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Professor Chris Rhodes

Professor Chris Rhodes

Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, earning both a B.Sc and a Doctoral degree (D.Phil.); rising to…

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Gap Oil, Not Peak Oil is the Problem

Rising demand for oil will exceed the quantity of it that can be withdrawn from the earth, resulting in a supply-demand gap. Once production does peak the gap will be enlarged from both sides, drawing down the supply side against rising demand. This I suggest should be termed "Gap Oil". Energy efficiency and a reduction in our demand for oil is paramount and a growing dependence on what can be grown, to create a sustainable "bioeconomy".
GAP OIL. I am coining this term since I haven't seen it used before but it succinctly sums-up the prevailing situation regarding the provision and price of oil. We hear much about peak oil, and often this is misunderstood to mean that the world will imminently run out of oil. However, this is neither the case nor the definition of peak oil. Dr Richard Pike, the CEO of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a former oil-man, has made convincing arguments that there is more oil - about twice as much - to be recovered than the 1.2 trillion barrels worth that is generally accepted. That may well be true, but it does not impact on the rate of recovery of oil per se, which is the crux of the issue.

The world gets through around 84 million barrels of oil on a daily basis, which adds-up to just over 30 billion barrels a year; a staggering quantity which underpins the modern industrialised global mechanism and a relentless global population of 6.7 billion souls. Only time will tell history what extent that number will ascend to, but if the WHO is to be believed it will be over 9 billion by 2050 and rising perhaps to 12 billion in the subsequent century, all fed by oil. I have noted on previous occasions a Hubbert analysis, similar to that made for oil, that predicts instead that world population will rather peak at 7.1 billion by 2024 and then fall to around 2.5 billion by 2100. As I say, only time will tell us which manner of estimate is correct.

Demand for oil appears equally inexorable, and there are estimates made that in two decades China will be using more oil than the U.S., and that the world in total will demand another 50% by then. It is obvious that no matter how much recoverable oil there is in the ground, if it cannot be recovered at a sufficient rate to match the prevailing demand for it, then a gap will ensue between demand and supply, as happened last summer with the effect of driving-up the price of oil to almost $150 a barrel. This state of "gap-oil" will maintain a similar consequence: namely that the price of oil will soar from its present low value and the impact on the world economy will be severe, with oscillations of unparalleled amplitude to the global markets. There will be actual shortages of oil too, with supplies going to the highest bidder, and a shift of economic and political power being placed in those hands that hold the oil.

This will happen irrespective of whether we are at the peak of world oil production. The concept of world peak oil is misleading in any case, since all oil wells are at different phases of their relative depletion and so Russia will still be producing oil long after the North Sea, for example, and Saudi Arabia long after that. Hence some countries will be dependent on others. World peak oil can be thought of as the peaking of the largest fields, and once e.g. the giant Ghawar field peaks we can begin to kiss our lifestyles goodbye. This should auger-in a new age of energy efficiency and a growing reliance on sustainable economies, necessarily localised and so less dependent on transportation, and based around the bioeconomy, i.e. on what can be grown.

Technological solutions, e.g. the hydrogen economy will not be with us for decades if at all, and at the very least we need some interstitial solutions. The future of humankind will depend most viably on sustainable photosynthesis, rather than on the fossil fuel products of photosynthesis that were laid-down millions of years past. Once peak oil does strike it will enlarge the gap further by drawing-down the supply side, which will fall ever consummately against demand. It is gap-oil we need to fear, the state when supply fails demand and which is both inevitable and imminent

By. Professor Chris Rhodes

Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, earning both a B.Sc and a Doctoral degree (D.Phil.); rising to become the youngest professor of physical chemistry in the U.K. at the age of 34.
A prolific author, Chris has published more than 400 research and popular science articles (some in national newspapers: The Independent and The Daily Telegraph)
He has recently published his first novel, "University Shambles" was published in April 2009 (Melrose Books).

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  • Anonymous on September 15 2010 said:
    I agree with your concept of "Gap Oil", but I wouldn't write off the hydrogen economy so quickly. There is a huge amount of innovation going on in the area, and the UK has something of a lead in the technologies for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis, using energy from renewable sources. Just check out the likes of ITM Power, based in Sheffield.There will definitely be a "Gap", but hydrogen is no longer decades away.
  • Anonymous on September 15 2010 said:
    I agree with Prof. Rhodes about Gap Oil, but do not think that Peak Oil is wrong; I think the reality lies somewhere in between the two.Either way, global demand will outstrip supply probably within a generation or two. However mch there is in the ground, the quality of it, and the cost of recovery, plus the power around who controls how much of the cheap stuff will 'aggravate' the situation in the years to come. Either the oil consuming world discovers non petroleum and gas sources of energy for fueling transport and making plastic, or it had better learn to accomadate to the agendas of those who own these resources.
  • Anonymous on September 15 2010 said:
    Michael,Hydrogen is not a source of power; it is a mechanism for transporting power. Unfortunately, it is a very inefficient mechanism. Not only is the power out way less than the power in, it requires a whole new expensive infrastructure to transport that power.It does provide yet another rathole into which government money can be poured.Using natural gas would be difficult, but way more efficient than hydrogen.
  • Anonymous on September 15 2010 said:
    What a bunch of garbage. The young professor needs to study economics and get a grasp on supply and demand. Economics is all about dealing with shortages in the free market. When you let the free market run supply and demand will hit equilibrium and thus the only shortages are for low prices for goods that command a higher price in the market. I would suggest he stick to chemistry.
  • Anonymous on September 15 2010 said:
    Poppycock. Oil is produced by the earth on a continual basis. As we use it from one reservoir, another reservoir is filling up. When the new reservoir is discovered & exploited, eventually the old depleted one can be returned to & exploited. The idea that oil is from vegetation millions of years old is just another Big Lie by the Powers-That-Be.
  • Anonymous on September 16 2010 said:
    Oil production levels are at best static, with a relentless growth in demand. Time is not on our side with the population heading towards 9 billion, and you side step the dire consquences of demand destruction when oil hits $150 a barrel ( especially in the western economies) . The remaining oil reserves left, for example, in Saudi Arabia are at best open to debate. What is not open to debate is that we as a society have consumed half of the known reserves of oil on this planet in roughly 100 years. Yes there will be gap oil, it just thats its a gap without an end in sight.There are indeed solutions at hand but the recent credit crunch has, for the time being, taken away public attention ( and the money) needed to invest in a more energy efficient society.

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