Will oil shale ever be commercially viable?

The Oil production maximum - often too Peak oil (engl. peak oil, lit. Petroleum summit, also Hubbert’s Peak or. depletion mid-point), Oil tip or (Oil) production summit - refers to the point in time from which the total production of several oil fields in a region reaches its maximum. In particular, the global maximum oil production, i.e. the point in time at which the global production rate decreases, is important, since the availability of crude oil then steadily decreases.


The most important variable when assessing the global oil supply is the "production volume per time" (production rate). The static range of global oil reserves (2007: 40-50 years), which is commonly used and characterizes the relationship between reserves and current consumption, is misleading with regard to the oil supply, as it suggests that constant production can be maintained until all reserves are exhausted. The production rate, in conjunction with the demand for oil, is by far the most important factor influencing the world oil market price, as this is negotiated on commodity exchanges. Falling production rates inevitably lead to rising prices (so-called "seller's market") if it is not possible to reduce the demand for oil through alternatives and savings - with unforeseeable consequences worldwide for the stability of the economy, society and politics.

The dependence of modern industrial societies on oil is illustrated by the following examples:

  • A barrel (159 liters) of crude oil contains 1700 kWh of energy. Applied in internal combustion engines with an efficiency of 20%, this corresponds to the equivalent of 5040 hours of field work.
  • It takes around 20 barrels of oil to make a car (around 10% of the energy it uses over its lifetime [1]).
  • The production of one gram of microchip requires 630 grams of crude oil, a 32 MB DRAM chip that is 1.6 kg (plus 32 liters of water) [2].
  • It takes ten times its weight in oil to make a desktop PC [3] and because of the high level of purity and cleanliness required to manufacture a microchip, the same amount of oil must be used to manufacture nine to ten computers as a car [4].

Today (2007) crude oil is visible (as a raw material) or invisible (as energy) in almost all industrially manufactured goods; it represents a cornerstone of the industrialized world. The upcoming maximum funding is therefore increasingly discussed with concern. Since 2005, current studies by the International Energy Agency (IEA) - most recently on July 9, 2007 - as well as the US Department of Energy - in the so-called "Hirsch Report" - and the US Court of Auditors have dealt with GAO[5] - the problem of maximum funding.

The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources is also dealing with this phenomenon. In the USA, the country with by far the largest oil consumption in the world (25%), President George W. Bush has included the global production maximum on the political agenda, even if without publicly naming the fact itself. In his annual address "State of the Union Address" ("SOTU") in January 2006, he announced a turn to the expansion of alternative energies, which, however, also and above all, in addition to the "classic" regenerative energies such as sun, wind and biofuels nuclear energy was meant. [6] The maximum oil production has also been investigated since 2001 by the ASPO (Association of the Study of Peak Oil and Gas), a worldwide network of scientists.

Creation of an oil production maximum


A conventional oil well is produced in several phases (upper graphic in Fig. 1). The discovery is followed by development, for which the oil field is tapped through several boreholes. At the start of production, the deposit is under very high physical pressure (around 300 times normal air pressure). As a result, large quantities of oil can be pumped with little effort. The pressure decreases quickly, however, and after a production of 10-15% it is no longer sufficient to push the oil to the surface of the earth. In order to maintain it, water is therefore usually pumped in, whereby 30-35% of the existing oil can be pumped. Since the water drives the oil to the extraction point, there is a risk that the water will mix with the remaining oil and even “overtake” it on the way to the extraction point. This process takes place more and more frequently with increasing age of the oil field, as the light oil emerges first and the remaining oil is therefore of increasingly heavy quality.[8]. The increasing viscosity and density of the remaining oil are the main obstacles to high production rates. Further measures are therefore the introduction of chemicals that liquefy the oil and allow it to flow to the wells. Attempts are also being made to reduce the water being pumped in by CO2 which, in addition to increasing the pressure, makes the oil more fluid. There is also the introduction of superheated steam (especially with oil sands), and even lighting a fire in the deposit is used as a means of liquefying the oil more strongly.

This means that the production can be kept almost constant for a period of time that can vary greatly from source to source. Above all in the case of oil fields at sea, where the ongoing operating costs for the oil platforms are very high, attempts are made to maintain a production that is as constant and high as possible over a long period of time under all circumstances. The end of the offshore production of a certain field is reached when the daily yield, the daily oil production, the high running costs no longer cover. Such measures to maximize funding are not necessary on-shore due to the very low running costs. A pronounced maximum funding and a long funding decrease phase are therefore accepted. The average yield per well in Texas is only 7 barrels per day, but it still pays off because the production system is paid for and only causes very low maintenance costs. The funding decrease (eng: decline) is the last phase of the exploitation of an oil field. The reduction in funding rates is related to the measures with which funding was maintained until then: the higher the technical effort, the steeper the decline. Above all at sea, for example in the North Sea, where high production rates have been achieved over the longest possible periods, these decrease very quickly in the final phase [9]. This phase can also be extended by high technical effort, for example by horizontal drilling. Even temporary increases in funding have already been achieved through technical innovations. However, the general trend is no longer changing. The decrease rate is closely related to the maximum production volume: the faster and more intensively (more professionally) the oil fields in a region are exploited, the greater the amount of waste. Great Britain, for example, has recorded declines in production of 8% (crude oil) and 10% (natural gas) from its highly professional oil fields since 2001.

Through studies of American oil production, the US oil geologist Marion King Hubbert was able to show in the 1950s that the total production of several wells describes a curve that resembles a bell curve: the so-called Hubbert curve; see Fig.1, below (note: this applies to all natural resources, in addition to crude oil). Since the data on the exploitation of American oil fields were recorded very precisely and were publicly known, Hubbert was able to date the American production maximum to 1971 as early as 1956 and was right. The model of Hubbert curve was subsequently confirmed, for example for Norway's oil production, which peaked in 2001. How the different courses of oil production worldwide can be combined to form a curve that corresponds to a Hubbert curve, is also clear from Figure 4.

