Shhhh! Maybe they won't notice . . . . . .

Pssst!  Has everyone gone to bed?  Can I whisper?

"Maybe he's right?"

Who's he? Actually Ali al-Naimi at the World Petroleum Congress in Johannesburg. And I am urging a bit of caution, from the other side this time, about the announced increase in Saudi reserves that has been debated already, just a little further down the page. And here is why. Firstly although, based among other things on the recollections of ex Saudi-Aramco employees posted at one of their sites, they have done extensive aerial surveying of the country in the past to determine where the major fields are, they are now, presumably with the latest techniques, refining those surveys with 3-D seismic profiles and can obtain more accurate assessments of the sizes of their fields. Further at $60 - $80 a barrel for oil (they have the reserve, they decide the price) a significant amount of what might have been difficult oil to get (along the lines of the Haradh development, for eg) economically in the past may well now be considered, to be countable. And in addition, they have some new technologies that they are fielding, the intelligent well program for example, that may allow them to have a better control over getting oil from wells in late stage production. And of all the folks around, these have been as aggressive as most in funding some of this new technical development. So it may well be that all these issues have come together all at once to allow them to re-evaluate their overall absolute ultimate production levels. And so to cheer some folks up, they put it all together and make this announcement.

So, sayeth the audience, is this his resignation letter ? Will Heading Out be heading out, and joining the Dark Side? Has that little worm turned one time too many?

Err, no, not exactly. Because actually nothing much has changed. In fact since last week, our situation, and theirs, has got a fair bit worse. Unlike a number of others who work everything to the proven reserve numbers, I have been more focused on the more immediate term. Saudi Arabia may (as Colorado does) have lots more oil than it is currently producing.  But if it is not readily producible at high rates of production (as for example the oil shale in Colorado isn't) nothing much has changed. Now if Saudi government fund a refinery to process the Manifa oil, then the world gains a million barrels a day of oil, that it currently doesn't have. Then I get a bit more excited. But, in reality, I don't see anything in this speech that helps the situation. (And if they start building that refinery now, as they may be, it will still be a few years before we see anything significant flowing into a tanker).

In earlier posts the need for oil rigs has been postulated as a vital pre-cursor to production. Aramco do not have enough to meet their current targets and have borrowed some and ordered others, to help meet a target that I have seen promised as 11.8, 12 and 12.5 mbd within the past week. (And since that target is 5 years from now, and they have admitted to about 1 mbd of depletion a year in current production, that means they have to actually drill new wells to produce to an increment of 8 mbd).

And what is the situation with oil rigs ? If I may steal a quote from the FT article that Prof G just cited.

High oil prices and the desperate search for new oil supplies needed to meet rampant demand from the US and China have made rigs difficult to find and expensive to hire. Rigs cost $90m-$550m to construct, depending on how sophisticated the structure and how deep the water in which it will drill. A rig ordered today is unlikely to be ready before 2008 or 2009, analysts said.

As a sign of just how precious rigs are becoming to the market, Anadarko, the biggest US independent oil company, this week set a record by committing to a rig six years in advance; commitments in the past were made months ahead of time rather than years.

 Initial reports from companies are ominous. Global Santa Fe reported it could not find two of its rigs. Rowan Companies reported four rigs damaged, with two having moved, one losing its "legs" and the fourth presumed sunk. Noble has four rigs adrift, with two run aground one into a ChevronTexaco platform.

And there are a number of other grim numbers out there, not only from Rita, but also from Katrina. Remember that the Saudi were going to borrow 5 rigs from the Gulf - I wonder if they left yet?

So if they can't get enough rigs before the end of the decade, then by the time they can further increase production up to even 15 mbd we'll be well into post peak concerns and so their reserves will be of even more value, and thus they may, at that time be able to declare more formations producible. But it really doesn't change where we are today one iota. (And yes I am aware that the article discusses offshore rigs, and part of Saudi production is onshore. However the scarcity of rigs and support infrastructure is general).

