New EIA Data

The EIA, unlike the IEA, has been strident in its dismissal of peak oil. But the data that the EIA publishes tells a very different story than the one it wants us to hear. Gail the Actuary has a really good analysis up at the Oil Drum.. The essential message - that crude oil production remains basically flat, as it has since 2005, and that growth in non-crude "liquids" (all those things that have made up for the lack of crude growth in world demand) aren't growing as fast as desired or predicted.


Among the critical takeways - that unconventional oil production probably will cease to keep pace with demand at some point, and that China will need more imports as it has crossed its peak.

Jeffrey Brown observes that ANE (Available Net Imports, basically the amount of oil available after China's growing economy has purchased what it needs) is going to fall rapidly and that the AVAILABLE Crude oil depletion rate is already astonishingly high He writes:

Let's imagine that the total volume of post-2005 oil that would be (A) Net exported from Saudi Arabia; (B) Net exported around the world and (C) Net exported to importers other than China & India are in three big tanks: In tanks A, B & C. The 2005 to 2008 projections, which have been on the optimistic side already, show that these tanks are presently depleted (through 2010) by the following percentages:

Tank A (Saudi Arabia): 34% depleted
Tank B (GNE): 20% depleted
Tank C (ANE): 35% depleted.

In five years.

What's important about this is that despite the attempt to blame high oil prices on everything on earth from market speculation to lack of drilling to Ann Romney's hairdo, there are actual fundamentals at play here, and the laws of physics are generally less accomodating than any of us would like.

While the EIA isn't stepping back from its claims that we're always going to have all the oil we want, just because we want it to exist so bad, it can't hide the actual data. Meanwhile, the IEA which has been predicting severe supply constraints for quite a while now has just released a series of graphs showing the impact of high oil prices on the world economy - check them out here. This validates what many peak oil thinkers have been saying for years, and what most of us have already noticed - that high energy prices have a real effect on personal economies.

This doesn't change the fact that countries like Saudi Arabia still claim vast reserves - but in both 2007 and now, with extraordinarily high oil prices, we have to ask this question - if they COULD extract more crude, why aren't they, when the economic incentives to do so are so enormous? I'm fairly sure it isn't because OPEC doesn't like money.

Meanwhile, both the IEA and the EIA implicitly or explicitly move closer the real conclusion - that oil is peaking and high prices, volatile prices and the instability that accompanies it are here to stay.


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The thing that's been puzzling me for the last year or so is the question of whether (and when) we'll see an inflection point. Because liquids production has been increasing and there's been a slow substitution away from oil / pricing people out of oil, the economy has managed better than I would have expected. (Granted, there are a lot of possible reasons things are still afloat, like QE.)

Has the recent data made you rethink things? Not saying it should have, but it's made me wonder whether the downslope, at least this decade, will be as severe as I had expected. I completely agree that net exports will get us in the end.

This leads me to two possible outcomes (among many other possibilites): a) the liquids plateau leads to a false sense of security, so no real transition happens and then we get a sharp downtick in production ~2020 that wreaks havoc or b) oil starts declining ~2015 as projected by Skrebowski but NGL and other products keep things from falling apart as we transition.

My two cents Barath, I think a lot of what we see right now IS smoke and mirrors, that is QE and QE2, trying to hold the system together as best it can while unconventional liquids fill the gap for now in energy markets.

If nothing else, there's this: "The Federal Reserve is desperately trying to control interest rates. The Fed purchased approximately 61 percent of all government debt issued by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2011. This is the only thing that is keeping interest rates in the United States from soaring dramatically."

There's a bunch of other data points at "…" that say we are not doing well at all.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 20 Apr 2012 #permalink

Stephen -

Agreed. Though a possible outcome is that such extraordinary (unreasonable?) efforts being made by central banks will be a Japan-style lost decade instead of a sharp inflection point that marks the long descent, as long as liquid fuels production stays up. If production starts declining at anything greater than 2% I imagine we're in for a rough ride. But it's that latter question that I've begun to wonder about; maybe NGL production will remain high for the rest of the decade, filling the gap. I wouldn't have expected it a couple of years ago, but I don't want to be rigid in my thinking.

Economic permabears will always be right eventually (I know, I used to be one!), but timing matters. Ecologically and geologically we are in certain trouble, but that certainty is on a longer timescale (many decades rather than just one).

Oh come on, how many times do you expect to get away with the same faklse scare story without people noticing?

There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of predictions over a century and a half, of peak oil real soon now, and none of them have been true.

A small sample

Under what circumstances should anybody trust a word said by a movement which has been proven to be lying on this subject (& on hundreds of other global catastrophe scares - every one of which has obviously been false, yet have cost 10s of millions of lives & trillions of $s)?

Perhaps you would care to apologise, on behalf of the "environmental" movement, for even one of these false scare stories before going on to promote them, again.

Great news Sharon! You're a movement!

By Dan Smith (not verified) on 23 Apr 2012 #permalink

Dan I acknowledge that as the very closest anybody in the "environmental" movement is capable of getting to fact based discussion.

Clearly nobody can think of even one, out of these hundreds of eco-scare stories which was truthful.

While it's true that there have been outlandishhly scary Peak Oil scenarios circulating that have been proven to not be true it's also ridiculous to say there's nothing to it.

Oil is very expensive at the moment for a reason. One of the reasons why demand isn't higher is that those high prices have led to a lot of demand destruction. Oil supplies will match demand after some demand has been destroyed due to high prices. That's how a market economy works.

When you factor in the falling $ oil isn't expensive by historic terms. The basic fact is that nobody is able to claim that any of the "environmentalist" scare stories have been truthful. When you have estabnlished a record like that trusting Bernis Madoff looks like a much smarter deal than trusting any "environmentalist".