Friday, 10 September 2010

What's wrong with Hubbert Theory

Hubbert theory states that oil production from a field or a group of fields will rise gradually, reach a peak in production and subsequentely decline.
If you take that at face value it's correct.

Oil is a non-renewable resource and logic dictates that the volume of oil produced must lie under a production curve (of whatever shape) and that the amount of oil produced can never be greater than the volume under the curve.

What hubbert theory doesn't mention is that it's talking about the production curve taking ONLY current technology into account.

Let's repeat that so we get it. At any one point in time, the amount of technically recoverable oil is x% of the total oil in there. 100 years the total recoverable oil from a field was 10%. That means that 90% of the oil from those old fields is still down there and not recoverable with the technology they used 100 years ago.

The actual amount of oil sitting in the ground, however is much larger than that under a hubbert curve at any one point in time. Some Old fields, for example, as stated still have 90% of the oil still sitting in them.

If technology stood still then you could say that a hubbert curve with a steep production curve upwards, followed by a sharp drop was a definitively predictable model for future production.

In the REAL world, however, technology is ever changing and this leads to reserves being stated upwards as new technology allows us to grab an ever greater percentage share of oil in place thus pushing any putative peak off or else flattening out a peak from a bell curve into a grand piano curve instead.

The church of peak oil dogma, however, reckons that only a perfectly formed bell curve is possible and that the reason reserves have been continually stated upwards is in fact due to OPEC lying for political reasons rather than technology.

A recent example would be stating that Canada has 300 billion barrels of reserves whereas ten years ago it only had 80 billion barrels.

Actually here in Alberta we are sitting on over a trillion barrels of oil in the ground just waiting on technology to pull it out. The technology exists: nuclear reactors.

Move along here nothing to see folks...


Anonymous said...

Very interesting articel, glad to see that the fight against peak oil doomers remains strong and active!

I have a question though, which is more related to your past articel about rare earths and the doomer cult which involves them.

I have been browsing the net (though google) and realised that the belif in peak metels is rather large and growing, I would like your opinion on some of the points these other doomers present, if you have time :)

1. It is said that wind turbines are dependent on rare earths in order to function, and thus their position as an energy alternative will soon be undermined, is this true?

2. A number of forcasts have stated that rare earth supplies will soon be depleted, is this really the case?

3. Among the "endangered" rare earths are a miniral used for computers and microchips, has there been any progress in fidning alternatives to these metels?

thanks in advance for your answers
- ps: the metel doomers state that finding replacements for the rare earths is impossible, do you agree?

Hybermann said...

(my past message didnt get though, so I will try again :) )

Very nice artical mate, I am glad to see that the fight against dommers remains strong

I also enjoyed your take on peak rare earths (which seems to be the sucessor to peak oil)

I was wondering if you would do a complete debunking of this though, since some reports and articels predict the end of modern technology (sigh) due to China running out and the west not having enough time to find new sources and use them before the "crunch"

what is your overall opinion on this "new" peakism?

DB said...

1. Though it is indeed true that wind turbines are currently reliant on rare earths to make their gearboxes, there is effort underway to create an engineering solution whereby a new generation of gearboxes doesn't require magnets. The science has already been done, now the hard process engineering has to be completed. But it's coming.

2. No, it's not true that rare earths will soon be depleted. It's true that China has a lock on the cheapest production of rare earths currently but there are other locations (here in Canada, also the US and Australia) where there are significant quantities of technically recoverable rare earths. Right now the price of Chinese rare earths is so cheap nobody else can compete. That's not the same as saying we're about to run out. As to your point about running out of time: the mining facilities are already in place in all three countries, just they are currently mothballed. If the price goes up high enough, the other reserves will become economic and production will restart possibly in a matter of months.

3. Yes there absolutely is research underway to find alternatives. Graphene for example looks interesting.