When will the oil run out?

George Monbiot puts the question to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency - and is both astonished and alarmed by the answer

George Monbiot meets Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency Link to this video

Can you think of a major threat for which the British government does not prepare? It employs an army of civil servants, spooks and consultants to assess the chances of terrorist attacks, financial collapse, floods, epidemics, even asteroid strikes, and to work out what it should do if they happen. But there is one hazard about which it appears intensely relaxed: it has never conducted its own assessment of the state of global oil supplies and the possibility that one day they might peak and then go into decline.

If you ask, the government always produces the same response: "Global oil resources are adequate for the foreseeable future." It knows this, it says, because of the assessments made by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its World Energy Outlook reports. In the 2007 report, the IEA does appear to support the government's view. "World oil resources," it states, "are judged to be sufficient to meet the projected growth in demand to 2030," though it says nothing about what happens at that point, or whether they will continue to be sufficient after 2030. But this, as far as Whitehall is concerned, is the end of the matter. Like most of the rich world's governments, the UK treats the IEA's projections as gospel. Earlier this year, I submitted a freedom of information request to the UK's department for business, asking what contingency plans the government has made for global supplies of oil peaking by 2020. The answer was as follows: "The government does not feel the need to hold contingency plans specifically for the eventuality of crude-oil supplies peaking between now and 2020."

So the IEA had better be right. In the report on peak oil commissioned by the US department of energy, the oil analyst Robert L Hirsch concluded that "without timely mitigation, the economic, social and political costs" of world oil supplies peaking "will be unprecedented". He went on to explain what "timely mitigation" meant. Even a worldwide emergency response "10 years before world oil peaking", he wrote, would leave "a liquid-fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked". To avoid global economic collapse, we need to begin "a mitigation crash programme 20 years before peaking". If Hirsch is right, and if oil supplies peak before 2028, we're in deep doodah.

So burn this into your mind: between 2007 and 2008 the IEA radically changed its assessment. Until this year's report, the agency mocked people who said that oil supplies might peak. In the foreword to a book it published in 2005, its executive director, Claude Mandil, dismissed those who warned of this event as "doomsayers". "The IEA has long maintained that none of this is a cause for concern," he wrote. "Hydrocarbon resources around the world are abundant and will easily fuel the world through its transition to a sustainable energy future." In its 2007 World Energy Outlook, the IEA predicted a rate of decline in output from the world's existing oilfields of 3.7% a year. This, it said, presented a short-term challenge, with the possibility of a temporary supply crunch in 2015, but with sufficient investment any shortfall could be covered. But the new report, published last month, carried a very different message: a projected rate of decline of 6.7%, which means a much greater gap to fill.

More importantly, in the 2008 report the IEA suggests for the first time that world petroleum supplies might hit the buffers. "Although global oil production in total is not expected to peak before 2030, production of conventional oil ... is projected to level off towards the end of the projection period." These bland words reveal a major shift. Never before has one of the IEA's energy outlooks forecast the peaking or plateauing of the world's conventional oil production (which is what we mean when we talk about peak oil).

But that is as specific as the report gets. Does it or doesn't it mean that we have time to prepare? What does "towards the end of the projection period" mean? The agency has never produced a more precise forecast - until now. For the first time, in the interview I conducted with its chief economist Fatih Birol recently, it has given us a date. And it should scare the pants off anyone who understands the implications.

Birol, the lead author of the new energy outlook, is a small, shrewd, unflustered man with thick grey hair and Alistair Darling eyebrows. He explained to me that the agency's new projections were based on a major study it had undertaken into decline rates in the world's 800 largest oilfields. So what were its previous figures based on? "It was mainly an assumption, a global assumption about the world's oil fields. This year, we looked at it country by country, field by field and we looked at it also onshore and offshore. It was very, very detailed. Last year it was an assumption, and this year it's a finding of our study." I told him that it seemed extraordinary to me that the IEA hadn't done this work before, but had based its assessment on educated guesswork. "In fact nobody had done this research," he told me. "This is the first publicly available data."

