Friday, 7 December 2012

TOD review of OECD oil production, including UK

Just a quick note to say there's a good article over on The Oil Drum, looking at oil production trends in the OECD. This includes the UK, and I think this graph pretty much tells the story...

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Thursday, 27 September 2012

UK energy decline continues - DECC Energy Trends Sep 2012

DECC has just published their latest quarterly Energy Trends, and surprise surprise, the UK's energy production is continuing to plummet. The headline figure is that total indigenous energy production has fallen by 10.1%, but this includes nuclear power, which isn't really indigenous as we have to buy uranium for reactors from other countries. So excluding nuclear, the drop is actually 11.4% compared to a year ago.

Here's the breakdown of the overall changes in production from Q2 2011 to Q2 2012:

  • Coal: down 2.9%
  • Oil: down 12.2%
  • Gas: down 12.9%
  • Nuclear: down 3.3%
  • Renewables: up 6.5%

While it's pleasing to see renewables up 6.5%, we should bear in mind the relative quantities of energy we're talking about... So here's the amounts produced in Q2 2012 in Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent):

  • Coal: 3.8 Mtoe
  • Oil: 12.9 Mtoe
  • Gas: 10.2 Mtoe
  • Nuclear: 4.2 Mtoe
  • Renewables: 0.43 Mtoe
Still a very long way to go to get off fossil fuels then...

The Energy Trends table 1.3a (page 11) conveniently tells us the total energy import dependency of the UK as well. Here's the results for Q2 over the past 3 years:
  • Q2 2010: 26.0% imports
  • Q2 2011: 31.8% imports
  • Q2 2012: 42.1% imports
Anyone else spot a trend here? 42.1% is a new record level of dependency on imports, and if the trends keep going the same way as in previous years, we'll set some new record imports in the next two quarters as well.

Here's a few graphs from the report for the key energy sources:

 Oil import/export/production

Gas import/export/production

Coal imports/production

Fuel used to generate electricity
 Renewable sources of energy

So, with ever lower energy production, and the changes to gas storage I mentioned in my previous post, we may be in for interesting times if this winter is a cold one...


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Monday, 24 September 2012

UK gas storage and winter 2012/13

It's a bit early yet to start thinking in earnest yet about the UK's gas supply for this coming winter, though if some of the concerns about melting Arctic ice causing cold European winters prove correct, we may have problems.

However, there is one little snippet of information that came out this summer from national Grid about the closing of two of the three short range gas storage sites. These facilities stored gas in liquefied form (LNG), and could rapidly reinject it into the national grid in periods of high demand. The couldn't do it for long, perhaps just a few days, but it would usually be enough to save us from serious problems.

Here's what National Grid said:

Closure of Partington and Glenmavis LNG Storage Facilities

27 June 2012

Following the LNG Storage Strategic Review in 2010, Commercial Storage Services have not been offered from our sites at Partington in Manchester and Glenmavis near Glasgow since early 2011.

Our LNG stocks were withdrawn from Partington in March 2011, following which a
decommissioning process has been undertaken and the site was formally closed on 31
March this year. A demolition contract has been awarded to Masterton Ltd who will demolish the tanks and remove all the other equipment on site over the next six to twelve months.

In the absence of any contracts to fund ongoing LNG storage services from Glenmavis, the decision has been taken to close the facility and the remaining LNG stocks were withdrawn in May. The decommissioning process has now commenced and when this has been completed the LNG storage facility will formally be closed.

These decisions do not affect the provision of services from our remaining LNG storage facility at Avonmouth near Bristol.

The net result is that back in Sep 2010 we could inject 389.8GWh of gas a day from short range storage into the grid, and now the figure is only 143GWh/day. For comparison, this is equivalent to 22mcm/day of storage supply going offline, or about 5% of peak UK winter gas demand. This wasn't a problem last winter, as it didn't get too cold. But this winter the supplies from the North Sea will be lower (as they are every year), so if it gets cold for very long, we may have problems...


