On Monday, I objected to some statements by Dennis Meadows that oil production had clearly peaked in the past and would now decline by half within twenty years. He dismissed various possibilities for higher oil production from low grade sources as irrelevant. To make my objections, I pointed out by looking at average growth rates, that the last five years data had delayed one's idea of peak oil (in the sense of average growth being zero) by around five years, and thus we can't have a very clear idea of when peak oil is exactly.
One objection I got in comments was that looking at average growth rates was a poor approach, and I should do something more sophisticated like look at the Hubbert model. Fine; it happens that I did an extensive analysis of world production back at the Oil Drum in 2006. Using the methodology of Hubbert Linearization, eg as exemplified by this picture:
I summarized the analysis at that time:
- URR is 2250 ± 260gb
- K is 4.93 ± 0.32%
- the logistic peak is May 2007 ± 4.5 years
Here, URR is the total amount of oil that will ever be produced (in billions of barrels), K is a constant in the Hubbert equation that we needn't be concerned with here, and the peak date was in 2007, with a 95% confidence interval from the beginning of 2003 to the end of 2011.
So, I dragged out that old spreadsheet and updated the BP data from ending in 2004 to ending in 2011 - the last year they have published at present. That gives us this picture:
The estimated URR is now at 2500gb, right at the upper end of the 95% confidence interval of my 2006 analysis. So in seven years of additional data, during which time we used 210gb of oil, the estimate of total ultimate usage has increased by 250gb - more than we used in the meantime. Again, this should give you serious pause in thinking that we know the peak with much precision.
The peak date is now in mid 2010 - ie it has moved later by about three years. It is not out of the 95% confidence interval from my 2006 analysis, but I wouldn't now bet on it not moving out of it over the next seven years. Instead, I'd be leaning on this caveat in my 2006 piece:
A last caveat. One of the major reasons for a linearization extrapolation to go wrong is that there's a big chunk of discovery that isn't even seriously started production yet. I do not think there are any such discoveries in the conventional oil world (the Caspian is quite small on the world scale, and I think deepwater is well under way). However, there are trillions of possible barrels of LQHCs (low quality hydrocarbons), such as tar sands, extra-heavy oils, coal-to-liquids, and then biofuels. That stuff can't be ramped in a hurry, but it will probably get ramped up eventually (depending on the climate wild card). The linearization is not taking account of those things.