THE IMPLICATIONS OF PEAK ENERGY

13 03 2016

SIMON MICHAUX

Dr Simon Michaux has a Bach App Sc in Physics and Geology and a PhD in mining engineering. He has worked in the mining industry for 18 years in various capacities. He has worked in industry funded mining research, coal exploration and in the commercial sector in an engineering company as a consultant. Areas of technical interest have been: Geometallurgy; mineral processing in comminution, flotation and leaching; blasting; mining geology; geophysics; feasibility studies; mining investment; and industrial sustainability.

Our current society is one based on whim. Whatever we want can be had if we have the money. Not only can we have what we want any time we want it, it’s the done thing to throw it away and buy something else when it breaks or the latest upgrade comes out. We are conditioned to believe there are no limits within the current framework, and growth is our reason to be. The ‘how’ we can have all this fantastic stuff is considered someone else’s problem. But with a growing middle class population, for how long will it be possible to utilise finite, non-renewable resources in this linear fashion?

To date, our civilisation has been built on non-renewable natural resources.  What has facilitated all this is our sources of energy – the master resource.  Oil, coal and gas has accounted for the vast amount of industrial development over the last 160 years.

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World population, per capita-, and total energy consumption by fuel as a percentage of 2011 consumption, 1850-2011

Currently, we are a petroleum based society, where petroleum products and petrochemicals derived from oil provide goods and services for most of the vital requirements of our industrial civilisation. Everything from food production to plastics manufacture is dependent on oil in some form (there are some synthetic alternatives but they are costly and not as effective as natural crude oil as a raw feed product). World growth in GDP, energy consumption and oil consumption all correlate to demonstrate this basic concept.  The world economy is dependant not just on oil but high quality and high net energy oil.

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But all is not well with the oil sector.  Between 2000 and 2012, $2.6 Trillion USD was invested in oil infrastructure CAPEX, with no gain in oil production (this data includes shale oil production in USA).¹  Global crude and condensate production has plateaued since approximately 2005. The problem with this is world population is 13.8% larger now than in 2005 (7.4 billion people 5/2/2016 vs 6.5 billion in 2005). Increasingly unconventional sources of oil are being used to meet demand, where these sources are expensive to extract and struggle to meet the desired quantities.

Increasingly, conventional sources of crude oil have been difficult to discover and exploit. The picture below shows the pattern of oil discovery, listing all of the major plays that have dominated oil production.

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There will come a point where total oil production will peak and decline, the question is just when this will happen. Conventional crude oil production peaked in 2006, something now recognised by the International Energy Agency (Source: IEA World Energy Outlook 2010). Unconventional sources like tight oil (also known as shale oil) in the US have come on line to meet demand requirements, which have for some discredited previous predictions around peak oil.

However, The global combination of conventional crude oil production and unconventional oil production is predicted to peak and decline very soon, according to various studies. A sophisticated analysis on oil production has been conducted by retired actuary Gail Tverberg, where total oil production is predicted to have peaked in the year 2015. Others have suggested that we are in fact past peak, such as the report released by the Energy Watch Group (EWG), which claims that peak oil production (conventional and unconventional) happened around the year 2012.

conventional and unconv
Source: Zittel, W. et al, Fossil and Nuclear Fuels – the supply outlook Energy Watch Group March 2013

Gas as a commodity is important to our industrialisation. As industrial sites require large quantities of power, a gas fired power station is often installed. Acquiring data for gas production has been difficult but it is believed that conventional production of natural gas peaked in the year 2011 (data is spotty). To meet industrial demand, unconventional sources of gas like fracking and Coal Seam Gas (CSG) have been developed. Unconventional gas supply was believed to replace conventional sources of gas, and is in the process of doing so.

gas production
Gas supply scenario projections until 2030. Source: Zittel, W. et al, Fossil and Nuclear Fuels – the supply outlook Energy Watch Group March 2013

Coal is another energy resource that our industrial grid depends on to generate its electricity requirements. It is also often the case that the domestic power grid that supplies electricity is dependent on coal. The EWG report has a peak in coal production at approximately the year 2020. Four years away. Even if this estimate is imprecise, as it now takes about five years to build an industrial power station, it would behove us all to consider a replacement energy source.

geography
Global coal production. Source: Zittel, W. et al, Fossil and Nuclear Fuels – the supply outlook Energy Watch Group March 2013

Each energy source often serves different purposes, so one resource cannot necessarily directly replace another.  For the purposes of comparison though, all energy sources discussed have been put onto one graph:

 

energy sourcespeak energy reference

(Another good estimate has been provided by G. Tverberg  in “A Forecast of Our Energy Future; Why Common Solutions Don’t Work”)

Peak total energy is projected to be approximately in the year 2017. This means that industrialisation in a global context, based on the current rules of the game, will soon tip into contracting economies – the end of growth based economics. As this challenges would have taken 20 years to meet with an engineered alternative (once a viable one has been presented) (Hirsch 2005), the implications of the above charts are quite serious. Even if the projection was incorrect by 10 years, our industrial society would still be faced with an unprecedented challenge.

To examine the usefulness of a replacement energy source, the Energy Return On Energy Invested ratio (EROEI) is used, which is the ratio of the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy expended to obtain that energy resource.

Oil when it was originally discovered was very good and returned about 100 units of energy for every one invested.  Now it’s around 12-18:1.  Most alternative energy sources are much lower than what oil currently delivers.  To put this in perspective, the European medieval society EROEI was Approximately 1.5:1.  For our industrial society to function, an EROEI ratio of 10:1 is required.

eroei
Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI ratio)

What this means is we have no replacement energy source that is as calorically dense as oil. It is simply not practical to replace oil as an energy source and maintain current energy demands. Colloquially, oil is butter-fried-steak wrapped in bacon and alternative energy is lettuce. This is why peak oil is so relevant and is the rate determining issue amongst the network of problems facing society at this time. With the possibility of peak energy on the horizon, the solution may lie in a fundamental upgrade to the operating system for our economy.

Notes

  1. Data collection stopped at 2012 because since then, there has been a non linear pattern unfolding in the form of global economic stagnation.  Currently the Baltic Dry Index is at a historic low (currently 332), where it was about 600 during the worst of the global correction of 2008.  This means global trade is at a historically low level.  More time is required to determine the true nature what is happening now.




Implications of declining EROI on oil production 2013 by David J. Murphy

21 06 2015

Quite technical but a good read if you are so inclined……..

Posted on by

Murphy, David J. December 2, 2013. The implications of the declining energy return on investment of oil production. Trans. R. Soc. A 2014 372

[This is a great paper on EROI, highly recommended. Without EROI studies, we risk building energy capturing contraptions that end up being useless, consuming more oil than generated, the Easter Island Heads of our former civilization. Alice Friedemann, energyskeptic.com]

Declining production from conventional oil resources has initiated a global transition to unconventional oil, such as tar sands. Unconventional oil is generally harder to extract than conventional oil and is expected to have a (much) lower energy return on (energy) investment (EROI). Recently, there has been a surge in publications estimating the EROI of a number of different sources of oil, and others relating EROI to long-term economic growth, profitability and oil prices. The following points seem clear from a review of the literature: (i) the EROI of global oil production is roughly 17 and declining, while that for the USA is 11 and declining; (ii) the EROI of ultra-deep- water oil and oil sands is below 10; (iii) the relation between the EROI and the price of oil is inverse and exponential; (iv) as EROI declines below 10, a point is reached when the relation between EROI and price becomes highly nonlinear; and (v) the minimum oil price needed to increase the oil supply in the near term is at levels consistent with levels that have induced past economic recessions. From these points, I conclude that, as the EROI of the average barrel of oil declines, long-term economic growth will become harder to achieve and come at an increasingly higher financial, energetic and environmental cost.

Introduction

Today’s oil industry is going through a fundamental change: conventional oil fields are being rapidly depleted and new production is being derived increasingly from unconventional sources, such as tar or oil sands and shale (or tight) oil. Indeed, much of the so-called ‘peak oil debate’ rests on whether or not these sources can be produced at rates comparable to the conventional mega-oil fields of yesterday.