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Friday, 21 September 2012

Saudi Arabia burning more of its own crude oil

Following up on an earlier post about falling Saudi oil exports, there's some recent news illustrating the problem:

Saudi Arabia burned record monthly volumes of oil in June and July, official government figures show, contrary to the top crude producer's plan to temper its summer oil burning spree this year with more gas.
The report notes that from 2004 to 2010, Saudi domestic consumption of crude oil for power generation increased by 240%!!! Much of this goes to run air conditioning and desalination - both of which are important facilities when you live in a desert... This leaves ever smaller amounts remaining to be exported, so the only way Saudi can balance its budget is with prices steadily rising. But as that's happening anyway, they don't need to do anything on this front...

Full news article is here.


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Thursday, 6 September 2012

Saudi Arabia to stop exporting oil by 2030?

Interesting story in the Telegraph today, commenting on a report released by Citigroup on the Saudi petrochemical industry. The main issue is that domestic energy demand is rising fast in Saudi, so more and more of their oil production is being used at home, providing power for air conditioning, desalination, etc.

The report says Saudi could be an oil importer after 2030 - but this is of course not going to happen, as if they stop exporting oil they won't have any money, so importing is out of the question. That does leave me wondering what will happen as exports dwindle, as unless prices keep rising (and the world economy may simply not support that beyond a certain point), then Saudi won't have enough money to keep the country running - and we've seen what's happened in other Arab countries in recent years...

None of this is really news of course - the Export Land Model described the situation years ago - but it's interesting to see the same conclusion coming out of Citigroup!

The quote at the end of the article sums it up for me:

Jeremy Leggett, the head of the UK Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security, says Britain is sleepwalking into a potential disaster by failing to prepare fully for a global supply crunch. The refusal to listen to warning signals is comparable to the complacency in the build-up to the financial crisis, he argues, but with graver implications for the British economy.


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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Shrinking size of UK oil and gas fields

I just came across this graph on page 110 of the 2012 Digest of UK Energy Statistics (internet content) from DECC, showing the size of new UK oil and gas fields coming into production in the UK over the past 55 years. Speaks for itself really...

Declining size of oil/gas fields in the UK North Sea

Page 2 of the Long Term Trends section of DUKES has this cheery paragraph too:
Trends in the production of primary fuels in the United Kingdom are illustrated in Chart 1.1.2. In 2011, total energy production was 137 million tonnes of oil equivalent, an increase of 24 per cent on production in 1970, but down by a record 13.2 per cent on 2010. Total energy production has fallen in each of the last 12 years since it peaked in 1999. In the last ten years, UK energy production has declined at a rate of 6.8 per cent per year; within this natural gas production has declined at the fastest rate, down 8.1 per cent per year, followed by petroleum down 7.8 per cent, coal down 5.3 per cent with primary electricity down 1.9 per cent per year. Bioenergy and waste has grown by an average 8.5 per cent per year over this same time period, though in 2011 accounted for only 4.2 per cent of the UK’s energy production.

Can't help thinking that the growing energy import bill must be having a growing impact on the economy, but it doesn't seem to make the headlines very often...

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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Biofuels and climate change pushing up food prices again

It's been about five years now since biofuel production started to get serious, and right at the outset there were concerns about it taking away land from food production. Well, there's a story in the news in the past couple of days on this topic:

"The time of cheap food prices is over," says Nestle chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe.

He is highly critical of the rise in the production of bio-diesel, saying this puts pressure on food supplies by using land and water that would otherwise be used to grow crops for human or animal consumption.

"If no food was used for fuel, the prices would come down again - that is very clear," he says.

"We are now in a new world with a completely different level of food prices because of the direct link with fuel," he says.

