by Jerome a Paris
Thu Jan 26th, 2006 at 04:04:27 PM EST
Remember this from this week end?
Only around 50 super-giant oilfields have ever been found, and the most recent, in 2000, was the first in 25 years: the problematically acidic 9-12 billion barrel Kashagan field in Kazakhstan.
In 2000 there were 16 discoveries of 500 million barrels of oil equivalent or bigger. In 2001 there were nine. In 2002 there were just two. In 2003 there were none.
So we're stuck with the existing supergiant fields we already know. But we're able to squeeze increasing proportions of their oil out, right? Well, up to a point.
The 4 biggest fields on the planet are now in decline, 3 officially.
From the diaries ~ w.
Let's start with Cantarell, the jewel of Mexico's Pemex, and the third largest field ever found.
from the Financial Times (15 March 2005, via the Energy Bulletin)
The Cantarell oil field, in the shallow waters of Campeche Bay, is regarded by Mexicans as their crown jewel. It is the second largest oil field in the world by production, behind Saudi Arabia's mammoth Ghawar oil field, pumping 2.2m barrels a day, the same amount as all the Kuwaiti fields together.
For that reason, Mexicans were recently dismayed when Petróleos Mexicanos, the state oil company, said that the field's production would decline this year, signalling a trend towards its depletion.
Pemex now expects production to reach 1.9mb/d in the coming years, and to decline to 1.4 mb/d by 2010. With Cantarell providing close to two thirds of Mexico's production, Pemex needs to replace this ultra cheap oil by much more expensive ultra-deep offshore reserves which it does not have the competences to exploit on its own - and it is forbidden by Mexico's Constitution to invite foreign partners (even 'innocuous' ones like Petrobras, the Brazilian company which has strong offshore experience) to help it. Expect political upheavals in Mexico over this in coming years; in the meantime, prodcution will go down.
Next, we can talk about Samotlor, the largest Russia oil field, and the second largest ever found. From a peak of close to 2mb/d, its production is now down to less than 0.5mb/d. BP has invested heavily in the field via its purchase of 50% of TNK, but as the table below (from an official BP presentation (pdf)) shows, more than two thirds of the oil to be recovered, in the most optimistic scenarios, already has.
In case you've never heard it, as most news in recent years talk about rapidly growing oil production in Russia, Russia's oil production peaked in the first half of the 1980s - what we witnessed in recent years was simply some catching up after the collapse of the early 90s which was not due to technical reasons but to the chaos in the early post-Sovier years. Russia is about to know a second, lower peak as its production is now stagnating again.
But let's move on to the Gulf, and to the third largest field by production levels today, Kuwait's Burgan, also in the top 5 on the planet by reserves. Well, guess what?
Kuwait's biggest field starts to run out of oil (26 January 2006)
KUWAIT: It was an incredible revelation last week that the second largest oil field in the world is exhausted and past its peak output.
Yet that is what the Kuwait Oil Company revealed about its Burgan field. The peak output of the Burgan oil field will now be around 1.7 million barrels per day, and not the two million barrels per day forecast for the rest of the field's 30 to 40 years of life, Chairman Farouk Al-Zanki told Bloomberg.
He said that engineers had tried to maintain 1.9 million barrels per day but that 1.7 million is the optimum rate. Kuwait will now spend some $3 million a year for the next year to boost output and exports from other fields.
However, it is surely a landmark moment when the world's second largest oil field begins to run dry. For Burgan has been pumping oil for almost 60 years and accounts for more than half of Kuwait's proven oil reserves. This is also not what forecasters are currently assuming.
Last week the International Energy Agency's report said output from the Greater Burgan area will be 1.64 million barrels a day in 2020 and 1.53 million barrels per day in 2030. Is this now a realistic scenario?
(Note that all these fields were n°2 at some point, whether in production or reserves. They are each super giant, no such large fields will ever be found again, and they are all in decline.
Which brings us, of course, to the uncontested largest field on the planet, Saudi Arabia's Ghawar. This is the only one (yet) for which there has been no official announcement of decline, but there are lots of people that are talking about it. Here are a few:
Bank says Saudi's top field in decline (Al Jazeera, 12 April 2005)
Speculation over the actual size of Saudi Arabia's oil reserves is reaching fever pitch as a major bank says the kingdom's - and the world's - biggest field, Gharwar, is in irreversible decline.
The Bank of Montreal's analyst Don Coxe, working from their Chicago office, is the first mainstream number-cruncher to say that Gharwar's days are fated.
