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Monday, April 10, 2006

Geological Peak vs. Logistical Peak

From The Times, via UK TOD, this bit of wisdom from the chief of Total:
People are failing to deal with the reality of the price, which has nothing to do with speculators or even any lack of reserves, which are ample. "“It is a problem of capacities and of timing," de Margerie says. "This is the real problem of peak oil."
The commenters at UK TOD further deconstructed his statement by separating out the idea of a geological peak versus a logistical peak. We can defer the latter by throttling the production in an optimal fashion -- a very business-centric way of thinking.

I prefer to distinguish the two types of peak as residing on different phases of the oil shock model. Essentially, a geological peak occurs during the discovery process; we hit the peak when we think we have made the most volumetric discoveries per year. On the other hand, the logistical peak only occurs when we start extracting the oil, having to wade through the fallow, construction, and maturation phases prior to that point.

Since each of these phases adds a cumulative lag term to the discovery peak and we can indeed modulate these terms via technology or business decisions, one really can't argue with Christophe de Margerie's pragmatism.

Unfortunately, it really doesn't help matters. An analogy to population dynamics might help here. Consider the case of the decline of the North American passenger pigeon and how it compares to peak oil dynamics. First, relate the geological oil peak to the historical observed peak of the pigeon population. Next, equate the logistical peak with the maximum in the yearly passenger pigeon harvest. Note that the peak bird population preceded the maximum harvest by decades. In the long run it didn't matter that we deferred a semantically-defined peak -- by that time, the pigeon population entered free-fall.

As a sobering reminder, our own geological oil peak occurred around 1960.


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