What is less discussed is that the production of unconventional oil most likely has a (much) lower net energy yield than the production of conventional crude oil. Net energy is commonly defined as the difference between the energy acquired from some source and the energy used to obtain and deliver that energy, measured over a full life cycle (net energy=E(out)- E(in)). A related concept is the energy return on investment (EROI), defined as the ratio of the former to the latter (EROI=E(out)/E(in)). The ‘energy used to obtain energy’, E(in), may be measured in a number of different ways. For example, it may include both the energy used directly during the operation of the relevant energy system (e.g. the energy used for water injection in oil wells) as well as the energy used indirectly in various stages of its life cycle (e.g. the energy required to manufacture the oil rig). Owing to these differences, it is necessary to ensure that the EROI estimates have been derived using similar boundaries, i.e. using the same level of specificity for Ein. Murphy et al. [1] suggested a framework for categorizing various EROI estimates, and, where applicable, I will follow this framework in this paper.

Estimates of EROI are important because they provide a measure of the relative ‘efficiency’ of different energy sources and of the energy system as a whole [2,3]. Since it is this net energy that is important for long-term economic growth [3–6], measuring and tracking the changes in EROI over time may allow us to assess the future growth potential of the global economy in ways that data on production and/or prices cannot.

Over the past few years, there has been a surge in research estimating the EROI of a number of different sources of oil, including global oil and gas [7], US oil and gas [8,9], Norwegian oil and gas [10], ultra-deep-water oil and gas [11]and oil shale[12]. In addition, there have been several publications relating EROI to long-term economic growth, firm profitability and oil prices [3, 13–15].

The main objective of this paper is to use this literature to explain the implications that declining EROI may have for long-term economic growth. Specifically, this paper: (i) provides a brief history of the development of EROI and net energy concepts in the academic literature, (ii) summarizes the most recent estimates of the EROI of oil resources, (iii) assesses the importance of EROI and net energy for economic growth and (iv) discusses the implications of these estimates for the future growth of the global economy.

(a) A brief history of energy return on investment

In the late 1960s, Charles Hall studied the energy flows within New Hope Creek, in North Carolina, USA, to understand the migration patterns of the fish within the stream. His conclusions [16] revealed that, by migrating, the fish were able to exploit new sources of food, which, after accounting for the additional energy cost of migration, conferred a large net energy gain upon the fish. In other words, owing to the abundance of food in the new locations, the fish were able to gain enough energy not only to ‘pay’ for the energy expenditure of that migration but also to grow and reproduce. Comparing the energy gained from migration to the energy expended in the migration process was ostensibly the first calculation of EROI.

In the autumn of 1973 the price of oil skyrocketed following the Arab oil embargo (the so-called ‘first oil shock’), which sent most OECD economies tumbling into recession. The apparent vulnerability of OECD nations to spikes in the price of oil led many researchers to focus on the interaction between the economy and energy. Then, in 1974, the journal Energy Policy dedicated a series of articles to the energy costs of production processes. The editor of this series, Peter Chapman, began the series with a paper titled ‘Energy costs: a review of methods’, and observed that ‘this subject is so new and undeveloped that there is no universally agreed label as yet’ [17], and followed up two years later with a second paper [18]. Today this area of research is spread among a number of different disciplines, including, but not limited to, ecological economics, industrial ecology and net energy analysis, and the EROI statistic is just one of many indicators calculated.

Also during this period researchers started using Leontief input–output tables as a way to measure the use of energy within the economy [19–22]. For example, Bullard & Herendeen [23] used a Leontief-type input–output matrix to calculate the energy intensity (in units of joules per dollar) of every major industrial sector of the US economy. Even today this paper serves as a useful model for other net energy analyses [8,24]. In addition, a workshop in Sweden in 1974 and one at Stanford, CA, in 1975 formalized the methodologies and conventions of energy analysis [25,26].

In 1974, the US Congress enacted specific legislation mandating that net energy be accounted for in energy projects. The Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act of 1974 (NERDA) included a provision stating that ‘the potential for production of net energy by the proposed technology at the stage of commercial application shall be analyzed and considered in evaluating proposals’. Further influential papers by the Colorado Energy Research Institute, Bullardet al.and Herendeen followed this requirement [27–29]. Unfortunately, the net energy provision within the NERDA was never adopted and was eventually dropped.

In 1979, the Iranian revolution led to a cessation of their oil exports (the second oil shock), which precipitated another spike in the price of oil and squeezed an already strained US economy. Responding to this, and in an attempt to control deficits and expenditure, President Reagan of the USA enacted Executive Order 12291 in 1980. This order mandated that ‘regulatory action shall not be undertaken unless the potential benefits to society from the regulation outweigh the potential costs to society’.

 

In other words, all US regulatory action had to show a net monetary benefit to US society, and the idea of measuring benefits in terms of net energy fell even further from the policy arena.

Net energy analysis remained insignificant in US energy policy debates until the dispute over corn ethanol emerged 25 years later [30,31].

Although the political emphasis had now shifted towards economic analysis, the 1980s still provided useful papers on net energy analysis (e.g. [32]). In 1981, Hall published ‘Energy return on investment for United States petroleum, coal, and uranium’, which marked the first time that the acronym EROI was published in the academic literature [33]. Later that year, Hall & Cleveland [34] published ‘Petroleum drilling and production in the United States: yield per effort and net energy analysis’. This paper analyzed the amount of energy being produced per foot drilled and found that the ratio had been declining steadily for 30 years. Further publications by Hall and colleagues then tested hypotheses relating economic growth to energy use, introduced explicitly the concept of energy return on investment and examined the EROI of most major sources of energy [35,36].

Following growing concern about environmental impacts, climate change and sustainability, documented in the Brundtland Report in 1987 [37], emphasis began to shift from energy analysis to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and life-cycle analysis. Life-cycle analysis (LCA) itself was born out of the process and input–output analyses codified in the aforementioned energy literature of the 1970s and 1980s, and can be used to calculate EROI and other net energy metrics. Beginning around the turn of the century, researchers began to recognize the complementarity between LCA and net energy and began publishing on the matter [38].

There was another surge in publications in net energy analysis in the 2000s, due mainly to a growing global interest in renewable energy, and therefore an interest in metrics that compare renewable energy technologies. The debate about whether or not corn ethanol has an EROI greater than one is a good example [30,31]. There has also been a number of studies using the input–output techniques developed in the 1970s to track emissions production and/or resource consumption across regions [39].

Today, research within the field of net energy analysis is expanding rapidly. The main renewable energy options, including, but not limited to, solar photovoltaics, concentrating solar, wind power and biofuels, have each been the focus of studies estimating their net energy yield [31,40,41].

Furthermore, with the expansion of oil production into ultra-deep water, tar sands and other unconventional sources, as well as developments with shale gas, there has been a renewed interest in whether or not these sources of energy have EROI ratios similar to conventional oil and gas, and publications are expected to be forthcoming .

Recent estimates of the energy return on (energy) investment for oil and gas production

There has been a recent resurgence in EROI studies for liquid fuels, beginning with Cleveland [ 8], who estimated the EROI for oil and gas extraction in the US, Gagnon et al. [7], who estimated the same EROI for the whole world, and a number of additional studies that were contained in a 2011 special issue of the journal Sustainability. This section reviews the findings of these papers. Unless otherwise noted, all of the oil EROIs reported here are equivalent to the standard EROI (EROIstnd), as reported in Murphy et al. [1], which means that both the indirect and direct costs of energy extraction are included in the EROI calculation, but costs further downstream, such as transportation and refinement, have been omitted.

Cleveland [ 8]estimated two values for the EROI of US oil and gas that differed in the method of aggregating different types of energy carrier. The first method used thermal-equivalent aggregation, i.e. volumes of natural gas and oil are combined in terms of their heat content in joules. The second method uses a Divisia index, developed by Berndt [42], and uses both energy prices and consumption levels to adjust for the ‘quality’ of each energy carrier. Quality corrections are often used in energy analysis to adjust for the varying economic productivity of different energy carriers—for example, since electricity is more valuable, in terms of potential economic productivity, than coal, it is given more weight in the aggregate measure [43]. Quality-corrected measures better reflect the ability of energy carriers to produce marketable goods and services, so are arguably more useful.

