From USA Today: Debate brews: Has oil production peaked?:
Almost since the dawn of the oil age, people have worried about the taps running dry. So far, the worrywarts have been wrong. Oil men from John D. Rockefeller to T. Boone Pickens always manage to find new gushers.
But now, a vocal minority of experts says world oil production is at or near its peak. Existing wells are tiring. New discoveries have disappointed for a decade. And standard assessments of what remains in the biggest reservoirs in the Middle East, they argue, are little more than guesses.
"There isn't a middle argument. It's a finite resource. The only debate should be over when we peak," says Matthew Simmons, a Houston investment banker and author of a new book that questions Saudi Arabia's oil reserves.
From The Sunday Times: Waiting for the lights to go out
We've taken the past 200 years of prosperity for granted. Humanity's progress is stalling, we are facing a new era of decay, and nobody is clever enough to fix it. Is the future really that black, asks Bryan Appleyard
The greatest getting-and-spending spree in the history of the world is about to end. The 200-year boom that gave citizens of the industrial world levels of wealth, health and longevity beyond anything previously known to humanity is threatened on every side. Oil is running out; the climate is changing at a potentially catastrophic rate; wars over scarce resources are brewing; finally, most shocking of all, we don't seem to be having enough ideas about how to fix any of these things.
It's been said before, of course: people are always saying the world will end and it never does. Maybe it won't this time, either. But, frankly, it's not looking good. Almost daily, new evidence is emerging that progress can no longer be taken for granted, that a new Dark Age is lying in wait for ourselves and our children.
A barrel of oil contains the equivalent of almost 25,000 hours of human labour. A gallon of petrol contains the energy equivalent of 500 hours — enough to propel a three-ton 4x4 along 10 miles; to push it yourself would take nearly three weeks. To support economic growth, the world currently requires more than 30 billion barrels of oil a year. That requirement is constantly increasing, owing to population growth, debt-servicing, and the rapid industrialisation of developing countries such as India and China. But we are about to enter an era in which less oil will be available each year. And many believe that industrial society is doomed. Are we really running out?
Well, half of all supplies come from "giant" oilfields, of which 95% are at least 25 years old; 50% have been producing for 40 years or more. In the North Sea, production peaked in 1999. Late last year, Britain began to import more oil than we export. Worldwide, discoveries of new oilfields peaked in the 1960s; and despite technological advances, new discoveries are at an all-time low. A recent story in The New York Times suggested that oil companies are failing to recoup exploration costs: significant discoveries are so scarce that looking for them is a monetary loser.
Time has this from Matthew Simmons: The Real Oil Shock
One expert argues that the Saudis won't be able to meet demand; we'd better prepare now
Between 1950 and 2005, the world's use of oil grew more than eightfold, bringing global demand to 85 million bbl. of oil per day. Despite that incredible growth, the world's oil appetite is just getting a head of steam, as countries like China and India finally move toward lifestyles comparable to those of Europe and the U.S. Most oil-forecasting models show demand rising to between 120 million and 130 million bbl. per day by 2025 or 2030. The only way this demand can be met is for most of the additional supply to come from the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia providing the bulk.
Don't bet on it.
For decades, almost all public-policy planners, aided by most oil experts, assumed that the Middle East had vast quantities of proven oil reserves that could be extracted at extremely low cost, thereby enabling oil demand to grow to almost any level. Anchoring that belief is a hope that Saudi Arabia's oil production can increase from around 9 million bbl. a day in 2005 to 25 million or even 30 million bbl. a day by sometime between 2025 and 2030.
Saudi Arabia's specific production risk stems from the fact that almost 90% of its supply comes from only five key but aging giant oil fields. Each of those aging fields is exposed to a potential production decline.
The likelihood that Saudi Arabia can increase its output to even 15 million bbl. a day is remote. Even maintaining its current production rate for an indefinite period of time is hardly a certainty. The Ghawar, Abqaiq and Berri fields (which still make up about 90% of Saudi Arabia's light crude) now pump oil from water-injection wells--essentially the low-hanging fruit. Once that ends, oil production in those key fields will decline, and the declines could be steep.
The bottom line: the global oil supply has probably peaked. While the world expects to consume 120 million bbl. a day two decades from now, actual supply may be half that rate. This conclusion aptly portrays the potential magnitude of the energy ditch we are now in. It is impossible to calculate the odds of this supply-demand imbalance happening, but prudent planning argues that the world should assume the bleaker scenario. Then it follows that a global plan to use oil more rationally must be urgently developed and implemented.
More from Time:It's the End of Oil