How Australia will run out of oil by 2020

18 03 2011

As I write this, the Japanese disaster is going from bad to worse. The global nuclear industry is in disarray, and the combination of this catastrophe, added to all the others that have occurred over the past twelve months (Russian drought/decimated wheat crop, Pakistani floods/decimated agriculture, floods right down Australia’s seaboard, cat 5 cyclone wiping out infrastructure and banana/sugar crops in Nth QLD, earthquake in NZ) to me at least signal that the collapse has begun.

Oil is now over $100, and I can’t see it ever coming down again unless a full blown depression kicks in destroying demand dramatically. Especially if the NAME nations continue on their merry revolutionary way….. in particular of course Saudi Arabia. Which will soon be the only nation still able to export any oil. Unless of course the wikileaks cables which exposed the Saudis for overstating their reserves numbers by at least 40% turn out to be correct…. in which case all bets are off.

Meanwhile Australia’s oil woes are also going from bad to worse.

What got me started on this phase of investigation in Australia’s Peak Oil dilemmas was an article in the Australian.  Such a conservative newspaper too…  The author, Professor Stephen Lincoln, wrote “At present rates of extraction, Australian oil, condensate and liquefied petroleum gas supplies are likely to last 8, 36 and 45 years respectively”  My first reaction was “no way…”, but a little delving quickly discovered he may actually be optimistic on the condensates figures.

Australia’s failing oil production

source extrapolation by me.

Extrapolating from the current data, and assuming that no surprisingly large new fields are discovered double quick, we will be as good as totally out of oil by 2020.  And condensates too.


The concept is deceptively simple:
Oil producing countries consume their own production first, and then export their surplus. Observations of oil exporters clearly show that their domestic markets are growing exponentially (ie, by a certain percentage per annum) even after they peak. So their export capacity is hit by 2 factors – declining production and increasing domestic consumption. As a result, their export capacity drops with surprising rapidity….. the clash of two opposing exponential hockeysticks!  If you don’t know what a hockeystick is, go and do the crash course.

The consensus seems to be that there will be a serious supply crunch within 5 years, so we should look at how we will be positioned in 5 years.


Australia currently produces a bit under 50% of the oil we consume. Our production peaked in 2000, and is now in decline, with occasional jumps as new production is added. We currently produce slightly less than 500,000 barrels/day and this figure is dropping:

Our growing reliance on imports

Australian Oil Production
Source: EIA,

That ‘bump’ at the far right end of the graph above was caused by the discovery of a very substantial oil field off the NW coast of Western Australia.  The effect on the steepness of the depletion curve was, well, negligible.  A slightly larger ‘bump’ can also be observed on the equivalent curve for the USA’s production; except that ‘bump’ was Prudhoe Bay, the largest ever oil field discovered in Nth America.  It too had a negligible effect on the total production outcome.  For Australia to NOT run out by 2020, we would have to find something as large as all the oil we’ve consumed in history.

An enthusiastic reader of this blog recently reminded me that BP plans to further drill the Great Australian Bight where 100 million barrels of oil are believed to exist…. but to put this in perspective, the whole lot would be consumed in barely more than three months.  Just one more bump on the downside of the depletion curve.

But here’s the crunch line: by 2020, no oil exporting nation will be selling us oil.  At all.  By then the Export Land Model will have reached its inevitable outcome.

Are we in trouble…?  YOU decide.