Peak Oil in Alaska

Updated Twice
If you want evidence that we are reaching Peak Oil* you need only look at Alaska.

Alaska has traditionally provided about 20% of the United States need for oil. This figure has been in steady decline over the past few decades as Alaskan oil was allowed to be sold globally, and US demand for oil increased.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported that production from the Prudhoe Bay oil field, the single largest oil field in North America, is only 76% of what it was at its’ peak in 1987 and declining steadily. Oil companies must resort to new technologies just to maintain production levels, and that means costs are rising per barrel compared to 1987 as well.

What this shows is quite simple… oil fields drying up in Alaska are a microcosm of the worlds oil production. And no, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will do nothing to stop this trend. The same happened years ago in Texas… and is happening today in the North Sea. Only the oil fields of the Middle East are still able to increase production significantly to meet demand but their pattern is the same. That means that over time foreign oil will be more and more important to the developed world. Europe, North America, Russia, India and China will inevitably have to look outside their own borders to secure enough oil. Discoveries of new oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait has slowed considerably. Given that fact, the only logical conclusion as demand from China and India skyrockets, is that peak oil is on the horizon for those countries, and thus the world, as well.

So what do we do about it? Citizens of the developed, western, world need to wake up and realise they’re on the verge of a new age.

This is bigger and much more immediate than Global Warming or our effect on the environment (though they are all obviously intertwined). Do you want your grand-children to enjoy the same luxuries you do? Name one thing on the desk in front of you that isn’t made of, or with the help of, oil products. If we want to both keep our way of life, and especially if you wish to promote that way of life to others, then some major changes need to take place.

I fear governments are far too short-sighted to care. They know the inevitable conclusion, but current governments also know that this isn’t a road to a grand collapse but rather a steady slide to oblivion. The taps won’t actually run dry in their lifetime, so who cares? All they care about is the election in 4-5 years.

The Human Race needs to discover the next great resource that will power us into the next age of humanity. Otherwise, like Neanderthals who never mastered fire… we will simply disappear.

*Peak Oil refers to the point where new discoveries of oil reserves falls below the point needed to sustain production levels. As current reserves decline and less new reserves are found, production decreases until finally the tap switches off.

Update
And if you’re looking for a visual representation of what “peak oil” looks like inside an actual oilfield… I saw this picture of the Abqaiq Field in Saudi Arabia at treehugger.com and The Oildrum.

The Oil Drum explains it best:

The shape is that of the carbonate rock which is the oil reservoir, although the vertical scale has been exaggerated considerably to show the current contents of the field. By using different colors the authors have shown the different fluid densities, and these can simply be translated into four zones. Over time the field has been injected with water (the blue zone) and this has pushed up the oil (the green zone) into the wells. The red is the overlying gas cap. When the reservoir was untapped it was likely all red and green. Ater all these years of pumping you can see how little of the green – the oil – remains. The field is about 800 ft thick from top to bottom and about 1.5 miles below the surface. If there is a picture that speaks to depletion this to me, is it.

Udpate 2

Nation Master.com has an excellent list of the discovered oil fields in the world.

According to this list, the Abqaiq oil field had about the same reserves as the Prudhoe Bay field when it was discovered (12 billion barrels of oil) so I’d imagine an image of Prudhoe Bay would be nearly identical.

1 thought on “Peak Oil in Alaska”

  1. Although peak oil is being discussed somewhat more frequently in the mainstream media, it still amazes me how little attention our politicians and the general public pay to it, as you mention in this entry.

    Maybe this is because people think that we won’t be significantly effected until the oil actually starts to run out. This is a huge logical error; once peak oil is reached, prices start to soar, competition over the resource gets nasty, and the ability to convert to alternatives is comprimised. Richard Heinberg (www.museletter.com) is one of several author who explains this quite well, and points out that society will have to face radical changes not in 30-40 years, but more likely in 10-15 years in order to adapt successfully.

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