Peak Oil? Not Here and Not For Decades, CERA Study Says

Last Updated Nov 17, 2009 7:18 PM EST

Peak oil -- that much-debated moment when the world can no longer produce the oil and gas it needs and wants -- is decades away, according to a recent study by IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

Global oil production will grow from about 92 million barrels a day to around 115 million barrels per day through 2030 with no evidence of a peak in supply before that time, according to the CERA report by senior director Peter M. Jackson.

And supply won't reach a point and suddenly drop off, says CERA, a consulting firm founded by Daniel Yergin, who remains a controversial figure because of his half-glass full views in the peak oil debate. Instead, this "inflection point" will mark the beginning of a plateau of supply that will last for two decades before a long, slow decline sets in, Jackson writes in the report.

So, Jackson notes: let's not get all emotional about it. What we need is objectivity, he says. Of course, that's what the guys on the other side of the peak oil debate also argue.

The CERA report takes a lighter, rose-colored-glasses view of the global oil and gas supply, in a time where more scrutiny and concern has centered on the subject of peak oil.

The International Energy Agency takes a darker view, which is interesting considering upon the release of its rather bleak 2009 World Energy Outlook it also was criticized for being overly optimistic in the past.

The IEA said in its annual report the world's energy resources are adequate to meeted projected demand increase through to 2030. But it stresses that sustained investment is need to combat the decline in output at existing fields, which will drop by almost two-thirds by 2030.

The CERA report takes a different tack.

Of the 1,000 fields it studied in detail, 40 percent of production comes from fields that are in decline. CERA suggests, that based on those decline figures we can assume, a significant proportion of all production comes from fields building up or on plateau.

Giant fields -- those with an estimate 500 million barrels of recoverable oil or gas equivalent-- are still the cornerstone of global production with some 548 contributing 61 percent of the total supply, the report notes. Collectively, these giant oil fields are not in decline, CERA says. On the contrary, some 60 percent of their recoverable oil remains to be produced, according to the report.

But wait. It's not all rosy. The report does point out that oil is, of course, a finite resource. Nothing lasts forever, right?

The biggest obstacle to the world's oil supply is not underground, but up here on top, where all of the world's population including governments and companies are roaming around.

Some of the issues? The cost of developing a field, for one. And then there is the anticipated brain drain within the oil and gas industry as a large proportion of experienced professionals retire in the next 10 years.

Other "above ground" factors include the future course of the global economy, government policies, geopolitical effects, oil prices and development of renewable energy sources as well as climate change issues.

Jackson is troubled by a few trends. Namely, anemic production growth in non-OPEC countries the past five years driven by slowing capacity in Russia.

He also notes, the downsizing underway among service sector companies, which will ultimately affect their ability to bring on new supply at an appropriate pace when demand starts to recover.