Assessments of future world oil production generally tackle one of two different but related questions: how much oil will eventually be produced (the volume of global oil estimated as ultimately recoverable, the EUR), and when might world oil production peak?
Geologists and oil research groups wrestle with the former question through detailed assessment of petroleum fields worldwide, while a growing number of individuals and forecasting entities have addressed the latter question. Some engage with both.
This review paper was presented at the ASPO conference in Paris in 2003, and includes minor corrections made in June 2015. It extends previous lists of global oil EUR estimates and of projected dates for the global oil production peak, and covers some 110 estimates made between 1942 and 2003. The data are drawn from the literature and from interviews carried out in 2003 of US oil professionals with experience of the topic. The latter included Dr. Tom Ahlbrandt (USGS), Dr. Richard Duncan (oil analyst), L.F. ‘Buzz’ Ivanhoe (retired petroleum geologist), Michael Lynch (SEER Inc.), Charlie Mathews (Weedon & Co.), Dr. Jim MacKenzie (World Resources Institute), Richard Nehring (Nehring Associates), Joe Riva (petroleum geologist), Matt Simmons (Simmons & Co.), Dr. Pete Stark (IHS Energy) and Dr. Walter Youngquist (retired petroleum geologist). Comments by these analysts on EUR estimates and likely future oil production are included in the paper.
In terms of EUR estimates, the paper discusses a number of factors that have a bearing on these, including lack of a common set of definitions, the intrinsic weakness of difficult to access data, the ‘learning curve’ as geological and technical information increases over time, disagreement over methodological approaches, and the observation that multiple studies by a single group or individual over time often lead to successively higher estimates. Despite these uncertainties, most global oil EUR estimates sit in the range 2 000 to 3 000 Gb.
In terms of estimated dates for the peak in global oil production, issues here include defining the categories of oil included, non-geology factors, and examination of how past predictions have fared. Some past forecasts put the date of global peak as early as 1992, but current estimates (as of 2003) mostly put the date of peak in the 2010 to 2020 range.
The paper concludes with observations by the author, based on the data and discussion presented, on how to think about the differences between the ‘optimists’ and ‘pessimists’ on future oil production.
Andrews, S. & Udall, R. (2015) Oil Prophets: Looking at World Oil Studies Over Time. The Oil Age 1 (3) 41-62.
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