"The combination of the news that there's no new Saudi Light coming on stream for the next seven years plus the 27% projected decline from existing fields means Hubbert's Peak has arrived in Saudi Arabia," says Coxe, referring to data compiled by the International Energy Association's (IEA) August 2004 monthly report.
"The kingdom's decline rate will be among the world's fastest as this decade wanes," predicts Coxe. "Most importantly, Hubbert's Peak must have arrived for Gharwar, the world's biggest oilfield."
Coxe dismisses Saudi claims that the country can produce extra capacity to satisfy surging demand. He notes that Saudi promises to increase production last year failed to materialise. Aramco had pledged an extra 500,000 barrels of oil immediately and an extra 5 million bpd by 2012.
He says the markets had "assumed this first flow would be a half million barrels daily of the benchmark Saudi Light, the high-end product that any oil refinery can process. Instead ... the new oil was heavy, sulphurous oil that only a few refineries had the spare capacity to use".
Coxe's figures may even be on the sympathetic side. According to Saudi Aramco's own statistics, existing Saudi fields deplete by 600,000 to 800,000bpd each year. If such levels are maintained until 2012, Saudi depletion will have reached a minimum of 4.2mbpd.
One factor contributing to the scrutiny the Gharwar field faces is the huge amount of water injection used. Water is pumped into an ageing oilfield in order to maintain high pressure inside.
This allows the oil to be pumped out at the original constant rate. Eventually, however, the water reaches the well-head, and the field effectively dies.
Coxe goes on to ask why new Saudi fields, not just ageing ones, are also water injected.
"As if that weren't bad enough news, the Saudis claim they need at least $32 a barrel to justify new production, because ... new production ... requires water flooding. Water flooding on newborn Saudi wells? Isn't water flooding [the] Viagra of ageing wells?"
From the NYT (24 February 2004) (readable here by scrolling down):
"We don't see us as the ones making sure the oil is there for the rest of the world," one senior [Saudi] executive said in an interview. A Saudi Aramco official cautioned that even the attempt to get up to 12 million barrels a day would "wreak havoc within a decade," by causing damage to the oil fields.
In an unusual public statement, Sadad al-Husseini, Saudi Aramco's second-ranking executive and its leading geologist, warned at an oil conference in Jakarta in 2002 that global "natural declines in existing capacity are real and must be replaced."
Dr. al-Husseini, one Western oil expert said, has been "the brains of Saudi Aramco's exploration and production." But he has told associates that he plans to resign soon, and his departure, government oil experts in the United States and Saudi Arabia say, could hinder Saudi efforts to bolster production or entice foreign investment.
Saudi Arabia's reported proven reserves, more than 250 billion barrels, are one-fourth of the world's total. The most significant is Ghawar. Discovered in 1948, the 300-mile-long sliver near the Persian Gulf is the world's largest oil field and accounts for more than half of the kingdom's production.
The average decline rate in Saudi Aramco's mature fields - Ghawar and a few others - "is in the range of 8 percent per year," without additional remediation, according to the company's statement. This means several hundred thousand barrels of daily oil production would have to be added every year just to make up for the diminished output.
The company projects that Ghawar will continue to produce more than half its oil. One internal company estimate from 2002 puts Ghawar's production at 5.25 million barrels a day in 2011, more than half the total expected crude oil capacity of 10.15 million, according to United States government officials and oil executives.
"The big risk in Saudi Arabia is that Ghawar's rate of decline increases to an alarming point," said Ali Morteza Samsam Bakhtiari, a senior official with the National Iranian Oil Company. "That will set bells ringing all over the oil world because Ghawar underpins Saudi output and Saudi undergirds worldwide production."
The most skeptical of all is Houston banker Matt Simmons, who thinks, after painstaking examination of existing data (mostly from the 70s, before the Saudis clamped down) that Ghawar is in a really bad shape:
Saudi's "king" of oil fields, Ghawar, is the world's largest oil field. Wildcat discoveries there from 1948 to 1952 proved reserves estimated at 170 billion barrels of oil in place and 60 billion barrels recoverable. Those numbers remained unchanged in Aramco's 1975 reserve estimates. Ghawar has accounted for 55 percent to 60 percent of all Saudi oil produced. If these numbers are correct, Ghawar's oil is 90 percent gone.
ANWR would have perharps 10 billions of recoverable barrels - enough to replace Ghawar (5% of world production) for 5-7 years.
No super giant fields have been found in the past 25 years, and all the rock structures on the planet where such fields could be found are known.
We will not find more oil. We will squeeze more out of the existing fields, thus generating new "reserves" (in their economic definition), but we are already running out of the cheap and easy to produce stuff.
Peak oil is very real.