Iraq Could Delay Peak Oil a Decade  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Stuart Staniford at Early Warning has a post on potential Iraqi oil production - Iraq Could Delay Peak Oil a Decade.

With the emphasis on the could.

I have been associated with the view that the stagnation of oil supply growth from late 2004 on was likely to be the onset of a "bumpy plateau" of oil production - that oil production would not go too much higher, although it wouldn't decline quickly either. You can see articulation of this point of view, for example, at old Oil Drum pieces like Why Peak Oil is Probably About Now, and Hubbert Theory says Peak is Probably Slow Squeeze.

Generally, events of the past few years have been reasonably kind to this point of view. The major producers (eg Russia and Saudi Arabia) seemed to have more-or-less reached production plateaus. Overall global production bumped up a little in late 2007 and early 2008 in response to the very high prices, but not much. Similarly it fell in 2009 in response to the great recession, but not much. Bumps on the bumpy plateau, it has seemed to me (and this would be even more true if you looked at the data ex-biofuels). Now production is going up again. Here's what the latest data for global liquid fuel production looks like (with the monthly price on the right axis):

However, I think it's important to note that a potential game-changer has developed recently that could render that point of view obsolete (which is a kinder, gentler way of saying "wrong" :-). A couple of years ago, Iraqi oil production was declining and it didn't seem too likely the country would stabilize any time soon to allow that to change. However, the post-surge stabilization of Iraq has now allowed Iraqi oil production to start creeping up, and in 2009 the Iraqi oil ministry has announced large numbers of contracts with major oil companies to bring production up from the current 2.5mbd or so to 12 mbd over the course of the next 6-7 years. It is also announcing a series of projects to increase the physical export capacity of the country in line with these oil production projects.

It seems to me that the possibility that Iraq may actually succeed in doing this should be taken seriously. If it did succeed, that would act to delay the final plateau of oil production by a decade (ballpark), make that plateau be at a higher level (95-100mbd ballpark), and significantly moderate oil prices in the meantime, with even some possibility of causing a serious breakdown of OPEC discipline and a period of significantly lower prices akin to the 1980s-1990s lull (though probably not as long or as deep a lull as that). If that were to occur, it would likely have profound consequences for alternative energy projects, biofuel companies, and automobile fuel efficiency. A period of lower oil prices will put adaptation projects on hold for the duration.

At the same time, even in this scenario, there's a real chance of another oil price shock before the main rise in Iraqi oil production arrives.

At this stage, it seems too soon to say the Iraqis definitely will succeed. But the scenario that they might seems worth serious consideration. In this post, I'd like to take a first look at the situation, including:

* Status of Iraqi oil reserves
* History of Iraqi oil production
* Shape of the announced oil production plans
* Character of the architect of the Iraqi plans, oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani
* Indications of the improving stability of Iraq.
* Implications and conclusions.


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