Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Demand-Side Peak Oil is Here -- Supply-Side Peak Oil to follow.

Major source for today's blog article: The Peak Oil Paradox -Revisited-, posted 19 July 2016 on The Automatic Earth by Raúl Ilargi Meijer.

So far, supply-side Peak Oil is a myth... so far. Although, prior to the hydrofracturing boom, it wasn't for the United States.

M. King Hubbert's Peak Oil predictions based on reserves.
Source: M. King Hubbert via The Automatic Earth.
In 1956, M. King Hubbert generated the above graph indicating Peak US Oil about 1965 for ultimate reserves of 150 billion barrels of oil, 1970 for 200 billion barrels.

Actual US Oil Production 1900 through 2015.
Enter fracking, and mutatis mutandis, no more Peak US Oil!
Source: The Automatic Earth.
I'll give you a short history behind the end of US Peak Oil, or rather, US "Twin Peaks" Oil. Right now in 2016 the US is pumping slightly less oil out of the ground due to the end of the fracking boom. The boom itself got underway by inflated estimates of the amount of oil in the Bakken Shale formation and elsewhere. Htdrofracturing was a perceived profit center. A lot of debt was issued to get the new method of oil and natural gas extraction underway. And for a short while, it was, at least for oil, so ling as fossil fuel prices remained relatively high ($100 to 110 per barrel 2011 up to mid 2014). But then the oil prices started to collapse!

Oil price History 1974 through 2014.
Source: The Huffington Post.
Oil prices have gone on a roller coaster depending on supply, demand, political intervention and speculation. However, since the end of 2014, oil prices have remained relatively low.

Oil Price History 2006 through end 2015.
Source: The Motley Fool.
The Motley Fool article asked if another price spike was underway, and indeed a small one did come about, and hit about $60 or so per barrel, but quickly collapsed when China cracked down on commodities speculation. It's now about $45 per barrel. Where the oil price goes now depends on how big the continuing supply is, and how strong or weak the demand is. Whether the oil industry can make a profit on the price is a different story.

The oil extractors at least in the United States and Canada have managed to get their costs down, at the expense of future investment, but some, especially small-time frackers, are pumping as much as they cam just to meet service payments on their debt! Oil-producing countries, on the other hand, have social welfare safety nets to take care of, which hikes their break-even oil price requirements considerably. Of course, some like Russia are somewhat lucky, because their internal costs are in the local currency, and shrink in relation to the world price which is in US Dollars, due to drop in the currency for whatever reasons (in the case of Russia, US sanctions causing reduced trade with Europe). Even so, some companies have gone under, other companies have shut their wells, and the daily production has dropped as a result.

Latest peak production was in July 2015. Production has been shrinking by 2% per year since.
Source: The Automatic Earth.
Now it may be that the price of oil may go back up again, if the demand trend line shown above continues. If it spikes back up far enough, the financial sector, now reeling from default by the "oil patch" companies (but not as bad as it did from the bursting of the housing bubble), may choose to invest in oil extraction and the development of oil extraction technologies again. On the other hand, they may not, and in which case a rise in production may not occur until there are lines at the gas stations. And if there has been a considerable amount of disinvestment in and neglect of the oil extraction infrastructure, the daily production rates may never see the peak attained in 2015 ever again! But then again, it might, or even exceed it. At any rate, we could be in for several cycles of price collapse, financial fallout, production drop, shortage, price spike, reinvestment, production rise, glut, and price collapse, rinse and repeat, until the physically and economically feasible oil extraction drops remorselessly.  Natural gas extraction and coal mining may accordingly drop along with it.  

In which case... voila! Supply-side peak oil becomes a reality, thanks to demand-side peak oil attained in mid-2015.

Here are Raúl Meijer's concluding thoughts (read the article) on the matter, which I believe is similar with my thoughts above on the future of fossil fuels' extraction.

  1. M. King Hubbert’s forecast for US oil production and the methodology it was based on has been proven to be sound when applied to conventional oil pools in the USA. When decline takes hold in any basin or province, it is extremely difficult to reverse even with a period of sustained high price and the best seismic imaging and drilling technology in the world.
  2. On this basis we can surmise that global conventional oil production will peak one day with unpredictable consequences for the global economy and humanity. It is just possible that the near term peak in production of 97.08 Mbpd in July 2015 may turn out to be the all-time high.
  3. Economists who argued that scarcity would lead to higher price that in turn would lead to higher drilling activity and innovation have also been proven to be correct. Much will depend upon Man’s ability to continue to innovate and to reduce the cost of drilling for LTO in order to turn a profit at today’s price levels. If the shale industry is unable to turn a profit then it will surely perish without State intervention in the market.
  4. But from 2008 to 2015, oil production actually fell in 27 of 54 countries despite record high price. Thus, while peak oil critics have been proven right in North America they have been proven wrong in half of the World’s producing countries.
  5. Should the shale industry perish, then it becomes highly likely that Mankind will face severe liquid fuel shortages in the years ahead. The future will then depend upon substitution and our ability to innovate within other areas of the energy sector.
And I will add: what sorts of innovation? Wind, hydro, solar, nuclear if it weren't so dodgy, and biofuels if they didn't take food out of the mouths of the poor.

Besides, we have a soon-approaching abrupt and civilization-wrecking climate change coming up.

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