The EROI values calculated using the energy quality-corrected data for US oil and gas production are consistently lower than those calculated from the non-quality-corrected data. This reflects the fact that many of the inputs to production are high-quality (i.e. high-priced) energy carriers such as electricity and diesel, while the outputs are unprocessed crude oil and natural gas.

Nevertheless, both estimates show the same trend over time: namely, an increase until the early 1970s, a decline until the mid-1980s, a slight recovery until the mid-1990s, followed again by decline (figure 1).

According to Cleveland, the overall downward trend from the 1970s till the mid-1990s is the result of higher extraction costs due to the depletion of oil in the USA. The up and down fluctuations within this aggregate trend are likely to be linked to changes in oil prices influencing the rate of drilling in the USA, with higher prices encouraging more drilling in less promising areas, which in turn leads to a lower yield and a lower aggregate EROI. Gagnon et al. [7] estimated the EROI for global oil and gas from 1992 to 2006 using the same energy aggregation techniques as Cleveland [8], i.e. both thermal equivalence and Divisia indices. In both cases, the EROI at the wellhead was around 26 in 1992 and increased to 35 in 1999 before declining to 18 in 2006 (figure 1).

It is not surprising that the EROI for global oil and gas is higher than that for the USA considering that oil production peaked in the USA in 1970 due mainly to the depletion of its biggest oil fields, while global production continued to flow and even increase from the mega-oil fields of the Persian Gulf.

US producers are increasingly reliant upon smaller and poorer-quality fields in difficult locations (e.g. deep water) together with the enhanced recovery of oil from existing fields—all of which are relatively energy intensive. In contrast, most OPEC members are still producing oil from high-quality supergiant fields.

The first few years of the Gagnon dataset and the last few years of the Cleveland dataset overlap in the early 1990s and both show a general increasing trend. The results from Gagnon et al. [7] then show that the increase in the early 1990s reaches a maximum in 1999, followed by a monotonic decline through the 2000s. Much like the Cleveland paper, Gagnon et al. assume that the decline is due to the depletion of easy access resources, but, as mentioned earlier, this trend also could be dependent on the trend in oil prices.

In addition to the estimates of Cleveland [ 8] and Gagnon et al. [7], Guilford et al. [9] estimated the non-quality-corrected EROI of conventional oil and gas production for the USA. They found that the EROI of oil production has declined from a peak of 24 in the 1950s to roughly 11 in 2007 (figure 1). By deriving separate estimates for exploration and production, they show how depletion reduces the rate of production from existing fields and gives incentives for increased exploration for new fields, both of which lower the aggregate EROI. They also suggest that natural gas is subsidizing oil production and that the EROI for oil alone is likely to be much lower.

Figure 1. EROI estimates from three sources, Gagnon et al. [7], Cleveland [8] and Guilford et al. [9]. The Gagnon et al. [7] data represent estimates of the EROI for global oil and gas production using aggregation by Divisia indices. The Cleveland [8] data represent the trend in EROI values for US oil and gas production calculated using the Divisia indices to aggregate energy units. The Guilford et al. [9] data represent estimates of the EROI of US oil production from 1919 to 2007

Despite differences in coverage and approach, the results from these three studies are broadly consistent, namely a general increase in EROI until 1970, then a general decline until the early 1980s, an increase through the mid-1990s and then a decline.

Grandell et al. [10] estimated the EROI of oil production from Norwegian oilfields to be roughly 20 in

  1. They also note that as the fields deplete they expect the EROI to decline further. Brandt [44] estimatedthattheEROIfromCalifornianoilfieldshasdeclinedfromover50 in the 1950s to under 10 by the mid-2000s. Similarly, Hu et al. [45] estimated that the EROI from the Daqing oil field, the biggest oil field in China, had declined from 10 in 2001 to 6.5 by 2009.

Two other recent EROI estimates of particular importance are those of Moerschbaecher & Day [11], who estimated the EROI of ultra-deep-water (depths greater than 1524 m or 5000 feet) production in the Gulf of Mexico, and Cleveland & O’Connor [12], who estimated the EROI of oil shale production.

Moerschbaecher & Day [11] estimated the EROI for deep-water oil production to be between 7 and 22. The range in EROI values is due to a sensitivity analysis performed by the authors that incorporated three different energy intensity values as proxies for the energy intensity of the ultra-deep-water oil industry. They also noted that, owing to the large infrastructure requirements of the deep-water oil industry, the real value is probably closer to the lower end of the range presented.

Cleveland & O’Connor [12] estimated that the EROI for oil shale production using either surface retorting or in situ methods was roughly 1.5, much lower than for other unconventional resources. Oil shale is the production of oil from kerogen found in sedimentary rock and is distinct from ‘shale oil’ or, preferably, ‘tight oil’, which is oil trapped in shale or other impermeable rock. Oil shale is discussed here because the western USA has vast resources of oil shale, but production costs are much higher than for other forms of unconventional oil [46].

The following summarizes the aforementioned studies:

  • EROI 11: average for US oil production today, down from roughly 20 in the early 1970s
  • EROI 17: global average, down from EROI of roughly 30 in 2000
  • EROI 10: ultra-deep-water oil production is probably less than 10
  • EROI 1.5: Oil shale (kerogen), not tight oil (aka ‘shale’ oil)

Energy return on (energy) investment, oil prices, and economic growth

The economic crash of 2008 occurred during the same month that oil prices peaked at an all-time high of $147 per barrel, leading to numerous studies that suggested a causal link between the two [47,48]. In addition, other researchers involved in net energy analysis began examining how EROI relates to both the price of oil and economic growth [3,13,15,49–51].

Murphy & Hall [3] examined the relation between EROI, oil price and economic growth over the past 40 years and found that economic growth occurred during periods that combined low oil prices with an increasing oil supply. They also found that high oil prices led to an increase in energy expenditures as a share of GDP, which has led historically to recessions. Lastly, they found that oil prices and EROI are inversely related (figure 2), which implies that increasing the oil supply by exploiting unconventional and hence lower EROI sources of oil would require high oil prices. This created what Murphy & Hall called the ‘economic growth paradox: increasing the oil supply to support economic growth will require high oil prices that will undermine that economic growth’.

Other researchers have come to similar conclusions to those of Murphy & Hall, most notably economist

James Hamilton [47]. Recently, Kopits [50], and later Nelder & Macdonald [49], reiterated the importance of the relation between oil prices and economic growth in what they describe as a ‘narrow ledge’ of oil prices. This is the idea that the range, or ledge, of oil prices that are profitable for oil producers but not so high as to hinder economic growth is narrowing as newer oil resources require high oil prices for development, and as economies begin to contract due largely to the effects of prolonged periods of high oil prices. In other words, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the oil industry to increase supply at low prices, since most of the new oil being brought online has a low EROI. Therefore, if we can only increase oil supply through low EROI resources, then oil prices must apparently rise to meet the cost, thus restraining economic growth.

Skrebowski [51]provides another interpretation of the relation between oil prices and economic growth in what he calls the ‘effective incremental oil supply cost. It should be noted there are wide divergences in estimates of oil development costs depending on what is included and the treatment of financial costs, profits and overheads. Those used here are estimates of the prices needed to justify a new, large development.’

According to data provided by Skrebowski, developing new unconventional oil production in Canada (i.e. tar sands) requires an oil price between $70 and $90 per barrel. Skrebowski also indicates that new production from ultra-deep-water areas requires prices between $70 and $80 per barrel. In other words, to increase oil production over the next few years from such resources will require oil prices above at least $70 per barrel. These oil prices may seem normal today considering that the market price for reference crude West-Texas Intermediate ranged from $78 to $110 per barrel in 2012 alone, but we should remember that the average oil price during periods of economic growth over the past 40 years was under $40 per barrel, and the average price during economic recessions was under $60 per barrel (dollar values inflation adjusted to 2010) [3]. What these data indicate is that the floor price at which we could increase oil production in the short term would require, at a minimum, prices that are correlated historically with economic recessions.