BBC News

Of course the important thing is that now the link between food and fuel is there, it's not going to go away very easily. So if you were thinking "well I'm not making it worse as I just burn normal diesel/petrol" then think again - every litre of fuel burned represents demand, and as there's no scope to increase oil supplies now, new demand is going to be met through biofuels. We're all responsible, and we all need to use less liquid fuel for travelling. Besides, ALL petrol and diesel in the UK includes a small percentage of biofuels now anyway...

But it's not just demand for liquid fuels that's the problem. The historic (and continuing) burning of fossil fuels is having an indirect effect on food prices through climate change. Now I know you can't link a specific weather event to climate change, but the 'stuck' jet stream which we've heard so much about recently is possibly partly due to reduced ice cover in the Arctic. While this has been soaking us in the UK, in the US it's brought drought conditions:
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has warned the worst drought in decades will result in higher crop prices.

Mr Vilsack met President Barack Obama on Wednesday to discuss the US response to drought concerns, with little rain forecast to ease the crisis.

By the end of June, 55% of the continental US was in a moderate to extreme drought, officials reported.

Crops including corn and soybeans have been hit by the dry conditions, and several states have seen wildfires.

Mr Vilsack announced in a press conference on Wednesday that the US Department of Agriculture had added 39 counties in eight states as "natural disaster areas", making farmers in those counties eligible for low-cost emergency loans.
On Monday, a weekly US report said that just 31% of the corn crop and 34% of the soybean crop were in good to excellent shape.

BBC News
Maybe it's time to cycle or walk a bit more?

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Friday, 29 June 2012

Decline in UK energy production continues: DECC

DECC published the latest instalment of its quarterly Energy Trends yesterday, here's a quick summary of the key figures:


  • Production down 13% on a year ago.
  • Imports increased by 21.7% on a year ago.
  • Crude oil stocks have been declining gradually over the past few years.
  • About 34% of UK oil demand was met by imports over the past 12 months.


  • Gas production was down 14% on a year ago.
  • Imports shifted away from LNG and towards pipelines compared to a year ago - this isn't surprising given that Japan has been importing extra LNG due to the shutdown of its nuclear reactors since Fukushima.
  • Net imports were down 13% on a year ago, due to milder weather and a significant fall in the use of gas for electricity generation (coal use increased in its place).
  • Despite the fall in net imports, the UK still imported 42% of its gas over the past 12 months.


  • Coal production was down 12% on a year ago.
  • Coal imports were up 20.8% on a year ago. This was still lower than Q1 2009, but it's worth noting that stocks of coal are much lower now than then, so it seems the imports would have been higher still if not for this.
  • Over the past 12 months, about 66% of our coal has been imported.


  •  Generation fell 11.6% compared to a year ago.


  • Generation was up 39% compared to a year ago, though down a bit on the record set in Q4 2011. High rainfall and stronger wind have helped here, as well as increased capacity.
  • Renewable share of total electricity was 11.1%, compared to 7.7% a year ago.
  • Installed capacity was up 36% on a year ago, to 13GW.

Page 72 also had a really interesting graph, showing industrial energy and fuel prices:
Note the steady run up in prices to the peak in 2008, followed by a dip as recession took hold. However, you can see that since that dip, prices have reached new highs (in £ sterling) for crude oil, fuel oil and coal, while in 2011 electricity and gas are pretty much back where they were in 2008.

I think this is why the economic problems are not going to go away - the high and rising prices make it progressively more difficult for the economy to grow, even without the growing pile of debt and austerity measures to deal with it.
    You can download a copy of DECC's latest Energy Trends here.


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    Monday, 18 June 2012

    Jeremy Leggett on capitalism, the economy and energy

    Nice little video from Jeremy Leggett here:

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    Wednesday, 25 April 2012

    Double dip for anyone?

    After the main course (2005-8 oil price spike and ensuing financial collapse), and going back for seconds (2011-12 oil price spike), we now get that delicious desert - the 'double dip'.

    Though if you look at the graph in this article, you can see that on average the UK has been in recession for 4 years. It's just the 'technical definition' that needs to consecutive quarters of economic contraction.

