This graph was published in the the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2010.  It clearly illustrates the concerns of many that the Earth is reaching peak oil, the point at which the production of easily accessible petroleum deposits (“the low hanging fruit”) begins to deplete and we are left with the harder to extract and much more expensive hydrocarbons.  This includes the Canadian oil sands, the heavy oil in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and the new discoveries in the South Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil and potentially in the Arctic Ocean.

In the words of Hugh Sharman writing in  The European Energy Review:

The graphic shows how rapidly depletion is eroding today’s crude oil extractive capacity and how the IEA foresees such depleting capacity being replaced. In order to maintain liquids extraction into the future, at flow rates that will satisfy estimated demand growth, new oil fields must be found, developed and commissioned at the rate of about 2 million barrels of oil per day, per year until 2030 This is equivalent to discovering, developing and commissioning a new “North Sea” every year. Or in other words, simply to raise the rate of hydrocarbon extraction during the next nine years, the global upstream industry must develop the new productive capacity equivalent of two “Saudi Arabia’s”, more or less from scratch.

This is unlikely at best and probably impossible. It painfully demonstrates the extreme weakness of the assumptions on which OECD (and UK) energy policy is constructed.

In May of this year, the chief economist for the IEA, Faith Birol, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that oil had peaked around 2006.   See video here.  His comment is around 2:25.


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