The future of oil
by Jean Laherrere
International Journal of Vehicle Design (IJVD), Vol. 35, No. 1/2, 2004

Abstract: Oil is so important that publishing reserve (or even production) data is a political act. Most of the dispute between so-called pessimists and optimists is due to their using different sources of information and definitions. Pessimists use technical (confidential) data, whereas optimists use political (published) data. There is consensus on neither the reserve numbers, nor the definition of terms. Reserves, for example, may variously refer to current proven values or backdated mean values. The US practice is completely different from that in the rest of the world, being conservative to satisfy bankers and the stockmarket. By contrast, practice in the former Soviet Union was over-optimistic, being based on the maximum theoretical recovery, free of technological or economic constraints. All published data have to be re-worked to be able to compare like with like. The uncertainties relating to future oil production result mainly from the poor quality of the data. However, consumption depends on human behaviour and economic criteria. World oil production first reached a peak in 1979, then took 15 years to return to its previous level. World oil discovery peaked during the 1960s, and production, referring to all hydrocarbon liquids, could peak during the 2010s at about 90 Mb/d if there is no constraint in the demand. The official forecast from the US Department of Energy of 120 Mb/d in 2020 or 2030 seems too optimistic in view of the currently indicated poor economic performances, and seems almost impossible in terms of supply.

Online publication date: Mon, 10-May-2004

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