Crisis en Canarias

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El fin del petróleo barato

Posted by juanjesus en marzo 7, 2008

 En marzo de 1998 dos reputados geólogos, especializados en exploración petrolera, tanto como profesionales de las grandes empresas del sector como en el ámbito de las consultoras especializadas, Colin J. Campbell y Jean H. Laherrère, publicaron en la prestigiosa Scientific American, el artículo The end of cheap oil (El fin del petróleo barato), con una entradilla que rezaba lo siguiente: “La producción global de petróleo convencional comenzará a declinar mucho antes de lo que la gente piensa, probablemente en el plazo de 10 años”. 10 años después, efectivamente, el petróleo barato ha terminado. La advertencia formulada hace una década por estos geólogos venía a recoger el guante de otra similar que ya realizara el importante geofísico Marion K. Hubbert, en 1949, cuando advirtiera en la edición de febrero de 1949 de Science en Energy from fossil fuels que la extracción de cualquier combustible fósil describía una curva en la que se llegaba a un techo y posteriormente declinaba, acuñándose posteriormente para esa figura el nombre de Curva de Hubbert, que es precisamente la que ha definido de forma acertada tanto el declive del petróleo americano como el de varias decenas de países que cada día extraen menos del subsuelo. En el artículo de 1998 Campbell y Lahèrrere expusieron que la crisis energética resultante de este declive definitivo del petróleo convencional será muy diferente a las anteriores de 1973 y 1979, dado que ésta última tendría un carácter permanente: nunca más la oferta de crudo dará para abastecer a la demanda, y ésta última necesariamente tendría que ajustarse a aquella. Los autores, partiendo de la dificultad de estimar reservas petroleras, desmienten las publicitadas especialmente por los países de la OPEP, al no corresponderse con los descubrimientos pertinentes y previos, y deberse esa decisión de incrementar las reservas declaradas (en un proceso que tuvo lugar entre 1985 y 1990) a una estrategia de incremento de cuotas de exportación. Así, ya en la fecha de publicación del artículo, alrededor del 80% del petróleo que se extraía había sido descubierto antes de 1973, y no se estaban reponiendo esos viejos descubrimientos con otros nuevos. Además, como advirtieron los fundadores de ASPO, pese al incremento considerable en la perforación, los años 90 (y también los años transcurridos del siglo XXI, añadimos) supusieron un declive importante de los nuevos hallazgos: De hecho, como afirmaron, esta tendencia declinante se mantiene desde los años 60. Siguiendo a Hubbert, afirmaban que la estimación del cenit – que precede al declive definitivo posterior – tiene lugar cuando se ha extraido aproximadamente la mitad del crudo existente en un pozo: estimando entonces que el Mundo podría recuperar todavía un billón de barriles de petróleo extraíbles, y que en 1998 se habían extraído 800 mil millones de crudo, se estaba a las puertas del cenit, como ahora podría estar teniendo lugar, especialmente para el petróleo ligero convencional. Ambos autores, a los que es preciso agradecer el enorme esfuerzo divulgativo sobre esta compleja cuestión, han “revisitado”, diez años después, su aportación a la reflexión sobre el fin del petróleo barato. Afirman que la tesis que realizaron en su momento sigue vigente, y que los petróleos no convencionales no parecen estar tomando el relevo al comienzo del declinar del petróleo fácil, que la misma ASPO sitúa en el año 2005; recordando también que las importantes nuevas tecnologías han servido no para evitar el declive sino para ralentizarlo, en el mejor de los casos, especialmente en los grandes yacimientos. En el artículo de hace una década advertían, como hacen ahora, que no es tan importante la fecha concreta de ese cenit de los líquidos del petróleo, como la visión del permanente declive posterior global, una de cuyas primeras consecuencias sería un importante incremento de los precios y de la tensión económica y social, como ya parece que estamos comenzando a vislumbrar. Published on 25 Feb 2008 by ASPO-USA. Archived on 25 Feb 2008.Looking back 10 years – Campbell’s “The End of Cheap Oil”by Colin J. Campbell From ASPO-USA’s perspective, the article entitled “The End of Cheap Oil,” published 10 years ago in the March issue of Scientific American magazine, marked a turning point in the discourse about peak oil—at least in the US. While a few books and a lot of articles had featured peak oil prior to that article, none had the circulation or prestige that the Sci-Am article carried with it—again, at least in the U.S. No, the world didn’t wake up to peak oil over night after the article was published, but it generated more interest than any document written during the previous two decades. It paved the way for the slew of books on peak oil that followed. It appears to have galvanized activists to action. We asked authors Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrere to revisit and reflect on their article these 10 years later. Here are Colin’s brief thoughts; Jean’s will be printed next week.
-ASPO-USA editor
In 1998, Jean Laherrère and I were asked to write an article for Scientific American magazine based on a study of oil depletion that we had recently made for Petroconsultants, which at the time maintained an accurate database of the world’s oilfields. It was privileged industry information but Petroconsultants had a sense of wider responsibility, and encouraged the study.