    And of course energy prices are staying high at the moment, and will continue to do so unless economic activity slows down globally, so we're pretty much stuck with the situation.


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    Friday, 30 March 2012

    2011: A bad year for UK energy production

    DECC has just released it's latest Energy Trends publication, including statistics for 2011 as a whole, as well as for the fourth quarter of that year. It's not looking good....

    Here's some lines form their summary page, and comments from me:

    Total energy production was a record 13½ per cent lower than in 2010.
    Note the word 'record' in there - and that's from DECC, not from me. It's a bit alarming that over a decade after the UK's peak in oil and gas production, that we're hitting new record percentage declines in energy output. Of course, there are other factors as well as the stuff simply running out, but we have to assume they'll come along every year anyway - like the leak at the Elgin platform right now.

    Oil production was 17½ per cent lower than in 2010, the lowest level of production since the 1970s and part of a long downward trend.
    Another shockingly steep decline in output...

    Natural gas production was 21 per cent lower than in 2010. In 2011 gross imports of natural gas were greater than gross production for the first time since 1967, with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) accounting for 47 per cent of gas imports.
    Just to underline this, as they don't spell it out very clearly. In 2011 the UK imported more gas than it produced. Half of these imports were LNG, which is traded globally and can easily be diverted to where the price is higher.

    Coal production was ½ per cent lower than in 2010. Coal imports were 23 per cent higher.
    Nothing new here, continuing the trend of growing imports.

    Total primary energy consumption for energy uses fell by 7½ per cent from 2010. When adjusted to take account of weather differences between 2010 and 2011, primary consumption fell by 2 per cent.
    We all remember how cold it was in both early and late 2010, so it's not surprising to see a fall in energy consumption in 2011. But after allowing for that, consumption still fell 2%, probably because the economy is still struggling here, and less money means spending less on stuff, including energy.

    Low carbon electricity’s share of generation increased from 23 per cent in 2010 to 28½ per cent in 2011, due to higher renewables and nuclear generation. Renewables’ share of generation increased by 2½ percentage points on 2010 to a record 9½ per cent.
    The one positive bit I could find in there... It's good to see renewable electricity climbing quickly here, though it's important to note that this includes landfill gas and co-firing with coal. Most of the increase came from wind and hydro though, as it was wetter and windier in 2011 than 2010.

    I wonder what 2012 will bring? We already have the Elgin gas leak and RWE and E.On pulling out of new nuclear plants....


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    Friday, 9 March 2012

    Risk to UK gas supply in 2012?

    There's an interesting article in the Telegraph today, looking at the future of LNG imports to the UK:

    Britain has become increasingly dependent on shipments of LNG as domestic production of gas falls "precipitously", the analysts at Merrill Lynch Bank of America said. LNG imports accounted for about 25pc of UK supplies last year.
    It is not implausible that UK LNG imports fall to zero by the end of 2012 especially if none of Japan's nuclear power plants are re-started this year.... With Asian demand resurging, UK and European gas prices will have to increase to stem the ongoing diversion of LNG cargoes to Asia.

    full story
    If you look back at an earlier post I wrote, DECC noted that gas supplies actually dropped 20% in 2011, not the 10% reported in the above article. Part of the reason for elevated gas prices last summer, which fed through into all of our bills, was the nuclear shutdowns in Japan (as I mentioned here). A story here, originally in the New York Times, says:
    All but two of Japan's 54 commercial reactors have gone offline since the nuclear disaster a year ago, after the earthquake and tsunami, and it is not clear when they can be restarted. With the last operating reactor scheduled to be idled as soon as next month, Japan -- once one of the world's leaders in atomic energy -- will have at least temporarily shut down an industry that once generated a third of its electricity.

    So perhaps these concerns about the LNG market, which the UK is depending on more every year, are valid. Thankfully we've just had a mild winter, but we can't count on that happening every year...


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    Monday, 5 March 2012

    Rising oil prices during a recession?

