Two weeks after the IEA’s 2008 World Energy Outlook was published, lengthy commentary and analysis of the report’s findings continue to pour in. All compliment the 190 staff analysts and statisticians that worked on the report along with many outside consultants that were brought in for the project.  The general acknowledgement that current trends are unsustainable and the effort to work out depletion rates for major oil fields has broken new ground.

The effort to show how world oil production can continue to grow over the next 20 years is highly contrived. Broken down into pieces, the projection that world production can grow by another 20 million b/d includes many unlikely assumptions such as the Saudis coming up with 60 million b/d of new production in order to grow total output to 15 million b/d and offset depletion. The assumption that large amounts of new oil will be discovered and put into production is highly dubious.

More and more internal contradictions are turning up in the report. The most egregious is the statement that worldwide oil production from existing fields is declining at an average rate of 6.7 percent a year whereas the chart of future production sources shows a decline closer to 4 percent. The distinction is important since the future of the world’s economy could hang on the difference. The world’s ability to produce or not produce 20 million b/d more oil 20 years from now could literally be a matter of life and death.

Many of these anomalies have already been brought to the IEA’s attention. Hopefully at least some of these problems will be worked out prior to next year’s edition.