Extrapolating existing data to predict the parameters of the Hubbert curve for global oil production is made difficult by various factors. In particular, the production of individual oil wells is often politically influenced (e.g. oil embargo against Iraq or the voluntary restriction of Norwegian production). In addition, data relating to oil production in many countries, especially the OPEC states, are not public, are in some cases even subject to state secrecy and have been and are deliberately falsified for political reasons. It is well known that the production of non-OPEC countries is declining overall; see Fig.4. It is also assumed that the production rate of the OPEC countries is already close to its maximum and can only be increased in Iraq and on the West African coast. The maximum funding can also only be dated retrospectively if the funding rates are analyzed in retrospect. Another major uncertainty is the definition of conventional crude oil, with the result that some countries are spending unconventional reserves (such as tar sands) on conventional ones, thereby falsifying the data. The forecasts for the estimated time of the global maximum funding are correspondingly wide spread:

Dear one
date of
1989 1989 Campbell *[10]
1995 Campbell [10]
2003 1998 Campbell
2004 2000 Bartlett
2005 2007 Campbell [11]
2006 2007 Energy Watch Group [12]
2007 2002 Campbell
2007 1999 Duncan and Youngquist
2019 2000 Bartlett
2020 1997 Edwards
2020 2005BGR**
not before 2030 2004 International Energy Agency [13]

*Colin J. Campbell's theses are also represented in Germany by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Blendinger, Professor of Oil and Gas Geology, Clausthal University of Technology. In 1999 he published the forecast for peak oil in the North Sea and stated in an interview in 2006 that global peak oil had probably already been exceeded.

Campbell published further predictions that were later withdrawn.

**Dr. In an interview, Peter Gerling from the German Federal Institute for Geology and Raw Materials BGR, on the other hand, only applies peak oil between 2015-2020. With the BGR forecasts, it should be noted that the approximation to the maximum over a range of 10 years is very flat. The rise to the maximum can by no means keep up with the global rise in demand. The problem of resource scarcity arises many years before the actual maximum funding.

On July 9, 2007, a forecast by the IEA made headlines around the world, according to which increasingly clearer scarcity tendencies would become noticeable on the international oil markets. Given the high demand and the lower delivery rateAccording to the IEA, there is a real risk of an oil shortage from 2010 onwards[14]

The world's maximum oil production

Oil production worldwide


The point in time of a maximum in the production rate can only be determined with certainty several years after its occurrence. Since mid-2004, however, the course of global oil production has exhibited anomalies that have never been observed before. Since the beginning of the industrial use of oil, global oil production has generally only seen increasing production volumes. Exceptions were the two oil crises in 1974/75 and 1979/83. Between 1979 and 1983, for example, global production fell from ~ 67 million to ~ 58 million barrels / day. Both of these crises were politically motivated and, in contrast to the global production maximum, had no geological causes. So production rose almost linearly again until 1998. Only in 1998-1999 did a slight decrease, followed by a second between 2000 and 2002. Both decreases can be attributed to declines in demand after the Asian crisis and the economic crisis after the dot-com bubble burst and the extremely low oil price that resulted (see Fig .7) justified. In 2001/2002, the events around September 11, 2001 also depressed the demand for aviation fuel.

Figure 2 shows this development. With current funding data on a small scale, there may be differences between the various institutes, as it is not possible to precisely determine the global funding. To clarify the current trend, the 2-year mean values ​​have been added to the specified raw data for both curves. Overall oil production increased rapidly from 2003 to mid-2004 (3.9%). On the one hand, this increase reflects the rapidly recovering global economy and, in particular, the rapidly growing demand for oil, especially in China, and was not foreseen by many analysts when predicting the point in time of the production maximum, which is thus approaching. A comparison with the price shows, however, that even this sharp increase could not make up for the growing gap between supply and demand. From 2004 onwards, the curve will flatten again, despite sustained strong economic growth, especially in the People's Republic of China and India. The EIA anticipates a subsequent maximum output of 85.38 million barrels / day in July 2006, which has not been achieved since then. According to these figures, the previous maximum oil production took place in January 2006 (85.4 million barrels per day). The previous maximum oil production of conventional crude oil took place at the end of 2005 and production has since declined by around 200,000 barrels per day. The oil companies justify this development with a lack of investment due to the low oil price in 1999 (around 10 $ / b), which made additional investments seem unprofitable. This justification is questioned, however, as the oil companies with their record profits today (2006) are buying back stocks on a large scale to increase market values ​​instead of investing in new equipment. The French oil company Total earned over 12 billion euros in 2005 [15], Exxon Mobil even $ 36 billion [16] in 2005 and $ 39.5 billion in 2006 [17].

The emerging plateau is accompanied by reports that in the spring of 2006 some very large oil fields had reached the phase of production decline or were already in it:

  • The "Burgan" oil field in Kuwait - the second largest oil field in the world - reached this phase at the end of 2005, according to the Kuwait Oil Company. In the next few years, up to 1.7 million barrels per day are to be promoted.[18]
  • The "Cantarell" field off the coast of Mexico - the oil field with the world's second largest daily production volume - is in stagnation, according to Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) reached in early 2006. So far it has produced 2 million barrels / day. This corresponds to 60% of the total production in Mexico. The predicted decline here is 6%; in fact, the annual decrease since 2005 is 13%, the production in 2008 should only amount to 520,000 barrels / day.[19]
  • In April 2006, a spokesman for the Saudi oil company Aramco announced that all of its older oil fields (including Ghawar, the largest oil field ever discovered in the world) had reached stagnation and production would drop by 8% per year. This agrees with the results of the Texas investment banker and oil expert Matthew Simmons, who conducted his own research on site.[20] However, several measures are planned to slow the waste down to 2% per year [21].

