SocraticGadfly: US top oil producer by 2020? Hold on

November 29, 2012

US top oil producer by 2020? Hold on

First, even though Al Jazeera as well as a Scientific American blogger is touting the idea, we may not pass Saudi Arabian in total oil production by 2020.

That’s in large part because of this piece which Al Jazeera has and SciAm doesn’t. Much of what is being banked on for a US oil “surge” is “unconventional oil” and Michael Klare, a respected writer on “Peak Oil” issues, lays out the details of why we shouldn’t gush such optimism.

That includes the shale oil of places like Bakken in North Dakota and Eagle Ford in south Texas. It takes water to do the fracking to get that. It will take even more water to get the putative reserves of oil shale in Utah and Colorado — converting shaly rocks to a crude-level oil precursor.

That doesn’t count the dangers and rigors of Arctic oil exploration or deep sea work elsewhere, nor the water consumption in Canada with its tar sands.

Beyond that, per those original two links? With natural gas, we know fracking causes wells to produce quickly and at high volume. However, they also fall off quickly.

What if the same is true in oil, and US production of unconventional oil shows a sharp, short-lived bell curve superimposed on the continuing decline in “conventional” reserves? 

Also, note that the hype about the US becoming self-sufficient apparently isn’t driven by the EIA, the Energy Information Agency, or the IEA, the International Energy Agency, nearly as much as it is by AEI — conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

The Oil Drum explains.

Update, Nov. 16:

More fluffing hype about US hydrocarbon reserves from The Guardian. First, an LNG auto still isn’t commercially viable, so US natural gas reserves do little to make OPEC worry.

Second, as far as oil reserves? The Bakken in North Dakota is “nice,” but best estimates still put it behind Alaska’s North Slope. The Eagle Ford in Texas is probably about the same.

Now that’s shale oil, i.e., oil in shale rock formations. Oil shale, converting even “poorer” rock formations to kerogen and then to oil? More energy expensive yet, as well as more water expensive, and a long ways from the market.

So, while US oil reserves are “interesting,” and the environmental effects of getting them problematic, at best, Bakken and Eagle Ford do NOT have OPEC quaking in its collective boots.

Better reporting, please. And, it’s weird how The Guardian can combine great reporting on “green” issues with breathless stuff like this.

Finally, let’s not forget that King Hubbert, in talking about Peak Oil, made allowances for unconventional oil. Whether they were perfect or not remains to be seen, of course.
At least the SciAm writer mentions how, if this is even partially true, it could affect global warming adversely.

Update, Nov. 29:

Alternet has much more about the reality behind the U.S. oil surge.

First, the IEA says Russian and Saudi production are both likely to decline.

Second, it — unreasonably, in my point of view, given ongoing violence, and continued deterioration of current wells, etc. — assumes Iraq will more than double its production by 2025. Well, I’ve got another invasion of Baghdad to sell you if you believe Iraq will be producing 8 million barrels a day by 2035.

Third, the IEA expects the world’s global warming to hit 4C by the end of the century.

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