So was it not irresponsible to publish a decline rate of 3.7% in 2007, when there was no proper research supporting it? "No, our previous decline assumptions have always mentioned that these are assumptions to the best of our knowledge - and we also said that the declines [could be] higher than what we have assumed."

Then I asked him a question for which I didn't expect a straight answer: could he give me a precise date by which he expects conventional oil supplies to stop growing?

"In terms of non-Opec [countries outside the big oil producers' cartel]," he replied, "we are expecting that in three, four years' time the production of conventional oil will come to a plateau, and start to decline. In terms of the global picture, assuming that Opec will invest in a timely manner, global conventional oil can still continue, but we still expect that it will come around 2020 to a plateau as well, which is, of course, not good news from a global-oil-supply point of view."

Around 2020. That casts the issue in quite a different light. Birol's date, if correct, gives us about 11 years to prepare. If the Hirsch report is right, we have already missed the boat. Birol says we need a "global energy revolution" to avoid an oil crunch, including (disastrously for the environment) a massive global drive to exploit unconventional oils, such as the Canadian tar sands. But nothing on this scale has yet happened, and Hirsch suggests that even if it began today, the necessary investments and infrastructure changes could not be made in time. Birol told me: "I think time is not on our side here."

When I pressed him on the shift in the agency's position, he argued that the IEA has been saying something like this all along. "We said in the past that one day we will run out of oil. We never said that we will have hundreds of years of oil ... but what we have said is that this year, compared with past years, we have seen that the decline rates are significantly higher than what we have seen before. But our line that we are on an unsustainable energy path has not changed."

This, of course, is face-saving nonsense. There is a vast difference between a decline rate of 3.7% and 6.7%. There is an even bigger difference between suggesting that the world is following an unsustainable energy path - a statement almost everyone can subscribe to - and revealing that conventional oil supplies are likely to plateau around 2020. If this is what the IEA meant in the past, it wasn't expressing itself very clearly.

So what do we do? We could take to the hills, or we could hope and pray that Hirsch is wrong about the 20-year lead time, and begin a global crash programme today of fuel efficiency and electrification. In either case, the British government had better start drawing up some contingency plans.


• Watch George Monbiot talking to Fatih Birol as part of the Monbiot Meets video series, in which Britain's leading green commentator challenges the world's top environmental policy-makers guardian.co.uk/environment/series/monbiot-meets


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  • Esposito

    15 December 2008 10:04AM

    So are we all going to die of global warming or not?

  • Blurbsnafus

    15 December 2008 10:12AM

    Great interview, I do think that 2020 might be optimistic, in Jeremy Leggett's excellent book 'Half Gone' from 2005 his pessimistic estimate was even sooner then ie. between 2012 and 2015, recently he's come out to say that we have most probably reached peek oil this year or by 2010. It seems that wether your an optimist or a pessimist it's already too late for the kind of grandiose and lofty waffle surrounding the term preparation for this event. I think we need a World War II style survival plan and national readiness for a world where oil is a declining resource held by a few nations. I also think that this might sober up any objections to nuclear!

  • Upstanding

    15 December 2008 10:13AM

    It's good to see you on board at last George. Many in the oil industry (never reaching as far as the board, of course) have been warning about this for many, many years. The lack of awareness in government and the media is shocking. Because we've left even 'talking about' peak oil until the moment that oil is essentially peaking means we're going to go through a frightening and transformative time pretty much globally.

    I hope this becomes as important a thread in your writings as climate change. They are interrelated and both will have such devastating consequences that everyone needs to start thinking about them now.

  • tommacg

    15 December 2008 10:19AM

    Good article, good interview. It's quite a scary prospect, but if it forces our hand in being weaned off oil then so be it
    Tom x

  • Nullius

    15 December 2008 10:20AM

    A couple of other things make this picture even worse:

    Many observers seriously doubt the published oil reserve figures - especially of countries in the Middle East. In many cases the stated reserves (published by BP) have stayed the same for 20 years despite countries pumping flat out for most of that time. In other words, there may be much less "easy" oil available than we suppose, and thus global oil production may peak much sooner than 20 years hence. Some analysts claim we're already there.