Saudi Arabia


“We don't have to worry. There are still enough reserves. [...] Saudi Arabia produces around 10 million barrels a day today and in a few years it will surely manage 12.5 million barrels. [...] It is very likely that in the medium term [oil] prices will be around $ 40 lie in the cut. In the long run, even $ 25-30 are conceivable. "

- Lord John Browne: 1995-2007 Chairman of the Board of Management of BP (interview[22] with the mirror in June 2006)

Saudi Arabia is considered to be the mainstay of global oil production: over 10% of the world's oil comes exclusively from this state with 49 known oil fields and 28 gas fields. The oil industry's hopes for growing global oil production are largely based on Saudi Arabia's claimed reserves. However, in 2000, 92% of Saudi production came from just seven giant oil fields; the six of them with a flow rate of more than 300,000 barrels / day are:

----------------------------------------------- Oil field found production 2000 ----------------------------------------------- Ghawar 1948 / 49 ~ 4.5 mbpd Abqaiq 1940 ~ 0.6 mbpd Shayba 1975 ~ 0.6 mbpd Safaniya 1951 ~ 0.5 mbpd Zuluf 1965 ~ 0.5 mbpd Berri 1964 ~ 0.4 mbpd -------- ---------------------------------------

All of these fields are already beyond their maximum production and are constantly producing less oil. However, no data is available on the actual decrease rates of individual fields. The maximum production of a field often comes as a surprise to the operator, and once discovered, additional drilling attempts are made to reduce the rate of decrease, which, however, is often of little help [23].

Figure 3 provides an overview of the history of Saudi oil production.In addition to the historical data, the Saudi oil production from January 2001 to September 2007 is compared with the number of drilling rigs used. You can see that the Saudis cut their oil production back in 2001/2002 when the market was saturated, after which they cut production again by almost exactly one million barrels per day. Between May and June 2004, production was ramped up again by this amount and remained constant until the end of 2005. The number of derricks has fluctuated between ten and twenty over the past fifteen years. Even during the production fluctuations mentioned, no abnormalities occurred. However, three months after production had been ramped up to 9.5 million barrels per day, the number of drilling rigs used increased sharply and reached a peak of 57 in May and August 2007. Despite this immense effort, Saudi oil production is between October Decreased by 1 million barrels in 2005 and February 2007. The extensive explorations are associated with immense costs - in 2002 the Saudi budget for drilling new holes was already 1.5 billion dollars.[23] Due to the high exploration costs and the high oil price, it is generally not assumed that the country is speculating on even higher oil prices and deliberately reducing production. Incidentally, the increasing exploration effort can be seen in all OPEC countries, but Saudi Arabia stands out strongly.

Oil production outside of OPEC


Figure 4 shows oil production outside the OPEC countries; the data are estimates from 2004 onwards. A comparison with global production shows that OPEC's share of production makes up around 50% of total production. The graphic also shows that the maximum production of oil producers outside OPEC and the Russian Federation (FSU) was exceeded in 2000.

In the OECD Europe countries, oil production is falling by around 5% annually, with this trend increasing. In January 2006 it was still possible to cover around 36% of the demand from our own sources. According to estimates by Colonel Roland Kästner, lecturer for strategic questions at the command academy of the German Armed Forces in Hamburg, it is to be expected that in 2015 92% will have to be imported into the EU.[24]

Thus, the share of OPEC oil on the world market will increase, especially from the crisis regions around the Persian Gulf. At the beginning of 2006, OPEC produced 34 million barrels per day, which, however, includes 4.4 mb / d liquefied natural gas (LNG) [25]. Due to the growing dependence of the industrial nations on OPEC oil, OPEC could exert massive influence on the price and thus political pressure by changing its production rate. The goal of OPEC was to regulate the price by means of production rates. In principle, however, this form of regulation is no longer necessary according to the global maximum subsidy, since every producer can subsidize as much as he wants without the demand dropping. In theory, this makes OPEC superfluous. Nevertheless, it is feared as a price-driving force in industrialized countries.

Worldwide oil reserves

Main article: Oil deposits


As explained above, oil production from multiple sources follows the Hubbert curve, which is similar to a bell-shaped curve. This means that the peak of production is almost reached when half of the recoverable oil has been used up. The estimation of the reserves therefore plays a crucial role in predicting the maximum. "Reserve estimates are a bit like someone who is blindfolded to describe the appearance of an elephant that he only touches in a few places." (Robert Hirsch)[26] However, an oil reserve is not a fixed value, but depends, among other things, on the price of oil and the technology used. Even with the use of state-of-the-art technology, currently (2006) only about 35-45% of an existing deposit can be extracted [27][22][28], where the white bars are estimates. The annual delivery rate is also inserted. You can see the great oil discoveries in the Persian Gulf at the end of the 1940s and the great discoveries in the North Sea at the beginning of the 1980s. Most of the oil, however, was found in the 1960s. Since then, with a few exceptions, the finds have steadily declined, and since 2003 they have even been continuously below the forecast values. Large oil fields are generally easier to discover than small ones, and so there is the fact that the newly discovered oil fields tend to be smaller and more difficult to exploit than the discoveries of yesteryear. From this it follows that the continuously increasing production is fed more and more from old oil fields. Since the early 1980s, more oil has been extracted than new oil has been found, and the gap is constantly opening.

