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Too expensive to pump

Written By: - Date published: 10:30 am, November 16th, 2010 - 49 comments
Categories: Economy - Tags:

The International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook forecasts that by 2035 oil will cost $200 a barrel in today’s dollars. That’s not $200 during a price spike, that’s $200 as the new normal. The world entered recession when the price went over $100 in a spike during 2008. A permanent price of $200 a barrel is simply unaffordable.

What that price is telling us is that there is not enough oil to go around. But the experts are saying that the IEA is being far too optimistic in its outlook.

The big problem is that to arrive at ‘only’ $200 a barrel the IEA had to assume some remarkable things, the most remarkable of which was that in the next 24 years we will find and develop new oil fields with a production capacity equivalent to twice what Saudi Arabia currently produces. Iraq is predicted to more than double its output and Saudi Arabia to increase its by 50% – this despite the fact that oil producers failed to lift their production in reaction to the last great oil spike. Global oil output has been stagnant since 2004 but is meant to rise about 20% in the next 24 years (btw, the prediction for future output has fallen with each annual revision by the IEA this century).

So, $200 a barrel is very optimistic and higher total oil supply. Ludicrously optimistic, in fact.

The reality will be that the world economy will simply not be able to pay such a high price. Instead, there will have to be a long series of recessions to get oil demand down low enough that the price can drop to an affordable level. And in a world where the marginal barrel will be coming from lignite to liquids or deep drilling under the Arctic, even that ‘low-enough’ price will be eye-watering.

In the end, a lot of oil will remain in the ground because it is simply too expensive to extract.

49 comments on “Too expensive to pump ”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    Checked out theoildrum.com the other day and they had the first summary of the IEA’s annual report.

    The biggest sore thumb in the lot was the graph where they showed conventional oil output completely flat up until 2035. That means new production is exactly equal to declines in existing fields. Lets stress this: *exactly equal*. How often does that sort of thing ever happen in real life?

    The conclusion is that the graph has been drawn to fit expectations of an everlasting oil bounty, and not to reflect the actual data.

    • Bored 1.1

      Lan, I mentioned what you pointed out on the graph below, you are right, its a crock from a pile of propagandists.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    Actually there will be no new normal oil price IMO. Oil is going to experience massive cost variability over the next few years and that (in addition to its absolute price) is going to be what drives people away from it.

    There is a good chance that oil will touch US$200/barrel in the next two or three years; the fact it is holding near $90 in the middle of a deep global recession is amazing.

    • Bored 2.1

      The price of oil will yoyo big time. It is likely to crash as affordability (i.e the money to buy it) dries up, then to go ballistic as demand coinciding with underinvestment (from prior price crash) kicks in. Expect the peaks in real price (i.e inflation / deflation adjusted) to be very much higher than the $200 in 2010 scenario, many multiples more, and very much sooner (in 2035 there wont be much left).

    • Greg 2.2

      Oil is NZ’s single biggest import – around 14 percent of the total last year, from memory. And that was at an average $65 per barrel. When it’s $200 — well, you do the maths. But the problem is, half of our oil is used off-road: on farms and in the air. We’ll still need it.

      We could insulate ourselves from crazy prices, and live up to our green image too, if we had a government that could lead. Check out Kevin Cudby’s plan for growing it ourselves: http://fromsmoketomirrors.com/

  3. Bored 3

    Marty, you are so right that these people are ludicrously optimistic. Reports from people like the IEA are part of the problem, what this is all about is “denial”.

    The interesting graph for me was the one that showed “to be discovered / to be developed” oil fields taking up the whole slack of supply where existing fields drop off, in a flat line scenario. based entirely I would suggest on wishful thinking, and designed so as not to “scare the horses”.

    A more constructive approach would be a recognition of and a plan for the future. Whilst the mainstream is failing to make alternative provision I have, as have many more who are looked upon as pariahs and Cassandras.

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      IEA is funded by Opec, and principally the US. Don’t think much more than that needs to be said.

      Also, see my comment #1 above.

    • insider 3.2

      My limited understanding of their method is that they look at a highly developed key existing oil province like the US and its production history and they apply that to newer provinces. The assumption is that other producers will follow a similar path and get similar results.

  4. Bored 4

    On the subject of alternative plans there are a few really good sites for Standardistas to find out how to help themselves as opposed to awaiting for the powers who be to lead us into the “promised land”” of a “perpetually sunny energy rich upland”.

