Economist reports Saudi oil production can continue unabated
In its August 10 edition, The Economist magazine asserts that Saudi Arabia can continue producing oil at its current production levels for 70 years, without having to look for another drop. Further, the magazine claims that the nation could find "plenty more if they look", calling for privitisation of national oil companies to help increase oil production.
The language is provocative - the world has plenty of oil, and only requires sufficient investment and exploration to find it. This is a line that The Economist has held for some time, certainly since before its now infamous March 1999 issue proclaiming that we were "drowning in oil" and featuring a prediction of US$5 per barrel. That issue was followed by an embarrassing retraction in December of that year, as oil started its steady climb. It now sits above US$70 per barrel.
However, petroleum geologists and energy investment specialists maintain a different view of oil reserves. They say that there is a limit to what is in the ground, and further to that, a limit to how much of it we can retrieve even with advancing technology. Just how much is down there can't be said with any certainty, for a variety of reasons. A big one is the suspicious reserves figures given by producers in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. Since OPEC starting using a quota system based on reserves, the estimated reserves for member nations has magically risen, and even continued rising in the face of increased extraction from those reserves.
Amongst those who deal with the physical realities of oil fields, forecasts of a peak in production vary between 30 years, as the USA's Energy Information Administration suggest, and now, as suggested by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas and other more pessimistic forecasters. A peak in production would then be followed by decline. Certainly, in the petroleum world, there is no serious suggestion of sustaining the current level of oil production for 70 years.