NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Peak Oil Production Still Ahead

February 26, 2013

When the final figures for the fourth quarter of 2012 are in, the world will have a new crude oil production record: the total for the first three quarters was about 1 percent ahead of the 2011 total. Despite skeptics and peak-oil cultists who envision a drastic reduction in oil production, extraction levels suggest the world has plenty of fossil fuels, says Vaclav Smil writing in The American.

  • With more than 4 billion metric tons of crude oil production, 2012 was the largest year of production in history.
  • Global extraction was down 2.5 percent in 2009, but rose 2 percent in 2010 and 1.3 percent in 2011.
  • Global crude oil extraction between 2001 and 2011 rose by 10.8 percent to just 5 million metric tons (Mt) shy of the 4 billion metric mark.

Despite previous claims that many of the largest oil producers' supergiant oilfields would collapse, Saudi Arabia's output was 20 percent higher between 2001 and 2011, Russia's production was 47 percent higher and the Middle East's production rose by 17 percent. Kazakhstan's oil production doubled in the decade, while Azerbaijan's production tripled, Canadian output rose 37 percent, Columbian output rose 49 percent and Brazilian production rose 63 percent.

  • Production in the United Sates between 2001 and 2008 declined 13 percent but has risen significantly due to technological advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, particularly in North Dakota where oil output from the Bakken Shale now surpasses Alaska's North Slope.
  • The Department of Energy projects a possible production increase of as much as 140/Mt per year by 2025, an almost 40 percent increase.
  • According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United States could become the world's largest crude oil producer as early as 2017.

The IEA says that the world has already reached peak "conventional" oil extraction and that any future increases in output are due to "unconventional" sources including extra heavy oil, oil sands and gas converted into liquids. Technological advances have increased the capability of oil companies to extract oil with different methods, which has blurred the line between what a conventional method is.

Despite doomsayers who predict a sharp peak in global oil extraction followed by a catastrophic decline, peak oil extraction appears to be farther in the future than previously thought.

Source: Vaclav Smil, "Memories of Peak Oil," The American, February 21, 2013.


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