Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Saved, again.

Sometimes I feel compelled to debunk the latest round of "new oil discovery saves the world" pronouncements. Our most recent savior comes in the form of a claimed 33 billion barrels of crude off the coast of Brazil.

Let's take a look at this claim:

The president of Brazil's National Petroleum Agency, Harold Lima, stated yesterday that Petrobras (the Brazilian National Oil Company) "may have discovered a huge petroleum field that could contain reserves large as 33 billion barrels." Petrobras immediately began to backtrack, but before we get into that, let's look at what happens if Lima was right, and there actually are 33 billion barrels of recoverable oil off in this exploration zone. 33 billion barrels, when actually pumped out of the ground and delivered to market, would fuel the world's present oil consumption for just about one year. Energy "analyst" Roger Read's statement that "[t]his would lay to rest some of the peak oil pronouncements that we were out of oil" seems to demonstrate nothing more than that he doesn't understand what peak oil is all about--it's a theory that we will shortly reach a peak in PRODUCTION, not that we will run out or never find any more. Let's look a bit more closely at this 33 billion barrel find...

To start with, this 33 billion barrels is an estimate of the most that this exploration region might contain. No figures were provided for a low-end estimate, nor for a median.

This "find" is not a single field, but the geologically-derived estimate for the potential for a massive exploration block off Brazil's Atlantic coast.

This "find" is not the result of a series of validated test wells, where the actual oil production from these wells is extrapolated to an entire zone. Rather, it's what geologists think is below a salt layer--a salt layer that 2,000 meters thick and lies very, very deep under the Atlantic, and that no well has actually yet pierced. This is essentially what Petrobras said in their early attempts to retract the claim of a discovery: "The salt layer of the second well drilled in block BMS-9 of the announced oil field has not even been reached yet, and the huge field, if it does exist, lies below the salt layer, the company said in a statement."

Finally, according to current estimates from Petrobras, it will take the better part of a decade before any of this oil reaches the market.

None of this is intended to discount the importance of potential oil reserves off the coast of Brazil--my intent is just to show that oil that might exist, that might make it to market starting in 8-10 years, that might be sufficient to fuel the global economy for one year, and that might be economical to produce at $100+/barrel has very little impact on the theory of Peak Oil.


Jeff Vail said...

Worth pointing out a like-minded debunking of the (very different) Bakken field in North Dakota by Sharon Astyk.

That was last week's savior. The market seems to be getting jaded from the recent frequency of purported oil salvation, as neither of these "finds" (not that either is really breaking news) prevented the price of oil from scraping the bottom side of $114/barrel today...

Rice Farmer said...

Yea, and last year we had a big announcement that the Chinese had made a big find in their coastal waters. And occasionally we hear about Jack 2. Etc. People have a simplistic belief that oil in the ground equals gas at the pump, not to mention a misunderstanding of what peak oil means. And another factor to consider is that the world economic downturn will make it harder to finance such capital-intensive projects.

Manuel said...

That rings a bell with fake reserves announced by countries which are not related to physical oil. Estimation of reserves, potential of oil fields have been, according to what I've heard, more or less overestimated in order to gain power and wealth from some producers.
Does that goes along with anything of your knowledge ?

Jeff Vail said...

Manuel: I think the fake reserves are a critical issue--between the mid '80s and mid-'90s, the Middle-East OPEC countries dramatically stepped up their reserves, without making any new finds, because OPEC alloted production quotas based on claimed reserves--the more you claimed to have, the more you could produce, so once one country "stepped up" its reserves, the others followed suit. This has led to a widespread belief that about half of OPEC's claimed reserves are fictional--nothing more than jockeying for position in their internal quota game...

piterburg said...

Good point.

Rice Farmer said...

And then there's this sobering article.

Brazil Field Smaller Than Claimed, Credit Suisse Says


Kotare said...

Good post, Jeff. Not so long ago I remember reading an article in the Times claiming that huge oil deposits off Greenland dispel the notion that the world is running out of oil.

As you say, this sort of commentary speaks volumes about ignorance regarding what peak oil is about, about the difference between real as opposed to estimated reserves, and about the difficulties involved in extracting oil from deep water environments.

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