    Mr Birol says that oil from tar sands will account for some seven million barrels a day - about the same order as Saudi Arabia pumps every day. This is incredibly ambitious. It takes nearly a barrel's worth of oil energy to get a barrel of oil from these shales. It's hard to think of a more inefficient source of energy. Alberta would be turned into a wasteland.

    Also, Russia, Iran, or some other country that wanted to make a bit of trouble for America will have a golden opportunity. They won't even need to turn the taps off. They would merely need to start selling their oil and gas in euros or yen (or even roubles) instead of dollars.

  • Upstanding

    15 December 2008 10:24AM


    10 Apr 2007, George Monbiot on Peak Oil and Transition Towns.

    Theres some supplementary stuff which Id just like to run through quickly. Over the past two or three years or so, Ive become pretty sure that peak oil isnt as imminent as I first thought. There are a couple of reasons for this. First off, there are some very large unexplored areas, north-west Saudi Arabia, most of Siberia, we can go into that in greater depth if you like during the discussion.

    Secondly, quite recently there have been various innovations for enhancing the amount of oil removed from existing oil fields, particularly something called Enhanced Oil Recovery�?, which uses carbon dioxide that becomes super-critical at 800 metres down and is used to drive the dregs of the oil fields out. Also there is horizontal drilling, there is deep drilling, it is not going to happen as soon as Kenneth Deffeyes and Colin Campbell and one or two others say, Im pretty much convinced of that.


  • hopefulcyclist

    15 December 2008 10:30AM

    Thanks to the global credit bubble and recession/depression, the world will pump less oil on 2009 than 2008, and probably less again in 2010 and 2011. Investment in developing new oil fields and alternatives is being drastically cut back. However, we are still pumping nearly 85M barrels a day, which means the existing fields are being depleted steadily. In a few years, if governments manage to reinflate the economy, demand will pick up just as the supply crunch cuts in, and prices will explode again, leading to another credit crunch and economic collapse.

    Rinse adn repeat, until we learn that economic growth has once and for all come to an end.

  • aprilpulsar

    15 December 2008 10:31AM

    Luckily I just bought a Hummer so I'll get a few years out of it at least before I trade it in for a horse and cart.

  • Contributor

    15 December 2008 10:32AM

    where's the contradiction, Upstanding?

  • andysimms

    15 December 2008 10:32AM

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn't abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted. For more detail see our FAQs.

  • tommacg

    15 December 2008 10:32AM

    If the IEA can make such a huge leap in opinion in the course of a year, then Monbiot can too. He doesn't have the resources to survey 800 oil fields, so therefore is more likely to flipflop like this....

  • Upstanding

    15 December 2008 10:38AM

    tommacg, fair enough, I agree. I've been a huge respecter of Monbiot for over a decade, and worried about peak oil for nearly as long. Which is why I was so dissappointed with the lack of understanding demonstrated in the Transition Towns discussion. Let the mantra be 'flow rate', not 'reserves'.

  • peachmann

    15 December 2008 10:40AM

    Shouldn't this story get a higher posting than "journalist throws shoes at president"?

  • Upstanding

    15 December 2008 10:41AM

    > where's the contradiction, Upstanding?

    Let's not argue about who said what when. Let's plant a garden.

  • damasene

    15 December 2008 10:48AM

    Interesting....are there not the same body of deniers of oil reserves running out as there are deniers of global warming? All we have, 16 odd comments in, is one sadly confused Esposito asking "So are we all going to die of global warming or not?" And in answer to your question Esposito, only if we don't die in the global war over the last dregs of oil.

  • Gilgalesh

    15 December 2008 10:49AM

    Remember nearly all currunt reserves are held by National Governments which are not investing nearly as much or efficiently as private companies would. Production has slowed considerably in Venezuela. Indeed Saudi Arabia are leaving it in the ground.
    With investment could come better efficiencies in terms of how much oil is needed to extract the difficult to get oil (there is lots of it). And of course speedier extraction. What this all means is there could be more oil for longer than some of the pessimistic forecasts.
    But what we all really want is energy companies putting serious cash into investing in new energy. Of course this won't happen until there is no more oil or it is simply not profitable to extract. Catch 22?
    The pain will be the transition time to alternatives and what we are not considering is how much stuff is made of oil. We will have to give up nearly everything we have come to know as normal.

