The Petroleum Situation; A brief Summary.


Ted Trainer.


It seems very likely that the world will run into a huge and insoluble problem of oil availability within the next 10 to 20 years.Yet it is proving to be extremely difficult to get officialdom or the general public to give any attention to the situation.Governments rush ahead with plans to build more airports and roads and car dependent suburbs, and no one can see any reason to question the commitment to ceaseless increase in the volume of producing and consuming going on.


Following is an attempt to summarise a few of the basic themes as I understand them, in the hope of assisting concerned people to raise public awareness of the situation.


The most influential contributor to the current literature has been Colin Campbell who has access to the Petroconsultants figures, said to be the most extensive data base available.(Campbell, 1997.)He concludes that the potentially recoverable figure is around 1800 billion barrels.This estimate includes deposits judged to have a 50% or better probability of delivering the quantity stated for them.(This explains much of the difference between varying estimates, notably those of Campbell and the USGS.)


The basic and crucial conclusions Campbell and several others are stating are:


        World supply will probably peak in the period 2005-2010.


        The world rate of use is now about 4 times the rate of discovery. These curves have been smooth since the 1960s peak in the discovery rate; sudden reversals in the near future are unlikely. (If the quantity estimated to be in a deposit is revised upwards Campbell does not record this as a new discovery; heattributes it to the date that deposit was found.This could explain why some say reserves are increasing.)


        By 2025 supply will be down to half what it will be at the peak.


        Oil prices will rise steeply and stay up after the peak.(In 1999 a 6% fall in supply was accompanied by a 300% rise in price.)


        World supply will be in the hands of a few Arabian states.


        Even if we take the highest estimates of potentially recoverable resources this adds only about 10 years to the point in time when supply peaks. We can�t expect any difference in estimated resources from accelerated discovery effort; in fact exploration investment is falling markedly...because the stuff isn�t there to be found.


According to Campbell we have now used just under half of the potentially recoverable quantity of petroleum.Reserves (known quantity) total about 850 b barrels and 150 billion barrels remain to be discovered.


Note that these concerns do not arise from new estimates of oil resources.There has long been considerable agreement among the 50+ estimates previously made. The trend has been to a figure of a little under 2000 billion barrels.The US Geological Survey has been at the high end, around 2400.(However they include deposits with only a 10% probability of delivering the quantity associated with them.)In the past people have simply divided the unused1000 billion barrels by the current use rate, some 25 billion barrels p. a. andtherefore concluded that oil will last 40-50 years, giving plenty of time to develop alternatives.However this is quite misleading.


Firstly, oil use is increasing at about 2% p. a.Secondly the supply curve will not rise until there is none left;it will peak and decline.Campbell accepts Hubbert�s generalisation that the peak occurs when half the potentially recoverable resources have been used.�� (This principle enabled Hubbert to correctly predict the peaking of US petroleum production.)In addition, Campbell has cast serious doubt on stated reserve figures, firstly noting strange phenomena such as nations claiming no change in reserves despite huge production year after year, and sudden jumps in stated reserves.More importantly, the amount of oil whichproducing states are allowed to produce under OPEC rules varies with their reserves, meaning that they have a strong incentive to falsify their reserve figures upwards.


There does not seem to be a significant case against the position being argued by Campbell and a number of others.Many contrary claims are made, but without much if anysupporting argument.


Campbell says that we cannot expect the unconventional sources of petroleum such as tar sands and shale oil to make a significant difference to the situation.These have to be mined and have high energy and ecological costs.He thinks they might yield a steady 10 billion barrels pa in the long term.


There is a very strong case to the effect that the coming energy problem cannot be solved by development of renewables such as the sun, the wind and biomass.(For a detailed explanation see Trainer 1995a, 1995b.)


If these figures and estimates are at all valid the situation is very alarming.We are extremely dependent on petroleum, there is no plausible replacement, world supply will be in the hands of a few Middle East rulers...and the situation is not being attended to by the elites or the general public in �developed� countries.


����������� Now consider the situation in the light of the limits to growth perspective.


        If all the world�s present 6 billion people were to use petroleum at the rich world per capita rate world use would be around 120 billion barrels a year, not the present 25 billion barrels.In fact world population is on a path to 9-10 billion before stabilising.


        If the world economy averages 3% p.a. economic growth to 2070 (conventional economists would want more than that), then in 2070 total world economic output will be 8 times as great as it is today.Thus to supply all the people in 2070 with the energy per capita we in Australia use now, given a mere 3% p. a. growth (and current technologies) would require annual petroleum supply that is about������������ 80 times the present (quite unsustainable) levelof production!


There would seem to be no more glaring illustration of the absurdity of an economy and a culture committed to the endless pursuit of affluence and growth.(For a detailed argument that it is necessary and possible to move to lifestyles and systems which use far less resources, �The Simpler Way�, see Trainer, 1995b.)


����������� Some references and web sites.


Campbell, J., (1997), The Coming Oil Crisis, Brentwood, England, Multiscience and ����������� Petroconsultants.


Campbell, C. J., (1994), �The immanent end of cheap oil-based energy�, ����������� Sun World, ����������� 1814, 17-18.


Campbell, C. J.,(1995), The World�s Endowment of Conventional Oil and ����������� Its ����������� Depletion, Geneva, Petroconsultants.


Fleay, B. J., (1995), The Decline of the Age of Oil, Sydney, Pluto.


Gever, J., et al., (1991), Beyond Oil, Colorado, University of Colorado Press.


Ivanhoe, L. F., (1996), �Updated Hubbert curves analyse world oil supply�, World Oil, 217, 11, Nov., pp. 91-94.


Ivanhoe, L. F., (1997) �Get ready for another oil shock�, The Futurist, Jan/Feb.


Duncan, R. C., The Olduvai Theory; Sliding Towards a Post-Industrial Stone Age. (


Duncan,R. C. and W., Youngquist,(1998), The World Petroleum Life Cycle, Seattle, Institute of Energy and Man.��


Younquist, W, (1997), Geodestines; The Inevitable Control of Earth Resources over Nations and Individuals, Portland, National Book Co.



Trainer; F. E. (T.), (1995a),�Can renewable energy save industrial society?�, ����������� Energy Policy, 23, 12, 1009-1026.


Trainer, T. (F. E.), (1995b), The Conserver Society; Alternatives for ����������� Sustainability, London, Zed Books.


Many valuable papers are at Jay Hansen�s site,


Also valuable,