Peak Oil

The "peak oil", time bomb of the twentieth century

So when is peak oil coming? This moment from which world oil production will drop, for lack of reserves, arrives but at a speed still unknown: "Impossible to answer with precision", recognizes Jean Laherrère, one of the members of the Aspo association (read our article), which denounces the overvaluations of governments and major oil groups.

“Peak oil could already be underway. Within Aspo, we all believe that it is likely that it will intervene at one point or another during the present decade, says Laherrère, who was for a long time director of prospecting techniques for the Total group, before moving on. to retire. Given the vagueness cleverly maintained around reserves, we will not be really sure that it has taken place until oil prices start to increase systematically (...) I believe that by then, we will know ten years during which the curve of oil production will look like a bumpy plateau, before it begins to fall irreparably. "

Back off to better fall
In the oil industry, the only consensus on peak oil concerns production areas that have already exceeded it: the United States (since the XNUMXs), Canada, Venezuela and the North Sea.

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The problem is that none of the official scenarios explicitly show peak oil. The major producing countries in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, etc.) should not reach their own peak for about thirty years. It would therefore suffice that they produce more to compensate for the decline of other oil-producing regions.

“This reasoning, held by the CEOs of the main oil groups as well as the White House, is risky in more ways than one,” underlines Jean Laherrère. The US Department of Energy recently released a chart showing global oil production growth of 2% per year for the next several decades. In this hypothesis, peak oil does not appear before 2037. But it is followed by a sudden collapse in production, at a rate of -10% per year!

"This way of looking at the future is a crime against future generations," Laherrère laments. The French geologist continues: “Of course, we can continue to think in the short term for some time to come by increasing world production by 1 or 2% per year. But the more we increase the rate of extractions to extend the deadline, the more devastating the post-peak oil shock! "

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"Ultimate" reserves
Aspo disputes the argument developed by the oil industry, according to which technology will soon allow recourse to oil reserves hitherto left aside (at the Poles and at the bottom of the oceans). Dr Colin Campbell, founder of Aspo, explains: “You cannot call on these so-called 'ultimate' reserves without substantially increasing the price per barrel. Peak oil is not the end of oil. It's the end of cheap conventional oil. But the nuance does not change much: the economic consequences are no less formidable. "

For transport, the current situation is quite delicate. According to the OECD, over 96% of global vehicle traffic still runs on hydrocarbons.

The threat could be even more serious for intensive agriculture. In the texts of Aspo, the reference to the link between the explosion of the world population and the expansion of the use of synthetic hydrocarbon-based fertilizers comes up regularly. “Agriculture has become a sector for transforming oil into food,” recalls Laherrère. After peak oil, oil prices are expected to increase inexorably.

The 'green revolution' in chemical fertilizers is one of the factors that quadrupled the world's population during the XNUMXth century. All countries whose demographics are based on intensive agriculture (the developed countries and a large number of developing countries) have some cause for concern about a secular and irreversible increase in oil prices.

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The major geopolitical balances could also be upset by the energy and economic crisis which, according to Aspo, should succeed peak oil. According to figures published by BP in 2003, the countries of the Middle East have 65,4% of “proven” oil reserves in the world (25% go to Saudi Arabia alone). Their share in the world market is already 28%. According to Aspo, it could exceed 40% within two decades. The Second Gulf War could one day turn out to be just the “second”.

Matthieu Auzanneau

The Aspo website:

The energy impasse, dossier (

French Petroleum Institute:

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