In return, however, the rising oil price also offers opportunities to explore areas that have not been intensively investigated (e.g. Siberia) and to exploit unconventional deposits. These include oil sands, especially the large deposits in Alberta in Canada, oil shale, deep-sea drilling, Siberia or Alaska exploration, bitumen, etc. In contrast to conventional oil, however, the energy balance of these deposits is much lower, in some cases even negative, as the Extraction and refining would in some cases use more energy than the oil extracted contains. In addition, most of these unconventional types of oil have a somewhat (

Furthermore, research into new production techniques is profitable due to the rising oil price. For example, former BP boss Lord Browne saw possible exploitation of up to 60% in June 2006 through more sophisticated extraction methods (2006: ~ 40%) [22]. Others are more skeptical about future technology developments. Since the yield has already doubled over the past 85 years (as of 2005) thanks to better conveying technology, they see little scope for future increases. Overall, it seems very doubtful whether technical innovations can satisfy the galloping demand in the long term. In addition, an excessive increase in the production rate, which is often demanded by the industrialized nations, is ultimately harmful, since high extraction rates can irreversibly damage an oil field or lead to an increased percentage of poorly or not at all extractable oil remaining in the field. This effect has already been observed in smaller oil fields in Syria. This could subsequently have a negative impact on existing and calculated forecasts about oil reserves. Such a circumstance in a large field such as Ghawar (Saudi Arabia) would likely provoke panic reactions. Because of the decreasing productivity, so-called “bottle brush bores” with water injections have already been carried out there (as of 2005).

Development of the oil price


According to market economy mechanisms, the price of a good must rise as long as the demand is greater than the supply. Global demand for oil fluctuates with the economy, but tends to increase over the economic cycles. In the past, oil production has kept pace with increasing demand. Once the maximum oil production has been reached, it is by definition no longer possible to meet increasing demand by increasing production. Accordingly, the forecasts for the medium-term development of the oil price range from $ 40 to $ 250 - depending on which deposits are assumed[22].

However, even before a global funding maximum is reached, there is temporarily excess demand.

An interpretation of the price development of crude oil from 1999 to 2005

Since 2004 there have been price increases as the production rate is gradually decreasing [29] (see Fig.2). In the event of falling production rates, the price rises until enough market participants withdraw their demand because they can no longer or do not want to pay the market price. Fig. 7 shows that in the short term, the oil price tends to increase from around 1999 onwards; the bursting of the speculative bubble on the Neuer Markt with the economic recession at the beginning of 2001 and the events around September 11, 2001, which resulted in a falling demand for kerosene, lowered the demand for oil and thus the oil price.

The decreasing delivery rate initially only causes none additional Customers can be served more, since the actual delivery rate is not yet decreasing. The situation is exacerbated when there is an actual decline in global production and the supply side diminishes. From this point on, current market participants will also have to be satisfied with less oil. This allows the price to rise until enough market participants exit again. The further development will be shaped by how demand is regulated.

As a result, rising oil prices are reflected in a large number of oil-dependent products, which contributes to a general rise in inflation. Demand for consumer goods and services will inevitably decline as consumers spend more money on energy and oil products.

In addition to consumer behavior, the intervention of speculators can be another reason for considerable turbulence in the oil markets.

Economic evaluation

On the other hand, there is the opinion of economists that the market mechanism solves transition problems in the game of supply and demand. When the oil price rises, for example, it becomes increasingly useful to replace oil with other energy carriers or sources (unconventional oil deposits such as oil sands, oil shale, coal liquefaction, biofuel), provided that these are available in good time, in sufficient quantities and at reasonable prices.

Since, in the opinion of geologists, the coal reserves can be used much longer than the reserves of crude oil, the cost of fuel obtained from coal liquefaction (up to the maximum coal extraction rate) represents the upper limit of the price of crude oil to be expected per barrel.

Effects of maximum oil production


The problem of understanding the maximum oil production in detail is very complex, as many variables play a role. There is a general consensus that, with decreasing oil production rates, the current way of life in industrialized countries with their high energy consumption - traditionally based on fossil fuels such as crude oil, natural gas, brown and hard coal - cannot be maintained. Some politicians in the past have emphasized the general consequences and risks of peak oil production, particularly for the economy:

"There is no longer a sufficient supply of oil worldwide for the full growth of our economy or the world economy."

- Don Evans: Secretary of Commerce in the Bush Administration until 2005[30].

"The inability to expand oil production in line with increasing demand will result in severe economic shock in the future."

- James R. Schlesinger: under Pres. Carter, former US Energy Secretary and under Pres. Nixon and Ford, US Secretary of Defense [31]

“What can now collapse very quickly is the industrial development model that was formative for over 200 years, has expanded more and more and has been driven by the predominantly fossil energy supply. This is available, that is very clear. "

- Hermann Scheer, SPD MP[32]

“If Iraq's oil production doesn't grow exponentially by 2015, we have a very big problem. And this even if Saudi Arabia keeps all of its promises. The numbers are very simple, you don't have to be an expert. [..] Within 5-10 years non-OPEC production will peak and begin to decline due to insufficient reserves. There is new evidence for this fact every day. At the same time, we will see the peak of Chinese economic growth. So both events will coincide: the explosion in the growth of Chinese demand and the decline in oil production in the non-OPEC countries. Will our oil system be able to meet this challenge, that is the question. "

- Fatih Birol: Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), [33].

The two major uncertainties are the potential for energy savings (sufficiency) and the possibilities of alternative sources. Since crude oil has other advantages besides its high energy density, there are limits to its replacement. It is questionable whether alternatives a) can be financially just as cheap as oil, b) have similar qualitative properties (transportability) and c) can be made available in sufficient quantity and promptly. It should be noted here that, as far as the energy issue is concerned, a large proportion of crude oil serves as an easily transportable, safely transportable fuel and, for example, only plays a subordinate role in (local) electricity generation. For this reason, many alternatives are ruled out for traffic. Furthermore, it is questionable to what extent society will be able to adjust to a possible change in good time, to ensure that the world's population can be fed, and to what extent the growth-dependent economy can continue to exist. Even if the electricity supply can be maintained through nuclear or alternative energy sources, a shortage of petroleum will have a major impact on virtually all areas of life.

