The World's 'Peak Oil' Crisisl: Part 1
Congressmember Roscoe Bartlett
July 5, 2005
CONGRESSMAN ROSCOE BARTLETT (R-Maryland) is an environmental hero. In a series of ongoing Special Order Speeches on the floor of the US House of Representatives, Congressman Bartlett has become the first elected official in Washington to publicly discuss the looming problem of "peak oil" -- the end of cheap oil.
|Republican Congressmember Roscoe Bartlett|
Congressman Bartlett is one of three scientists in the Congress and had successful careers as a scientist, professor, engineer, farmer, and small business owner prior to his election to Congress. He served as Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science in the 107th Congress and was a key author of the alternative and renewable provisions in the Energy bill.
On June 29, Bartlett met with George W. Bush at the White House for an extensive discussion about peak oil. Congressman Bartlett declined to characterize his private conversation with the Mr. Bush, but said that he was very happy about the meeting. Copies of Bartlett's texts, charts and video of peak oil speeches and presentations are posted on Congressman Bartletts website at http://www.bartlett.house.gov. The following two-part presentation is an edited version of Bartlett's March 14, 2005 Special Order Speech.
The World's 'Peak Oil' Crisis: Part 1
Hon. Roscoe Bartlett / US House of Representatives
Mr. Speaker, these are headlines from just one day in The Washington Post: "The Dow drops 174 points driven by economic damage from rising oil prices, the plunging dollar, and growing worries about consumer spending." It goes on to say that "a recent oil price rise of 20 percent is continuing to crunch the profits of struggling airlines and is believed to be a factor in disappointing retail sales."
We need to go back to the 1940s and the 1950s when a scientist by the name of M. King Hubbert, a geologist, was working for the Shell Oil Company. He was watching the discovery and the exploitation and final exhaustion of individual oil fields. He noticed that every oil field followed a very typical pattern. It was a little slow getting the oil out at first, and then it came very quickly and reached a maximum, and then it tailed off as it became more difficult to get the oil out of the ground.
This followed a bell curve. Here is one of those bell curves. Now, bell curves are very familiar in science, and in life, for that matter. Looking at a yield of corn, a few farmers may get 50 bushels per acre, some may get 300, but the big mass today it is somewhere around 200 bushels per acre for corn.
Hubbert noticed when the bell curve reached its peak, about half of the oil had been exhausted from the field. Being a scientist, he theorized if you added up a lot of little bell curves, you would get one big bell curve, and if he could know the amount of reserves of oil in the United States, and he was doing this in the 1940s and early 1950s, and could project how much more might be found, he could then predict when the United States would peak in its oil production.
He concluded that we would peak in our oil production in 1970. This curve is what is known as Hubbert's Curve. The peak of the curve is what is known as Hubbert's Peak. Sometimes this is called the ``great rollover.'' It is frequently called ``peak oil.'' So peak oil for the United States occurred in 1970, and it is true that every year since then we have pumped less oil and found less oil.
Alaska oil production was not the typical bell curve. It should have been, but a couple of things meant it could not be. One was it could not flow at all until we had a 4-foot pipeline. So the fields were developed and they were waiting; then we got the pipeline on board, and it was filled with oil and oil started to flow. We have pumped probably three-fourths of the oil in Prudhoe Bay.
Drilling in Alaska Won't Solve the Problem
Many people would like to open up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. ANWR has considerably less oil than Prudhoe Bay. This is not going to be our salvation to pump ANWR because ANWR contains probably not even half as much as Prudhoe Bay.
Remember the hullabaloo about the big finds of gulf oil that were going to solve our problem? There never was a moment in time between the big Alaska oil find and all of the pumping discovery and pumping in the gulf. The peak occurred about 1970.
We are, by the way, very good at finding oil now. We use 3D seismic detection techniques. The world has drilled, I think, about 5 million oil wells and I think we have drilled about 3 million of them in this country, so we have a pretty good idea of where oil is.
