the carbon story


In 2005, the rate of production of oil in countries outside the United States hit a plateau, above which it has not been able to move.18 Even to stay on that plateau, as we know, new oil fields must be brought into production each year to compensate for the decline in production from existing fields. The rate of decline, a production-weighted average of the rate of increase or decline in oil produced from all the world’s major fields, is difficult to estimate. In June 2012, the Geopolitics of Energy project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, a project funded by BP and other energy companies, published a wildly optimistic forecast of low decline rates and hence increasing supplies, which news media around the world reported with enthusiasm. Scholars in the UK quickly showed that the forecast was based upon misreading the available data and an elementary and embarrassing, but less widely reported, arithmetical mistake.19 Facing an annual decline rate of 4 or even 4.5 percent, the world must discover and bring online the equivalent of a new Saudi Arabia—or one could equally say, a new United States, complete with shale boom—every four years, or perhaps every three, in order merely to maintain current rates of production.

more from Timothy Mitchell at Dissent here.