    So somebody at the Telegraph has noticed that oil prices aren't doing what they should... Of course, back in 2008 it was all playing out as normal - prices reached a peak, most economies in the world went into recession, and the price plummeted back down again.

    But look what's happened since 2002:

    • 2002 - Jul 2006: run up from $20 to $76 
    • Jan 2007: dropped to around $52 
    • Jul 2008: up to $147 
    • Dec 2008: drop to around $35 
    • Apr 2010: up to $85 
    • May 2010: drop to $65 
    • Dec 2010: Brent and WTI start to diverge (around $85 at the time) 
    • Apr 2011: Brent at $125, WTI at $110 
    • Oct 2011: Brent at $105, WTI at $77 
    • Feb 2012: Brent at $126, WTI at $108 
    So right now many countries are back in recession, or close to it, but the price keeps heading upwards.  Also, from the UK point of view, note that $125 today is about £79.60, while $147 in July2008 was about £73.50 - so in £ sterling, the oil price is at a new high now.

    Check out the average prices as well:

    Year WTI ($) Brent ($)
    2007 average 72.34 72.44
    2008 average 99.67 96.94
    2009 average 61.95 61.74
    2010 average 79.48 79.61
    2011 average 94.87 111.26
    2012 average 101.09 114.82

    So what the guy in the Telegraph has realised is:

    The unpleasant fact we must all face is that the relentless supply crunch - call it `Peak Oil’ if you want, or `Plateau Oil’ - was briefly disguised during the Great Recession and is already back with a vengeance before the West has fully recovered.
    So we have a remarkable situation. China alone will be adding 125m cars to its roads over the next five years, with auto production targets of 30m annually by 2016. India is spending $1 trillion on infrastructure projects over the next five years.
    The West has the disquieting experience of watching crude soar even as we languish in stagnation. This never used to happen. If we faltered, energy costs would fall too, acting as a stabilizer. This harsh new reality is going to become uncomfortable when the emerging world enters a new cycle of growth, leaving us behind. Rising utility costs have already raised the numbers of UK households in poverty from a fifth to a quarter.

    We should not be defeatist. Engineers and scientists are forever at work. A quantum-leap is possible in solar technology. The Chinese may crack cheap and safe nuclear power from thorium, abdicated by the British. But we should not be complacent either. Windmills anybody?
    Read the full story here.

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    Thursday, 23 February 2012

    Record drop in UK energy production in 2011

    DECC has just released some preliminary information on UK energy statistics for 2011 (download here). Here's the headlines for you:

    • primary energy production fell by a record 14 per cent on a year earlier
    • petroleum [crude oil] was down by 17 per cent
    • gas production down by 20 per cent
    • nuclear output was up 11 per cent, due to increased availability following a number of outages in 2010
    • wind output from major power producers was up by 59 per cent on additional capacity and higher wind speeds
    • hydro up by 70 per cent following strong rainfall in Northern Scotland
    • primary energy consumption was down by 7 per cent, and on a temperature adjusted basis, was down 2 per cent continuing the downward trend of the last five years.

    The falling energy use (after temperature adjustment) is not really down to efficiency, though that may play a part, it's down to continuing low economic activity - it's no coincidence the trend's been going on since 2007, when the overhang of debt in the world economy finally started crumbling under the weight of high oil prices. But at least there's some good news on increasing renewable generation from wind and hydro, even if it did only contribute about 9% of electricity in Q3 2011, or about 1.25% of total energy (from here) Actually, the quarterly data for Q3 is more alarming than the year as a whole, so it'll be interesting to see the data for Q4 when it comes out in late March. For example:
    • Total energy production was a record 19 per cent lower than in the third quarter of 2010... which resulted in net import dependency of 42 per cent, a record high.
    • Oil production fell by 22½ per cent when compared with the third quarter of 2010. This is the largest annual quarterly decrease since quarterly reporting began in 1995, and reflects near record decreases in crude oil production and record decreases in NGL production.
    • Natural gas production was 29½ per cent lower than the third quarter of 2010. This is the lowest quarterly production as well as the largest year-on-year quarterly decrease since quarterly reporting began in 1998. Gas imports increased by 33½ per cent, with shipped imports of LNG accounting for nearly half of all imports.
    • Coal production in the third quarter of 2011 was 10½ per cent lower than the third quarter of 2010.
    Good job we've had a mild winter, or we might have been in a bit of trouble...