  • goto100

    15 December 2008 10:54AM

    First of all, by chance, Hirsch and Matt Simmons are on the 2nd hour of the fsn podcast. George Monbiot - you maybe aren't aware of this either. Perhaps you should listen.



    In fact nobody had done this research," he told me.

    Flat out lie. What's Matt Simmons been doing all the time.

    I wouldn't be so gentle with Birol or the IEA. These people belong in the dock. Their deception, through a mixture of hubris, delusion, deliberate manipulation and pure stupidity, will cost millions of lives.

  • DodgyGeezer

    15 December 2008 10:56AM

    But there is one hazard about which it appears intensely relaxed: it has never conducted its own assessment of the state of global oil supplies

    Lots of people do not examine technical and statistical findings closely if they are in accord with their own predjudices. Most of the science behind 'climate change' is unaudited for precisely this reason. As an example of the way reality can be completely different to what we expect, here is a simple assessment which really ought to have been done many years before by someone......


  • Contributor

    15 December 2008 11:02AM

    Peak oil is a ghost train.

    We all know it's coming, but we won't know it's arrived until it's passed us by. And by then we will all be gaping at India and China's massive car fleet and wondering why we were so stupid.

    It's the classic virus in the petri dish. Exponential growth limited by nutrient deficiency and expontentially increasing pollution leading to sudden and dramatic collapse. The bell-shaped curve.

    For whom the bell tolls.

  • Quartz1

    15 December 2008 11:06AM

    I agree with Peachmann -

    Surely this is a candidate for the most underwhelming headline title ever?

    It's easily up there with "Earlier on today apparently a woman rang the BBC and said she had heard that there was a hurricane on the way"... Come on Guardian eds - pull the mouse out!

    Great interview George. I like the approach and format of the videos.

  • biba100mejico

    15 December 2008 11:18AM

    Why is this article almost hidden?

    Peak oil so soon makes "planning" for anything other than a "survival" future pretty trivial.

    Let me slap myself again.

    No ...... I can't wake myself up.

  • Tasselhoff

    15 December 2008 11:22AM

    Nice article George.

    I've been in my doomstead in rural France for eighteen months now. I deeply mistrust the OPEC reserve figures, and feel that we may not reach previous highs in daily production again, once demand picks up again.

    On the bright side, you can always investing in oil options five years hence.

  • goto100

    15 December 2008 11:24AM

    Reading above.

    First, is "Monbiot", actually GM? A contributor should have a C as identification when posting to the blogs. Is this a techie-error at the Graun or an impostor?

    Second, reading that exchange, Monbiot's thinking is very wrongheaded as regards dates of peak oil/coal/energy. it isn't just about flow rates either. It is about the net energy flow rates - factor in the energy of extraction, increasing steadily through time, to the actual flow rate of the resource. This greatly reduces the value of future fossil fuel extraction. We are rapidly descending the resource pyramid to the bottom. Technology will not overcome thermodynamics.

  • jeremyll33

    15 December 2008 11:26AM

    Of all the generality of "world oil supplies" we are only really talking about one oil field Ghawar in Saudi (I've driven in a Lada through that region!) which is the biggest in the world. In the sea we have Safaniya which is the biggest underwater (I've mapped the marine habitats there) field

    Check this link out. Thanks to Google Earth we don't need to bother listening to the Saudis proclamations about how much oil is left.


    He bases his info on Matt Simmons work.

    I'm reminded when I delve into Peak Oul of Percy in Blackadder "We're doomed, Edmund. Doomed!"

  • Worktimesurfer

    15 December 2008 11:27AM

    Just out of interest, why does the anaylsis that he does single out OPEC from the rest of the crowd in its approach? I know they are large, but they have been pumping out the most oil too. Does this not imply something about the reliability of data from the OPEC-controlled oil fields as opposed to the nmn-OPEC ones?