Transport and traffic

“Peak oil is not an energy problem, but first and foremost a 'fuel problem'” (Robert Hirsch). Worldwide transport is 97% based on crude oil (petrol, diesel, kerosene) or natural gas. 95% of global trade flows are handled by diesel-powered cargo and container ships on the world's oceans. Although substitutes are available, they are associated with disproportionately higher costs and expenses compared to petroleum and are not available in sufficient quantities. These alternatives can therefore only be used to a limited extent for energy-intensive heavy transport. It is mostly overlooked that renewable energies primarily produce electricity. This can be transported relatively loss-free (5%) even over 1000 km. Unfortunately, with today's technology, it can only be stored with difficulty, in small quantities and with poor efficiency. For traffic and transport, only the very lossy technologies such as batteries and hydrogen can be used as energy carriers or an automatic rail system for automobiles similar to the S-Bahn. On the oceans, however, a resurgence of commercial sailing ships is conceivable.

Furthermore, investments are currently being made worldwide in expanding the capacity of bio-ethanol, biodiesel and in systems that produce synthetic fuels (BtL fuel, GtL fuel, CtL fuel). The production of sufficient amounts of biofuel to maintain the global automobile fleet generally fails due to the future competition on agricultural land between food and fuel production (“plate or tank”). Without the use of oil for fertilization and pesticides, the agricultural land requirement - with current cultivation methods - for food production will be higher than before. However, in the 1970s, alternative methods such as For example, labor-intensive horticulture techniques have been developed (bio-intensive horticulture, John Jeavons), which theoretically would enable noticeable increases in yields even without fossil fuels - even in cities or in urban areas close to cities. This approach is followed in particular by the global permaculture movement, which is based, among other things, on the experience of Cuba, which had to completely restructure its oil-based, high-tech agricultural production after the failure of Soviet deliveries in the early 1990s and return to the increased use of human and animal labor. This path backwards into pre-industrial times, possibly within a generation or two, is now accepted as inevitable by many peak oil theorists in the USA (including James H. Kunstler, Richard Heinberg).

The common practice of reducing stocks by means of demand-oriented delivery ("just in time", rolling stock keeping on the highway) and the "3000-mile Caesar's salad" (James H. Kunstler), which removed food procurement from a distance, should also come to an end much more quickly Regions of the world, as it were, overnight by plane.

Agriculture and food supply


The dependence of agriculture on oil, due to the maximum oil production, creates a situation in which not only economic problems arise, but also the problem of hunger will worsen drastically. For example, since the beginning of industrialization, especially since the Green Revolution in the 1960s, global grain production has increased by 250% without changing the area under cultivation (see Fig. 10). This is largely due to the use of fossil fuels in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, diesel powered irrigation, and motorized agriculture and distribution. Synthetic fertilizers (consumption in Germany in 1999: 3 millionTons (~ 244 kg / ha of agricultural land), source: FAO) have been used to increase production since the beginning of the 20th century, the production of which in the Haber-Bosch process consumes large amounts of energy. For example, the USA consumes 100 million barrels of oil annually for fertilizer production alone, more than the global daily production. Germany consumes almost 30 million barrels annually, since one liter of fertilizer, in the best case scenario, needs 1.4 liters of oil to produce it.[34] The same applies to pesticides and biocides, without the use of which agricultural yields would be significantly reduced. In addition, food storage and storage systems, such as refrigerators, are manufactured in oil-powered factories and distributed using oil. As a result of the persistently cheap oil, a system of food distribution over long distances was created that no longer works in the time of expensive oil (post-production maximum). A study by the Wuppertal Institute in 1993 showed that the various ingredients in a strawberry yogurt cover an average of 3500 km before they are mixed.[35] Caused by an unprecedented increase in production based on cheap oil, the first half of the petroleum age (pre-production maximum) was accompanied by continuous rural exodus and peasant deaths. Around 1800 75% of the German population lived from agriculture, until 2006 the percentage decreased to 2-3% thanks to the oil-based and thus highly productive agriculture.[36] These numbers are fairly representative of all industrialized nations. So far it has not been shown that this small proportion of the population will be able to continue to provide enough food without the use of cheap oil.

In addition to the aspect of dwindling amounts of energy for grain production, the increasing cultivation of “fuel crops” is an aggravating factor. Especially in the large exporting countries of North America with their highly industrialized agriculture, agricultural food production has been additionally restricted since the turn of the millennium, as arable land is increasingly being used for the production of bioethanol. These changes threaten the survival of millions of people around the world depending on North American grain exports. For example, the sharp rise in US corn prices on the Mexican market led to mass protests in Mexico City at the end of January 2007.[37] Some analysts, on the other hand, attribute the rise in food prices that is becoming apparent everywhere less to the "plate vs. tank" competition than primarily and directly to the breakdown of the rise in oil prices [38].

Worldwide food production and the world population will peak at about the same time (see also population trap). Due to the resulting socially necessary restructuring, this development will not spare the rich industrialized countries either, albeit less pronounced. With regard to this problem, the worldwide maximum funding is seen as a turning point in the history of the industrialized world, combined with a revival of pre-industrial, labor-intensive agriculture (reagrarization), in which more and more people will find their livelihood.

