IEA 2007 … Great resource, lousy predictions?

The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency released the International Energy Outlook 2007.  As with always, what a magnificent resource — a tremendous amount of data that anyone interested in energy issues will be citing. 

Their rearward look — what’s happened already — invaluable.

Their forward look — what will happen — would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

Multiple sources have Saudi oil under serious threat (such as this opus, Depletion Levels in Ghawar), with serious concerns about the potential collapse of Saudi production.  EIA seems oblivious to this potential.  A comment from a former EIA employee, who is often supportive of the organization and who is not a big believer in Peak Oil: 

here’s a huge problem with the EIA forecast: a projection of Saudi output in 2030 16.4 million barrels per day, up from 8.9 million barrels per day in 2010.  Although EIA has been lowering Saudi output projections for several years now (EIA used to forecast Saudi output at 22.5 million barrels per day in 2025!), this still appears WAY too optimistic, even if you don’t buy into the “peak oil”/”Twilight in the Desert” school of thought.  The problem is, if the Saudis can’t increase oil output as EIA assumes (and note that this IS a modeling assumption, nothing more), we’re in big trouble.”

In the face of every mounting predictions / warnings of Peak Oil, EIA is telling our political leadership that:

World liquids consumption in the IEO2007 reference case increases from 83 million barrels per day in 2004 to 118 million barrels per day in 2030.

Of that 35 million barrels/day (mbd) increase, roughly 10 million barrels s to come from “unconventional liquids” (oil sands, ultra-heavy crudes, biofuels, coal-to-liquids). 

Continuing the fantasy, the “worst” (high oil price) case has oil up to $100 barrel in 2030, roughly a 50% increase from today and, in real terms, just 25% above 1980’s level. For those concerned about peak oil, that is a rosy scenario.

And, well, production shows a linear increase, showing no sign of having problems keeping up with demand. Again, even in the face of growing evidence of Peak Oil.  (Note, it is interesting that the chapter on oil does not even have the words “Peak Oil”. I guess that if you don’t talk about something, it simply does not exist.)

And, finally, EIA ignores An Inconvenient Truth with projections of carbon dioxide emissions growing from 25 billion metric tons/globally/year to 43 billion metric tons. This might be the case and, if so, that would mean that the world threw in the towel in attempting to do anything in regards to Global Warming. [Note, in terms of predictions, they are probably right to simply draw a “business as usual” (BAU) analysis as base case, rather than assume that the world will change.  But, in the face of mounting evidence of serious GW implications and saturation levels of CO2 absorption, this scenario of ever-mounting CO2 emissions is rather disconcerting (to state it mildly).]

As per Lou Grinzo at The Cost of Energy,

I’ve made no secret of my love/hate relationship with the DOE/EIA. For historical data they’re indispensable, as they do a phenomenal job of organizing and presenting a medium-size mountain of data. But their projections? Not so much.

Well said, Lou, well said.

3 responses to “IEA 2007 … Great resource, lousy predictions?

  1. This might be the case and, if so, that would mean that the world threw in the towel in attempting to do anything in regards to Global Warming.

    The world is still deep in the towel-selection phase. China and India aren’t showing much interest in the towel unless it can be manufactured in China with towel tech-support from India. Given annual economic growth of 2-3% in OECD countries, in 25 years we should see nearly double the economic activity but CO2 output is only projected to increase by 33%. That’s a pretty significant jump in efficiency. The non-OECD countries have a faster economic growth curve, and their carbon output nearly doubles. Even that assumes some increase in efficiency.

    There is a difference between projecting on the basis what is, and projecting on the basis of what might be or what you want to be. I would consider the EIA to be not doing their job if they assume that somehow someway CO2 emissions will decrease. Even Europe’s cap-and-trade CO2 system is broken, we don’t even have that. How are they supposed to project lower CO2 emissions based on that data?

    If you’re making present-day predictions you have to use present-day data and market drivers. I would fully expect that if the US had a Department of Transportation in 1910 they would have projected a continued increase in horse-driven carriage utilization until 1950. It’s not their job to extrapolate the rosiest outcome, it’s their job to extrapolate based on the most solid data they have.

    It’s our job to make them look as stupid and pessimistic as possible in hindsight. 🙂

  2. Should have said the non-OECD coutries’ CO2 output slightly-more-than doubles. Given the non-OECD countries’ population growth rates, that still assumes some efficiency.

  3. Darren,

    You’re right … I should have more explicitly separated out the two issues:

    * the oil predictions are an example of how the data is open to serious question, with the predictions of basically unconstrained growth in oil supplies. They calculate what they believe demand will be and then, in short, assume that the world will meet that predicted demand with supply.

    * The CO2, they are basically right to conduct a BAU analysis as to CO2 emissions. That one is more of an jaw dropping as to the implications if BAU, as per EIA, is followed.

    The two issues are distinct.

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