An Oil Enigma: Production Falls Even as Reserves Rise
For six consecutive years, ChevronTexaco has had good news for anyone worried that the world is running out of oil: the company has found more oil and natural gas than it has produced. Over that time, ChevronTexaco's proven oil and gas reserves have risen 14 percent, more than one billion barrels.
But near the bottom of ChevronTexaco's financial filings is a much less promising statistic. For each of those years, ChevronTexaco's wells have produced less oil and gas than the year before. Even as reserves have risen, the company's annual output has fallen by almost 15 percent, and the declines have continued recently despite a company promise to increase production in 2002.
ChevronTexaco is not the only big oil company whose production is falling despite rising reserves, though it has the largest gap. As consumers, economists and governments around the world wonder if oil supplies can keep pace with rising demand, production trends at the industry's publicly traded companies are not promising.
Collectively, they paint a picture of an industry that has depleted nearly all of the world's easily exploited reserves outside the Middle East and that is now struggling to sustain production, much less increase it. Fears about supply shortfalls and rising demand have already caused prices to climb about 20 percent this year, hovering around $40 a barrel. The four biggest companies own only about 4 percent of the world's reserves, which are mostly government-held, but they offer a unique glimpse of supply trends because they must disclose their reserves and production each year.