Willem Schulte says we have enough oil, for now

Today, fossil fuels still supply most of the world’s energy needs. Energy demand by people around the world is growing as the global population increases. It’s logical to ask if the world is running out of oil.

Today, fossil fuels still supply most of the world’s energy needs. Energy demand by people around the world is growing as the global population increases. It’s logical to ask if the world is running out of oil.

Willem Schulte: The world is not running out of oil, not at the moment.

Dr. Willem Schulte is Chief Scientist for Reservoir Engineering for Shell. He said he believes technological development will let both oil and natural gas production keep up with world demand for the coming decades at least.

Willem Schulte: For the medium term, we have enough hydrocarbons to supply to the world. In the past, we have produced one trillion barrels of liquid oil. There are still two trillion barrels, or twice as much, to be gained from those same reservoirs. We probably can add three to four trillion barrels of oil from unconventional, more complicated methodologies to recover oil, which we considered unrecoverable so far.

Getting to oil that once seemed unrecoverable is Schulte’s job.

Willem Schulte: If you look at the situation 30 years ago, oil recovery in an average oil field, we could get about 25 percent out of that oil field for various technical reasons. In the last 30 years, we’ve already moved on by better technology making that number rise to 35 percent. He added that, in the end, oil is a finite resource.

Willem Schulte: People should also really focus their attention to sustainable energy and other energy resources.

It’s generally believed the world will reach peak oil production around the year 2050, and that oil will have ceased being the primary source for supplying our energy needs well before the century ends. Meanwhile, global energy use is expected to have doubled by about 2050.

One often hears the term “peak oil” to describe the point in time when the maximum rate of global oil extraction is reached. Experts from around the world often place the time of peak oil extraction around the years 2040 to 2050, although some believe the oil industry could continue to produce at a peak rate for a decade or so after that.

Experts do not agree on when oil production will be in a phase of terminal decline, but it’s generally assumed that it may be around the years 2050 to 2070.

The projected times are uncertain because they depend on much energy the world will use over the coming decades – on what other sources of energy might become available – and also on the extent to which technological advances will enable the oil industry to recover hard-to-get oil.

This podcast was made possible in part by Shell – encouraging dialog on the energy challenge.

Jorge Salazar