10 December 2011

World Petroleum Congress in Doha, Qatar - ExxonMobil: ‘Technology to beat Peak Oil’ and Total pulls itself into line

Before the World Petroleum Congress in Doha, Qatar the newspaper Gulf Times wrote in an article that, “A highlight is the keynote speech that will be delivered by Total’s President and CEO, Christophe de Margerie on the theme: “Peak oil – ahead of us or behind us?” on December 7”. The fact that Peak Oil is the theme for one of the seven main presentations at the congress shows that Peak Oil is now an important topic of discussion in the international and national oil industries. Earlier, Total had indicated that they believed Peak Oil could occur before 2030 so it was with some suspense that we awaited the message from Total and their managing director de Margarie

by Kjell Aleklett | Dec 9 2011 by Aleklett's Energy Mix in Energy Bulletin | Dec 9, 2011

However, Peak Oil was already a topic of discussion on December 6 at a round table discussion titled, ”Peak Oil: Reality or Mirage?” The online oil news site Upstreamonline.com headlined its daily news the next day with, “ExxonMobil: ‘Technology to beat Peak Oil’’’. This was because Marco Rasi, vice president of Asia Pacific at ExxonMobil Development had made the following statement during the discussion:

“We don’t need to discover a lot of new resources if we continue to push forward with new technology and make it possible to economically produce resources that we already know about,”. He added, “Many of the assumptions that underlie peak oil theory…are really unfounded, because they do not take into account the role of technology. Technology makes it easier, and therefore more economically viable, to find hydrocarbons.”

This optimistic attitude towards Peak Oil was not shared by Alexey Kontorovich, Academician and Chairman of the Presidium of Kemorovo Scientific Center, Russian Academy of Science. He thought it possible that oil production would reach a maximum in 2020 and not later than 2030. It was also interesting that he gave an estimated oil production in year 2100 of between 4.2 and 4.5 billion barrels per year. That should be compare with current production of 30 billion barrels per year.

In the afternoon on December 7 As the last keynote speaker Christophe de Margarie gave his talk. It was with great excitement that I read in Upstreamonline.com their first article on the new message from Total. However, it proved to be a great disappointment. It seems that Total has pulled itself into line and now says, “Yes, we can meet demand”. On Peak Oil they now no longer give any timepoint but say instead that technology will make it possible meet future needs. The International Energy (IEA) says that future needs are greater than 100 million barrels per day in 2035. Here are some lines from the article at Upstreamonline.com:

“Yes we can,” was the message from the enigmatic boss of oil giant Total to the World Petroleum Congress in Qatar on the industry’s ongoing attempt to tackle pessimistic peak oil scenarios, with improvements in technology to lead the fight. “We have plenty of resources,” the chief executive of the French oil stalwart told delegates at a conference session in Doha on Wednesday entitled: ‘Peak oil: ahead of us or behind us?’ “The problem is not with resources, it is how to extract resources in an acceptable manner, because today, a lot of people won’t accept it. So we have to fight, not against it, but to fight to…prove that we can do it in a more acceptable, sustainable way.”

De Margerie claimed it is a fight which can be won by oil companies once priority is given to implementing new technologies for exploration and production.“Keep in mind that: yes we can – and I was not the first to say it,” de Margerie said in reference to a campaign slogan employed by Barack Obama in his successful bid for the US presidency.

“Energy is life, but the price to pay will be extremely high… Energy can be done in a way which is in compliance with the climate, and definitely we have this as a common challenge.”

The Total boss warned that “huge investment” is needed in the oil and gas industry to meet increasing demand at lower cost to the climate. “That is what people are expecting from us: it is not just to say that we cannot do it, it is to say, ‘yes, we can do it’, but we need to prove that it can be done in a clean way.”

If we summarise the oil industry’s activities in recent months we can assert that Peak Oil is now on their agenda and they do not deny that, with current technology Peak Oil would be reality. However, they believe in new technological breakthroughs. This can be interpreted in many ways but what is needed now is that industry and the IEA reveal what their analyses say that these new technologies will be able to achieve. The IEA has said previously that four new Saudi Arabias will be needed just to maintain current production.

Of course, it would have been interesting if I had been invited to participate in the discussion on Peak Oil but it was gratifying nevertheless that Peak Oil is now on the agenda of the large oil companies.

Kjell Aleklett is President of ASPO International

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