So why did he say it? Along with much of the rest, I guess it was aimed to be one of those "don't worry, children, Daddy's here" type speeches. There is some need to stop governmental concerns about world oil supplies from getting out of hand. Will it be successful in that regard. It hasn't been to date, and we haven't heard all the results of the damage and losses from the Hurricane Season yet. Until we do, then the true situation will remain unclear. But I have to say it does not look all that good.

And if I could end with a hint. At this stage in the battle of credulity, it is rather futile to any purpose just to say "We found more oil." In the same way as they have spelled out where their increased production will come from, it would be helpful if there were some indication as to where these new resources are, and in what form.

So to believe he's right - 460 billion to go, 110 produced, 570 total, we have to believe that the American owned version of Aramco which did almost all the discovery, was wrong in their estimate of OOIP (530 billion barrels) by a factor of, roughly, 2 or 3. This is if we believe recovery rate would eventually be 33-50% - so Mr al-Naimis 570 would have to come from OOIP of 1-1.5 trillion barrels. This is a generous recovery estimate given that most of the claimed reserves must be heavy oil (or they wouldn't be producing so much of it already). He's not claiming he's made big new discoveries, he's just claiming new technology will let them recover more from the known fields.

The American owned Aramco ran the province from the early 1930s to 1979. They may not have had 3d seismic, but they had 2d seismic, and they would have had data on every production well they drilled, right? Cuttings. So they'd know the porosity and height of the column in all those wells. So how could they be that wrong?

"2005 - (august) As oil becomes more expensive and production rates decline from old wells, attention turns to expensive to access deep water oil. The cost of the relatively few specialised offshore exploration rigs is now between 30% and 50% higher than last year - demand for these specialist rigs is now high.

Suprisingly, Saudi Arabia this months hires five 'jackup' oil rigs to drill offshore. Some commentators ask, if Saudi reserves are as large as their unsubstantiated claims say, why do they need to explore the very expensive offshore drilling option? There have been no Saudi offshore fields of any size found in Saudi Arabia since 1978. Why are the Saudis looking for relatively small fields (by their standards)? The answer may be an estimate in 2000 that saw a possible 2 billion barrel of oil oilfield likely offshore Saudia Arabia, mostly, but not entirely, in Iranian waters. Clearly, an ally with strong marine firepower would be needed to protect the drillers in this contentious area."

Even this inferred 2 billion barrel oilfield, a useful size, is trivial in context of this huge claim. Where is the huge evidence?

today, they double their reserves because now they can count every drop of oil.  Next, the moon will be made of oil and Saudia Arabia must build rockships to go to the moon and bring back that oil for the us all.  Maybe this is true ( their reserves, not the moon ) but in the short term it means little I believe, except this, it changes everyones preception, at least those counting on Saudi Oil to save the day.  Opec has been producing flat out, and the only way they can effect the price of oil is through cleaver PR work.  And right on time, just like clock work, they come to stage right before the oil stats are released on Wensday.  I swear, most of OPEC, the IEA, DOE, and half a dozen other people are on a schedule that must just cordinate with that Wensday report.  Someone has to say something bearish about oil on Tuesday not matter what, and no matter how absurd it may be.  So, here it is, another whopper of a news bomb on oil.  SA now thinks they are twice as big as they thought they were for reserves.  Oh boy, can't wait for the next time Saudi Arabia must cover the Tuesday pep talk before the oil reports hit.  

"Aramco anounces today that they are teaming with Disney Land to bring to the world the very first Hydrocarbon theam park, where world leaders and anxious Americans can come and experience the wonders of Saudi Oil of tommorow.  President Bush praised the Prince for their open policies and Dick Channey said Halaburton will be there with them all the way. A very lucky few first time visitors will be kidnapped and held hostage by radical exstremist and then rescued by the U.S. Miliatary.  It is sure to be a hit.  Oil collasped in a stunning crash in price upon this news nearly $.25 cent from its recent high of $135.00 a barrel."  AP news reports. Oct 2006.  

You have it right... nothing much has changed. The whole concept of 'Peak Oil' was never that oil would soon run out... it was that CHEAP easily extractable oil would run out... and that the remaining reserves would be increasingly difficult & expensive to extract & process...