  • johnmperry

    15 December 2008 11:31AM

    Jay Hanson said all this a lot more than five years ago. He saw 2008 as the peak year.

    Check www.dieoff.org

  • crompton

    15 December 2008 11:49AM

    damasene:"Interesting....are there not the same body of deniers of oil reserves running out as there are deniers of global warming?"

    It is, for you at least, an unfortunate fact of life that the world is composed of different types of human beings. One of the types is inclined to believe implicitly in any forecast that predicts doom and punishment. The faithful Hence the New Testament has a whole section for them.

    Of the other types there are those who simply don't believe anything they are told, and those who don't believe anything their told without evidence. this latter group seldom take anything they're told by the faithful, a bit curmudgeonly of them I'll grant you. This group want to know whether there is sufficient evidence to believe the forecast, they don't implicitly believe like the faithful. The faithful call them deniers, while none of the curmudgeons claim the oil won't run out, nor that the world isn't warming, just that the first is going to happen, but they, the curmudgeons don't know when and don't believe the faithful.

  • ElGassi

    15 December 2008 11:50AM

    Actually it's going to be worse than that. The key is "assuming OPEC invests in a timely manner" in infrastructure and exploration. Well, because of the financial crisis and the collapse of the oil price, OPEC is not investing in anything any more and neither are the commercial oil companies (including the one I work for). In the past two to three months, virtually all exploration budgets around the world have been slashed. On Saturday Algeria only managed to auction off four blocks out of the 16 on offer in the latest exploration round. Countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil are pursuing resource strategies that run counter to the old policy of getting the stuff out of the ground as quickly as possible and selling it.

    All in all, it's going to be an interesting next 10-20 years as we hit the buffers and I am very scared. On the other hand, the prospect of runaway global warming frightens me too, and maybe this supply crunch will help mitigate it.

  • Bonzaboy

    15 December 2008 11:51AM

    It's about time the mainstream media picked up on this one, it's something I have been somewhat concerned about ooh, for the last 17 years? Of course, it becomes more concerning as time goes on. And it becomes ever more clear that governments are incapable or unwilling to respond to these issues except through "market forces".

    "Market forces" will solve all of our problems. (You can easily see that as you monitor the climate change debate).

    There is only one thing we can do to seriously to counteract the problems inherent in environmental destruction and resource depletion. And that's to move away from our "ultra-efficient" capitalist economy, you know, the one which uses up all resources willy-nilly with no concern for the future, the one that treats the environment as a "resource base" for the simple purpose of making short-term profit.

    "Let the market sort it all out". The best excuse in the world for doing jack shit about anything.

  • Babelshark

    15 December 2008 11:57AM

    So are we all going to die of global warming or not?

    Whatever side of the discussion you are on, I think this has to qualify as one of the most fatuous, unintelligent and unconstructive contributions to CIF for some time.

  • Bonzaboy

    15 December 2008 11:59AM

    I hope that you are all aware that our much-lauded modern agricultural system is almost entirely based on oil, from machinery through packaging to transport, as well as in pesticide and herbicide use.

    And we're already seeing problems with supplying food to the ever-increasing mouths on this stressed-out planet.

    Britain produces only 40% of it's food, the last time I checked.

    Better start digging up those allotments again, eh?

  • Babelshark

    15 December 2008 12:08PM


    Indeed Saudi Arabia are leaving it in the ground.

    If true, how very sensible of them. If we'd done the same with North Sea oil, we could have imported it when it was $10-20 a barrel and had it in reserve now.

  • DodgyGeezer

    15 December 2008 12:14PM


    Didn't take you long to pop up with the usual troofer link denying climate change. - This article is about oil and the impending disaster we face if we don't find alternatives fast.

    There are so many alternatives it's hardly worth listing them. Lots of new oil sites, ways to synthesis oil, use of alternative fuels like Hydrogen...

    But you seem to be ignoring these in favour of a one-sided scare story. Much like the scare stories over ice extent figures which now seem to have been going UP for the last 30 years....

  • goto100

    15 December 2008 12:21PM

    Also, didn't the 'leaked' early version of the report - non-sanitized - not have a depletion rate of 8-9%?