Economy and finance

The close connection between oil consumption and economic growth in the last few decades makes current growth rates appear questionable when the oil supply is falling. If a conditional decoupling between the two values ​​is locally possible (see Fig. 8a using the example of Germany), a global comparison (Fig. 8b) shows how closely the two curves are intertwined. [39] The difference comes from the fact that the “old” industrialized countries are more and more saying goodbye to their industrial production, relocating them to low-wage countries in the Third World and concentrating on services that are less energy-intensive in their own country. In spite of increased efforts in many parts of the world, there has been hardly any development in recent years that suggests possible oil-free economic growth. In order to avoid a permanent recession, the necessary demand for crude oil for additional growth would have to decrease annually by several percentage points, which would correspond to the predicted decrease in global oil production. Since the German economy is heavily dependent on exports, this development would also have to take place in the rest of the world or among the buyers of German products. According to a study by the investment bank Goldman Sachs, the oil price is now the undisputed greatest risk for the global economy (37% long-term and 27% medium-term).[40]

Energy price increases and globalization

Globalization is based in principle on two pillars: worldwide communication and worldwide, cheap transport. Due to the inevitable increase in transport costs caused by the oil price, it is assumed that global trade will no longer be possible to the present extent and that globalization will limit itself.[29] This can change the type of economy, for example towards a more regional economy, which reduces the dependence on mineral oil through shorter transport routes and a higher degree of regional self-sufficiency.[41][42]

The maximum energy per capita


The lack of petroleum will mainly affect the energy supply. Since, from today's perspective (2006), it may not be possible to completely compensate for the losses caused by falling production rates with alternative energies, the maximum oil production could mean a decrease in global energy production in absolute terms. Figure 10 shows the energy supply per capita in barrel oil equivalent, from 1999 the values ​​(meanwhile refuted) estimates based on the Olduvai theory by R.C. Duncan. Individual points are described in the legend and from 1999 fiction. It can be seen that the energy supply maximum was already reached in 1979, despite the continued increase in energy production, since the world population has grown faster than new energy could be produced since the first oil crisis. However, these data are now out of date, today (2007) the amount of energy consumed per capita worldwide is higher than in 1979. In addition, the energy intensity has fallen significantly since 1979, so the same GDP can be generated with significantly less energy.

The amount of available energy is used as a measure of the complexity of a civilization (see e.g. Kardaschow scale). According to these assumptions, the modern industrial society with the service and information sections based on it emerged from the hitherto unattained high energy consumption as a result of the discovery and use of cheap crude oil. If one follows this line of argument, the industrial society, regardless of political and social events, must end when the required energy can no longer be provided. The chaotic conditions in West Africa are interpreted as a direct consequence of the decrease in energy, which will increase with increasing energy shortages. The knowledge about technically sophisticated alternatives will disappear with the collapse of civilization, so that these alternatives, products of industrial civilization, and therefore ultimately only oil derivatives, the oil cannot survive for long. As a result, the duration of the flowering of the petroleum-powered industrial age is estimated to be around 100 years (until around 2030), see Fig. 10 Oil as a source of energy was made possible. Other less fatalistic forecasts estimate that the mix of energy options that are not highly sophisticated, such as geothermal energy, biomass or solar energy, would become profitable with rising energy costs. At the same time, energy-intensive activities such as private transport would be throttled through price mechanisms.

It is undisputed that energy costs will rise due to stagnating oil production. The question of the energy costs at which industrial civilization collapses and whether it can transform itself back into a non-industrial, non-fossil civilization is currently much debated (cf. "Collapse" by Jared Diamond, "The Long Emergency" by James Howard Kunstler or "The Party’s Over" by Richard Heinberg).

alternative energy sources

Form of energy Sustainability Journal
Hydropower 10:1
natural gas 5:1 – 10:1
wind 3:1 – 10:1
coal 1:1 – 10:1
Solar systems 1:1 – 10:1
Nuclear power 4:1
Biodiesel 3:1
Ethanol 1,2:1
hydrogen 0,5:1

The resulting shortage of petroleum means a shortage of (i) one Energy source and (ii) a raw materialwhere the loss of energy is much more serious than the lack of raw material. For example, around 40% of total energy consumption in Germany is based on oil. The energy previously obtained from oil can in principle to a certain extent saved and to some extent from other sources of energy replaced become. The energy industry, however, does not predict either saving or replacing oil with renewable energies:

The harvest factor (engl. ERoEI - Energy Returned on Energy Invested about: Generated energy from used energy) Index that describes how much energy has to be used to generate a certain amount of energy. The harvest factor describes the ratio of the energy generated per energy used. The higher this value, the 'cheaper' the energy source. A somewhat different representation of the same situation is the so-called net energy, which describes the part of the energy that remains in a process when the energy used is subtracted from the energy generated. A harvest factor of one (1: 1) means zero net energy and it becomes irrelevant how high the price of oil is.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the harvest factor for oil production was 100: 1. Nowadays it is around 10: 1 for conventional oil fields and a little lower for deep water drilling in the ocean or similar complex production methods and facilities. The oil production from the Canadian oil sands takes place with massive use of natural gas and water. The bitumen-like oil is very viscous and has to be heated in order to be able to separate it from the sand, and then has to be reformed with further energy input so that it becomes easy-flowing fuel. The harvest factor is estimated to be between 3: 1 and 4: 1. The table shows further (roughly estimated) harvest factors for different energy sources and vectors. This shows that ethanol and hydrogen are not suitable as energy sources (but possibly as energy vectors). The values ​​for wind power fluctuate very strongly and can sometimes reach harvest factors of 50: 1 (see below). In addition to replacing sheer energy, it should be noted that crude oil offers excellent properties in terms of its transport (liquid, hardly combustible in its raw state). Electric power currently hardly offers a solution for fertilizer production and transport. It should be noted that the harvest factor depends on both the technical level and the availability of a raw material itself (→ oil) or its prerequisites (→ ethanol) and is therefore by no means a constant.

Fossil energy sources

Main article: Fossil energy

“We expect total energy consumption in 2050 to be twice as high as it is today. Up to 30 percent of the energy could then come from renewable sources. In percentage terms, the importance of fossil fuels is declining. But not in absolute numbers: in 2050, even more oil, gas and coal will be consumed than today. [...] Even if you put a panel on every roof in Germany, you only cover a fraction of the electricity requirement. People misjudge the dimensions. "

- Jeroen van der Veer: CEO Shell-AG

  • Coal is de facto the most widespread and most abundant fossil fuel and has the greatest static range of any fossil fuel. At present, coal is primarily used to generate electricity. With coal liquefaction, coal could even directly replace oil. However, this would cause various problems: Firstly, some of the energy would be lost during liquefaction. Second would be the CO2- The output of liquefied coal is considerably higher than that of crude oil and - with liquefaction - also higher than that of the direct use of coal. Third, these processes would be costly. Fourth, this would significantly reduce the previously large static range of coal, as it is mainly used to generate electricity, which only accounts for around 17% of primary energy consumption.
  • Natural gas is the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel. In addition, natural gas can in principle directly replace oil in some areas (without conversion), for example to drive motor vehicles. However, natural gas is not available in sufficient quantities to replace oil - peak gas is expected as early as 2025. In addition, some geologists assume that Russia's reserves are not as large as stated.

