Files  |  27 October 2009 print twitter

The global oil depletion report

UK Energy Research Centre

This report argues that conventional oil production is likely to peak before 2030, with a significant risk of a peak before 2020. The report concludes that the UK Government is not alone in being unprepared for such an event - despite oil supplying a third of the world’s energy.

The report finds that we are entering an era of slow and expensive oil as resources get harder to find, extract and produce. Major new discoveries, such as those announced recently in the Gulf of Mexico, will only delay the peak by a matter of days or weeks.

Simply maintaining global production at today’s level would need the equivalent of a new Saudi Arabia every three years.

According to the report’s chief author, Steve Sorrell, senior researcher at UKERC, “In our view, forecasts which delay a peak in conventional oil production until after 2030 are at best optimistic and at worst implausible.

"And given the world's overwhelming dependence upon oil and the time required to develop alternatives, 2030 isn't far away. The concern is that rising oil prices will encourage the rapid development of carbon-intensive alternatives which will make it difficult or impossible to prevent dangerous climate change.”

The report defends more optimistic estimates of the size of oil resources but notes that much of this is in smaller less accessible fields which may only be produced relatively slowly and at high cost. It also highlights the accelerating decline in production from existing fields; more than two thirds of current crude oil production capacity may need to be replaced by 2030 to prevent production from falling.

Steve Sorrell: “It makes no sense to provide precise forecasts of when a peak in oil production will occur. The data is unreliable, there are multiple factors to consider and a ‘bumpy plateau’ seems more likely than a sharp peak. But we can say that the window is narrowing rapidly. The effects of global oil depletion will depend greatly on the response from governments and on the scale of investment in new energy technologies.”

UKERC’s report is the first study to take an independent, thorough and systematic review of the evidence and arguments in the ‘peak oil’ debate. It addresses the following question: What evidence is there to support the proposition that the global supply of ‘conventional oil’ will be constrained by physical depletion before 2030?

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