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Fwd: World oil supplies are set to run out faster than expected, warn scientists

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  • Richard Risemberg
    http://news.independent.co.uk/sci_tech/article2656034.ece World oil supplies are set to run out faster than expected, warn scientists Scientists challenge
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2007

      World oil supplies are set to run out faster than expected, warn
      Scientists challenge major review of global reserves and warn
      that supplies will start to run out in four years' time

      By Daniel Howden
      Published: 14 June 2007

      Scientists have criticised a major review of the world's remaining
      oil reserves, warning that the end of oil is coming sooner than
      governments and oil companies are prepared to admit.

      BP's Statistical Review of World Energy, published yesterday, appears
      to show that the world still has enough "proven" reserves to provide
      40 years of consumption at current rates. The assessment, based on
      officially reported figures, has once again pushed back the estimate
      of when the world will run dry.

      However, scientists led by the London-based Oil Depletion Analysis
      Centre, say that global production of oil is set to peak in the next
      four years before entering a steepening decline which will have
      massive consequences for the world economy and the way that we live
      our lives.

      According to "peak oil" theory our consumption of oil will catch,
      then outstrip our discovery of new reserves and we will begin to
      deplete known reserves.

      Colin Campbell, the head of the depletion centre, said: "It's quite a
      simple theory and one that any beer drinker understands. The glass
      starts full and ends empty and the faster you drink it the quicker
      it's gone."

      Dr Campbell, is a former chief geologist and vice-president at a
      string of oil majors including BP, Shell, Fina, Exxon and
      ChevronTexaco. He explains that the peak of regular oil - the cheap
      and easy to extract stuff - has already come and gone in 2005. Even
      when you factor in the more difficult to extract heavy oil, deep sea
      reserves, polar regions and liquid taken from gas, the peak will come
      as soon as 2011, he says.

      This scenario is flatly denied by BP, whose chief economist Peter
      Davies has dismissed the arguments of "peak oil" theorists.

      "We don't believe there is an absolute resource constraint. When peak
      oil comes, it is just as likely to come from consumption peaking,
      perhaps because of climate change policies as from production peaking."

      In recent years the once-considerable gap between demand and supply
      has narrowed. Last year that gap all but disappeared. The
      consequences of a shortfall would be immense. If consumption begins
      to exceed production by even the smallest amount, the price of oil
      could soar above $100 a barrel. A global recession would follow.

      Jeremy Leggett, like Dr Campbell, is a geologist-turned
      conservationist whose book Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the
      Global Energy Crisis brought " peak oil" theory to a wider audience.
      He compares industry and government reluctance to face up to the
      impending end of oil, to climate change denial.

      "It reminds me of the way no one would listen for years to scientists
      warning about global warming," he says. "We were predicting things
      pretty much exactly as they have played out. Then as now we were
      wondering what it would take to get people to listen."

      In 1999, Britain's oil reserves in the North Sea peaked, but for two
      years after this became apparent, Mr Leggett claims, it was heresy
      for anyone in official circles to say so. "Not meeting demand is not
      an option. In fact, it is an act of treason," he says.

      One thing most oil analysts agree on is that depletion of oil fields
      follows a predictable bell curve. This has not changed since the
      Shell geologist M King Hubbert made a mathematical model in 1956 to
      predict what would happen to US petroleum production. The Hubbert
      Curveshows that at the beginning production from any oil field rises
      sharply, then reaches a plateau before falling into a terminal
      decline. His prediction that US production would peak in 1969 was
      ridiculed by those who claimed it could increase indefinitely. In the
      event it peaked in 1970 and has been in decline ever since.

      In the 1970s Chris Skrebowski was a long-term planner for BP. Today
      he edits the Petroleum Review and is one of a growing number of
      industry insiders converting to peak theory. "I was extremely
      sceptical to start with," he now admits. "We have enough capacity
      coming online for the next two-and-a-half years. After that the
      situation deteriorates."

