Public Release: 

"Optimist" Predicts World Oil Demand Will Outstrip Production In 2020

University of Colorado at Boulder

A 37-year-veteran of the oil industry now teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder says his "optimistic" prediction is that the world's demand for oil will outstrip supply in 2020.

When that "energy gap" occurs, the world will need to begin making up the difference from solar power, nuclear power and other renewable energy resources, according to John D. "Jack" Edwards.

"It's important that people realize that renewable energy sources are where we need to be headed," he said. Edwards will deliver his findings Oct. 25 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Toronto.

Edwards earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University and spent 37 years as a geologist and chief geologist with Shell Oil before becoming director of the CU-Boulder Energy and Minerals Applied Research Center in 1992. He is now an adjunct professor teaching classes on petroleum geology and world resources.

Edwards views himself as an optimist because he believes that a substantial amount of oil remains to be discovered, more than 1 trillion barrels, and that technology will allow up to 75 percent of the oil to be extracted from existing fields, up from the current maximum of about 50 percent. A leading pessimist believes the peak world oil production will occur before 2010.

Edwards predicts that world crude oil production will peak in 2020 at 90 million barrels per day. He forecasts that U.S. crude oil production will cease by about 2090 and world production will be nearly exhausted by the year 2100.

His forecast is based on total recoverable crude oil resources of about 3 trillion barrels. Most estimates fall between 2 trillion and 3 trillion barrels.

"Our children and grandchildren are going to be mad at us for burning all this oil," because oil can be put to more valuable use in producing petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals such as plastics, fertilizers, herbicides and medicines, he said.

"It took the Earth 500 million years to create the stuff we're burning in 200 years," he said.

In Edwards' analysis he notes that:

  • Eighty-five percent of the world's energy now comes from oil, gas and coal.

  • Coal is the most abundant fuel, with more than a 200-year supply, but it is by far the dirtiest to burn. Coal adds to air pollution and global warming concerns.

  • More than 50 percent of U.S. electrical energy is provided by coal.

  • Gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, but there are problems in transporting it to markets by pipeline or liquid natural gas tankers.

  • Europe is converting from coal-fired electric power plants to gas-fired, a trend Edwards expects to see in the United States.

  • Non-OPEC nations currently produce 60 percent of the world's oil supply but OPEC controls 75 percent of known reserves and by 2010 is expected to supply more than half the world's oil.

  • Oil exploration costs are going down and the success rate is going up. New technology is allowing more oil to be extracted from existing fields than ever before.

  • The biggest factors in calculating future energy demand are world population growth and the rising standard of living in developing countries.

After 2020, the development of renewable, non-polluting energy sources -- solar, wind and geothermal -- will be needed to fill the gap, Edwards said. Some oil companies already are conducting research into solar and other renewable energy sources, but more government-funded research also is needed, he said.

Edwards also believes that nuclear energy will play a significant role, perhaps providing up to 20 percent of world energy needs in the latter half of the next century.

"We have the capability of building a first-rate, fail-safe nuclear power plant," Edwards said. "And we can solve the waste disposal problem."

Global warming may require a shift to nuclear energy, which emits no carbon dioxide, he said. "Emotion is clouding our judgment on this issue," he said.


Jack Edwards, 303-492-6188
Peter Caughey, 303-492-4007

Contents embargoed from publication until a.m. editions on Oct. 25 and from broadcast until 4 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25. Edwards will deliver his paper Oct. 25 as part of a panel from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. in room 715A-B at the Metro Toronto Convention Center. The GSA newsroom can be reached at 416-585-3706/3707.


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