Our study is now ten years old, and it might be worth re-visiting it to see if there is a need to revise its conclusions or whether events have tended to confirm its findings. With oil having recently passed the $100 a barrel barrier, it a question people are increasingly asking.

The article opens by explaining that the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 were politically inspired, adding that the next oil crunch will not be so temporary. It added that within the next decade the supply of conventional oil will be unable to keep up with demand. With prices soaring, that seems to be confirmed, but it does not address the possibility that oil demand might fall if the high prices trigger economic recession, of which there are now increasing hints with the growing debt crisis around the world.

The article then rightly dismissed the widespread practice of forecasts based on the Reserve/Production Ratio. It is often depicted as stating that reserves support present production for a given number of years, despite the absurdity of imagining that production could stay flat and then stop overnight, when all oilfields are observed to decline gradually.

It also rightly commented on the extremely unreliable nature of public reserve estimates. The latest version of the Oil & Gas Journal database, for example, reports unchanged reserves for as many as 70 countries: it stretches credulity to suppose that production in 2006 exactly matched the sum of reserve revision and new discovery to leave the reserves unchanged.

The study then moved on to address the statistical analytical techniques with a number of illustrations, including the critical one showing that discovery peaked in the 1960s. They remain valid methods, whose conclusions are being vindicated. They correctly predicted that the United Kingdom and Norway, for example, would pass their peaks around the turn of the Century as indeed they did : UK in 1999 Norway in 2001.

One of the topics that the article did not emphasise was the issue of definition. There are of course several categories of oil: some being easy, cheap and fast to produce and others the precise opposite. It is important to model each category appropriately. There is much confusion over the boundary between Conventional and Non-Conventional oils, which lacks a standard definition. It is also important to stress that production is not the same as supply because it is necessary to take into account refinery gains, stock changes, war loss, operating usage, and other factors. The article also failed to evaluate the natural gas situation.

But the overall message is summed up in the final paragraph: The world is not running out of oil – at least not yet. What our society does face, and soon, is the end of the abundant and cheap oil on which all industrial nations depend. That seems to be a fair conclusion ten years hence, as the oil situation has by and large evolved as predicted, but the peak itself will not be evident until some years after it has happened.

Dr. Colin J. Campbell: After being awarded a Ph.D. in geology at Oxford University in 1957, Campbell joined Texaco in 1958 as an exploration geologist in South America, later moving to BP with assignments in Colombia, Australia, and Papua. In 1968, he joined Amoco in New York as regional geologist for Latin America, becoming Chief Geologist in Ecuador in 1969. With the opening of the North Sea, he returned to England in 1972 as General Manager of the Texas independent Shenandoah Oil Corporation, before rejoining Amoco to become Exploration Manager in Norway in 1980. In 1985, he was appointed Executive Vice-President of Fina in Norway. He is now a petroleum consultant. He is now a Trustee of the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (“ODAC”), a charitable organization in London that is dedicated to researching the date and impact of the peak and decline of world oil production due to resource constraints, and raising awareness of the serious consequences. Having published extensively, his recent articles have stimulated lively debate. His views are provocative yet carry the weight of a wide international experience. He is also, of course, the founder of ASPO (2001) and ASPO-Ireland (2005).The original article from Scientific America is available online. –BA Published on 3 Mar 2008 by ASPO-USA. Archived on 3 Mar 2008.Revisiting “The End of Cheap Oil”by Jean Laherrere Prior to writing the article “The End of Cheap Oil” for the March 1998 issue of Scientific American magazine, we wrote four important oil and gas studiesi,ii,iii,iv totaling about 1350 pages. Colin also had written a splendid book called The Coming Oil Crisis (Feb 1997).During September of 1997, we were approached by Wayt Gibbs with SciAm to write an article. It took several months, many mailings and lots of faxes to finalize the article with Wayt (my file contains over 90 pages of mail exchanges, excluding graphs). We were paid the grand sum of $500 each —half a good consultant’s daily rate—but the work was worth it. In our collaboration, Colin was the writer and I was the draftsman.