    The one thing that all of the sites agree upon is that survivng the energy decline will be about “communities” as opposed to “individual” initiatives. Survivalism wont help, but knowledge of our pre modern (oil based) existence will. Anybody interested would do well to start with the Archdruid for practical advise, and Transition Town sites. There is no unanimity, lots of disagreement but also a lot of good information. enjoy.

  5. rich 5

    We need to build a lot more renewables such that by 2035, we are using oil solely as a chemical feedstock. And stop burning coal, it’s going to be much more valuable than it is now.

    It’s doable – under Muldoon we had 80% plus renewables if I remember right?

    We just need to accept windfarms on hillsides and dams on rivers.

  6. nzfp 6

    On Oct 30, 2010 Bloomberg reported “Brazil Says Offshore Oil Field May be Americas’ Biggest Find in 34 Years”

    The article states:

    Brazil said its Libra field may hold “gigantic” reserves of as much as 15 billion barrels, almost twice initial estimates, which would make it the biggest discovery in the Americas in more than three decades.

    And that:

    A deposit of 15 billion barrels would be almost twice the size of state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA’s nearby Tupi field, would eclipse Brazil’s total current reserve base and also be the biggest find in the Americas since Mexico discovered Cantarell in 1976. Deepwater fields in Brazil’s so-called pre- salt region have yielded the largest discoveries outside the Middle East in the past decade, said Julius Walker, an oil analyst at the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

    But it should also be cautioned that:

    “Nobody is making discoveries like these anywhere at the moment,” Walker said in a telephone interview today. It “makes deepwater Brazil the most exciting new area.”

    Doesn’t it seem too convenient that another “gigantic” field is found – just in time to save the day?

    It should be noted that Mexico’s economy was destroyed almost immediately after the discovery of the Cantarell oil field.

    • Lanthanide 6.1

      At a rate of 76m barrels per day, 15 billion barrels lasts just 6 1/2 months. Sizeable, to be sure, but still not enough to stop the decline.

      Also I wouldn’t say discoveries of gigantic fields are particularly ‘convenient’. More convenient is that the OPEC states have kept static reserve figures, despite producing billions of barrels of oil. Again like the flat-line graph mentioned in #1, they’re fudging figures to fit their goals, and not presenting the real data.

      Also if you think Mexico was destroyed when it discovered Cantarell, you ain’t seen nothing yet because oil revenue makes up 40% of the government’s revenue and Cantarell is in precipitous decline.

  7. nzfp 7

    “despite the fact that oil producers failed to lift their production in reaction to the last great oil spike”

    Yet what is interesting is that on September 07, 2009 The Market Oracle reported that “Russian Oil Production Overtakes Saudi Arabia”

    The Market Oracle stated that:

    Russia is extracting more oil than Saudi Arabia, making it the biggest producer of “black gold” in the world, figures show.

    The statistics, from the oil cartel Opec, reflect a trend that has seen the Russians periodically surpass the Saudis as the world’s biggest oil producers on and off since 2002

    And that:

    These latest figures are being hailed in Russia as evidence that such periodic production spikes are not one-offs though and that Moscow really does have a right to lay claim to the No 1 spot.

    According to Opec, Russia extracted 9.236 million barrels of oil a day in June, 46,000 more than Saudi Arabia.

    The statistics also showed that Russian production in the first half of this year increased to 235.8 million tons, a year-on-year improvement of 2.3 per cent.

    Which begs the question why they didn’t do this during the peak of the Goldman Sachs (doing gods work) and friends oil speculation bubble.

    We know that Alberta Oil Sands is out of the question – considering the devastating impact on the environment to produce it. But maybe we could consider the Hydrocarbon lakes on Titan?

    Personally, I think we should just reduce our reliance on oil and energy by changing our economic system to promote economic and political freedom along with local and sustainable communities.

    • Lanthanide 7.1

      “Which begs the question why they didn’t do this during the peak of the Goldman Sachs (doing gods work) and friends oil speculation bubble.”

      Because oil projects take many years, often decades, from planning through to development and eventual production. I’m sure Russia would’ve loved to start producing more oil at the height of the spike, but there’s only so fast you can rush projects for sensible amounts of money. Very large projects in particular are much more subject to delays than they are speeding up – if things aren’t done correctly or corners are cut, there can be huge environmental, safety and economic consequences (eg, damage your well and ultimately reduce your total recoverable reserves).