  • Contributor

    15 December 2008 12:22PM

    This may help focus the mind:

    Peak beer!

    I did some research:

    "In 2007, six litres of beer fell per head in Azerbaijan, which is less compared to other CIS countries (54 litres), Europe (80 litres) and the United States (about 100 litres). In the next three years, the annual beer use will increase to 12-14%."

    Beer production is set to plummet as the oil to help grow/brew/transport it runs out.

    See also: http://allspinzone.com/wp/2007/11/06/oil-prices-soaring-hops-shortage-threatens-beer-production/

    "Its long been said that as long as Joe Sixpack has his beer available at a reasonable price, and as long as American Idol still plays on our TV screens, the average ‘murican just doesnt give a shit about much of anything else."

  • Contributor

    15 December 2008 12:42PM


    But you seem to be ignoring these in favour of a one-sided scare story.

    You're saying that the International Energy Agency are writing one-sided scare stories? Its off to the Harry Phibbs panto article with you. Your posts belong to the pantomime season.

  • Dendros

    15 December 2008 12:43PM

    Thanks for a great article George. Like the other rural retreat man, I'm planning on buying a cabin deep in a wood in France, and learning about wild food and basic subsistence skills. Imagine 28 Days Later, with Hunger being the virus. Hordes of scavenging hoodies. With knives. Last place to be when the food runs out is a city. Learn some herbal skills, basic first aid. I teach tai chi, so I'll stay healthy that way. Reckon I'll head to China to my master for 6 months, as it will soon become impossible except overland. China will collapse into warring kingdoms again. I don't hold out any hope from my political leaders here in Ireland. They are about to slaughter 100,000 pigs who have tiny traces of dioxin, and invest 400 billion into banks. The environment is just in their way. God help us. Maybe I should move to Sweden.

  • onthefence

    15 December 2008 12:49PM

    Blurbsnafus: in Jeremy Leggett's excellent book 'Half Gone' from 2005 his pessimistic estimate was even sooner then ie. between 2012 and 2015, recently he's come out to say that we have most probably reached peek oil this year or by 2010.

    But how does he know this, exactly? Does he have some source of information no one else is privy to?

    Each oil company tends to keep its own most sensitive data to itself, so there's no clear view of the overall picture.

    That means any peak oil soothsayer can come up with any claim they like, without fear of contradiction.
    It's the perfect bullshitters' charter. An ideal topic for CIF.

  • theeskimo

    15 December 2008 12:57PM

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn't abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted. For more detail see our FAQs.

  • JAnthony

    15 December 2008 12:58PM

    Oh. I'd been deeply sceptical of the whole 'peak oil' debate, when it appeared so far off. Looks like I was wrong.

  • PK99

    15 December 2008 1:01PM

    Inevitably conventional oil will run out whether it is tomorrow next year or 10 years is largely irrelevant it is on the timescale of the next decade or 2. Currently average recovery factors are 35%, which means that 65% is typically left when a field is abandoned, this almost certainly exceeds the amount yet to be found. However, the timescale to developed enhanced recovery techniques is also decades. Companies are not investing in this research because it isn't economic. By the time it is economic it will be too late to do anything. It is very important that sufficient research resources are put into this to buy a stay of execution to develop alternative energy supplies.

    Note that crude oil is not only used for energy it is the feedstock for the whole petrochemicals industry so as oil becomes scarce plastics will become very expensive - that will also have a huge impact on the economy.

    One final thing. Currently there is no sensible alternative to kerosene to fuel aircraft. As oil prices become fixed by supply shortages air fuel will become very expensive as will air travel hitting demand for flights. So why build a 3rd runway at Heathrow - it won't be needed.

  • makewealthhistory

    15 December 2008 1:03PM

    Michael Klare, in 'Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet', predicts that demand will outstrip supply from 2012 onwards.

    That doesn't mean it runs out then of course, but that shortages and price increases will be inevitable from then on.

    In many ways the question of when is beside the point - the important thing is that we minimize the effects as a matter of urgency. Priority number one in my opinion is the national grid. If that's ready to accomodate renewable energy on a larger scale, we can start moving more public transport to electric.