Heun & de Wit [15] found indicates that the price of oil increases exponentially as EROI declines [equation and explanation snipped, see pdf]. They suggest that the nature of the relation between EROI and the price is such that the effect on price becomes highly nonlinear as EROI declines below 10.

Figure 2. Relationship between oil prices and EROI. (Adapted from Murphy & Hall [3].)

King & Hall [13] examined the relation between EROI, oil prices and the potential profitability of oil-producing firms, termed energy-producing entities (EPEs). They found that for an EPE to receive a 10% financial rate of return from an energy extraction process, which, for example, has an EROI of 11, would require an oil price of roughly $20 per barrel.3 Alternatively, a 100% financial rate of return for the same extraction project would require $60 per barrel (figure 3). King & Hall also echoed Heun & de Wit, suggesting that the relationship between EROI and profitability becomes nonlinear when the EROI declines below 10.

The pertinent results from the literature summarized in this subsection are as follows:

  • there appears to be a negative exponential relationship between the aggregate EROI of oil production and oil prices;
  • there appears to be a comparable relationship between EROI and the potential profitability of oil-producing firms;
  • the relationship between EROI and profitability appears to become nonlinear as the EROI declines below 10;
  • the minimum oil price needed to increase global oil supply in the near-term is comparable to that which has triggered economic recessions in the past.

Understanding the relationship between energy return on (energy) investment and net energy

The mathematical relation between EROI, net energy and gross energy can be used to explain why, at around an EROI of 10, the relation between EROI and most other variables, such as price, economic growth and profitability, becomes nonlinear. The following equation describes the relation between EROI, gross and net energy [3]:

Equation 3.2 net energy = gross energy (1 – 1/ EROI)

Figure 3. Oil price as a function of EROI. The lines on the figure correspond to various rates of monetary return on investment (MROI). (Adapted from King & Hall [13].)

Using this equation, we can estimate the net energy provided to society from a particular energy source or (rearranging) the amount of gross energy required to provide a certain amount of net energy [52].

We can interpret equation (3.2) as follows:

  • an EROI of 10 delivers to society 90% (1 – .2 = 90%) of the gross energy extracted as net energy
  • an EROI of 5 will deliver to society 80% (1 – .2 = 80%)
  • an EROI of 2 will deliver only 50% (1 – .5 = 50%).

This exponential relation between gross and net energy means that there is little difference in the net energy provided to society by an energy source with an EROI above 10, whether it is 11 or 100, but a very large difference in the net energy provided to society by an energy source with an EROI of 10 and one with an EROI of 5. This exponential relation between gross and net energy flows has been called the ‘net energy cliff’ [53]and it is the main reason why there is a critical point in the relation between EROI and price at an EROI of about 10 (figure 4).

Figure 4. The 'net energy cliff' graph, showing the relation between net energy and EROI. As EROI declines, the net energy as a percentage of total energy extracted declines exponentially. Note that the x-axis is in reverse order. (Adapted from Mearns [53].)

Calculating the minimum energy return on (energy) investment at the point of energy acquisition for a sustainable society

‘The true value of energy to society is the net energy, which is that after the energy costs of getting and concentrating that energy are subtracted.’ H. T. Odum [6]

According to equation (3.2), as EROI declines, the net energy provided to society declines as well, and, at some point, the amount of net energy will be insufficient to meet existing demand.

The point at which the EROI provides just enough net energy to society to sustain current activity represents the minimum EROI for a sustainable society.

But estimating empirically the actual minimum EROI for society is challenging. Hall et al. [24] estimated that the minimum EROI required to sustain the vehicle transportation system of the USA was 3. Since their calculation included only the energy costs of maintaining the transportation system, it is reasonable to expect that the minimum EROI for society as a whole could be much higher.

Exploring the minimum EROI for a sustainable society is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, I will examine how, in theory, the minimum EROI could be calculated by using some simple models. I will first do this by examining how the idea of net energy grew from analyzing the energy budgets of organisms.

The energy that an organism acquires from its food is its gross energy intake. Let us assume, for simplicity’s sake, that an organism consumed 10 units of gross energy, but to access this food it expended 5 units of energy. Given these parameters, the EROI is 2 (=10/5) and the net energy is 5. It is important to note that the expended energy created an energy deficit (5 units) that must be repaid from the gross energy intake (10 units) before any growth, for example, in the form of building fat reserves or reproduction, can take place.

An economy also must have an influx of net energy to grow. Let us assume that Economy A produces 10,000 units of energy at an EROI of 10, which means that the energy cost of acquisition is 1,000 units and the net energy is 9,000. Like organisms, economies also have energy requirements that must be met before any investments in growth can be made. Indeed, researchers are now measuring the ‘metabolism of society’ by mapping energy consumption and flow patterns over time [54]. For example, economies must invest energy simply to maintain transportation and building infrastructure, to provide food and security, as well as to provide energy for direct consumption in transportation vehicles, households and business, etc. The energy flow to society must first pay all of these metabolic energy costs before enabling growth, such as constructing new buildings, roads, etc.

Building off this idea of societal metabolism, we can gain additional insight into the relationship between EROI and economic growth by differentiating between 3 main uses of energy by society:

  1. Metabolism, which could be described as the energy and material costs associated with the maintenance and replacement of populations and capital depreciation (examples include food consumption, bridge repair or doctor visits)
  2. Consumption: the expenditure of energy that does not increase populations or capital accumulation and is not necessary for metabolism (examples include purchasing movie tickets or plane tickets for vacation; in general, items purchased with disposable income)
  3. Growth, the investment of energy and materials in new populations and capital over and above that necessary for metabolism (examples include building new houses, purchasing new cars, increasing populations).

Figure 5. (a-d) Flow diagrams relating net energy, EROI and gross energy production for a hypothetical Economy A. Each diagram describes the energy flows according to a different EROI, where the EROI is (a) 10, (b) 5, (c) 2 and (d) 1.5

Figure 5 (a-d) illustrates how the flows of energy to the three categories change as EROI declines. Let us assume that the metabolism of Economy A requires the consumption of 5000 units of energy per year. So, of the 10,000 units of energy extracted, 1,000 must be reinvested to produce the next 10,000, and another 5,000 are invested to maintain the infrastructure of Economy A. This leaves 4,000 units of net energy that could be invested in either consumption or growth (figure 5a).

As society transitions to lower EROI energy sources, a portion of net energy that was historically used for consumption and/or growth will be transferred to the energy extraction sector. This transfer decreases the growth and consumption potential of the economy. For example, let us assume that, as energy extraction becomes more difficult in Economy A, it requires an additional 1,000 units of energy (2,000 total) to maintain its current production of gross energy, decreasing the EROI from 10 to 5 and the net energy from 9,000 to 8,000. If the metabolism of the economy remains at 5,000 units of energy, Economy A now has only 3,000 units of energy to invest in growth and/or consumption (figure 5b).

If the EROI for society were to decline to 2, the amount of energy that could previously be invested in growth and consumption would be transferred completely to the energy extraction sector. Thus, given the assumed metabolic needs of Economy A in this example, an EROI of 2 would be the minimum EROI needed to provide enough energy to pay for the current infrastructure requirements of Economy A, or, to put it another way, an EROI of 2 would be the minimum EROI for a sustainable Economy A. If the EROI were to decline below 2, for example in some biofuel systems [31], then the net energy provided to society would not be enough to maintain the infrastructure of Economy A, resulting in physical degradation and economic contraction (figure 5d).

There are a few caveats to this discussion of the minimum EROI that need to be addressed. First, it is important to remember that this is a simple example with hypothetical numbers, and, as such, the minimum EROI for our current society is probably, and maybe substantially, higher. Second, over time, efficiency improvements within the economy can mitigate the impact that lower EROI resources have on economic growth by increasing the utility of energy. That said, the exact relation between energy efficiency improvements and declining EROI is yet to be determined. Third, the model assumes that metabolic needs will be met first, then consumption and growth. This may not necessarily be the case.

