By Richard Heinberg for the Post Carbon Institute
The Financial Times has leaked the results of the International Energy Agency's long-awaited study of the depletion profiles of the world's 400 largest oilfields, indicating that, "Without extra investment to raise production, the natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent."
This is a stunning figure.
Considering regular crude oil only, this means that 6.825 million barrels a day of new production capacity must come on line each year just to keep up with the aggregate natural decline rate in existing oilfields. That's a new Saudi Arabia every 18 months.
The Financial Times story goes on:
"The findings suggest the world will struggle to produce enough oil to make up for steep declines in existing fields, such as those in the North Sea, Russia and Alaska, and meet long-term demand. The effort will become even more acute as [oil] prices fall and investment decisions are delayed."
This is putting it mildly. Investment capital is being vaporized almost daily in a global deflationary bonfire of unprecedented ferocity. Oil production projects are being mothballed left and right.
Inter alia, the IEA takes the requisite swat at "peak oil theorists," who, the agency somehow still believes, are saying that the world is "running out of oil." Of course that's NOT what peak oil theorists say, but a correct summation of their position would have to be followed with a statement to the effect that, "Our research supports their position," which would be just too embarrassing.
Sadly, the IEA feels it must pull its punch even further. With adequate investment in new small oilfields and unconventional sources like tarsands, it insists, the world can still achieve higher levels of production. In other words, if the $12 trillion that vanished from the world stock markets last week were invested in new tarsands projects, then theoretically a few more years of total oil production growth could be eked out (not growth in net energy production, mind you, but in the gross—and I do mean gross—production of exotic, very expensive stuff that it's physically possible to run your car on, assuming you could afford to do so).
Of course, any realistic assessment either of the likelihood of that level of investment appearing, or of the ability of new projects to really produce a sufficient rate of flow regardless of the size of the cash infusion, would end merely in a hearty belly-laugh.
Evidently peeved about being scooped on its planned November 12 press conference roll-out of the study, the IEA has disavowed the Financial Times story. But if nine percent is even close to being the final figure, then it's absolutely clear: July 2008 was the all-time peak in world oil production. Don't expect anyone at the IEA to officially admit that fact until 2025 or so. But among those who pay attention to the evidence and the terms of the debate, further ink need not be spilled in speculation.
Peak oil is history.