• 30 mins Oil Prices Set For Weekly Loss As Profit Taking Trumps Mideast Tensions
  • 2 hours Energy Regulators Look To Guard Grid From Cyberattacks
  • 3 hours Mexico Says OPEC Has Not Approached It For Deal Extension
  • 5 hours New Video Game Targets Oil Infrastructure
  • 6 hours Shell Restarts Bonny Light Exports
  • 7 hours Russia’s Rosneft To Take Majority In Kurdish Oil Pipeline
  • 14 hours Iraq Struggles To Replace Damaged Kirkuk Equipment As Output Falls
  • 19 hours British Utility Companies Brace For Major Reforms
  • 23 hours Montenegro A ‘Sweet Spot’ Of Untapped Oil, Gas In The Adriatic
  • 1 day Rosneft CEO: Rising U.S. Shale A Downside Risk To Oil Prices
  • 1 day Brazil Could Invite More Bids For Unsold Pre-Salt Oil Blocks
  • 1 day OPEC/Non-OPEC Seek Consensus On Deal Before Nov Summit
  • 1 day London Stock Exchange Boss Defends Push To Win Aramco IPO
  • 1 day Rosneft Signs $400M Deal With Kurdistan
  • 1 day Kinder Morgan Warns About Trans Mountain Delays
  • 2 days India, China, U.S., Complain Of Venezuelan Crude Oil Quality Issues
  • 2 days Kurdish Kirkuk-Ceyhan Crude Oil Flows Plunge To 225,000 Bpd
  • 2 days Russia, Saudis Team Up To Boost Fracking Tech
  • 2 days Conflicting News Spurs Doubt On Aramco IPO
  • 2 days Exxon Starts Production At New Refinery In Texas
  • 2 days Iraq Asks BP To Redevelop Kirkuk Oil Fields
  • 3 days Oil Prices Rise After U.S. API Reports Strong Crude Inventory Draw
  • 3 days Oil Gains Spur Growth In Canada’s Oil Cities
  • 3 days China To Take 5% Of Rosneft’s Output In New Deal
  • 3 days UAE Oil Giant Seeks Partnership For Possible IPO
  • 3 days Planting Trees Could Cut Emissions As Much As Quitting Oil
  • 3 days VW Fails To Secure Critical Commodity For EVs
  • 3 days Enbridge Pipeline Expansion Finally Approved
  • 3 days Iraqi Forces Seize Control Of North Oil Co Fields In Kirkuk
  • 3 days OPEC Oil Deal Compliance Falls To 86%
  • 4 days U.S. Oil Production To Increase in November As Rig Count Falls
  • 4 days Gazprom Neft Unhappy With OPEC-Russia Production Cut Deal
  • 4 days Disputed Venezuelan Vote Could Lead To More Sanctions, Clashes
  • 4 days EU Urges U.S. Congress To Protect Iran Nuclear Deal
  • 4 days Oil Rig Explosion In Louisiana Leaves 7 Injured, 1 Still Missing
  • 4 days Aramco Says No Plans To Shelve IPO
  • 7 days Trump Passes Iran Nuclear Deal Back to Congress
  • 7 days Texas Shutters More Coal-Fired Plants
  • 7 days Oil Trading Firm Expects Unprecedented U.S. Crude Exports
  • 7 days UK’s FCA Met With Aramco Prior To Proposing Listing Rule Change
Alt Text

Europe Stands Divided On Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 Pipeline

Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 megaproject…

Alt Text

Russia Goes All In On Arctic Oil Development

Fighting sanctions and low oil…

The Oil Boom Will Only Last a Decade - Then What?

The Oil Boom Will Only Last a Decade - Then What?

Oil is fundamentally a depletable resource – once a barrel is extracted from the ground and burned, it is gone. Nevertheless, world oil production has continued to increase steadily for the last century and a half. Most economists attribute this to technological progress. Each year our methods for finding oil become more sophisticated, and our extraction methods more efficient. Unquestionably this progress has been quite remarkable, with oil now being produced by wells that begin a mile below the surface of the sea and proceed for several more miles through rock to get to the oil-bearing formations.

Brief History of Oil Production

Technological progress is not the only reason that oil production has increased over time. The industry was born in the Oil Creek District of Pennsylvania in 1859. Figure 1 shows annual crude oil production for the states of Pennsylvania and New York since then. Production from the original Oil Creek District reached its maximum level in 1874, and total production from the two original oil states peaked in 1891. There was a resurgence of production as a result of secondary and tertiary recovery methods developed in the 1920s, though these were never enough to return production to where it had been in the 19th century.

Annual crude oil production PA & NY
Figure 1. Annual crude oil production (in thousands of barrels per year) from the states of Pennsylvania and New York combined, 1860-2011. Updates Figure 2 in James D. Hamilton, “Oil Prices, Exhaustible Resources, and Economic Growth,” in Handbook of Energy and Climate Change (in press).

It is remarkable to me that today, with our truly impressive new technology and with a real price of oil that is five times as high as it was in 1891, we’re producing less than one eighth as much from these regions as we did in 1891. Our best modern efforts are only able to match what was achieved by post-bellum roughnecks with the primitive production methods of 1868.

Related Article: Three Dilemmas Awaiting OPEC in the Future

This, however, was not the end of the U.S. oil industry. Even as production from the original fields in Pennsylvania was on the way down, production began in neighboring Ohio, where it did not peak until 1896, and West Virginia, which peaked in 1900. When you look at production from the United States as a whole (which in the 19th century was primarily these three states), it seemed to increase steadily from 1859 to 1900, as increases in new regions made up for declines in the original.