After publication, our article was chosen as one out of 25 stories in the book Censored 1998, published by Sonoma State University. Their write-up describing the article included the following note: 21. Global Oil Reserves Alarmingly Overestimated
Colin J. Campbell and Jean H. Laherrere, two independent oil-industry consultants, predict that global production of conventional oil will start to decline within the next 10 years and be unable to keep up with demand thereafter. Their analysis contradicts oil-industry reports which suggest we have another 50 years worth of cheap oil to sustain us. As the independent report points out, economic and political motives cause oil-producing companies and countries to publish inflated figures, and this affects all of us.
As the price of oil went down to $10/barrel by year’s end, we were considered crazy to proclaim the end of cheap oil!Then Colin created ODAC [the London-based Oil Depletion Analysis Center] with the Astor family. He subsequently created ASPO with the help of retired oil geologists and key individuals from European universities. ASPO provides the logistical support for organizing an annual international conference (Uppsala, Paris, Berlin, Lisbon, Pisa, Cork). Then, between 2005 and today, the number of ASPOs around the world grew steadily to over 30. At each annual ASPO conference, Colin and I keep wondering when we will see the peak of ASPO, and we still wonder.

The strongest argument in the article was the huge difference between the confidential technical backdated mean reserves and the published political current proved reserves as shown in Figure 1 for conventional oil. Nine years later, the updated data (Figure 2) confirms the trend we forecast, despite the fact that the political data now includes some unconventional oil (tarsands). Our guesses, indicated by the two arrows, were not too bad, despite the fact that the growth in political reserves was more than anticipated, thanks to the changed definition of oil. Figure 2 helps explain why many economists, who have no access to the technical data, are wrong; it is not bad analysis on their part, but bad data.

The solution to this problem is to push the oil producing countries to publish their field-by-field technical data as the UK and Norway are doing: annual production of the major oil fields from their start-up dates. Before that is done, the SEC’s definition of proved reserves, written back in 1978, has to be changed. OPEC’s proved reserve figures should also be removed from the computation of each nation’s production quota. As Sadad Al-Husseini (retired Aramco VP) stated recently, “the 300 billion barrels of reserve growth in OPEC [during the 1980s]…are speculative resources because of the quotas.”

The main weakness of our article was that we only addressed conventional reserves and conventional oil production. Oil demand includes all liquids because “oil” is any liquid which can burn. The main change in the USDOE/EIA reports is that they have replaced oil with liquids. Oil supply must fill the oil demand and must include all liquids. All oil forecasts must be tied to the present oil supply as reported by the EIA and IEA for about 85 million b/d for the last two years. The fact that we in ASPO are not using the same definitions for oil shows that it is difficult to reach agreement if there is not an official statement. Ambiguity is the rule in the oil domain!

The thing that we did not anticipate is the position of some IOCs (e.g., ExxonMobil) and outer oil outfits (CERA) to deny the peak of oil production before 2030, while acknowledging that the peak of oil discovery is recognized by everyone to have occurred during the 1960s.

Jean H. Laherrere, working for Total, participated in discovery of two supergiant oil fields in the Sahara: Hassi Messaoud and Hassi R’Mel. He went to explore Central, Southern and Western Australia plus parts of Canada. Later he went to TOTAL headquarters in Paris where he was in charge successively of new ventures negotiation, technical services and research, basin exploration departments and finally deputy exploration manager. After 37 years of worldwide exploration with TOTAL, he retired in 1991. He now participates with ASPO-France, writes articles and gives lectures.

Notes

(i) Perrodon, A., J.H. Laherrere, C.J. Campbell, “The World’s Non-Conventional Oil and Gas,” Petroleum Economist, March 1998, p. 113.

(ii) Laherrere, J.H., A. Perrodon, G. Demaison, „The World’s Gas Potential,“ Petroconsultants report, July 1996, p. 200.

(iii) Campbell, C.J., J.J. Laherrere, “The World’s Oil Supply: 1930 – 2050,” October 1995, Petroconsultants report, 650 report.

(iv) Laherrere, J.H., A. Perrodon, G. Demaison, „Undiscovered Petroleum Potential,“ Petroconsultants Report, p. 383.

(Note: Commentaries do not necessarily represent ASPO-USA’s positions; they are personal statements and observations by informed commentators.) 

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