Saudis say “no need” for more oil expansion; global majority thinks oil running out

Interesting times for the peak oil debate.  Last week came the news that Russian oil had peaked: its Q1 oil production in 2008 fell, for the first time in a decade.  Later in the week, oil touched a new all-time high of $117 after Nigerian insurgents attacked a Shell pipeline there.

And today, the news emerges from Saudi Arabia that all future investment plans for increasing capacity have been put on hold: “in a series of statements, including one by the king himself, the kingdom has warned consumers it does not believe there is a need for further expansion”.  According to Carola Hoyos,

Abdullah Jum’ah, chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s oil company, said in a closed-door meeting with oil ministers and executives in Rome yesterday that market signals were “imperfect” and that there were uncertainties created by the move away from oil, the world’s worsening economic outlook and the recent turbulence in the financial markets, according to one person who took notes at the discussions.

But I’m still wondering whether the problem here isn’t simply that Saudi Arabia hasn’t got any spare capacity to give, whatever it says about downturns and the terrible unfairness of climate policy. 

Although we’re not quite at the point yet when you can talk about peak oil at conferences without feeling like a crank, you’d be amazed how many people think privately that the peak is pretty soon – including from governments and multilateral agencies.

Into the midst of this murky context sails a fascinating new survey from the always-good-value Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland:

A new poll finds that majorities in 15 of 16 nations surveyed around the world think that oil is running out and governments should make a major effort to find new sources of energy. Most think that future oil prices will be much higher. Only 22 percent on average believe that “enough new oil will be found so that it can remain a primary source of energy for the foreseeable future.” Only in Nigeria does a majority (53%) endorse the view that governments can rely on oil in the long term.

Instead, an average of 70 percent takes the position that governments should assume that “oil is running out and it is necessary to make a major effort to replace oil as a primary source of energy.” The largest majorities endorsing this view are found in South Korea (97%), France (91%), Mexico (83%) and China (80%). The smallest are in Russia (53%) and India (54%), while in Nigeria only a minority (45%) holds this view.


‘Course, you can rebut this in part by pointing out that (a) the two statements on which respondents were polled are slightly meaningless without dates, and (b) you can believe that enough oil will be found to satisfy demand by a given date while still believing that it’s “running out”; indeed, if you disagree with the second statement then you know something about geology that the rest of us don’t.  Still; you get the point.  Did someone say something about the wisdom of crowds?