Max Willis


First Presentation

Questions from the first presentation

  1. What does the curve look like for price of oil vs amount of economical reserves?
  2. How do predictions of oil reserves affect the use of oil?
  3. You mentioned that Canada had large reserves of low-grade tar-sand oil and pretty thoroughly explained the technical barriers in oil extraction – are there any new developments that have been made or are in production to be able to extract or use this hard-to-reach low grade oil? Is there economic pressure to do this even, when there is so much cheap oil elsewhere?
  4. What’s important about understanding how oil is extracted?
  5. Max mentioned that the estimate of global "reserves" are arbitrary, and often determined by economic and political interests of oil-producing nations. For example, Saudi Arabia's reserves have hardly increased over the last few decades---I presume this may be in part due to the lack of incentive to pursue further exploration when current fields are already producing enough? Do there exist any more reliable/exhaustive estimates of global oil reserves than the ones Max quoted?
  6. What would the cost of oil/barrel have to be for it to be economically viable to extract more than 35% (I think that was the current percentage?) from our oil fields?
  7. What are credible estimates of the current government subsidy (direct and indirect) to the petroleum industry?
  8. If oil drilling relies a good deal on the oil being lighter than water, how does this deal with the cases mentioned with heavier-than-water oils?
  9. Can you touch on laws governing oil production? What stops oil producers from making less pure oil if it is cheaper to do so?
  10. What exactly are tar sands and if they are so useless, then why are they counted in the oil reserves? What is a current estimate of the total amount of oil reserves left in the entire world, and given our current consumption of oil, how long do we have until all the oil reserves are depleted?
  11. How much energy is put into the refining process vs. the energy you get out?
  12. Why are tar sands reserves questionable?
  13. You said that politics play a role in oil production and consumption, what kind of politics? What kind of power do countries have when they produce a lot of oil?
  14. Everyone hears a lot about ANWR, how likely is it that we will need to drill there, and what impact would the decision to drill have on other areas that are potential drilling sites?
  15. What will happen to an oil reservoir that has been depleted? Especially, when the reservoir has been injected with CO2 and N2, is the gas going to come out? Will special treatments be required?
  16. What price models are used to estimate the price of a barrel of oil, especially in consideration of future needs?

Some further questions

  1. Perhaps you could do a more careful job of introducing us to Darcy's law and the darcy.
  2. Saudi Arabia’s oil resources are large but finite. Why don't the Saudis withhold production, thereby raising the price of oil and allowing them to earn more money for the finite resource they have?
  3. Saudi Arabia has a strategic interest in not disclosing its internal best estimates of its reserves. Why is that? Just before the economic downturn, there was considerable discussion of Saudi Arabia's inability to continue to function as the supplier to smooth price and demand fluctuations. What can we infer from the recent chatter that Ghawar production rate has reached a maximum?
  4. Given that the amount of “recoverable oil” in the ground is a slippery concept, depending on the price of oil and of competing energy sources, is “peak oil” apt to be a problem or can we expect smooth supply-demand behavior of the oil market?

~Peter Saeta 2010 March 09 at 11:35 PM PST

Second Presentation

Main questions:

  • peak oil: when, why, predictions, mitigation, resource assessments
  • Giant oil fields: size, discovery history, decline rates
  • Current oil usage in energy & non-energy applications & predicted future demand
  • Do you want me to talk about liquid alternatives like ethanol?
  • What about coal to liquids (Fischer - Tropsch)? Would you rather have me or Rob look into that?

I have read a lot about oil and peak oil in the past (including taking a course in geology on petroleum geology as well as studying petroleum engineering), here are some articles and books I've read and some I plan on reading:


