Posted by Big Gav in peak oil
Stuart at Early Warning has a post on the latest oil / liquids production statistics which indicate a new peak of production has been reached - Final Crude and Condensate Stats show New Highs.
Back in December, when I was first noting that total liquid fuel production was making new highs, many commenters objected vigorously to my paying attention to the full liquid fuel series because they include biofuels, "natural gas liquids" like ethane and propane that aren't really liquid, syncrude from tar sands and other things that are debatable as "oil".
A more conservative definition is to look at the EIA's data for crude and condensate (here, and then here for data before 2007). Crude is definitely "oil", and condensate is the stuff that is gaseous under the conditions of temperature and pressure down in the reservoir, but liquid at room temperature and pressure. So that's also reasonable to consider as "oil".
The problem has always been that this data is only available at considerable lag from some of the total liquids series. Thus some people maintained that, unlike the total fuels, crude and condensate would not rise above the prior peak. At the time there was no way to say for sure. However, the above graph shows the data through January 2011, and crude and condensate clearly rises above the prior peak in 2008 (something already noted by Gail the Actuary, but I wanted to post a graph that isn't zero-scaled to better shows the changes, and I definitely don't endorse Gail's production forecasts). In any case, those insisting that oil production peaked in 2008 and could now only decline were wrong.
I think the view that we have been on a bumpy plateau since late 2004 remains a reasonable one, but clearly the latest bump is the biggest, and I think it's hard to say for sure that we won't bump higher again in the future. Certainly, the world is struggling to raise production freely enough to support global economic growth.
Alas, we will never know what happens to the rest of the series since the EIA is cancelling it due to budget cuts.
Stuart cautions that all is not lost for those doomers determined to insist that 2008 was the point of peak production - A Refuge for 2008 Peakists.
For those who would like to continue to believe that oil has already peaked, I did find a data series that will support you in that belief, at least for now. The Oil and Gas Journal maintains statistics on crude oil production. I paid my $75 for the latest version of the data, which goes through January 2011, and lo, at that point it had not exceeded the 2008 peak (above).
At this point, with the US economy apparently wavering, and uncertainty over whether Saudi Arabia can/will raise production, it's unclear to me whether oil production will continue to rise further or not in coming months. So it is at least conceivable that this particular series will have an all-time peak in 2008 (though far from certain).
However, I would argue that this is not the most sensible thing to look at. It excludes Canadian syncrude production for example, which is certainly every bit as usable as any other kind of crude. It presumably also excludes condensate (though I haven't been able to confirm that, as the spreadsheet lacks any definitions or notes). If so, that's also pretty restrictive. Look at Marathon's data here, for example. Their condensate is 95%+ compounds with 6-10 carbon atoms - ie definitely stuff you could put in your gas tank and it would make your car go. The fact that it initially comes out of the ground in the gas stream rather than the liquid stream doesn't make much difference to how it can be used once it's on the surface.
But still, for early peak oil diehards that would like to hole up in their own intellectual Alamo, here it is.