Production Plateau Possible in 13 Years

World Oil Production Report

World oil production will reach a peak plateau by 2020-40. This was one of several key implications of a Hedberg Research Conference released at the AAPG Annual Convention in Long Beach.

Production at the plateau level will be 90-100 million barrels per day, a level only 10-20 percent higher than world oil production in 2005, said Richard Nehring, chairman of the Hedberg Research Conference on Understanding World Oil Resources, held last November in Colorado Springs.

“Depending on the ultimate level of world oil resources -- which is substantially uncertain -- this plateau of maximum production is likely to last for 20-30 years before world production begins its ultimate decline,” Nehring said.

“The primary reason why world oil production will reach a peak plateau within 15 to 25 years is not a lack of world oil resources,” he said. “World oil production will reach a peak plateau within 15 to 25 years primarily because current world oil consumption is using up the world’s oil resource endowment at a rapid rate.

“Consumption of the first trillion barrels of world oil production took more than 140 years from the beginning of oil production in 1859, he said. “Consumption of the second trillion barrels will occur within only 30 years.”

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World oil production will reach a peak plateau by 2020-40. This was one of several key implications of a Hedberg Research Conference released at the AAPG Annual Convention in Long Beach.

Production at the plateau level will be 90-100 million barrels per day, a level only 10-20 percent higher than world oil production in 2005, said Richard Nehring, chairman of the Hedberg Research Conference on Understanding World Oil Resources, held last November in Colorado Springs.

“Depending on the ultimate level of world oil resources -- which is substantially uncertain -- this plateau of maximum production is likely to last for 20-30 years before world production begins its ultimate decline,” Nehring said.

“The primary reason why world oil production will reach a peak plateau within 15 to 25 years is not a lack of world oil resources,” he said. “World oil production will reach a peak plateau within 15 to 25 years primarily because current world oil consumption is using up the world’s oil resource endowment at a rapid rate.

“Consumption of the first trillion barrels of world oil production took more than 140 years from the beginning of oil production in 1859, he said. “Consumption of the second trillion barrels will occur within only 30 years.”

Nehring presented estimates of ultimate world oil resources -- conventional and unconventional -- ranging from 3.4 to 5.0 trillion barrels. Although these estimates are substantial, resources at these levels will still constrain future production.

Current levels of production require a high level of gross reserve additions simply to replace declines. A substantial industry effort will be necessary to even increase production capacity slowly over the next 15-25 years and maintain it thereafter.

Production and reserve additions will be further constrained by:

  • Access prohibitions.
  • Resource nationalism and insufficient reinvestment.
  • Wars and civil unrest.

The AAPG Hedberg Research Conference on Understanding World Oil Resources was designed to bring together many different perspectives on the complex problem of world oil resources and their implications for world oil production. The 75 conference participants came from 18 different countries spread across all six populated continents.

A broad variety of organizations were represented at the conference, including 15 international, national and independent oil companies and 10 national, state and provincial geological surveys and resource agencies.

All of the broad professional specialties of oil exploration and development were represented -- geology, geophysics and petroleum engineering, together with many key subspecialties as well. All three components of future additions -- recovery growth from existing fields, future discoveries and unconventional resources -- were discussed at length at the conference.

The conference format included one session of oral presentations, which emphasized assessment methodologies and provided essential background for evaluating the subsequent posters.

Three poster sessions provided empirical grounding, covering both conventional and unconventional oil resources. The two conventional poster sessions assessed both recovery growth and future discovery potential.

Because world oil resources are concentrated in a small number of major provinces and, within those provinces, in a small number of giant and supergiant fields, Nehring said the posters focused on those provinces with an additional potential beyond current known recovery of at least five billion barrels each.

The poster sessions on unconventional resources included major deposits of oil from mature source rocks, which is just beginning to come into prominence with the development of the Middle Bakken in the Williston Basin in Montana and North Dakota.

The lengthy discussion sessions at the Hedberg Conference focused on thrashing out the issues surrounding oil recovery growth, future discovery potential and unconventional sources of oil.

Nehring said the conference deliberations did not include conversions (such as gas-to-liquids or coal-to-liquids) or direct oil substitutes such as biofuels.

Results were detailed at a morning oral session, followed by a poster session the following morning.

An AAPG publication on the results is planned.

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