Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Matthew Simmons in Time Magazine.

Time: The Real Oil Shock.

Thankfully, it doesn't appear to be the cover story. Read the article for his very sensible ideas on how we cope with a potential peak in oil production.


After spending more than two years researching my book Twilight in the Desert, I am convinced that it is highly improbable that Middle Eastern oil--and particularly Saudi Arabian oil--can grow to those far higher levels. Instead there is a risk that Saudi Arabia's oil output and the rest of the Middle East's oil supply may start to decline.

Saudi Arabia's specific production risk stems from the fact that almost 90% of its supply comes from only five key but aging giant oil fields. Each of those aging fields is exposed to a potential production decline. The implications of this risk are enormous, since 35 years of intense exploration in the kingdom has unearthed only one significant new oil field, Shaybah. Its peak production is less than 3% of Saudi Arabia's oil output.

The likelihood that Saudi Arabia can increase its output to even 15 million bbl. a day is remote. Even maintaining its current production rate for an indefinite period of time is hardly a certainty. The Ghawar, Abqaiq and Berri fields (which still make up about 90% of Saudi Arabia's light crude) now pump oil from water-injection wells--essentially the low-hanging fruit. Once that ends, oil production in those key fields will decline, and the declines could be steep. The two other giant fields producing lesser-quality oil are subject to this same risk. Quantifying the timing and the magnitude of the pending drop is impossible based on the skimpy data Saudi Arabia now discloses. But the risk is real, and the drop could happen soon.

The bottom line: the global oil supply has probably peaked. While the world expects to consume 120 million bbl. a day two decades from now, actual supply may be half that rate. This conclusion aptly portrays the potential magnitude of the energy ditch we are now in. It is impossible to calculate the odds of this supply-demand imbalance happening, but prudent planning argues that the world should assume the bleaker scenario. Then it follows that a global plan to use oil more rationally must be urgently developed and implemented.