Sunday, November 14, 2010

IEA: Peak Oil is Passed

The International Energy Agency has stepped into the peak oil debate. The 2010 version of their annual report World Energy Outlook 2010 concludes that the date of peak oil is not only here -- but that it passed in 2006.

The interesting thing, as shown in the graph below, is the manner in which they diverge from the classic interpretation of peak oil based on Hubbert's analysis. Rather than rendering the 'peak' as the point of inflection of a broadly symmetric production curve, the IEA are forecasting that substantial reserves in fields yet developed or discovered will allow global crude oil production to plateau for another 25 years at a close approximation of current rates. In other words, they have replaced Hubbert's concept of 'peak' oil with their own analysis, more appropriately termed 'plateau' oil.

Chart from Energy Outlook 2010

This rhetorical shift, admitting that the peak is passed yet concluding that it has no significant implication for the medium-term future of conventional oil production, can best be understood in light of the background presented here. The release of last year's report, which included the graph below showing that production would continue to increase, was met with a storm of controversy when an internal whistle blower indicated that the US had pressured the agency to keep the figures artificially inflated. This year's report appears to be an attempt to square the circle by admitting the peak has passed but claiming it has no significant policy implications.

Corresponding Chart from the Energy Outlook 2009

Equally as interesting, though not the focus of much comment, is the substantial reduction in the forecast of production from natural gas liquids. The 2009 report projected a near doubling of production for NGL by 2030 while the 2010 report projects comparatively constant production thru 2035.

1 comment:

  1. IEA may claim that it has no significant policy implications, but of course it does. Without a growth in the energy sector, it is highly unlikely that the global capitalist system will be able to grow. Everyone from Karl Marx to Milton Friedman knows that capitalism won't last long (in its current form) if it can't grow. We are going to see everything from economic bubbles to stagnation to episodic collapses in various national economies. The energy and wealth will be lost in some regions of the world (Europe), causing protracted depressions there, but excess energy and wealth will flow to other regions, such as China, causing temporary economic bubbles. We will see a failure of global coordination and dysregulation as shifts of energy and wealth cause more chaotic outcomes.