  1. Alberta’s Oil Sands, 2008. Alberta Department of Energy, June 2009.
  2. Attanasi, E., and Root, D., 1994, The enigma of oil and gas field growth: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 78.3, p. 321-332
  3. Bird, K., and Houseknect, D., 2002, U.S. Geological Survey 2002 Petroleum Resource Assessment of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA): USGS Fact Sheet 045-02
  4. Bird, K., and Houseknect, D., 2001, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, 1998, Including Economic Analysis: USGS Fact Sheet 028-01
  5. Bird, K., and Houseknect, D., 2008, Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle: USGS Fact Sheet 2008-3049
  6. Charpentier, R., and Klett, T., 2005, Guiding principles of USGS methodology for assessment of undiscovered conventional oil and gas resources: Natural Resources Research, v. 14.3, p. 175-186
  7. Deffeyes, Kenneth. Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  8. Demaison, G. J., 1977, Tar sands and supergiant oil fields: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 61.11, p. 1950-1961
  9. Dyni, J., 2005, Geology and resources of some world oil-shale deposits: USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5294
  10. Hirsch, R., 2005, The inevitable peaking of world oil production: The Atlantic Council, v. 16.3, 1-9
  11. Hook, M., Hirsch, R., and Aleklett, K., 2009, Giant oil field decline rates and their influence on world oil production: Energy Policy, v. 37.6, p. 2262-2272
  12. Hook, Soderbergh, B., Jakobsson, K., and Aleklett, K., 2009, The evolution of giant oil field production behavior: Natural Resources Research, v. 18.1, p. 39-65
  13. Hubbert, M. K., 1956, Nuclear energy and the fossil fuels: Shell Development Company Publication No. 95
  14. Hubbert, M. K., 1981, The world’s evolving energy system: American Journal of Physics, v. 49.11
  15. Jarrell, J., 2005, Another day in the desert: A response to the book, “Twilight in the desert”: Geopolitics of Energy, Oct 2005
  16. Johnson, R., Mercier, T.J., Brownfield, M., Pantea, M., and Self, J., 2009, Assessment of In-Place Oil Shale Resources of the Green River Formatuion, Piceance Basin, Western Colorado: USGS Fact Sheet 2009-3012
  17. Laherrere, J., 2000, Is USGS 2000 Assessment Reliable?: cyberconference, WEC
  18. Lynch, M., 2006, Crop circles in the desert: The strange controversy over Saudi oil production: ICEED, p. 1-30
  19. Maugeri, L., 2009, Squeezing More Oil From the Ground: Scientific American Oct: 2009, p. 56-63.
  20. Miller, R., 1992, The global oil system: The relationship between oil generation, loss, half-life, and the world crude oil resource: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 76.4, p. 489-500
  21. Schenk, C., Cook, T., Charpentier, R., Pollastro, R., Klett, T., Tennyson, M., Kirschbaum, M. Brownfield, M., and Pitman, J., 2009, An Estimate of Recoverable Heavy Oil Resources of the Orinoco Oil Belt, Venezuela: USGS Fact Sheet 2009-3028
  22. Selley, Richard C. Elements of Petroleum Geology. London: Academic Press, 1998.
  23. Simmons, M., The World’s Giant Oilfields, White Paper, Simmons & Company International
  24. Sorrell, S., Speirs, J., Bentley, R., Brandt, A., and Miller, R., 2009, Global oil depletion.
  25. Verma, M., 2000, The Significane of Field Growth and the Role of Enhanced Oil Recovery: USGS Fact Sheet 115-00
  26. Wennekers, J., 1981, Tar Sands: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin: v. 65.10, p. 2290-2293

Good websites I also use are:

  • ASPO - Association for the Study of Peak Oil
  • The Oil Drum - Blog style site where people talk energy, discoveries, etc.

[PNS] David Rutledge (Caltech) has done some analysis of resource predictions and draws conclusions significantly different from many others. Roughly speaking, there's at lot less than many people think. He might be an interesting contrast.

Presentation Outlines

First Presentation: Oil Basics

  • Discuss current uses of petroleum
    • %'s used for energy, used in plastics, how fuel is divied up
  • Discuss Hubberts peak
    • Global & US
    • Peak Oil
    • Discoveries, Production lag time & history
  • Basics of oil geology & oil engineering
    • Surveying
    • Production
  • Distribution of Reserves
    • Current production by nation

Second Presentation: Giant Oil Fields, USGS Reports, Other assessments

  • Oil field decline, individual well decline
  • Giant oil fields
    • Field Size Distributions
      • Zipf's Law
      • Log-normal distribution
    • Importance
    • History
    • Current decline
  • Discuss Hubberts peak
    • Global & US
    • Peak Oil
    • Discoveries, Production lag time & history
    • Rate Plots
  • USGS Assessments
    • Controversy
    • Past results
    • Other assessments

Third Presentation: Peak Oil Mitigations

  • Unconventional Petroleum Reserves
    • Oil Shales
      • Green River Formation
    • Tar Sands
      • Orinoco Belt, Venezuela
      • Athabasca, Alberta
    • Arctic
    • Deep Water
    • Natural Gas Liquids
    • Enhanced Oil Recovery
      • CO2, use, availability, cost
      • Horizontal wells, multilaterals
        • Use Ghawar as example
    • Coal to liquids (Fischer Tropsch)?
      • Theoretical reserves
      • Energy cost, CO2 production