A couple of Congresses ago, I was privileged to chair the Energy Subcommittee on Science. We held a couple of hearings and had the world experts in. Surprisingly from the most pessimistic to the most optimistic, there was not much deviation in what the estimate is as to what the known reserves are out there. It is about 1,000 gigabarrels. That sounds like an awful lot of oil. But when you divide into that the amount of oil which we use, about 20 million barrels a day, and the amount of oil the rest of the world uses, about 60 million barrels a day, as a matter of fact, the total now is a bit over the 80 million that those two add up to. About 83 1/2 , I think. If you divide that into the 1,000 gigabarrels, you come out at about 40 years of oil remaining in the world.
In every decade up until the Carter years, we used as much oil as had been used in all of previous history. Let me repeat that, because that is startling. In every decade, we used as much oil as had been used in all of previous history.
The reason for that, of course, was that we were on the upward side of this bell curve. The Energy Information Agency says that we are going to keep on using more oil. But that cannot be true for a couple of reasons. You cannot pump any more oil than you have found.
Worldwide Oil Production Was Predicted to Peak in 1995
M. King Hubbert looked at the world situation. He was joined by another scientist, Colin Campbell, who is still alive, an American citizen who lives in Scotland. Using M. King Hubbert's predictive techniques, oil was predicted to reach a maximum in about 1995, without perturbations. But there were some perturbations. One of the perturbations was 1973, the Arab oil embargo. Other perturbations were the oil price shocks and a worldwide recession that reduced the demand for oil. And so the peak that might have occurred in 1995 will occur later. How much later? There is a lot of evidence that suggests that if not now, then very quickly we should see world production of oil peak.
What are the consequences of this depletion? The remaining oil is harder to get. It requires greater energy investment, resulting in a lower return on energy invested. When we started out, you put in one unit of energy and you could get 30 out.
Lower profits are not the only concern. When more energy is required to extract it than is contained in the recovered oil, that is, when this ratio is less than 1, notice, we are over there at about 1984. We are getting very close to the unit it takes as much energy to get the oil out as you get out of the oil. When you are using more energy to get oil out of the ground than you are getting out of the oil, then clearly you need to leave it there.
We have only 2 percent, between 2 and 3 percent of the known reserves of oil. We use 25 percent of the world's oil. We have about 8 percent of the world production. We are pumping our reserves at roughly four times faster than the rest of the world because we are so good at pumping oil, we are going to be down to 1 percent of the known reserves in the world and we will still be using about 25 percent of the world's oil. We are now importing about two-thirds of that.
More drilling just will not solve the problem. From 1960 on until about 1980, we found more oil than we pumped. You remember the Reagan administration and all the emphasis on drilling because we knew that we were approaching this flipover point where we were going to be pumping more oil than we found and so there was a rationale that if you just give them a profit motive and you have the right incentives, tax and regulatory incentives and so forth, they will go out and they will dig more wells and they will find more oil.
Sure as heck they went out and dug more wells. But did they find any more oil? As a matter of fact, in 1982, more oil was used in looking for oil than the oil they found in 1982. Pretty consistently for every year after 1982, we have used more oil than we found. Today worldwide we are pumping at least six barrels of oil for every barrel that we find.
New Discoveries of Oil Are on the Decline Worldwide
Worldwide discoveries are repeating the US pattern. It is unlikely that we are going to find big additional finds in the future. There is just no real expectation that there are going to be big additional fields of oil found out there.
For any relatively big field, here we are talking about 50 gigabarrels. Remember, there are about 2,000 gigabarrels worldwide, so this is a meaningful part of the world reserves of oil. No matter how many more wells you drill, you are not going to find oil that is not there.
The oil companies for reasons of pricing and regulations and so forth have had the habit through the years of underreporting initially how much oil they found. Then later when it was appropriate to their license to produce more oil, they would report additional oil. They never found any additional oil, they simply reported oil they had found previously. Three times in the last roughly 3 weeks, oil companies have admitted that their estimates of the reserves were exaggerated. A bit over 2,000 gigabarrels, is about what the world's experts say had been there. We have now pumped about half of that.
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