumptions for the level of reserves. Oil production outside OPEC Middle East would peak before OPEC Middle East production implying a greater reliance on OPEC Middle East supply between the two peaks. A plateau in oil production for OPEC Middle East of 47.9 mbd has been assumed, rather than a sharp peak, following an IEA study."

What is left

C J Campbell told a House of Commons All-Party Committee
on July 7th 1999
that, "The bottom line is that there is a round one trillion barrels left to produce.
It is most unevenly distributed with about half lying in just five Middle East countries, due to that region’s unique geology, including particularly the widespread occurrence of salt which seals the reservoirs, preventing the escape of oil." There are few reserves left in N America.

Campbell said: "I will now explain what I think is a reasonable scenario:

  1. Oil demand will grow at 1.5% a year – slightly below the IEA estimate of 1.8% – until Swing Share reaches about 35% in 2001.
  2. The Middle East countries will then have the confidence to impose much higher prices, realizing that they have no competition. They may even get such confidence sooner."

The plateau has to come to an end by around 2008 when Swing Share will have passed 50% and the Swing countries in the Middle East will be approaching their depletion midpoint too. Production will then start its inevitable long term decline at about 3% a year. Increasing shortages will develop, and agriculture and transport will be seriously affected. The global market will come to an end because of high transport costs.

That is a scenario. There are of course many alternatives, but the range of possibility is limited given the resource constraints. These constraints are facts not scenarios. If by some miracle we could add 500 Gb of reserves – more than half as much as produced so far – it would delay peak by only ten years.

One indisputable fact stands out. Discovery peaked 30 years ago. It takes no feat of intellect to conclude that we now face the corresponding peak of production."

Al Bartlett, a physics professor emeritus at the University of Colorado (Boulder, CO), adjusts his peaking projection based on the amount of EUR oil. Bartlett states that the peak could occur in 2004 with 2,000 billion barrels of EUR oil, 2019 if there are 3,000 billion barrels, and so on.


Iraq has the second largest reserves of oil in the world after Saudi Arabia. The US, which uses about 25% of all global energy, has no new reserves and is reliant on oil imports. Daily crude US oil production peaked in 1970, at close to 10 mmb/day. Since then, US production has declined to under 6 mmb/day. Americans consume about 20 million barrels per day, the balance is imported.

A.M. Samsam Bakhtiari said at the ASPO Second International Workshop on Oil Depletion (Rueil, France - May 26/27, 2003) that "Iraq now represents Middle East's biggest hope. All present happenings are favorable to a renaissance of its oil industry." Virtually uniquely Iraq has potential new oil fields and under-exploited established fields.

Campbell also said - "I think it is absurd that the management of the depletion of the world’s supply of its most important fuel should be left to a few feudal families controlling the Middle East. The consuming governments should recognize where their interests lie."

How to Make the World Aware that the Party is Over

A.M. Samsam Bakhtiari said at the ASPO Second International Workshop on Oil Depletion (Rueil, France - May 26/27, 2003) that "All in all, Middle East production should plateau during the present decade before peaking early in the next one. As world production is bound to peak much sooner, the Middle East's share of global output should gradually increase."

The Economist, 23 October 2003 said:

"The only long-term solution ..... is to reduce the world's reliance on oil. Achieving this once seemed pie-in-the-sky. No longer. Hydrogen fuel cells are at last becoming a viable alternative. ...... Hydrogen is a fuel that, like electricity, can be made from a variety of sources: fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, renewables, even nuclear power. Every big car maker now has a fuel-cell programme, and every big oil firm is busy investigating how best to feed these new cars their hydrogen."

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