It is quite possible that there could be growth at the expense of meeting metabolic needs. Likewise, we can consume at the expense of growth or metabolism. Either way, the net energy deficit that results from declining EROI will become apparent in one of the three sectors of energy use.

The gross energy requirement ratio

‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.’ The Red Queen, in Through the looking-glass [55,p.15]

Another way to explore the impact that a decline in EROI can have on net energy flows to society is to consider the ‘gross energy requirement ratio’ (GERR). The GERR indicates the proportional increase or decrease in gross energy production that is required to maintain the net energy flow to society given a change in the EROI of the energy acquisition process. The GERR is calculated by dividing the gross energy requirement (GER) of the substitute energy source by the GER of the reference energy source.

The GER is the minimum amount of gross energy production required to produce one unit of net energy.

Both of these equations are outlined below [2]:

Equation 5.1 GER(X) = EROI(X) / EROI(X) – 1

Equation 5.2 GERR = GER(X) / GER(REF)

The GERR is most useful when examining how transitioning from high to low EROI energy sources will impact the net energy flow to society. For example, the average barrel of oil in the USA is produced at an EROI of roughly 11 [9]. Using equation (5.1), an EROI of 11 results in a GER of 1.1, i.e. 1.1 units of gross energy must be extracted to deliver 1 unit of net energy to society, with the 0.1 extra being the amount of energy required for the extraction process. For comparison, delivering one unit of net energy from an oil source with an EROI of 5 would require the extraction of 1.25 units of oil. If conventional oil at an EROI of 11 is our reference GER, and our substitute energy resource has an EROI of 5, then the GERR is 1.14. This GERR value indicates that, if society were to transition from an energy source with an EROI of 11 to one with an EROI of 5, then gross energy production would have to increase by 14% simply to maintain the same net energy flow to society. The net effect of declining EROI is to increase the GERR, requiring the extraction of larger quantities of gross energy simply to sustain the same net energy flow to society (figure 6).

Implications for the future of economic growth

The implication of these arguments is that, if we try to pursue growth by using sources of energy of lower EROI, perhaps by transitioning to unconventional fossil fuels, long-term economic growth will become harder to achieve and come at an increasingly higher financial, energetic and environmental cost.

Figure 6. The GERR as a function of declining EROI. In this example, the reference EROI was 11. As such, the GERR value associated with an EROI of 4 represents the proportional increase in gross energy required to deliver one unit of net energy if society transitioned from an energy source with an EROI of 11 to one with an EROI of 4.

Revolutionary technological advancement is really the only way in which unconventional oil can be produced with a high EROI, and thus enhance the prospects for long-term economic growth and reduce the associated financial, energetic and environmental costs. This technological advancement would have to increase the energy efficiency of unconventional oil extraction or allow for increased oil recovery from fields discovered already [56]. Alternatively, there could be massive substitution from oil to high EROI renewables such as wind or hydropower [57].

It is difficult to assess directly how much technological progress is being or will be made by an industry, but we can get a glimpse as to how the oil industry is faring by comparing how production is responding to effort. If new technological advancements, such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, represent the types of revolutionary technological breakthroughs that are needed, then we should at least see production increasing relative to effort. The data, however, do not indicate that this is the case. From 1987 to 2000, when the US oil industry increased the number of rigs used to produce oil, there was, as expected, a corresponding increase in the amount of oil produced (figure 7 not shown, see paper). But from 2001 to 2012 the trend shows very little correlation between drilling effort and oil production.

Biofuels are the only currently available non-fossil substitute for oil that is being produced at any sizable scale, but factors such as economic cost, land-use requirements and competition with food production restrict their potential contribution (see [58]). Most importantly, the EROI of most large-scale biofuels5 is between 1 and 3 [30,31], which means that we would be substituting towards a fuel that is even less useful, from a net energy perspective, for long-term economic growth. Others claim that substituting towards renewable electricity is the key; for example, Jacobson & Delucchi [59] argue that wind and solar energy could power global society by 2030. Even if their analysis stands up to scrutiny (and some claim that it does not [60,61]), the high price of oil in the transition period may provide a significant constraint on economic growth. Without high levels of economic growth, the investment capital needed to build, install and operate renewable energy will be hard to acquire.

The other option is to construct coal-to-liquids (CTL) or gas-to-liquids (GTL) operations, but even these solutions have their own difficulties (see [62]). For example, both CTL and GTL operations represent an energy conversion process, not an energy extraction process, which, in terms of EROI, simply adds to the cost of producing the final fuel and lowers the overall EROI. CTL and/or GTL will most probably lead to a significant increase in GHG emissions [63]. For GTL, there is a narrow window of low gas prices and high oil prices in which the GTL process can remain profitable [63]. Achieving profitability is easier in a CTL operation because of cheap coal, but the future availability, quality and cost of that resource is also becoming uncertain [64]. And, again, it will most probably be decades until any sizable portion of global demand for oil is met from a series of GTL or CTL plants, and in the mean-time economies will still be struggling to grow in a high oil price, low oil EROI environment.

Lastly, increasing oil production from low EROI resources is expected to degrade the global environment at an accelerated rate, for two main reasons. First, on average, the environmental impact per unit of energy is larger for unconventional oil than for conventional oil. GHG emissions, for example, are somewhere between 15% and 60% higher for gasoline and diesel produced from tar sands when compared to that produced from conventional petroleum [65,66]. Similarly, the water used per unit of energy produced is also much higher for most low EROI sources of energy [67]. Second, declining EROI increases the GERR. As society switches to lower EROI resources, simply maintaining the flow of net energy to society will require a proportionally larger amount of gross energy extraction, thus increasing the environmental impact associated with that extraction. This evidence indicates that the environmental impacts of energy extraction are most probably related exponentially to EROI, mimicking the relation between EROI and price (figure 8). This relationship holds as long as the flow of net energy to society remains the same or even increases despite a decrease in EROI. The relationship weakens if, when met with lower EROI resources, we simply decrease our effort in energy acquisition, i.e. embrace conservation.

The ecology of societal succession

‘Energy fixed tends to be balanced by the energy cost of maintenance in the mature or “climax” ecosystem.’ E. P. Odum [68]

Societal succession from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to today mimics ecosystem succession in important and illuminating ways. The early stages of ecosystem development are marked by rapid growth (figure 9a), where the energy fixed through photosynthesis (gross photosynthesis) is greater than the energy consumed through respiration, resulting in a gain of net energy in the ecosystem. This gain in net energy leads to the accumulation of biomass (the energy equivalent of biomass in the context of society is embodied energy). As Odum [68] observed, as succession occurs, the gross photosynthesis of the ecosystem tends to balance with respiration as the steady-state, or ‘climax’, successional stage is reached. In other words, in the climax stage, almost all of the energy fixed by the ecosystem is used in maintenance respiration by the biomass that has accumulated over the years.

The simple diagram of forest succession (figure 9a not shown)is reflected by societal succession (figure 9b not shown)since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until today. Figure 9 shows how gross photosynthesis is equivalent to humanity’s gross energy production-i.e. the total biomass, coal, oil, natural gas, etc. produced each year. Forest respiration is the equivalent of societal metabolism-i.e. the energy and material costs associated with the maintenance and replacement of populations and capital depreciation. The accumulation of biomass is the equivalent of societal growth-i.e. investments in populations and infrastructure that will increase overall societal metabolism. Lastly, the net energy provided to society is that left after accounting for the metabolic needs of society (i.e. net energy = gross energy production – societal metabolism). Historically, we have simply found and produced more energy as the metabolism (i.e. energy demand) of society grew. Indeed, the exponential increase in global economic output over the past 200 years is highly correlated with the same exponential increase in energy consumption (figure 10).

The question is: can global society continue to produce enough energy to outpace the increased metabolic requirements of a growing, and now very large, built infrastructure? Answering this question for each energy source is clearly beyond the scope of this paper, but the answer for oil seems clear, as the production of conventional oil seems to have peaked in 2008 [71], and both unconventional oil and other feasible substitutes have a much lower EROI. Both of these factors are likely to place contractionary pressure on the global economy by decreasing the flow of net energy to society.