      • nzfp 7.1.1

        Oh yeah – you hit it right on the head, BP case in point!

        By the way – the Hydrocarbon Lakes on Titan – while interesting were for sarcastic humour value only (just in case anybody thought I was serious – they do exist but we can’t produce them yet).

        • Bill

          How? What? You saying there was life on Titan?

          Well, ain’t the Martians are going to be pissed.

          • nzfp

            Heh heh – no, but hydrocarbons are common in the solar system – especially hydrogen and methane.

  8. insider 8

    That’s less than 4% price increase per year on a base of USD$85. HArdly a level that is going to destroy the global economy. Electricity prices have risen more than that for the last decade in NZ.

    • nzfp 8.1

      While that may or may not be true – that still doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t reduce our consumption of oil.

      We could do THIS (11 October 2010 at 2:17 pm). It may or may not work (you need to read the comment) but it is worth trying. The resultant change to our economy would at least significantly reduce our reliance on oil – making us a light unto the nations for sustainability.

      • insider 8.1.1

        why not just create free money to buy the oil and cut out all that other hassle?

        • nzfp

          Why buy oil when you can have free renewable environmentally sustainable energy?

          • insider

            It’s not free if it costs you $10b to invent it let alone implement.

            • nzfp

              It’s free forever after an initial investment of 10 Billion – along with all the new technologies developed as well.

              Costs us nothing because we – the public – create the credit. No cost at all to us.

              • insider

                So no maintenance or installation costs, no need to buy materials or expertise offshore? Sounds like a perpetual motion money machine

                • nzfp

                  Oh now you’re just being silly…

                  So no maintenance or installation costs, no need to buy materials or expertise offshore?

                  What do you think? While you’re thinking of the answer – ask yourself if it’s relevant – cos it’s not. there’s this little thing called an economy – it’s where people realise opportunities and fill niches. You could start an installation business yourself. As the technology was developed here – the expertise is here. Our Universities are world class.

                  Sounds like a perpetual motion money machine

                  It does doesn’t it – it worked in the original 13 US colonies – Pennsylvania in particular. But if you’re worried about inflation – I have this little thing to take care of that – it’s called “TAX”. Ever heard of it – Taxes? Great for pulling excess money out of an economy.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.2

      That’s less than 4% price increase per year on a base of USD$85.

      It said $200 in today’s dollars which means it would be the same as having $200/barrel oil today. The global economy, as it’s set up, cannot work with $200/barrel oil.

      • Bored 8.2.1

        Of course the global economy can work at $200 a barrel, it can work very well at any price (depending on where you are in the food chain), sort of suboptimal by todays standards BUT it wont work at all if it has no oil……sit back and watch the violence at the pumps overflow into the fiancial arena when it dries up.

  9. Least we forget …………….. December 20th, 2002

    Dear Mr Atack

    Thank you for your letter of 16 November 2002, addressed to the Prime Minister, in which you outline your views about international oil depletion and your concerns about New Zealand’s energy future. As the subject matter you cover falls within my portfolio the Prime Minister asked me to reply to you directly…………………….

    Snip ……………….. Let me say therefore that I do understand the concerns that you and many others hold about the future of oil resources. It is true that no one seriously disputed the notion that oil is a non-renewable resource that will run out some day, but there is considerable debate about when that “one day” will be. There are counter views to the one that says we have only a few years of oil left. New Zealand is a member of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Then IEA for example, in its latest ‘World Energy Outlook’ published in September this year, foresees enough oil to comfortably meet demand to 2030. After the 1970’s oil shocks the predictions were that the world would run out of oil by the year 2000. I think it is also fair to say that technological improvements mean that the oil industry is steadily increasing the amount of oil it is able to extract and there are many who argue that this technological revolution has only just begun. ………………….
    There in no easy answer, but I can assure you that this Government is aware of the oil situation, and determined to ensure New Zealand moves over time to a future where we are not overly dependent on oil.
    I have kept the interesting material you enclosed with your letter (the CD and tape).
    If you would like the material back please write, or ring my office, and let me know and I will ensure it is returned to you Thank you again for sending it.

    Yours sincerely
    Hon Pete Hodgson
    Minister of Energy
    December 20th, 2002

    Back then Labor was saying oil wouldn’t be over $25.00 out to 2020 ish …
    And in an email from Pete I receaved about 4 months ago he said he wouldn’t sign off on the above letter today, if he had been listening to us 8 F-ing years ago he wouldn’t have signed it then, and maybe (just maybe) we wouldn’t be heading for this 2012 shitstorm.