What you write says nothing to contradict this.

Re: "Will Heading Out be heading out, and joining the Dark Side? Has that little worm turned one time too many ?"

I read the text after this, but I am still astonished by your post.
Saudi Arabia may (as Colorado does) have lots more oil than it is currently producing. But if it is not readily producible at high rates of production (as for example the oil shale in Colorado isn't) nothing much has changed.
There is no comparison whatsoever. Virtually no commerically competitive oil will come out of Colorado for the next 15 years from oil shales and probably indefinitely beyond that. I live in Colorado and I (Bubba, others at TOD) follow that issue. And
There is some need to stop governmental concerns about world oil supplies from getting out of hand.
No kidding. These Saudis (all of OPEC, really) have been making these "reassuring" statements for about the last year or so as prices have gone up. These statements are noise masking the true signal. Rigs are surely an issue but it would be helpful, as you say, to know where the hell this conventional oil -- light sweet crude -- is coming from.

Perhaps I missed the thrust of your post, HO, and you might take another crack at it.
Also, I don't like being critical of your post, HO, but I see these latest Saudi claims (reserves, available supply) as just political or psychological bullshit meant to manipulate the market (contrary to reality). They feel impotent because they're no longer in control. So much of what I know about Peak Oil, geology and depletion issues, I've learned from you....


Still awake on the West Coast.  Only one thing to say, Come On!!  200 bbl!  I mean that's shameless...Maybe the number is correct, but I need more than the Aramco PR man's word to convince me.

Then, even if he is right, doesn't help me much, not just because of the production problems...We gotta kick the petroleum habit man!  It's killing us!  I would be happy to leave the whole lot in the desert.

As far as I can see...the policy is the same, whether we take the peak oil position or the global warming position, as I suggested in my earlier post.  We need a crash program to transition to another energy base, hoping for Uncle Ali to buy us more candy won't get us there.

Part of why he said it is that Saudi Arabia is getting turned into the big distraction. Hey, look at Saudi Arabia! They're the bad guy because they won't play fair and provide transparency. Saudi Arabia is the #1 peak oil problem.

That's a nice way to turn attention away from the gas guzzling American public, who are the real bad guys.

Oh and... nice post HO. Judicious and level-headed.
OK, this is purely anecdotal, but this guys information has been really accurate over the course of the last year: 1371&mid=123284

It's about a conversation he had with a Halliburton employee that just returned from Saudi Arabia, who is of the opinion that Ghawar is already in decline.

So how hard is it to build an oil drilling rig? Some of the discussions here almost seem to assume that there are only a finite number of these things in the world and we'll never get any more. But I assume that more can be built, just like ships and locomotives and skyscrapers and other big, complicated objects. How many years would it take to build another twenty or fifty of these rigs?
For land-based conventional rigs, I don't think its a problem... but HO knows more about that than I do ....

However, for ocean (deep-sea) drilling, where so much of our anticipated conventional oil is slated to come from over the next few years, big rig availability is definitely in short supply. I had a Bloomberg link on this some weeks back but can't find it now.... The cost of renting an ocean deep-drilling platform was astronomical....

And now, with the hurricanes, the availability of this kind of ocean-drilling equipment is probably very limited now ... this makes it hard to put down roots in The Gulf of Guinea (West Africa) and offshore Brazil, among other places...
H, there's a post out front answering that question...
I'm not that knowledgeable about oil though I've been watching some of these issues for almost thirty years. I've been reading The Oil Drum for several months now and appreciate what is being said though I wish the facts in general were a little easier to nail down no matter whether those facts come from Washington, Houston or Saudi Arabia.

But oil minister's Ali al-Naimi's comments seem to go beyond the usual industry blather, honest speculation, and deliberate misdirection. If there's truth to what he's saying, it seems to me that this is potentially a foreign policy issue that's being raised and one that can't be ignored by the U.S.

Here are five possibilities this novice sees: 1) Ali al-Naimi is lying and perhaps his lying is coming out of some degree of panic.