Despite the depletion of the Appalachian fields, U.S. production was to continue to increase as we entered the 20th century. This was achieved by a migration of the industry to new producing areas such as Illinois and Indiana (which would not peak until 1940), Kansas-Nebraska (peaked in 1957) and the four-corner states of the American Southwest (peaked in 1960), all of which proved to be far better places for obtaining oil than Appalachia. As production from these areas went into decline, even better fields were found in what ultimately proved to be the United States’ four most productive states – California, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana – whose respective production peaks in 1985, 1927, 1972 and 1971 are seen in Figure 2.

Annual crude oil production CA, OK, TX & LA
Figure 2. Annual crude oil production (in thousands of barrels per year) from four leading producing states, 1860-2011. California includes offshore and Louisiana includes all Gulf of Mexico U.S. production. Updates Figure 6 in James D. Hamilton “Oil Prices, Exhaustible Resources, and Economic Growth,” in Handbook of Energy and Climate Change (in press).

Related Article: Internal Divisions could Burst Canada's Oil Bubble

The combined effect is that if one looks at a plot of total U.S. production, it seems to increase more or less continuously from 1859 until peaking in 1970; however, the major factor driving this is not development of new technology, but instead the exploitation of new oil-producing regions.

Oil Production Today

Right now there is considerable excitement about the potential for new horizontal fracturing methods to free oil from shale and other tight formations that traditionally had been inaccessible. This technological innovation is producing impressive production gains in places such as North Dakota and Texas; however, despite these gains, U.S. crude oil production in 2011 was still less than 60 percent of what it was in 1970. And a key unknown is how quickly production is likely to decline after the initial surge. The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources estimates that production from a given fracking well will decline 80 percent within two years of initial production.

But despite the fact that U.S. oil production today is far below its level of 40 years ago, world oil production increased 33 percent between 1973 and 2010. Here again the story is one of development of new areas. These include the North Sea and Mexico, which went from 1 percent of world production in 1973 to 13 percent in 1999; however, the North Sea is now only producing at about half of its 1999 level, and Mexico is down 25 percent from its peak in 2004.

The Future of Oil Production

Other regions, such as central Asia, Africa, and Brazil continue to increase, and the government of Iraq is optimistic that quite substantial production gains can still be achieved there. These helped offset the North Sea and Mexican declines so that world production in 2010 was about at the same level as in 2005, and started to increase again in 2011 and 2012.

My view is that with these new fields and new technology, we’ll see further increases in U.S. and world production of oil for the next several years. But, unlike many other economists, I do not expect that to continue for much beyond the next decade. We like to think that the reason we enjoy our high standard of living is because we have been so clever at figuring out how to use the world’s available resources. But we should not dismiss the possibility that there may also have been a nontrivial contribution of simply having been quite lucky to have found an incredibly valuable raw material that was relatively easy to obtain for about a century and a half.

My view is that stagnant world oil production and doubling in the real price of oil over 2005-2010 put significant burdens on the oil-consuming economies. Optimists may expect the next century and a half to look like the last. But we should also consider the possibility that it will be only the next decade that looks like the last.

By. James Hamilton

Source: http://economics.ucsd.edu/economicsinaction/issue-7/exhaustible-resources.php

Back to homepage

Leave a comment
  • MC on November 29 2012 said:
    Well this is only his view so we'll take it for what it's worth......not much. When I want adivice on the economy I don't go to an oil man. So why would I take the advice from an economist on future oil production?
  • Chris on November 29 2012 said:
    In Dec 2006, the year before EOG started drilling in the Bakken formation, total US oil production was about 5 million bpd and the total number of horizontal oil rigs was 337 (according to Baker Hughes rig count).

    Now 6 years later, the total US oil production has increased only 13.5% to 5.7 million bpd, but the number of horizontal oil rigs has gone up by a factor of 330% (to 1,114).

    So it is a situation of having a lot more rigs producing an smaller incremental volume amount of oil. Meanwhile, US consumption of oil has held steady at between 18-19 million bpd. Since we can't export US crude oil, all we've done is displace about 700 barrels of oil import. Hardly the start of a revolution in our dependence on foreign oil.
    Meanwhile those old Saudi fields continue to deplete at 10 million bpd.

    And next year as additional pipeline capacity out of Cushing ramps up (Seaway, Keystone XL P3), the spread between Brent and WTI will narrow. So I'm guessing WTI move up closer to the Brent price rather than down.

    Bottom line, the cost of energy inputs into the economy will continue to rise on a real basis.
  • ron caldwell on November 30 2012 said:
    Oil extraction has limits who would have thought! So simple yet our society continues to use this valuable resource without any considerations as to its future availability and we consider ourselves to be a modern scientific driven culture.
  • David Hrivnak on November 30 2012 said:
    Chris I think you are spot on. Yes production is slowly increasing but it is only with a lot of extra effort. Effort that is worth it at $100/barrel. But even then I have serious doubts it is sustainable.
  • concerned on November 30 2012 said:
    reply to MC - oil and economy are one and the same
  • Holly on November 30 2012 said:
    Makes perfect sense, good article. Can't wait to see how estimated reserves turn out....lol

Leave a comment

Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News