Nuclear energy

Main article: Nuclear power

Since 1990 the annual reactor demand for uranium has exceeded the annual uranium production. The resulting supply deficit is covered by civilian and military stocks. In 2005 only about 2/3 of the reactor demand was covered by the annual uranium production. [44] With a switch to the breeder technology, which is controversial due to safety concerns, among other things, a global overview of breeder reactors, the range could probably be several thousand years[45] can be increased, since only 1/60 of the original amount promoted would be required for the same performance today. Examples of increased use of nuclear energy: The People's Republic of China announced in 2004 that it would build a total of 30 new reactors by 2020 and, as an example for the European Union, a NPP is also being built in Finland. In addition, the energy companies in Germany are trying to reverse the decision to phase out nuclear power (“nuclear phase-out”). Another fundamental problem in addition to the long-term security of raw materials and the safety of nuclear power plants is the disposal of radioactive waste.

Nuclear fusion and hydrogen

Main articles: Nuclear fusion and the hydrogen economy

Nuclear fusion is a theoretical alternative for generating electricity or process heat and then producing hydrogen from it. However, even optimists assume that around 50 years will pass before technical use. In view of the emerging energy problems at the moment, nuclear fusion would, at best, play a role as a long-term energy source.

Hydrogen itself is not an energy source on earth, but only an energy carrier.

Renewable energy

Main article: Renewable energies

Those forms of energy that are inexhaustible by human standards are called renewable energies. Most of them arise directly or indirectly through solar radiation and heat.

  • Hydropower has been used to generate electricity for more than 100 years. The majority of suitable reservoirs have already been created, so that only a few additional expansion capacities remain. The total hydropower potential in Germany is around 26 TWh / a, which currently corresponds to around 5% of German electricity consumption. Currently around 20 TWh of hydroelectric power are generated per year.
  • In 2005, wind energy generated around 6.7 percent of German electricity. Planned offshore wind farms in the North and Baltic Seas represent further expansion potential. In addition, the plants built on land are in the power class of 0.5 to 6 megawatts (MW). The "new" generation plants intended for offshore use (e.g. Enercon, Repower), on the other hand, generate 5 - 6 MW per wind power plant. Two to three large offshore parks (more than 200 systems) could already produce more and more constant electricity than all of Germany's onshore systems combined.
  • Photovoltaics is gaining in importance worldwide as it breaks the threshold to profitability. Solar modules can meanwhile for 2000 € / kWp be mass-produced. The growth slowed down by the silicon shortage is picking up speed again. The potential is very different from region to region due to solar radiation. Theoretically, with an efficiency of 16%, the world energy demand (not world electricity demand, which only accounts for about 17% of it) could be covered with an area of ​​650 km x 650 km in the Sahara or 1100 km x 1100 km in our latitudes. In order to cover Germany's primary energy needs, an area of ​​213 km x 213 km would be needed there. This corresponds to 12.7% of the country's area or 26% of the agricultural area. Germany's electricity needs could be met with 76 km x 76 km solar cells alone. This corresponds to 1.6% of the country's area or less than all available roof areas.On Hawaii and other sunny islands, photovoltaics are already cheaper than grid electricity, as imported diesel oil is used to generate electricity due to a lack of own resources, the price of which has risen to 42 cents / liter in recent years. Solar cells are also well suited for small power plants and island solutions. The raw material silicon for the production of solar cells is basically available in practically unlimited quantities, since ordinary quartz sand is only oxidized silicon (silicon dioxide).
  • Ocean energy in the form of tides can only be used in a few places by tidal power plants. So far, marine thermal power plants have only been implemented as small test systems; the useful power is significant compared to the construction costs. The first wave power plants are in the trial phase. Here the wave energy is converted into mechanical energy, which then drives a generator to generate electricity.
  • Geothermal power plants could theoretically cover about half of the national energy demand in Germany in the medium term.
  • Biomass includes all those forms of energy that are obtained directly from predominantly vegetable, but also animal materials: These include, among others. Ethanol (obtained from grain, sugar plants or wood), Vegetable oils and synthetic fuels such as Sunfuel made from biomass. When cultivating biomass for energy generation, it should be noted that industrial agriculture, which has to cultivate sufficient quantities (in addition to food production), has so far been largely based on oil as an energy source. It is also particularly critical that in many places primeval forest is burned to build plantations, releasing the carbon dioxide stored in the forest. The overall energy balance of vegetable oils as an alternative is assessed differently: Both fertilization and large-scale cultivation are energy-consuming and have all the problems of monocultures. On the other hand, there is no need for energy for long transport routes and for processing in refineries, since vegetable oils can be used without further processing. The production of BtL fuels (Biomass to Liquid) such as Sunfuel is dependent on external energy sources. Most of the energy has to be used for the forming process (steam and electrical energy) (see bio-ethanol). The exact energy consumption for the production of BTL is not published. Energy savings are expected from local refineries that are adapted to the region's plant varieties, as transport routes are reduced.
  • Hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis, biomass gasification and other ways. The efficiency of the electrolysis is approx. 75%. Liquefaction of hydrogen is associated with a further 20% losses. The energy density of liquid hydrogen is only about 1/4 compared to gasoline, which means that the tanks would have to have a very large volume. One cubic meter of liquid hydrogen weighs just 70 kg. The efficiency from electricity to kinetic energy is around 25%. Like oil, hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source. If you want to produce the energy equivalent of a barrel of crude oil with wind power (9 cents / kWh) as liquid hydrogen, this would correspond to a price of $ 304 per barrel. In Germany, however, a barrel of gasoline with taxes also costs $ 277. The economically more interesting option for hydrogen production is the gasification of biomass (various processes exist). (See also hydrogen economy)

Save energy

Main article: Energy saving

One way to postpone the end of the oil age is to cut fuel consumption. In principle, this can be done by reducing the energy requirement (e.g. switching off the heating in unused rooms) or by increasing the energy efficiency (e.g. energy-saving lamp, heat recovery). The use of this often untapped potential is often accompanied by significant cost savings without any significant loss of comfort.

