Wednesday, July 22, 2009

America's "Phantom Oil"

Robert Rapier is an all-star today... two posts from the venerable energy guru. This goes way back to 2006, and you have to give kudos for this: Robert Rapier's accidental extra credit homework deserves a gold-plated grade "A."

Skeptics a plenty have long not trusted Saudi Arabia - or other OPEC members, for that matter - for their subterfuge data, that is, not openly revealing hard data to back reserve claims. "If Saudi Arabia really has 262 bb of oil," they say, "why are they so ambiguous about revealing their data; why don't they cough up proof if they really have oceans of black goo?"

While surreptitious statistics are fair to question, America's own production statistics, Rapier indicates, haven't exactly mirrored its reserve estimates. Robert goes into detail,

In 1982, U.S. reserves were 27.858 billion barrels. In 2005, U.S. reserves were 21.757 billion barrels. So we drew down our reserves by 6 billion barrels. Imagine my shock to discover our production over that time period. What would you guess? Six billion barrels? Ten? In fact, oil production from these reserves since 1982 totals 56.9 billion barrels! Amazingly, in the past 24 years we have produced 57 billion barrels of oil and pulled our reserves down by only 6 billion barrels. That seems incredible, but it appears that this is what has happened.

Amazing, isn't it? From 1982 to 2005, the US managed to produce 56.9 billion barrels of oil, despite only "using" 6 billion barrels of official reserves. We had over 50 bb sitting under our dirt we didn't know about.

Considering Saudi Arabia has additional fields in development, more offshore fields in its grasp (including Safaniya, the world's largest), and considering America's own "oil miracle" derived from 27.8 bb of official reserves, the concept of Saudi (and OPEC in general) still loaded with plenty of oil doesn't seem so far fetch. While it's possible Saudi Arabia doesn't possess 262 bb, my wager says its reserves are a lot higher than Jeffrey Brown's guesstimate of 70 bb.

- Brewskie


  1. The tendency to conflate proven reserves with ultimately recoverable resources has to be the most consistently irritating example of doomer misinformation.

    Proven reserve status is actually a very narrow category of mineral classification in economic geology.

    A proven reserve estimate requires both strong geological evidence of a mineral deposit AND evidence that it is economically extractable under current market conditions, with available technology, and in compliance with any relevant environmental and safety regulations etc.

    Doomers who express skepticism that proven reserves can grow over time are either being dishonest or ignorant.

    Canadian tar sands an U.S. shale gas are just two recent examples of resources that have been upgraded to reserve status for economic or technical reasons, and reserve growth from additional geological data is even more common.

  2. Long-term doomers, it seems, have vested so much of themselves into doomerism - intellectually and emotionally - that when data runs contrary to their zealotry, they, like any fundamentally religious counter-part (this includes all sects: Christian, Judaism, Islam, etc...), simply don't know how to cognitively think in a rationale way. Anyone who wants proof that peak oil doomerism is a religion needs to only consider this: where’s the women? Apocalyptic-driven religions have always been male-dominated; Leanan is one of the few high priestesses of the peak oil community anyone can think of, and the comments’ section of any peak oil site is filled head-to-toe with grizzled males scooping news at the trough.

    It may be a while before pessimists relive the doomers’ glory age of 2005-2008...

  3. You’re absolutely right about the mentality and the demographics.

    Regarding the timing, there seems to be a 20 to 30 year cycle in commodity prices, probably related to the investment and production cycle in the extractive industries.

    I suspect that doomers will be back in force around 2030-2040, dusting off their old copies of Limits to Growth and insisting that any commodity price increases are a sign of the End Times.