The main difference between society and nature, in terms of figure 9, is in the reason for the peak and initial decline in gross energy acquisition. In forests and other natural ecosystems, the amount of gross photosynthesis declines and reaches parity with respiration as the forces of competition and natural selection create a steady-state, or ‘climax’, ecosystem. These forces exist also for society, but they are in the form of declining EROI, geological depletion, environmental degradation, climate change, water pollution, air pollution, land-cover change and such, and all the other factors that are occurring today that make it harder and harder to produce energy easily. In the end, ecosystems are able to successfully transition from a growth-oriented structure to a steady state; it is unclear whether society will be able to do the same.

Figure 10. GDP as a function of energy consumption over the past 200 years. (Adapted from Kremmer [69] and Smil [70].)

Summary

The concept of energy return on investment (EROI) was born out of ecological research in the early 1970s, and has grown over the past 30 years into an area of study that bridges the disciplines of industrial ecology, economics, ecology, geography and geology, just to name a few. The most recent estimates indicate that the EROI of conventional oil is between 10 and 20 globally, with an average of 11 in the USA.

The future of oil production resides in unconventional oil, which has, on average, higher production costs (in terms of both money and energy) than conventional oil, and should prove in time to have a (much) lower EROI than conventional oil. Similar comments apply to other substitutes such as biofuels. The lack of peer-reviewed estimates of the EROI of such resources indicates a clear need for further investigation.

Transitioning to lower EROI energy sources has a number of implications for global society.

  1. It will reallocate energy that was previously destined for society towards the energy industry alone. This will, over the long run, lower the net energy available to society, creating significant headwinds for economic growth.
  2. Transitioning to lower EROI oil means that the price of oil will remain high compared to the past, which will also place contractionary pressure on the economy.
  3. As we try to increase oil supplies from unconventional sources, we will accelerate the resource acquisition rate, and therefore the degradation of our natural environment.

It is important to realize that the problems related to declining EROI are not easily solved. Renewable energy may indeed represent the future of energy development, but renewables are a long time off from displacing oil. Lastly, it seems apparent that the supply-side solutions (more oil, renewable energy, etc.) will not be sufficient to offset the impact that declining EROI has on economic growth. All of this evidence indicates that it is time to re-examine the pursuit of economic growth at all costs, and maybe examine how we can reduce demand for oil while trying to maintain and improve quality of life. A good summary of these problems is also given in Sorrell [72].

For society, we can either dictate our own energy future by enacting smart energy policies that recognize the clear and real limits to our own growth, or we can let those limits be dictated to us by the physical constraints of declining EROI. Either way, both the natural succession of ecosystems on Earth anddeclining EROI of oil production indicate that we should expect the economic growth rates of the next 100 years to look nothing like those of the last 100 years.

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Australia headed for energy crisis……

12 07 2014

The news coming in regarding Australia’s energy security are getting more and more worrisome.  Add to that the fact we will soon be totally out of oil, and you have to wonder “what next?”.  We are seemingly led by total morons who have no idea what they are doing, consider money to be far more valuable than energy, and in the process are leading this country to rack and ruin…..  How long we have left before all our chickens come home to roost is anyone’s guess, but the mining industry is already starting to sack people (and we haven’t even hit Peak Mining yet..), [official] unemployment is back up to 6%, and it’s high time the people of Australia got rid of the idiots in charge…..

Matt Mushalik

Matt Mushalik

Energy Super Power Australia’s East Coast running low on affordable domestic gas

In July 2006 then Prime Minister Howard declared Australia an energy super power. 2 years earlier his energy white paper set the framework for unlimited gas exports while neglecting to set aside gas for domestic use. It is a bitter irony that at the 10th anniversary of this energy white paper we read that gas shortages in the Eastern market will result in price increases and that there is not even enough cheap gas for gas fired power plants which are supposed to replace dirty coal fired plants or serve as a back-up for renewable power. Wrong decisions a decade ago (or even earlier) now come to the attention of the public as price rises hit the pockets of consumers.

And what has been completely forgotten is that natural gas is the only alternative transport fuel to replace oil. Conventional oil peaked in 2006 (Yes, Prime Minister, under your watch), US shale oil is likely to peak before 2020 and the Middle East is disintegrating in front of our TV eyes faster than energy and transport planners can change their perpetual-growth mindset. An energy equivalent of 5 LNG trains is needed to replace all oil based fuels in Australia. This gas is locked away in long term export contracts. Well done. Les jeux sont faits.

(1)          Recent events

Electricity providers return to coal-fired power as natural gas export revenue soars

3/7/2014
The rising international price of natural gas is causing electricity providers to return to coal-fired power, with Queensland among the first to make the move.

Fig 1: Tarong power station in Queensland

University of Queensland energy analyst Dr Liam Wagner says the rising price will push other power companies to make similar decisions.

“Gas-fired electricity is becoming more expensive; gas in Australia is going to become more expensive with exports,” he said.

“In the future we’re going to have less gas because it’ll be far more expensive to burn it here and the gas producers will be able to make more money overseas.”
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-03/electricity-providers-return-to-coal-fired-power-as-natural-gas/5567252

Nation will be paying the bill for poor energy policy

30/6/2014
The government, unlike other governments around the world, allowed unfettered access to global markets. The building of the export gas terminals will push the prices for gas inexorably up towards world prices. Indeed, wholesale gas prices are widely forecast to more than double to match international prices.

Many in the gas industry are calling for the rapid development of environmentally suspect coal seam gas fields in NSW to counter higher prices. This policy simply will not work as prices on the East Coast are now linked to world prices. No amount of domestic production will change this dynamic.
http://www.smh.com.au/comment/electricity-and-gas-prices-why-youre-paying-more-20140629-zspp1.html

As we can see in the following report, AGL is proud to have connected the domestic market to the Asian market to make quick profits, instead of developing a plan which would use gas domestically in the medium and long-term to maximise economic benefits for the local industry. The quarry mentality continues. The expected shortages are presented as an argument for even more coal seam gas.

AGL raises spectre of gas rationing if gas shortages are not tackled, it tells the NSW Government

17/3/2014
Gas shortages will lead to rationing along with job losses, especially in Sydney’s west, energy utility AGL has warned as it intensifies pressure on the NSW government to allow the development of gas projects in the state that tap gas trapped in coal seams.
http://www.smh.com.au/business/agl-raises-spectre-of-gas-rationing-if-gas-shortages-are-not-tackled-it-tells-the-nsw-government-20140316-34vgr.html

This is the report:

AGL Applied Economic and Policy Research

Solving for ‘x’ – the New South Wales Gas Supply Cliff

March  2014

“During this discovery and appraisal phase, it was evidently clear to resource owners that the east coast gas market was not sufficiently large enough to enable the monetisation of reserves in suitable timeframes and at the scale necessary to maximise profit, and so developing an export market for natural gas in the form of LNG was a logical strategic solution. Not only would it result in the rapid expansion of aggregate demand, but would also have the benefit of linking domestic gas prices, historically ca $3 per gigajoule (/GJ), to the north Asian export market price of ca $6-9/GJ equivalent ex-field ‘netback price’ over the medium term(p 2)

“On Australia’s east coast over the period 2013-2016, we forecast that aggregate demand for natural gas will increase three-fold, from 700 PJ to 2,100 PJ per annum, while our forecast of system coincident peak demand increases 2.4 times, from 2,790 TJ to 6,690 TJ per day. This extraordinary growth is being driven by the development of three Liquefied Natural Gas plants at Gladstone, Queensland”.  (p 1)

“Almost simultaneously, a non-trivial quantity of existing domestic gas contracts currently supplying NSW will mature. Much of that gas has been recontracted to LNG producers in Queensland – thus creating a gas supply cliff in NSW. Compounding matters, recent policy developments have placed binding constraints over the development of new gas supplies in NSW”(p 1)

Fig 3: NSW gas supply cliff lead to price increases

http://aglblog.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/No.40-Solving-for-X-FINAL.pdf

These developments are a bitter irony given that the public has been told many times that Australia’s gas resources are abundant. All LNG export contracts were presented as great achievements.