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    Friday, 27 January 2012

    Has Petroleum Production Peaked, Ending the Era of Easy Oil?

    An interesting summary of an article in Nature can be found in Scientific American:

    Despite major oil finds off Brazil's coast, new fields in North Dakota and ongoing increases in the conversion of tar sands to oil in Canada, fresh supplies of petroleum are only just enough to offset the production decline from older fields. At best, the world is now living off an oil plateau—roughly 75 million barrels of oil produced each and every day—since at least 2005, according to a new comment published in Nature on January 26.

    The article's by David King, who used to be chief scientific advisor to the UK government, and oceanographer James Murray (University of Washington, Seattle).

    They point out that oil production from conventional resources (i.e. not the inefficient and polluting tar sands and NGLs) has been flat since 2005, despite wide swings in price. Basically, we now have 'inelastic supply', where the volume of oil that can be pumped is fixed, no matter what happens to the demand and price. Finding new oil reserves won't make any significant difference, because we already have a huge base of declining production - more than half the current production will have gone by 2030. This leaves a huge gap to be filled, so the chances of being able to actually increase production are zero.

    They also state what has been obvious to many people:
    Of the 11 recessions in the United States since the Second World War, 10, including the most recent, were preceded by a spike in oil prices. It seems clear that it wasn't just the 'credit crunch' that triggered the 2008 recession, but the rarely-talked-about 'oil-price crunch' as well. High energy prices erode family budgets and act as a head wind against economic recovery.

    So although the banks and sub-prime lending were clearly a problem, it's the oil shock of 2005-08 that really set the whole thing off, and it's the current persistently high oil prices that are preventing a sustained recovery:
    The global economy is severely knocked by oil prices of $100 per barrel or more, creating economic downturn and preventing economic recovery.

    They also point out that economic growth requires a growth in energy supply, and say:
    We need to decouple economic growth from fossil-fuel dependence... This is not happening due to industrial, infrastructural, political and human behavioral inertia. We are stuck in our ways.

    The problem is that economic growth always results in more consumption of resources, both energy and material. Otherwise, what's the point of it? If you can't use your increased wealth to go somewhere, do something or buy something then you may as well not have it. Of course if prices go up, there can be notional 'growth', but because of inflation you're actually getting the same or less than you did before. This applies whether the source of energy is renewable or not.

    So we're back to the problem of economic growth itself... time to watch money as Debt again I think...


    UPDATE: the article from nature can be found here

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    Saturday, 7 January 2012

    Solar judgement day: Friday 13th

    Will Friday 13th be unlucky for the government or for the UK solar industry? Neither, as I'm not superstitious, but one of them's going to be suffering at the end of that day...

    The long-running battle over the future of the UK's solar feed-in tariff incentives could finally be resolved on Friday 13 January.

    Lawyers acting for Friends of the Earth, one of the organisations leading legal action against the coalition's handling of proposed cuts to solar incentives, have been told the government's appeal hearing against a High Court ruling declaring its proposed changes to the scheme as unlawful has been scheduled for the ominous date.

    The hearing will be "rolled-up" so that the application for permission to appeal and – if it is granted – the appeal itself will be held on the same day.

    The hearing will be held earlier than had been expected, with sources initially suggesting that the hearing was likely to be held during the week of 16 January.

    read the full story
    It's going to be very interesting to see what the outcome is...


    UPDATE 27/01/2012
    Well, the government got permission to appeal, but then lost the appeal. However, they can still go to the Supreme Court, so it's not over yet...

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