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Oil expert: Output downhill from here Energy - Author Ken Deffeyes thinks the depletion of fossil fuels could lead to a worldwide cataclysm
Monday, February 27, 2006 TED SICKINGER
Few petroleum geologists qualify as celebrities. But Ken Deffeyes, a former Shell Oil geologist who is now a professor emeritus of geosciences at Princeton University, recently sold out Portland's First Congregational Church, where he came to lecture on his latest book, "Beyond Oil."
Before Princeton, Deffeyes worked as a researcher in the labs of Shell Oil and taught at the University of Minnesota and Oregon State University. At Shell, he worked with the now-famous petroleum geologist M. King Hubbert. Hubbert coined what is fast becoming a fixture in the modern lexicon -- "peak oil" -- when he predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s and decline thereafter. Widely criticized at the time, Hubbert has since been vindicated.
Building on Hubbert's hypotheses, Deffeyes recently theorized that world oil production peaked Dec. 16, 2005, and has begun its permanent decline, with economic disruptions to follow.
'); } --> Deffeyes sat down with The Oregonian last week to discuss his book and the peak oil phenomenon. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
What's the basic math behind your forecast that world oil production peaked Dec. 16?
Hubbert's theory says that the ease of finding oil depends on the fraction of oil that hasn't been found yet. It's a simple hypothesis that explained U.S. oil production, where we've already gone over the peak and we're halfway down the other side. A corollary that comes out of the math is that the peak occurs when half the oil has been produced. In Chapter 3 of "Beyond Oil," I take the date these oil fields were first discovered, the first wells, and it turns out that the whole world is mature. We've found 94 percent of all the oil we're ever going to find. It's easy to extend that line down to the zero level and say that there are 2.013 trillion barrels that we're on track to discover, and we've already discovered 94 percent of that. So there's not much guesswork in that number. So I divide that number by 2 and I get just over 1 trillion barrels. Then I add up the world oil production from the beginning and figure out when we're halfway, and that's where the Dec. 16 number comes
Doesn't a lot depend on the level of oil reserves the Saudis are sitting on?
Matt Simmons has this wonderful book called "Twilight in the Desert." It's a very detailed analysis of the Saudi fields based on papers that the Saudi Aramco petroleum engineers have published in the Journal of Petroleum Geography. He says they're struggling to keep up.
In the supergiant oil fields in Saudi Arabia, the water content is going up. It's called the water cut, the percentage of fluid produced that's water. It was 30 percent when Simmons' book came out. There are rumors now that it's 55 percent. When it gets to 80, things are largely over.
What is the highest estimate of reserves out there?
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