(2)  Wrong decisions 12 years ago

Although LNG exports to Japan had started in 1989 (20 years contracts with 8 power and utility companies signed in 1985), the 2002 LNG deal with China was Howard’s first main contribution towards a poor energy policy.

Australia Wins China LNG Contract

8/8/2002
John Howard: “I am delighted to announce that today I have been advised by the Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji that Australia’s Northwest Shelf Venture has been chosen by China to be the sole supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to its first LNG project in Guangdong province.”
http://australianpolitics.com/news/2002/08/02-08-08.shtml

5 months earlier, John Akehurst, Woodside’s Managing Director, warned in a report with mixed messages:

Mar 2002

Challenges for Australia

Australia has large gas reserves which have the potential to meet a much larger proportion of Australia’s energy requirements, including liquid petroleum requirements (via CNG, LNG, Gas to Liquids). Gas for oil substitution would deliver significant greenhouse benefits and help Australia meet its Kyoto target. Increased LNG exports would partly offset the cost of rising liquids imports and help address their impact on the balance of payments.  (p 8 )

However, greater use of gas will require substantially more investment in gas production and pipeline infrastructure. Without such investment, south eastern Australian gas markets will, within a few years, face possible gas shortages. Major consumers will find it more difficult to secure long term supply contracts on sufficiently competitive terms (p 9)

Fig 4: Superimposition Akehurst forecast with actual production

LNG export projects and gas-based value adding projects are needed to underpin the cost of bringing new gas supply sources to shore and to justify the initial investment. These types of projects compete on world markets (primarily with projects in Asia) and the provision of an internationally competitive investment environment including fiscal terms is a key driver. (p 10)
www.aspo-australia.org.au/References/Akehurst%20ABARE%202002.pdf

Of course one cannot have it both ways. To replace petrol and diesel in Australia one would need the energy equivalent of 5 LNG trains.

(3)          Howard’s flawed Energy White Paper June 2004

Fig 5: excerpt from Howard’s June 2004 energy white paper

This white paper just rationalises decisions already made earlier by formulating following policy principles  (p 53)

  • Commercial decisions should determine the nature and timing of energy resource developments, with government interventions being transparent and allowing commercial interests to seek least-cost solutions to government objectives (e.g. environment, safety or good resource management objectives).
  • Government objectives should generally be driven by sector-wide policy mechanisms rather than impose inconsistent requirements on individual projects/private investors.

And on page 128:

Australia’s gas reserves are sufficient for more than 100 years at current production levels, or more than 200 years of current domestic consumption. Furthermore, prospects for finding and proving up more gas are good, subject to finding markets. However, the location of Australia’s major gas reserves—to the north and north-west —compared with major demand locations—to the south-east—is sometimes raised as an issue (see Figure 6 and 3 in Chapter 2—Developing Australia’s Energy Resources).”

Note the term “At current production levels” which of course is irrelevant when LNG exports are doubled or tripled.

Fig 6: Map of oil and gas resources in the EWP 2004

Fig 7: Map of gas pipelines in EWP 2004

http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/10052/20050221-0000/www.dpmc.gov.au/publications/energy_future/docs/energy.pdf

The Geoscience Report “Oil and Gas Resources in Australia 2004 writes: Natural gas has a current “life” estimated at 65 years, but past estimates have been as low as 39 years (in 1993) and as high as 76 years (in 2001). These estimates include all resources and production in the JPDA with Timor-Leste.”

Fig 8: Geoscience Australia’s reserve to production ratios

http://www.ga.gov.au/image_cache/GA8550.pdf

The EWP 2004 continues to argue:

“Predictions are made that supplies of gas to major urban markets will run short in the next decade, as production in the Cooper Basin and Bass Strait declines. This has resulted in calls for financial support towards the building of major pipelines from either the Northern Territory (to access gas from Sunrise and other Timor Sea fields), Papua New Guinea or north-west Australia (to access gas from either Carnarvon or Browse Basins). While reserves of gas in existing fields close to southeast markets are declining, this does not represent an energy security concern.

Exploration is occurring in the south-east and is resulting in new discoveries and development, such as in the Otway Basin. The development of coal seam methane is also increasing supplies of gas in the region. In addition, holders of the large remotely located gas reserves are actively seeking markets to monetise these reserves. These efforts include actively investigating pipeline projects for bringing supplies of gas from north and north-west sources, as well as seeking LNG export sales in Asian markets. The number and activity of these competing proposals provide a degree of confidence that these supplies will become available once economic, noting that this will in all likelihood occur at higher price levels than those currently enjoyed in some south-eastern markets.

Given the size and placement of gas reserves relative to current and future gas demand, gas supply is not likely to become an issue for the short to medium term. Pre-empting market outcomes in these circumstances is unlikely to add significantly to energy security, but could inflict significant costs by precluding less costly options (such as further development of the Gippsland and Otway basins or coal seam methane).”

http://www.efa.com.au/Library/CthEnergyWhitePaper.pdf

The task of building North/West-East gas pipelines was not pro-actively followed up by State and Federal governments but dropped altogether in favour of exports. No wonder this laissez-faire approach went wrong.

CO2 emissions

The EWP 2004 argues:

“The shape of future international action on climate change is unclear, but the potential costs of future adjustments and long life of energy assets makes it prudent to prepare for the future.” ( p 131)

LNG development could increase Australia’s energy emissions by around 1 per cent of energy sector emissions. However, to the extent that exported Australian gas replaces more greenhouse intensive energy in the importing country, global emissions may decrease as a result of Australian gas production  (p 137)

This is just an argument in favour of LNG exports while none of the LNG contracts included a clause that coal fired power plants equivalent to the energy content of the gas should be decommissioned in the destination country. The above example of Queensland going back to coal shows that not even in Australia the job of using gas to reduce emissions is taken seriously.

(4) Energy super power declared in 2006

17/7/2006
The Prime Minister has outlined his vision for energy and water, saying the nation has the makings of an energy superpower.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2006-07-17/howard-outlines-energy-superpower-vision/1803744

(5) Actual gas production

Let’s have a look at gas production statistics

Fig 9: Australia’s gas production 1977-2013

 Data are from APPEA: http://www.appea.com.au/?attachment_id=5192

We see peak gas in the Cooper basin between 1999 and 2002 at around 260 bcf. Right at that peak, Howard failed to pursue building a gas pipeline to connect Western offshore gas with Eastern gas markets.  While LNG exports on the West coast surged, the East coast remained on a bumpy production plateau.  Western Australia has a 15% Domgas policy but also did not introduce gas as a transport fuel. As WA’s LNG gas goes out the window, Queensland and NSW are forced to go for environmentally questionable coal seam gas.

Fig 10: Australia’s LNG exports

The first 3 trains (2.5 mt pa each) mainly supply Japanese utilities, while the Guangdong contract (3.3 mt pa over 25 years) required train 4 (4.4 mt pa)

(6) Conventional gas depletion in NSW, Victoria and South Australia

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) estimates in its Gas Statement of Opportunities 2013 that current conventional 2P reserves would be depleted by the mid of the next decade.

Fig 10: Depletion of conventional gas reserves (2P) in the South East

“Under the modelled production-cost conditions, consumption of Denison Trough 2P reserves occurs first in 2019. Consumption of Otway Basin 2P reserves begins in 2020, and it is completely consumed by 2023. Bass and Cooper basin conventional 2P reserves are consumed in 2025. Gippsland 2P reserves are consumed in 2026. The 2P CSG reserves in Queensland are sufficient to supply demand until the end of the 20-year outlook period.”

Fig 11: Gas shortfalls in the South East

 “Additional 3P reserves and 2C resources are available in the Otway, Bass, Gippsland, and Cooper basins. The 3P/2C reserves in the Bass, Gippsland, and Cooper basins are sufficient to ensure supply until the end of the 20-year outlook period, provided current transmission and production limitations remain unchanged. The 3P/2C reserves in the Otway Basin are only sufficient to ensure supply until 2028 or 2029, depending on the level of support the southern states receive from production in the north.