  • alexkelleruk

    15 December 2008 1:20PM

    Has anyone got the actual volumes of all known oil fields? Surely we can just take that figure and put it against current usage (perhaps with an projected increased demand factored in), to calculate just how much is left.

    As far as the facts stand now, the world is using a resource that for the most part is non-renewable (technology and research may alter this). We are dependent on this resource as a means of survival through energy; therefore, we should be looking to shift away from a finite resources and go for energy sources that are renewable and continue to research into other methods.

    To argue when we hit peak oil production seems irrelevant. Whether this happens in 10 years or 100, surely the fact that it isn't an infinite resource should make us reduce our dependency on it. Humanity will more than likely have to face this loss of oil at some point or another, so we might as well start dealing with this change asap.

    Although I appreciate with the amount of money tied to oil, this will not be easy.

  • bishopsloch

    15 December 2008 1:22PM

    Rather a light article, basically spinning out three items of information. Peak oil in 2020 based on a 6.7% decline rate rather than 3.7%. No analysis given as to why.

    I've just written a technical book on methods of improving recovery in oil fields. Some important points can be made here. Exploration finds have been declining since the 1970's and much of the slack has been taken up by reserves growth in existing fields.

    Recovery factors for oil fields are only estimated to be about 30-35%, with much of the oil left behind at the end of field life. This sounds negligent, but as someone who agonises over developing reservoirs for a living, it's hard to do better than this, but not impossible. The main problem is that you have very little information about oil fields to make a predictive model. The fields can be very complex, they are getting older and more swept. You can drill expensive infill wells, but it is difficult to judge whether they are likely to make any money or not.

    However improving recovery in existing fields is terribly important. An increase in recovery of about 15-17% would be all the world's oil all over again. It's an important area for research.

  • yogibear

    15 December 2008 1:23PM


    "There are so many alternatives it's hardly worth listing them. Lots of new oil sites, ways to synthesis oil, use of alternative fuels like Hydrogen..."

    Please do list the ones that do not depend on oil for their production.


    "I wish the eco mob would make their mind up. Are we going to fry or run out of oil."

    I know where you're coming from, but this point shows a lack of knowledge of Peak Oil, its significance, and implications. In answer to your question, it could be both.

    You can be sure that Bush and his pals take the concept very seriously indeed.

  • damasene

    15 December 2008 1:25PM

    The faithful call them deniers, while none of the curmudgeons claim the oil won't run out, nor that the world isn't warming, just that the first is going to happen, but they, the curmudgeons don't know when and don't believe the faithful.

    @ crompton

    After reading your post several times in confusion I've come to the conclusion that you're trying to argue with me (I think so anyway, it really is very hard to tell. You don't write very clearly).

    Oh, it's my use of the word 'denier' you don't like isn't it? Fair enough, it probably reminds you of Holocaust denial, which I did not intend and for which I apologise. 'Skeptics' then; you're a skeptic. I for my part object to being described as a 'faithful', since my pretty moderate belief that we are damaging the planet and using up unrenewable fossil fuels is based on really quite straighforward logic, not 'faith'. I do also tend to think that most mainsream predictions are likely to underestimate the threat rather than overestimate it, for fairly obvious short-term pragmatic reasons.

    You use of 'curmudeon' is interesting too. I mean, it's hardly curmudeonly to refuse to believe doomsayers is it? You're no curmudgeon, you are a sunny optimist. You are a happy, skipping, lamb-like innocent without a care in the world. And there's nothing wrong with that - at least you'll die happy.

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George Monbiot's blog weekly archives

Dec 2008

Guardian Bookshop

This week's bestsellers

  1. 1.  Bring Up the Bodies

    by Hilary Mantel £12.99

  2. 2.  Sarah Raven's Wild Flowers

    by Sarah Raven £27.00

  3. 3.  Poetry Highlights Collection


  4. 4.  100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer's

    by Jean Carper £7.99

  5. 5.  What Money Can't Buy

    by Michael Sandel £13.00