Sunday, November 18, 2007

Page A1, with a bullet.

It's not really polite for me to quote the whole article, so I suggest you buy a copy to read. And for posterity, of course.

The Wall Street Journal: Oil Officials See Limit Looming on Production.


A growing number of oil-industry chieftains are endorsing an idea long deemed fringe: The world is approaching a practical limit to the number of barrels of crude oil that can be pumped every day.

Some predict that, despite the world's fast-growing thirst for oil, producers could hit that ceiling as soon as 2012. This rough limit -- which two senior industry officials recently pegged at about 100 million barrels a day -- is well short of global demand projections over the next few decades. Current production is about 85 million barrels a day.

The world certainly won't run out of oil any time soon. And plenty of energy experts expect sky-high prices to hasten the development of alternative fuels and improve energy efficiency. But evidence is mounting that crude-oil production may plateau before those innovations arrive on a large scale. That could set the stage for a period marked by energy shortages, high prices and bare-knuckled competition for fuel.


The emergence of a production ceiling would mark a monumental shift in the energy world. Oil production has averaged a 2.3% annual growth rate since 1965, according to statistics compiled by British oil giant BP PLC. This expanding pool of oil, most of it priced cheaply by today's standards, fueled the post-World War II global economic expansion.


Compounding the problem: Most of the world's biggest fields are aging, and production at them is declining rapidly. So, just to keep global production at current levels, the industry needs to add new production of at least four million daily barrels, every year. That need is roughly five times the daily production of Alaska, with its big Prudhoe Bay field -- and it doesn't assume any demand growth at all.

Rate of Decline

Mr. Simmons scoffs at estimates that production from proven fields will decline only 4.5% a year. He thinks a more realistic rate of decline is 8% to 10% a year, especially because modern technology actually succeeds in depleting fields faster.

If he's right, the industry needs to add new daily production of at least eight million barrels -- 10 times current Alaskan production -- just to stay even.