of the
Oil Age
   Only by triggering the imagination can we begin to appreciate the statement: "we live in a civilization powered by oil". If petroleum were to disappear from our lives we would no longer recognize the world in which we live; nor would we have the slightest  notion of how to exist in it. For the continuance of modern society, petroleum is an essential commodity.

To satisfy our ever expanding need for petroleum and its products, a vast interwoven worldwide work force labors arduously to extract, process, and distribute it. They work around the clock to ensure our supply. Battling against the hand maiden of resource extraction, depletion, their labors grow ever more difficult as time progresses. Each year the world's petroleum industry lifts, forces, and pumps four and one-half billion tons of water, and crude oil from almost a mile below the surface. Each year the the water portion grows larger, and the oil less. The depletion of petroleum is continuing - and it is on a relentless march toward its completion!

Depletion is the inevitable consequence of resource extraction. As petroleum depletes it reaches a point where its ability to power the economy begins to decline; as the economy declines our ability to produce petroleum, and its products declines. The objective of this study is to determine when that point will be reached, and how the decline event will evolve.


The following graph shows the cumulative production that has been extracted over time from the world's petroleum reserve. It was constructed from information provided by the Energy Information Agency, and the petrologists, Colin Campbell and Jean Laherérre. In mathematics it is known as a logistic curve, and it is the parent of the now famous Hubbert's curve; which is its first derivative.

The graph provides two important pieces of information. The maximum quantity of petroleum that can ever be extracted by utizing only its own energy content, and the point when we will have extracted one-half of that reserve. The theoretical maximum is the line labeled 2,285.65 billion barrels. The half-way point occurred in 2001 at 1,142.83 billion barrels.
Unfortunately, the world's crude oil depletion state is a little more complicated than the adjacent graph would indicate. This result occurs because all economic activity requires energy to be performed. Since crude oil is used primarily as an energy source, a portion of its energy is needed to produce the oil. Fortunately, three centuries of engineering advancement has provided us with a toolbox of implements for determining what that portion constitutes. They allow us to break down the energy that is in a unit of oil into categories. The graph below shows how the energy in oil has been, is, and will be used.
As can be seen from the graphs the Deliverable Energy is declining faster than the quantity of crude oil in the reserve. This is not surprising as the Second Law informs us that all processes produce irreversibilities, and oil production is a process. We see this irreversibility production in increasing crude viscosity, increasing well depth, and most of all increasing water cut. The energy to produce our primary energy source, petroleum, is increasing. As it increases the extractable quantity is declining.
The world's crude reserve can be likened to a car battery. As time progresses the battery's internal irreversibilities increase due to entropy production, and we say the battery "gets weak". The internal resistance of the battery increases until the power production of the chemical processes of the battery can no longer overcome the resistance. We say the battery has "gone dead". Like the battery, the internal irreversibilities due to entropy production, of the world's crude oil production system are increasing. Higher viscosity, increasing well depth, and increasing water cut have the same effect as increasing resistance does in the battery.

All processes approach an equilibrium state with their environment. This is called the "dead state", and represents the point where no additional work can be extracted from the system's energy. It is the point where the system's internal irreversibilities overcome the system's energy. The car battery reached the "dead state" when it permanently went "dead". So also will the world's petroleum production system.

The "dead state" can be determined from the fundemental properties of petroleum, its cumulative production history, and a few First and Second Law statements. Once identified it can be used as a benchmark to assertain the world's crude oil depletion state. Answers to some very important questions then become available to us. Questions like:
1) How much of the world's remaining crude oil reserve can be extracted,

2) How long is it going to last,

3) What is it going to cost?
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