See also

  • Global warming
  • Climate protection
  • Energy saving
  • Gas delivery maximum
  • Coal production maximum
  • The limits of growth
  • Petroleum constant


  • Kenneth S. Deffeyes: Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage.
  • Colin J. Campbell, Frauke Liesenborghs, Jörg Schindler: Oil change! The end of the petroleum age and setting the course for the future. Dt. Taschenbuch-Verl., Munich 2007 (updated edition), ISBN 3-423-34389-3
  • Richard Heinberg (en): The Party’s Over; Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies; German edition published by Riemann-Verlag, 2004. (English summary)
  • Matthew R. Simmons: Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. 2005, ISBN 0-471-73876-X German: When the desert runs out of oil 2007, ISBN 978-3-89879-227-1
  • peakofoil.de Overview of books on the subject on PeakofOil.de info page
  • Energy from fossil fuels Original article by M. King Hubbert, Science 109(2823):103-109, 1949


  • Lava productions, Oil crash, 2006, "A 90-minute documentary on the planet’s dwindling oil resources"
  • Colin J. Campbell, Peak Oil - imposed by nature, 2005
  • Jim Kunstler, The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream, Direct reference
  • NZZ format, The end of the oil age, 2005
  • BackTalk, Short films about PeakOil in English
  • Four Corners Broadband Edition - Peak Oil? Australian documentation in six chapters and additional information
  • Documentation from the Chicago Tribune
  • RTÉ one, Future Shock: End of the Oil Age, 2007 (English)


  1. ILEA 1998
  2. American Chemical Society 2002
  3. UN News Center March 1, 2004
  4. Environmental Literacy Council
  5. Uncertainty about Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production, February 2007 [1]
  6. G. W. Bush: State of the Union 2006, in: Office of the Press Secretary January 31, 2006 [02/18/2006]
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubbert_curve
  8. The three phases of oil production, Berliner Zeitung, July 13, 2006
  9. Production profile of the LBST oil production
  10. ab Maugeri, Leonardo (2004) Oil - False Alarm. in: Science
  11. ASPO (2007) Newsletter No.76, April 2007
  12. Energy Watch Group (2007): Crude Oil - The supply outlook online (PDF)
  13. World Energy Outlook 2004 - German Summary IEA
  14. IEA considers the oil crisis to be likely from 2010 onwards
  15. Handelsblatt (May 24, 2006)
  16. In the race for energy sources, in: Deutschlandfunk, March 13, 2006
  17. CNN Money
  18. Kuwait’s biggest field starts to run out of oil in: AME November 12, 2005 [18. February 2006]
  19. Canales: Output will drop at Cantarell field, in: El Universal Online, February 10, 2006 [18. February 2006] (see also: Analysis: Mexico faces production decline in: UPI 02.15. 2006)
  20. M. Simons, “When the desert runs out of oil. The Coming Oil Shock in Saudi Arabia - Opportunities and Risks ", Finanzbuch-Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-89879-227-7.
  21. TCRP-News - "Possible Saudi oil decline"
  22. abcd Spiegel interview: “Part of the profit is undeserved”, Der Spiegel (24/2006), (English) see also the ASPO comment in the June 2006 newsletter, item 729
  23. ab The Worlds Giant Oil Fields (PDF) Simmons & Company International
  24. Renewable energies have economic benefits in the billions, in: Information campaign for renewable energies, February 15, 2006 [18. February 2006]
  25. OPEC Oil Supply (PDF), in: IEA Monthly Oil Market Report March 14, 2006 [28. March 2006]
  26. Quoted from Craig Morris: Peak oil: Rising prices, falling production, Telepolis, April 25, 2005
  27. Fear of the second half Die Zeit, number 17, 2006
  28. Reserves, resources, ranges - how long will oil and gas be around?
  29. ab Jean-Luc Wingert, Jean Laherrere: La vie après le pétrole: De la pénurie aux energies nouvelles, Autrement Publishing House, 2005 ISBN 2-7467-0605-9
  30. Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Feb. 2nd - Transscript, on MSNBC.com February 3, 2006 [18. February 2006] "There is not enough supply of oil in the world to grow our economy or the global economy at its full potential ..."
  31. in the winter of 2005/2006 in the US magazine he edited The National Interest. quoted from: http://www.energybulletin.net/13039.html The inability readily to expand the supply of oil, given rising demand, will impose a severe economic shock in the future.
  32. At the beginning of 2006 in conversation with a freelance journalist from Deutschlandfunk
  33. “Le Monde” on June 27th. 2007, source of the quotation and the translation: http://www.energiekrise.de/news/gazette/gazette.html#
  34. THERE. Pfeiffer: Eating Fossil Fuels, From the Wilderness Publications
  35. "Les ravages du mouvement perpétuel" in Le Monde Diplomatique, 1/2005
  36. Spiegel online yearbook
  37. “Biofuel boom is driving tortilla prices to record highs” Spiegel online, February 1, 2007
  38. "High food prices contributes to increasing gas costs, not corn demand" [2]