Peak Oil—Facts and Fictions

by Rud Istvan

I decided to draft this possible guest post, based on my three ebooks, (all available very affordably on iBooks and Amazon Kindle) because newbie poster MI will not go away on WUWT, and keeps posting OT false peak oil stuff partly directed to his blog, all the while not responding to my several comments to him. I for sure cannot direct any one anywhere, even to my published eBooks. So, here is a simple WUWT ‘peak oil’ fact summary gratis drawn from those. May Dave Middleton forgive my geological layman’s possible detail errors in the big picture portrayed here, for which he certainly has better SME knowledge than I. Plus, I know from previous comments that there are those reading here since years who think no such peak oil thingy exists. Sort of like no GHE, or no ECS. This post is mainly aimed at those who still don’t, in addition to MI.

Peak Oil

It surely must exist somewhen, since almost nobody claims oil is not a fossil fuel.  So somewhen, current rapid extraction must exceed all past slow accumulation, producing some eventual peak in annual production. The two abiotic oil ‘hypotheses’ (Gold 2001 and Ukraine 2011) have both been objectively disproven. The only remaining questions are when the peak in fossil fuel oil production occurs, and how sharp that post peak decline in production will be. These simple questions relate directly to two NOT so simple questions. First, how much more fossil fuel oil remains to be discovered? And second, how much of that can be usefully extracted? There are for the second question two further subquestions: at what price; and all at any price? I do not address those here.

Peak Oil Discovery Models

There are three basic statistical modeling methods to estimate this almost certain future peak in fossil oil DISCOVERIES. The most familiar is Hubbert’s for the US using a logistics (fat tail) symmetric probability curve. He was about right for US conventional oil, and about wrong for everything else. There are also the probit transforms and the by basin hyperbolic creaming curve methods, the latter illustrated below by the North Sea. (All explained in my ebooks, but not here.)

The problems with Hubbert’s originally hypothesized logistics curve method come in various parts.

First, the conventional oil field recovery curve is NOT his logistics curve. It has a long fat tail thanks to secondary and tertiary oil recovery. Technically it is a gamma function curve. A good example is the US North Slope.

Second, his hypothesis applied only to ‘conventional oil’, defined as viscosity API>10, produced from a reservoir with >5% porosity and permeability >10 millidarcies. That ignores all ‘heavy oil’ such as in the Canadian ‘Tar’ Sands or the Venezuelan Orinoco (largest such heavy oil reserve in the world), and also all of the newly fracked ‘tight’ shale oil.

Third, his estimate by definition did not recognize at all the later technology advances of fracked shale (tight) oil. But the potential of fracked shale oil has also been grossly overstated, as pointed out in my ebook ‘Blowing Smoke’ essays Matryoshka Reserves and Reserve Reservations. Following is an image example of why the Monterey shale oil reserve went from an official over 15 trillion barrels per EIA to almost nothing per USGS Monterey Shale ‘fold’ revision:

Gaviota State Park on the rocky coast of the Pacific Ocean in Goleta, Santa Barbara County, California

Nothing was left in the Monterey Shale by plate tectonics to horizontally drill/frack…. a bit of a geological horizontal drill/frack oil recovery problem.

But, when you add all those things together, then figure them through in detail (in my ebooks), you still get roughly the following possible oil production peaks from the (still wrong tail) original Hubbert logistics curve:

So yup, about 2023-2025 will be for sure the peak of all oil production.

This can also be shown another way, summarized from the ebooks. For conventional oil, a 2008 IEA survey of the world’s largest about 800 producing oil fields measured an annual production decline rate of about 5.7%. Those about 800 fields comprised about 85% of that year’s total conventional oil production. So conventional oil production actually measurably peaked about 2005 per the IEA, close to the various post Hubbert projections. There is no way that unconventional oil (given low recovery factors) can make that up for many decades into the future.

But because of the oil field depletion gamma curves, it will not be a ‘sudden’ end to the world, nor even close to it as falsely depicted by this Hubbert’s logistics curve peak oil model or by newish poster MI. Just a slow decline, maybe overtaken by food even given virtual water. Like climate change, the devil is in the details.

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August 12, 2021 at 08:20PM

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