Given its role in supplying demand in Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, the Otway Basin reserves consumption is a significant event, with substantial infrastructure investment required to manage changing system flows.”

http://www.aemo.com.au/Gas/Planning/Gas-Statement-of-Opportunities

(7) Domgas Alliance report

Australia Domestic Gas Policy Report (Nov 2012)

History has proven that countries with large resource endowment do not automatically gain an economic competitive advantage over countries that do not have such surplus endowment of resources. Exporting countries have to take the necessary precautions to avoid what are known to economists as the Natural Resource Curse and Dutch Disease. Australia’s large LNG export boom, that is well underway, has the capacity to trigger both of these symptoms and the subsequent regrets.

Gas resource rich countries rely on a comprehensive menu of interventions and gas regulations and policies in order to protect the national interest and the best interest of the general public regarding the use of indigenous gas production. Benchmarking illustrates that Australia does not manage its gas resources adequately to ensure that gas explorers and production companies operate in a manner that is consistent with a vibrant domestic gas market.

Gas resource rich countries, regions and continents generally export gas only after they first develop their own domestic gas market into a vibrant one that has very high gas consumption rates per capita and a high gas penetration in the total primary energy supply. To do otherwise destroys value and effectively de-industrialises the exporting region.

Australia needs to have sufficiently comprehensive policies and regulations in place in order to control and manage the export of raw commodities. Simply relying on market forces without comprehensive guidelines and controls to mitigate inequitable market power is one extreme while nationalising all resources is the other extreme. Neither of these scenarios has proven to serve the public interest very well.

http://www.domgas.com.au/pdf/Media_releases/2012/Australia%20Domestic%20Gas%20Policy%20Final%20Report.pdf

(8) Gas price outlook

The following graph from the Eastern Australian Domestic Gas Market Study by BREE, Department of Industry, shows Energy Quest’s doubling of gas prices by the end of this decade.

Fig 12: Gas prices will double

http://www.industry.gov.au/Energy/EnergyMarkets/Documents/EasternAustralianDomesticGasMarketStudy.pdf

Summary:

Decisions on excessive LNG exports have been made more than 10 years ago and are irreversible. They continued ever since – irrespective of which State or Federal governments were in power –and will lead to yet more LNG exports.  Consumers will have to pay higher gas prices for having elected these governments.  Another regret will come in the next years when it becomes clear that gas is needed as transport fuel.

Fig 13: Glimpse into the future: truckies protest drive around  Canberra’s Capital Hill

Previous articles on this website on gas

9/5/2012    Queensland plans to export more than 10 times the gas NSW needs (part 3)
http://crudeoilpeak.info/queensland-plans-to-export-more-than-10-times-the-gas-nsw-needs-part-3

6/5/2012   Howard’s wrong decisions on offshore gas exports start to hit transport sector now
http://crudeoilpeak.info/howards-wrong-decisions-on-offshore-gas-exports-start-to-hit-transport-sector-now

13/10/2011    NSW gas as transport fuel. Where are the plans?
http://crudeoilpeak.info/nsw-gas-as-transport-fuel-where-are-the-plans

11/10/2011   Australia’s natural gas squandered in LNG exports
http://crudeoilpeak.info/australias-natural-gas-squandered-in-lng-exports





IEA Says the Party’s Over

7 06 2014

Posted Jun 5, 2014 by Richard Heinbergheinberg

Originally published at Post Carbon Institute

The International Energy Agency has just released a new special report called “World Energy Investment Outlook” that should send policy makers screaming and running for the exits—if they are willing to read between the lines and view the report in the context of current financial and geopolitical trends. This is how the press agency UPI begins its summary:

It will require $48 trillion in investments through 2035 to meet the world’s growing energy needs, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday from Paris. IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement the reliability and sustainability of future energy supplies depends on a high level of investment. “But this won’t materialize unless there are credible policy frameworks in place as well as stable access to long-term sources of finance,” she said. “Neither of these conditions should be taken for granted.”

Here’s a bit of context missing from the IEA report: the oil industry is actually cutting back on upstream investment. Why? Global oil prices—which, at the current $90 to $110 per barrel range, are at historically high levels—are nevertheless too low to justify tackling ever-more challenging geology. The industry needs an oil price of at least $120 per barrel to fund exploration in the Arctic and in some ultra-deepwater plays. And let us not forget: current interest rates are ultra-low (thanks to the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing), so marshalling investment capital should be about as easy now as it is ever likely to get. If QE ends and if interest rates rise, the ability of industry and governments to dramatically increase investment in future energy production capacity will wane.
Other items from the report should be equally capable of inducing policy maker freak-out:
The shale bubble’s-a-poppin’. In 2012, the IEA forecast that oil extraction rates from US shale formations (primarily the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford in Texas) would continue growing for many years, with America overtaking Saudia Arabia in rate of oil production by 2020 and becoming a net oil exporter by 2030. In its new report, the IEA says US tight oil production will start to decline around 2020. One might almost think the IEA folks have been reading Post Carbon Institute’s analysis of tight oil and shale gas prospects! www.shalebubble.org This is a welcome dose of realism, though the IEA is probably still erring on the side of optimism: our own reading of the data suggests the decline will start sooner and will probably be steep.
Help us, OPEC—you’re our only hope! Here’s how the Wall Street Journal frames its story about the report: “A top energy watchdog said the world will need more Middle Eastern oil in the next decade, as the current U.S. boom wanes. But the International Energy Agency warned that Persian Gulf producers may still fail to fill the gap, risking higher oil prices.” Let’s see, how is OPEC doing these days? Iraq, Syria, and Libya are in turmoil. Iran is languishing under US trade sanctions. OPEC’s petroleum reserves are still ludicrously over-stated. And while the Saudis have made up for declines in old oilfields by bringing new ones on line, they’ve run out of new fields to develop. So it looks as if that risk of higher oil prices is quite a strong one.
A “what-me-worry?” price forecast. Despite all these dire developments, the IEA offers no change from its 2013 oil price forecast (that is, a gradual increase in world petroleum prices to $128 per barrel by 2035). The new report says the oil industry will need to increase its upstream investment over the forecast period by $2 trillion above the IEA’s previous investment forecast. From where is the oil industry supposed to derive that $2 trillion if not from significantly higher prices—higher over the short run, perhaps, than the IEA’s long-range 2035 forecast price of $128 per barrel, and ascending higher still? This price forecast is obviously unreliable, but that’s nothing new. The IEA has been issuing wildly inaccurate price forecasts for the past decade. In fact, if the massive increase in energy investment advised by the IEA is to occur, both electricity and oil are about to become significantly less affordable. For a global economy tightly tied to consumer behavior and markets, and one that is already stagnant or contracting, energy constraints mean one thing and one thing only: hard times.
What about renewables? The IEA forecasts that only 15 percent of the needed $48 trillion will go to renewable energy. All the rest is required just to patch up our current oil-coal-gas energy system so that it doesn’t run into the ditch for lack of fuel. But how much investment would be required if climate change were to be seriously addressed? Most estimates look only at electricity (that is, they gloss over the pivotal and problematic transportation sector) and ignore the question of energy returned on energy invested. Even when we artificially simplify the problem this way, $7.2 trillion spread out over twenty years simply doesn’t cut it. One researcher estimates that investments will have to ramp up to $1.5 to $2.5 trillion per year. In effect, the IEA is telling us that we don’t have what it takes to sustain our current energy regime, and we’re not likely to invest enough to switch to a different one.
If you look at the trends cited and ignore misleading explicit price forecasts, the IEA’s implicit message is clear: continued oil price stability looks problematic. And with fossil fuel prices high and volatile, governments will likely find it even more difficult to devote increasingly scarce investment capital toward the development of renewable energy capacity.

As you read this report, imagine yourself in the shoes of a high-level policy maker. Wouldn’t you want to start thinking about early retirement?