Peak Oil News: Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Iraq and the Problem of Peak Oil

B E L L A C I A O

The era of cheap, abundant oil, which has supported world economic growth for more than three quarters of a century, is most probably at or past its absolute peak, according to leading independent oil geologists. If this analysis is accurate, the economic and social consequences will be staggering. This reality is being hidden from general discussion by the oil multinationals and major government agencies, above all by the United States government. Oil companies have a vested interest in hiding the truth in order to keep the price of getting new oil as low as possible. The US government has a strategic interest in keeping the rest of the world from realising how critical the problem has become.

According to the best estimates of a number of respected international geologists, including the French Petroleum Institute, Colorado School of Mines, Uppsala University and Petroconsultants in Geneva, the world will likely feel the impact of the peaking of most of the present large oil fields and the dramatic fall in supply by the end of this decade, 2010, or possibly even several years sooner. At that point, the world economy will face shocks which will make the oil price rises of the 1970's pale by contrast. In other words, we face a major global energy shortage for the prime fuel of our entire economy within about seven years.

The problem in oil production is not how much reserves are underground. There the numbers are more encouraging. The problem comes when large oilfields such as Prudhoe Bay Alaska or the fields of the North Sea pass their peak output. Much like a bell curve, oil fields rise to a maximum output or peak. The peak is the point when half the oil has been extracted. In terms of reserves remaining it may seem there is still ample oil. But it is not as rosy as it seems. The oil production may hold at the peak output for a number of years before beginning a slow decline. Once the peak is past however, the decline can become very rapid. Past the peak, there is still oil, but each barrel becomes more difficult to exploit, and more costly, as internal well pressures decline or other problems make recovery more expensive for each barrel. The oil is there but not at all easy to extract. The cost of each barrel past peak is increasingly higher as artificial means are employed to extract it. After a certain point it becomes uneconomical to continue to try to extract this peak oil.


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