"We have swung from oil panic to complacency on slender evidence."

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph cites a new Eos report by the American Geophysical Union, “Peak Oil and Energy Independence: Myth and Reality”, concluding that the world will need another 17m bpd within five years unless we find a way to change our habits fast.“The output of the big five oil majors – Exxon, BP, Total, Chevron and Shell – has fallen by 26pc over the past nine years, despite a relentless hunt for new fields. The North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska are all wasting away. Expenses keep ratcheting up as fields move further out to sea in the Atlantic, drilling deeper through layers of salt. Theoretical reserves are meaningless. What matters is the break-even cost.
Eos said flows from the world’s existing fields are falling at 5pc a year, and it is questionable whether shale or tar sands can easily step into the breach. “Production from these unconventional sources is difficult and expensive, and has a very low energy return on investment. Simply stated, it takes energy to get energy,” it said.
Using a rule of thumb that 4pc global growth requires a rise in oil supply of 3pc. ….To the consternation of the authors, the report was cited by the BBC this week as evidence that peak oil production is a myth. “Where they got that idea escapes us,” said co-writer Jim Hansen.
….But though fracking is a Godsend, let us not lose our heads. The US Energy Department expects shale oil to add 3.1m bpd to America’s oil output by 2020, a remarkable feat but far less than the 5.4m estimates of a much-cited study by Leonardo Maugeri at Harvard.
The depletion rate on rigs at the Bakken field in North Dakota – the biggest US shale field – is precipitous. Output falls 30pc within two years, and a third is leaking into the air. Shale bears say average declines are nearer 70pc in the first year, and dismiss the whole craze as a bubble.
That is going too far. The technology is improving every week. The decline rate may flatten over time. Yet claims of a 100-year bonanza in the US are wishful thinking. “The upper limit of supply is likely closer to 23 years using present day rates of consumption,” said the Eos report.
Kevin Norrish from Barclays said US drillers have already tapped the “best plays” for shale, with newer Utica ventures in the north east of the US and Canada coming up short. The biggest productivity leaps may already have happened. “We expect a steep slowdown in the rate of tight oil production growth from the middle of this decade onward,” he said.
Barclays is defiantly holding to a Brent crude forecast of $184 in 2020, betting that spare capacity in global output will prove thinner than supposed, and that oil shocks will come back to haunt us.
We should think of shale as one-generation play for the US, enough to ensure American superpower primacy into the middle of the century. Whether the rest of the world can follow suit in any meaningful time-frame is an open question. Boston Consulting Group said there were 110,000 shale wells in the US and Canada by the end of last year, and just 200 in all other countries combined.
….We all love a fresh narrative but consensus has swung too fast from the 2008 oil panic to the energy complacency of 2013, and done so on slender evidence. As matters stand, peak cheap oil remains an incontrovertible fact.”