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Against Odds, Conventional Crude Oil Production Reaches New High

Against Odds, Conventional Crude Oil Production Reaches New High

Since May 2005, global conventional crude oil + condensate production (C+C) has been constrained to a bumpy plateau of around 73.2 Mbpd. That limit was breached in December 2014 with a new high of 74.28 Mbpd (Figure 1, blue area is conventional C+C). This comes on the back of a prolonged period of record high oil price. It seems likely that the reason for the new high is OPEC abandoning constraint rather than an actual expansion of global conventional C+C production capacity.

Figure 1 The EIA report various categories of hydrocarbon liquids production including a category for combined crude oil + condensate. This category includes Canadian syncrude (tar sands) and light tight oil (LTO previously known as shale oil). Conventional C+C production is estimated by deducting the unconventional sources from the C+C total and shows a new peak of 74.28 Mbpd for December 2014. The chart is not zero scaled and is updated to December 2014, the date of the last report from the EIA. Data from [1, 2, 3, 4].

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This short post is a periodic update on the compositional breakdown of the liquids that combine to make the global total hydrocarbon liquids number as reported by the Energy Information Agency (EIA) of the USA. The EIA report 4 categories of liquids as detailed below. I take the analysis one stage further by estimating the contributions made to C+C from Canadian syncrude production and N American LTO production to get an estimate of conventional C+C production.

1) Crude + condensate
2) Natural gas liquids (NGL) – C2 to C5 hydrocarbons produced with natural gas
3) Refinery gains – volume expansion of liquids that occurs during refining
4) Biofuels – bio ethanol and diesel. It is debatable that these liquids should be counted.

Canadian syncrude production is reported by Statistics Canada (Figure 5). LTO production is trickier to estimate. Bakken production comes from North Dakota Drilling and Production Statistics [2] and Eagle Ford production from The Texas Railroad Commission [3]. Other US LTO sources are not accounted for. Canadian LTO is estimated from Natural Resources Canada [5] and other sources

Figure 2 In defiance of peak oil, global total liquids production just keeps marching upwards, aided and abetted by growth of conventional C+C production towards the end of last year. The EIA total liquids for Dec 14 was 94.60 Mbpd compared with the IEA figure of 94.62 Mbpd.

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Figure 3 This chart shows the contribution made to total liquids growth by the non-conventional C+C components. Since 2005, these components have contributed the lion’s share of growth. Peak oil advocates argue that they have lower ERoEI and lower energy content per unit volume than conventional C+C which is true. Adjusting for net energy content will reduce the amount of volume growth but will not radically affect the bigger picture which is that liquid fuel production is still rising on the back of high prices. Notably, these categories of liquids are immune to the cyclical variations seen in conventional C+C that are affected by OPEC market intervention.

Figure 4 Same data as Figure 2 plotted as % of total. In 1994, conventional C+C accounted for 90% of global total liquids. In 2014 that figure had dropped to 79%.

Figure 5 The breakdown of liquid fuel production in Canada as reported by Statistics Canada [4]. Conventional crude production (light, medium and heavy) that includes LTO, has been effectively flat since 1985. All of the substantial growth has come from the tar sands. Synthetic crude is bitumen that has been upgraded to crude oil in Canada. Crude bitumen, I believe, is exported to the USA where it is upgraded to syncrude.

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Concluding Comments

A part of the Peak Oil story unfolded in the period 2002 to 2008 when the world ran short of easy to find and produce conventional cheap crude oil. This sent the price up to over $100 / barrel. The prolonged spell of high price has resulted in a greater number of men and machines and larger amounts of energy being expended on the quest for these highly prized C-H bonds.

There are a number of variables that need to be factored into future analysis and forecasts of global oil production. Amongst these are 1) time lags between price signal and new production, 2) tolerance of global society to higher energy prices, 3) technology developments, 4) political interference (that may be positive or negative) and 5) last but not least reserves depletion.

Data sources
[1] Energy Information Agency
[2] North Dakota Drilling and Production Statistics
[3] Railroad Commission of Texas
[4] Statistics Canada
[5] Natural Resources Canada

By Euan Mearns

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