Peak at 85 Million Barrels of Oil a Day

Eighty-five million barrels a day.

That’s the most that can be produced. So when recession causes a temporary decrease in world consumption, it can seem like those 85 million barrels are enough. But consumption is bound to resume its upward climb, while those 85 million barrels a day are all we get. The day of reckoning has just been delayed for a little bit.

“Can’t we get more than 85 million barrels?” some folks are bound to wonder. Let’s look into that.

Those Stubborn “Peak” Curves

This week I was in Denver, attending the 2009 conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas (ASPO). Despite all the happy talk in the Big Media about how the oil situation is under control, I assure you that the oil situation is NOT under control.

The market meltdown and world recession of the past year has bought some time, or stolen some time may be a better way of saying it. All the “peak” curves are still out there, but are merely adjusted a bit to the right on the timelines.

As Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey likes to say on the television show Mail Call, “Wipe that smile off your face.” We’re staring at an energy problem that’s coming down the tracks like a runaway freight train. It’s just astonishing that more people don’t appreciate the looming impact of Peak Oil.

Meanwhile, the politicians are fooling around with the health care issue. Hmmm… I have some news for them. If you screw up energy, health care isn’t going to matter very much.

Oil Output Not Increasing

It might be a comforting thought to believe that world oil output can increase. Indeed, many policymakers in the U.S. and Europe apparently dream themselves to sleep at night pondering how the current oil volume of about 85 million barrels per day could move upward to, say, 95 million barrels per day — “if only the world oil industry were more efficient.”

Yeah, right. Except the global oil industry is not that model of dreamland efficiency. Sure, there are some bright spots. The big internationals like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, etc. are good. There are some really good state oil firms like Brazil’s Petrobras and Norway’s StatoilHydro. Saudi Aramco is outstanding. These guys are all doing great work to keep the world’s pipelines and tankers filled.

But much of the rest of the world’s oil industry lacks the knack for capital discipline and crisp project execution. Venezuela’s oil industry is a basket case, what with the Chavez-led nationalizations and mass firings of recent years. Output is falling in Venezuela, and this from a nation with among the largest hydrocarbon reserves anywhere in the world.

Mexico’s national firm, Pemex, is nothing but a piggy bank for the politicians, who suck most of the investment capital away from the oil patch and into their own boondoggles. Thus is Pemex walking off a cliff of underinvestment, depletion and decline. According to Matt Simmons, Pemex may not be exporting any oil at all to the U.S. within 18-24 months.

Iran’s oil industry is in a slow death spiral, despite the occasional report of Chinese assistance with field development. Apparently, there’s a “Twitter Revolution” going on in Iran that includes people at the grass roots impeding the oil industry. Well, it worked to depose the Shah back in 1979. Perhaps the Iranians can rid themselves of their mullahs in a similar way.

Next door in Iraq, chaos reigns. According to Matt Simmons, the Iraqis “are in the dark about how to run their oil industry.” The Iraqi oil legislation is so burdensome that almost all players within the international energy industry are spurning Iraq, including the Chinese. Wow. When the Chinese won’t invest in your oil fields, there MUST be something wrong.

And so it goes. The bottom line is that we should expect a global oil shock by 2012, or earlier if global economic activity kicks into high gear. It should go without saying that despite any calamities that may come from such a thing, you would be very happy if you’d taken advantage of lower oil prices to stock up.

Until we meet again,
Byron King

October 23, 2009

The Daily Reckoning