      What no one, not even BP, disagrees with is that demand is surging.
      The rapid growth of China and India matched with the developed
      world's dependence on oil, mean that a lot more oil will have to come
      from somewhere. BP's review shows that world demand for oil has grown
      faster in the past five years than in the second half of the 1990s.
      Today we consume an average of 85 million barrels daily. According to
      the most conservative estimates from the International Energy Agency
      that figure will rise to 113 million barrels by 2030.

      Two-thirds of the world's oil reserves lie in the Middle East and
      increasing demand will have to be met with massive increases in
      supply from this region.

      BP's Statistical Review is the most widely used estimate of world oil
      reserves but as Dr Campbell points out it is only a summary of highly
      political estimates supplied by governments and oil companies.

      As Dr Campbell explains: "When I was the boss of an oil company I
      would never tell the truth. It's not part of the game."

      A survey of the four countries with the biggest reported reserves -
      Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait - reveals major concerns. In
      Kuwait last year, a journalist found documents suggesting the
      country's real reserves were half of what was reported. Iran this
      year became the first major oil producer to introduce oil rationing -
      an indication of the administration's view on which way oil reserves
      are going.

      Sadad al-Huseini knows more about Saudi Arabia's oil reserves than
      perhaps anyone else. He retired as chief executive of the kingdom's
      oil corporation two years ago, and his view on how much Saudi
      production can be increased is sobering. "The problem is that you go
      from 79 million barrels a day in 2002 to 84.5 million in 2004. You're
      leaping by two to three million [barrels a day]" each year, he told
      The New York Times. "That's like a whole new Saudi Arabia every
      couple of years. It can't be done indefinitely."

      The importance of black gold

      * A reduction of as little as 10 to 15 per cent could cripple oil-
      dependent industrial economies. In the 1970s, a reduction of just 5
      per cent caused a price increase of more than 400 per cent.

      * Most farming equipment is either built in oil-powered plants or
      uses diesel as fuel. Nearly all pesticides and many fertilisers are
      made from oil.

      * Most plastics, used in everything from computers and mobile phones
      to pipelines, clothing and carpets, are made from oil-based substances.

      * Manufacturing requires huge amounts of fossil fuels. The
      construction of a single car in the US requires, on average, at least
      20 barrels of oil.

      * Most renewable energy equipment requires large amounts of oil to

      * Metal production - particularly aluminium - cosmetics, hair dye,
      ink and many common painkillers all rely on oil.

      Alternative sources of power


      There are still an estimated 909 billion tonnes of proven coal
      reserves worldwide, enough to last at least 155 years. But coal is a
      fossil fuel and a dirty energy source that will only add to global

      Natural gas

      The natural gas fields in Siberia, Alaska and the Middle East should
      last 20 years longer than the world's oil reserves but, although
      cleaner than oil, natural gas is still a fossil fuel that emits
      pollutants. It is also expensive to extract and transport as it has
      to be liquefied.

      Hydrogen fuel cells

      Hydrogen fuel cells would provide us with a permanent, renewable,
      clean energy source as they combine hydrogen and oxygen chemically to
      produce electricity, water and heat. The difficulty, however, is that
      there isn't enough hydrogen to go round and the few clean ways of
      producing it are expensive.


      Ethanol from corn and maize has become a popular alternative to oil.
      However, studies suggest ethanol production has a negative effect on
      energy investment and the environment because of the space required
      to grow what we need.

      Renewable energy

      Oil-dependent nations are turning to renewable energy sources such as
      hydroelectric, solar and wind power to provide an alternative to oil
      but the likelihood of renewable sources providing enough energy is slim.


      Fears of the world's uranium supply running out have been allayed by
      improved reactors and the possibility of using thorium as a nuclear
      fuel. But an increase in the number of reactors across the globe
      would increase the chance of a disaster and the risk of dangerous
      substances getting into the hands of terrorists.

      © 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

      *** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
      material is distributed, without profit, for research and educational
      purposes only. ***

      Richard Risemberg
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