  10. 2004 ish
    Dear Mr Atack
    Thank you for your email of 8 September sent to the Prime Minister.
    She has asked me to reply to your email as the subject matter that you cover falls directly within the energy portfolio.

    I am aware that you have corresponded many times with the Prime Minister, and also with my colleague the Minister of Energy, on this subject.
    I have read the replies they have sent you in which they have tried to make it clear that we all agree with your view that oil is a non-renewable resource that will one day run out? The point of contention is of course when that one-day will be.

    The article you sent with your email is interesting but certainly represents the most pessimistic view in relation to when that one-day will be. There is a myriad of “highly informed” views on this with “experts” holding different opinions and I think it is unlikely that they will ever all agree.

    The truth probably lies somewhere between the views of the “experts” on either side of the debate but it is the case that many international organisations do not share your views. The authoritative International Energy Agency, of which New Zealand is a member, while remaining cautious, still predicts enough oil to meet demand to 2030.

    Please be assured that the information you have been given before on New Zealand’s move to renewable energy sources, such as wind and biomass, still hold true. We are ensuring that they will play an appropriate part in our energy future by implementing strategies that will assist us to a more sustainable environmentally friendly future.

    The Government is aware of the oil situation, and determined to ensure New Zealand moves over time to a future where we are not overly dependent on oil. The one thing I can tell you for certain is that New Zealand takes the depletion of oil reserves seriously.

    As a general observation I have to say that the material you are continually providing to Ministers on various forms of energy is a continuing the. I am not at all sure that further such correspondence will be helpful to yourself or Ministers unless there are genuinely some new issues or points to be made.

    I understand from Caroline Parlane in the Ministry of Economic Development that you are in regular communication with her and have sent her a wealth of information? Articles, CDs and tapes on the issue of oil supplies. She has undertaken to let me know if she finds anything in that information of which I am not currently aware or of which she thinks I should be informed.

    Yours sincerely
    Hon Harry Duynhoven
    Associate Minister of Energy

    So the above statment from the then Associate Minister of Energy New Zealand Labour Govt 2001-2004 is that he knows it all and I should go away you silly boy, and take all that peak oil rubbish with you.

  11. Jeremy Harris 11

    It’s not really going to be a question of prices holding at any level, more market reactions to decline…

    Production peaks and goes into decline, it doesn’t hold steady at a set production rate, say 85 mbd, and stay there as price increases… It hasn’t acted in this way in any “peaked” country or region…

    In the end, a lot of oil will remain in the ground because it is simply too expensive to extract.

    About 60% – 65% of oil will remain in a field, there is simply no pressure (even with water injection) to force it up the pipe… In Russia and the Sudan some idiots are simply burning off the NG that comes out of oil fields, so even at this stage there is waste…

    • Lanthanide 11.1

      Yeah, I think this is a very interesting point. There is a lot of wasted energy right now, even at the extraction point. As prices go up, this waste will go down, and eke out small production increases that probably aren’t accounted for in (m)any models. This waste could even end up being quite a sizeable amount? Who knows.

      As much as techno-fixes are always decried, there is always the possibility that new technology could be created to get significantly more access to that currently unrecoverable oil. I alluded to OPEC keeping a flat-line in their proven reserves – their justification is ‘reserve growth’ which is essentially new technology increasing the URR in any particular field.

      Another point is that there are thousands of ‘sipper wells’ in the US that produce only tens or hundreds of barrels a day, but they’re still producing and still economic for the owners. If this is the future for many onshore fields, then after a steep falloff production could actually stabilise at a higher level than some predict it will.

      One site that I like to check every now and then is this one: http://www.trendlines.ca/scenarios.htm

      This guy is often derided by those he calls the “peak oil lunatic fringe”, and perhaps his actual prediction is bunk, but he has compiled a list of predictions made by others, and regularly compares them with current and recent historical production to try and find which predictions have held out best. He’s found that many of the pessimistic scenarios have been well off the mark, and currently the best predictions were those made back in 97 and 98. It’s worth digging into the site, although obviously it is very information-dense and not particularly easy to read.

