Peak Oil: Meet the TAO of Oil by Leonardo Maugeri
Only around 2,000 new field wildcats (wells made for exploring the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsoil) have been drilled in the entire Persian Gulf region since the inception of its oil activity, as against more than 1 million in the United States. TAO
Leonardo Maugeri's 2006 book, "The Age of Oil (TAO)," is an indispensable look at the past, present, and future of the role of petroleum. Written in two parts, TAO first looks at the human history of oil along with current events of oil. The second and final section of TAO looks at the question of whether the world is at or near "peak oil."
In April 1977, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) delivered a highly influential report stating that the growth of world oil demand would soon outpace production because of constraints on OPEC potential and the impending peak of Soviet Production. By the 1980s, the report argued, oil would be scarce and very expensive....Maugeri points to three categories of reserves used when referring to future oil reserves.
Maugeri points out that:
- Proven Reserves---defined as the amount of oil and gas in place in known reservoirs that can be estimated with "reasonable certainty" to be commercially recoverable under current economic conditions....profitable recovery of at least 90 percent.
- Probable Reserves---the probability of profitable recovery falls to 50 percent
- Possible Reserves---profitable probability of recovery no less than 10 percent.
During the last 25 years more than 70% of exploration has taken place in the United States and Canada, mature areas that probably hold only 3% of the world's reserves of crude. The Middle East, on the other hand, has been the scene of only 3% of global exploration, even though it harbors 70% of the earth's reserves. In the Persian Gulf, holding 65% of the region's reserves, fewer than 100 exploration wells were drilled between 1995 and 2004. During the same period, 15,700 such wells were drilled in the U.S. Forbes
Future advances in the technologies of production, and refinement--as well as improved efficiencies of utilisation--have the potential to move reserves from the "possible" and "probable" categories up to the "proven reserves" classification. Future advances in discovery technology have the potential to expand all reserves significantly.
A recent declaration by the International Energy Agency that world petroleum production had peaked in 2006--had passed "peak oil"--was based on an analysis of world petroleum production, without considering either world petroleum reserves or seriously considering the many reasons why world petroleum production might peak from time to time without signaling any type of "peak oil." (Like the IPCC, the part of the IEA that produces reports touching on politics, eg "peak oil," may well have been infiltrated by bureaucrats and contributors with a fixed agenda.)
Maugeri concludes his book with a look at "resource nationalism," the gloomy reality that most of the world's known conventional petroleum resources exist in territories controlled by dictators and autocrats--Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, etc. For this reason, oil prices are likely to remain quite high--unless market forces arising from new discoveries and production outside the autocratic zone force the dictators of oil to compete once again.
Remember, nationalised resources do not tend to attract the latest technology in discovery, production, and refinement. That means that a lot of resources remain in the ground.
Despite its long history as an oil producing region, the Persian Gulf is still relatively virgin in terms of exploration. Only around 2,000 new field wildcas (wells made for exploring the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsoil) have been drilled in the entire Persian Gulf region since the inception of its oil activity, as against more than 1 million in the United States. p. 221 TAO
More from Maugeri at National Geographic, Forbes, and Foreign Affairs.