Thursday, May 5, 2011
Back in December, when I was first noting that total liquid fuel production was making new highs, many commenters objected vigorously to my paying attention to the full liquid fuel series because they include biofuels, "natural gas liquids" like ethane and propane that aren't really liquid, syncrude from tar sands and other things that are debatable as "oil".
A more conservative definition is to look at the EIA's data for crude and condensate (here, and then here for data before 2007). Crude is definitely "oil", and condensate is the stuff that is gaseous under the conditions of temperature and pressure down in the reservoir, but liquid at room temperature and pressure. So that's also reasonable to consider as "oil".
The problem has always been that this data is only available at considerable lag from some of the total liquids series. Thus some people maintained that, unlike the total fuels, crude and condensate would not rise above the prior peak. At the time there was no way to say for sure. However, the above graph shows the data through January 2011, and crude and condensate clearly rises above the prior peak in 2008 (something already noted by Gail the Actuary, but I wanted to post a graph that isn't zero-scaled to better shows the changes, and I definitely don't endorse Gail's production forecasts). In any case, those insisting that oil production peaked in 2008 and could now only decline were wrong.
I think the view that we have been on a bumpy plateau since late 2004 remains a reasonable one, but clearly the latest bump is the biggest, and I think it's hard to say for sure that we won't bump higher again in the future. Certainly, the world is struggling to raise production freely enough to support global economic growth.
Alas, we will never know what happens to the rest of the series since the EIA is cancelling it due to budget cuts.