    • Jeremy Harris 11.2

      When production peaks and Wall St gets it they’ll be a crash that is in no way consist with the problem… Then:

      I think we’re in a for a depression of about 5 – 10 years and massive, massive cuts in government spending – possibly a new financial system – Bretton Woods or Gold Standard and then it will a new world with different growth but ultimately this is a smaller problem than WW2…

  12. statisticallydeviant 12

    I can’t access the full report but all publicly available information including the presentation to journalists has the IEA forecasting the price not increasing above $140ish (US) under current policy.


    The main scenario is quoted below. Quibble about the assumptions.

    “The oil price is set to rise, reflecting the growing insensitivity of both demand and supply to price. In the New Policies Scenario, the average IEA crude oil price rises from just over $60 in 2009 to $113 per barrel (in year-2009 dollars) in 2035.”


    If the $200 quoted in the Herald is derived by converting to NZ $ then its misleading and sensationalist but what else to expect from the press (or a partisan blog)?

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      All of these guys are rubbish at forecasting anything. Do not put heed into their Mediocre-stan forecasts when we are clearly entering a period of full on Extremi-stan.

      • insider 12.1.1

        And how good have all the predictions of imminent doom and collapse in oil stocks been?

        • Robert Atack

          Well insider (another gutless no name) the current predictions from ‘our lot’ are playing out quite well ….
          Peak 2005 yes @ around 73 mbd of CRUDE
          Economic ‘problems’ starting not long after 2005, well 2007 – 8 is around that time, so we got that right.
          Now Parliamentary support have come out and confirmed another prediction … economic upheavals/crash 2012 – 2015 * http://oilcrash.com/articles/wake_up2.htm *
          Considering the govt have been saying since I bought it up in 1999 that the 2005 peak in Crude extraction wouldn’t happen until 2035, I think my predictions have been a shit load better, and I gave them out for free.
          I posted about 5 copies each twice to every one of the criminals in charge in 2000 of this statement http://oilcrash.com/articles/running.htm … it crunches down to 2 sides of an A4, I gave out 3,000 in one day on the streets of Wellington, I ended up getting 10,000 printed. And I know several hundred were handed out and placed on every seat at the Nelson Greed Party conference around 2001 ish?

          So Mr no name please read this * document and feel free to point out were we got things wrong.

          • insider

            I think you’ve made an error – 82mbd not 73 and in 2008 not 2005

            How many times did Colin Campbell wrongly predict peak and how much has he revised up his estimate of URR? Laherrere?

            When was Ken Deffeyes 99% sure PO was going to happen?

        • Colonial Viper

          Actually insider, that is my point – how good have all these forecasts been? Not at all!!!

          Further there are hundreds of billions of barrels of oil locked up in tar sands around the world. The world is not going to run out of oil, just oil that will give us petrol at less than $4/L.

  13. alloverrover 13

    Its not just the price… the IEA is warning of less oil being used in OECD nations…

    Whether you are a petrol head or a mum and dad happy motorist you will be living with less oil in the future. That’s the sober conclusion of the New Zealand government’s most trusted energy adviser — the International Energy agency (IEA) in its latest annual report.

    Starting now, and year after year, there will be less and less oil used per capita for transport in OECD nations — including New Zealand

    • M 13.1

      AOR, less oil for sure but people won’t change their habits until they absolutely have to. Price is one thing, availability another, as fierce competition for Texas tea may mean we have intermittent supply.

      Time to get your hands on a bike, spare tyres and chain etc. For those that have bikes they will need to hawkeye them as theft will shoot up so it may necessitate housing your bike inside your house at night. When out, having chain of sufficiently heavy gauge and a good lock to protect your bike as best you can wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Hand mowers will make a comeback – Michelle Obama’s arms will have some competition.

      It’s time for the government to put the bit between its teeth, get the truth out and put this country on a wartime footing; given Key’s jellyfish nature that day will never come unless a tidal wave of reality threatens to engulf him.

      • alloverrover 13.1.1

        “It’s time for the government to put the bit between its teeth, get the truth out and put this country on a wartime footing; ”

        yes but where is Labour in all this? They are silent and no pressure is being applied to the government.

        • Lanthanide

          Because being doom and gloom doesn’t get you votes until it is widely acknowledged that there is a problem.

          • Jeremy Harris

            It can get you 8% of the vote… Ask the Greens…

            Captcha: extract (lol)…

            • Bored

              Actually, you will be lucky to be voting at all if provisions are not made for the the post oil economy.

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