The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has certainly changed its tune since I wrote a post with this same title on March 6, 2011. At that time the EIA predicted that domestic crude oil production would decline last year and this year, but a new forecast indicates that oil production will grow and grow until 2020.
Domestic crude oil production has increased over the past few years, reversing a decline that began in 1986. U.S. crude oil production increased from 5.1 million barrels per day in 2007 to 5.5 million barrels per day in 2010.
Over the next 10 years, continued development of tight oil, in combination with the ongoing development of offshore resources in the Gulf of Mexico, pushes domestic crude oil production in the Reference case to 6.7 million barrels per day in 2020, a level not seen since 1994. Even with a projected decline after 2020, U.S. crude oil production remains above 6.1 million barrels per day through 2035.
Source. October, 2011 crude oil production stood at 5.784 million barrels per day (b/d).
The EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO 2012) early release preview was designed to support Hopey-Changey's SOTU speech, which was laced with references to America's Bright Energy Future. Those references were meant to counter the "Drill, Baby, Drill" mantra of the Republicans. In fact, National Propaganda Radio is discussing this crucial issue even as I write this. Naturally, they have invited the wrong "experts" (like Phil Verleger) to give us (the naive public) some insight into America's limitless energy supply. (Phil just said America is a bigger oil products exporter than Iran. He thinks it matters!)
So-called "tight" oil refers to oil from shale rock reservoirs like the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford in southwest Texas. (I describe it this way to distinguish this oil from imaginary "shale oil" from immature hydrocarbon formations in Colorado and Utah.)
How should we evaluate the EIA's forecast? One way to evaluate it is to look at this "all liquds" chart from the early AEO 2012 release. Although we are not out of January yet, I feel comfortable nominating this forecast for the Wildly Optimistic Future Estimate Prize (the WOFE, or "Woofy"), which is an award I just made up.
The term "all liquids" includes crude oil, natural gas liquids, biofuels and refinery gains. Looking at this chart, you can see the peak of liquid fuels production in the early 1970s. (That's also obvious in the first graph above, which covers only crude oil.) You can clearly see that the liquids fuels supply grows and grows after 2010, rising way beyond the 11-some million barrels-per-day we achieved in the early 1970s by 2035. Consumption remains flat, which means that our liquids imports drop to 36% of consumption by 2035. Woof, Woof, Woof!
In short, the EIA has postulated a miracle on the order of Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead, not to mention the resurrection of Jesus himself after the crucifixion. The EIA claims the U.S. will be producing 6.7 million b/d of crude oil by 2020. I will grant that this is possible, that there's an outside chance this could occur, given some very optimistic assumptions about the Bakken, the Eagle Ford and the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). After all, that's only some 900,000 barrels more than we produce right now.
The EIA then claims we will still be producing 6.1 million b/d by 2035, which requires a very large leap of the imagination. We simply don't know where all that crude oil is going to come from. We don't know what production profiles (like that shown in the first graph) were assumed for oil from shale reservoirs or the GOM. We don't know what decline rates were assumed for current oil production. We don't know these things and a whole lot more because the EIA didn't tell us what their assumptions were. Imagine that!
But even granting the dubious assumption that the U.S. will be producing 6.1 million b/d of crude oil by 2035, we are still entitled to ask where the hell those other 6-plus million barrels per day are going to come from. Those will be natural gas liquids barrels or biofuels barrels. Here we have entered the realm of Pure Imagination, Disney World's Magic Kingdom. We are now in Cinderella Castle.
That's Walt and Mickey welcoming visitors to The Magic Kingdom. Cinderella Castle is in the background. I first used this splendid image in America On The Move!
And so we can see how everything fits together—the President's SOTU speech, the EIA's rosy forecast issued about 24 hours prior to the speech and now a Woofie nominee, the political need to counter the "Drill, Baby, Drill" mantra of the Republicans. Taken together, these elements posit a Bright Energy Future for the United States. Given who we are in America, which is without question the Greatest Country on Earth, could it really be any other way?
I think not.