Peak Petroleum Follies

Two primary arguments are put forward as ways of justifying various economic schemes for reducing oil and gas use (e.g., carbon pricing by way of taxes, subsidies for green energy, emissions trading schemes):

(1) Anthropogenic catastrophic climate change will occur if humans do not reduce their use of fossil fuels and the associated greenhouse gas emissions that result from such activities.

(2) Peak global production of oil and gas has either occurred (or will imminently occur), and/or global peak reserves-to-production ratios for each carbon source have occurred (or will imminently occur).  Thus, humans must retool their economic systems in order to adjust to a near-term resource limitation induced post-carbon economy.

Issue (1) has already been dealt with on many well-known climate science skeptic sites.

Issue (2) is simply not supported by the data.

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy dataset, the global proved reserves of oil have increased steadily since the dataset began in 1980.  Similarly, global oil production has increased steadily since the dataset begins in 1965, with an approximately linear increase since the early 1980s.

Dividing the global proved reserves for any given year by the global production rate for that year yields the R/P (reserves-to-production) ratio, which -- as defined by BP -- indicates where "[i]f the reserves remaining at the end of any year are divided by the production in that year, the result is the length of time that those remaining reserves would last if production were to continue at that rate."  One has, for several decades now, heard jokes along the lines of "the end of oil is always 20 years away."  Well, actually, the time period until the end of oil (using the global R/P ratio as the proxy) has been increasing steadily since 1980.

In other words, the discovery of new proven oil reserves has greatly outpaced global production increases over this period.

The trends are essentially equivalent for natural gas.  Global proved gas reserves have increased steadily since commencement of the BP dataset in 1980, following an approximate linear trend.  Global gas production has increased consistently since 1970 at a pseudo-exponential rate of increase.

Since 1980, the R/P ratio for gas has been approximately constant, meaning that new discoveries of proved gas reserves are offsetting corresponding increases in production.

Consequently, there appears to be no significant support for the idea that we require economic schemes to reduce oil and gas use based on their expected near-term global restriction/depletion.

Dr. Sierra Rayne writes regularly on environment, energy, and national security topics. He can be found on Twitter at @rayne_sierra.