  1. He's lying in order to temporarily manipulate the markets. I take it from various sources that the Saudis are frequently untruthful but when a lie has foreign policy consequences, we're in a different ball game.

  2. He's lying under the mistaken impression that he's doing something useful by soothing the economic waters of the international community. Such a lie simply puts off dealing with the issues and is dangerous.

  3. He thinks he's telling the truth and is gullible enough to believe that Saudi Arabia has suddenly discovered in the last few weeks that it has huge additional reserves no one knew about. (Could this be related at all to recent changes in the Saudi government?)

  4. He is telling the truth and Saudi Arabia has been playing games for decades by withholding vital information and manipulating markets (which on a certain tolerated scale they seem to have been doing anyway for years but this would be of a whole different order). Governments and companies around the world are making plans on what may be happening to oil. Not billions, but trillions of dollars will be involved in the next twenty years as the world begins to shift towards alternative energy sources and the machines that will use those sources. At that scale, we're talking about the fundamental security of the U.S. and most industrialized nations (actually third world countries are even more vulnerable to such disruptions). It's going to take time to build the infrastructure for alternative energy and the biggest threat to that infrastructure, if not handled correctly, would be a sudden glut of cheap oil for five to ten years that would make it difficult to sustain that infrastructure and the knowledge-base that built it, thus putting the world's economies at greater risk when a transition can no longer be put off. Such a discovery might come but that's one issue (and perhaps manageable through diplomacy). To deliberately create such a situation through manipulation (or even price manipulations that disrupt economies) would be something else altogether. That would constitute a security threat. Ali al-Naimi has to be aware of that kind of analysis of his announcement.

So I don't know what to think but I'm inclined to believe in the first three possibilities. Of course there may be other explanations for the oil minister's comments.
Nice job of enumerating the possibilities, Chris.  I think that in any highly uncertain situation that's a critical step--objectively build a comprehensive list of the possibilities, and only then try to assess them.

While I agree with you that this is most likely nothing more than a lie from Ali al-Naimi, there's one other possibility that I find intriguing:

The Saudi's have known about additional oil deposits for years or even decades, but they've never considered them reserves because of the very high cost of extraction.  As HO suggests, the combination of higher market prices and improved technology have recently moved these deposits into the ultimately recoverable reserve category.  It's not a matter of a recent discovery, but of reclassification.

A few comments:

Market price and technology do indeed have major impacts on the amount of URR.  Many hard core peakers are so fixated on the ultimate limit imposed by geology that they ignore or reject these shorter-term, but still very important, effects.

If this "deposit reclassification" scenario is accurate, then I think it makes an overwhelming case that the Saudis have manipulated the markets on a grand scale.  That also makes it a strong argument for data transparency, not that I think we'll ever see much of an improvement over the current situation I that respect.

We have no idea what kind of oil this is, assuming it even exists.  If it's light, sweet then it won't become a factor on the market until the extraction and transportation infrastructure is in place to bring it to market.  That probably translates to a delay of several years.

If it's heavy, sour then in addition to the extraction and transportation buildout, we'll need changed or new refineries, which will add more time (years, I'm guessing) to that delay.

If there's no oil there, then we're back to the "imminent PO" scenario.  If the oil is there, then we will face increasingly tight markets and expensive oil for a period of years, until that oil can be turned into a marketable commodity.  And even then the costs involved might make it expensive enough not to bring down the market price.

I did consider this scenario, but to make al-Naimi honest, it would sort of have to be something on the scale of the Orinoco deposit in Venezuela - 1 trillion+ barrels of something so miserable that it's better to produce Manifa first. But we'd have to believe that in 40 years of exploration, pre-Saudi al-Aramco failed to recognize that they had discovered something on that scale. I find that very implausible.
My only comment about this is that my time in the Middle East has led me to believe that many Middle Easterners feel it is not a lie unless it is discovered. This actually factors into the way one does business in the market (local , open-air retail market, not stock or oil markets), or when negotiating a price for anything. They will take you for all you're worth if you are dumb enough to let them. Most Americans are thought of as potential suckers, because they don't do their homework before shopping or negotiating.

