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April 5, 2006

Great Debate In Vienna

The European Geosciences Union sponsors a series called "Great Debates in the Geosciences." On April 2, at the EGU annual convention in Vienna, the debate topic was "In 30 years, oil will be little used as a source of energy." The debate was organized by Nicholas Arndt (Grenoble) and chaired by Richard Black of the BBC. Affirmative speakers, for the topic, were Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton University and Jean Laherrere representing ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. For the negative, the panelists were Yves Matheu of the French Petroleum Institute and Michael Lynch of Global Petroleum Services in Amherst, MA.

Deffeyes presented the classical Hubbert analysis, using updated data prepared for the forthcoming paperback edition of his book Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak. His conclusions were 1) the peak of world oil production happened at the end of 2005 and 2) in 30 years crude-oil production will be down to about half of its present level. Deffeyes further suggested that, 30 years hence, most of the oil produced will be used as petrochemical feedstock and as lubricants.

Matheu presented a range of scenarios that would increase present levels of oil production, reaching peak levels in the year 2018 or 2028. He pointed out that these higher production levels require increasingly high levels of technology and significant increases in capital investment.

Laherrere explained that oil production for the major producing countries can be analyzed as a series of development cycles rather than as a single Hubbert cycle. He explained that only the UK, Norway, and the USA release field-by-field data for production and reserves. For every other country, the data are bulk estimates for the entire country. Laherrere reported that the Petroconsultants database, now owned and updated annually by IHS Energy, costs $1 million per year.

Lynch criticized the Hubbert and Laherrere models as applying only to a few selected countries and stated that most of those models are not statistically significant. For Hubbert's P/Q versus Q graph Lynch gave the following equation:

dP/dt < d(cum P)/dt

which Deffeyes was unable to verify. Lynch states that oil supplies are so abundant that an oil price drop is to be expected.

After the panelists' brief opening statements, the moderator opened the session to questions from the audience. The questions covered the usual topics of concern: use of coal, nuclear power, global warming, and the economic consequences of reduced oil supplies. Despite the importance of the topic, the debaters did not get personally polarized. In fact, the organizer and three of the four panelists continued to explore the topic while testing the quality of Austrian beer. Later, they dined in a quality restaurant and told "war stories" while consuming several bottles of local wine. That post-session session was adjourned just before midnight.


 
 
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