To assume this attitude would not move into other aspects of trading in some degree is foolish.

"Getting one over" on an outsider is viewed as a feather in your cap.

'Caveat emptor' was probably realized after someone literate negotiated with the Moors.....

Here's my official "Optimists Explanation"

Start with some numbers:

       Saudi     Price
Year   Reserves  $2000
1970    140       ~15
1975    160       ~25
1980    160       ~80
1985    160       ~45
1990    260       ~25
1995    260       ~20
2000    260       ~25
2005    460       ~65

Official proven Saudi oil reserves stayed basically flat from 1970 to 1985, despite the huge swing in the price of oil.  Determining "proven" reserves necessarily includes an economic component that depends on the current price.  So, despite a six-fold rise in the price of oil, and a subsequent fall, Saudi Arabia (and OPEC in general) never re-calculated their 'proven' reservers to account for the new market prices.

But then in 1985, Kuwait does it.  In fact, by 1987, all of OPEC has recalculated as oil prices have settled around a $25 range.  From 1970 to 1985, real prices almost doubled, and reserves almost doubled.

Now, in 2005, prices have doubled again - and, importantly, it looks like they will stay doubled for the foreseeable future.  And so SA has doubled their reserves.  Even though everyone is producing flat-out, rendering the mid-80's quota considerations irrelevant, I'd expect that we will soon see several other OPEC nations follow suit.  Recall that Iran already made an upward revision of over 30% in 2002.

al-Naimi's comments may also wind up with an eventual substantial instability in URR

Let's say we accept the new figure - that leads to a decline in oil prices (back to $30?  $25? any guess?) at some point when these new reserves come on line (2008-2010 or so) - then URR goes down (as the lower price now makes these more-expensive-to-extract reserves not viable economically) - eventually (pick a date) the price rises and presto the reserves are economical again!  (And the cycle continues until the now-far-removed Peak moment.)

I know that Big Oil uses a past-average price along with their worst-case (from a price point of view) projections, so these fluctuations in URR would be on a slow curve, but still there nevertheless.

All of this is sideshow, as none of it has anything to do with OOIP - that is the real question.  As pointed out above, could ARAMCO (old version) have been so wrong that there's 3x what they thought?  And, if so, what does this mean about OOIP calcs for every other reservoir?

Circa 1975, estimates of Saudi OIP were 500 Gb, with "proven" reserves of 160 Gb.  That implies a 32% recovery.

Last year, didn't Aramco announce that their OIP was actually closer to 1200 Gb?  (I may be confused on what that number referred to; this ArabNews story from April 2004 says Al-Naimi meant proven reserves, but that's absurd.)

But maybe that's how it all hangs together.  OIP is 1200, proven reserves now 461, implying 38% recovery.


Also, check this out:  It's not new - we were warned last year!
Washington Post, Dec 27, 2004:

Saudi Oil Reserves Could Increase by 77%

Associated Press
Monday, December 27, 2004; Page A26

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 26 -- Saudi Arabia's oil reserves, the world's largest, could increase by almost 77 percent to top 461 billion barrels in a few years, the nation's oil minister said Sunday.

"There are big chances to increase the kingdom's produceable oil reserves by 200 billion barrels," Ali Naimi said in a statement issued after he inaugurated new oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia. "This will come either through new discoveries or through increasing production from known deposits."
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Saudi Arabia, which holds more than 25 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, says its registered reserves amount to 261 billion barrels.

Sorry 'bout the extra cut-n-paste junk... I gotta preview that stuff more often.
In early 2004, Mahmoud Abdul-Baqi and Nansen Saleri gave a presentation to CSIS in Washington.  Simmons also gave a presentation, so you could say it was a "debate".  Saleri and Baqi said that OOIP increased from 580gb in the early 1980s to 700gb as of 1/1/2004.  They claimed this 700gb has the potential to eventually increase to 900gb.  This isn't consistent with Al-Naimi's claim of 1,200gb OOIP right now.  Here was Abdul-Baqi and Saleri's presentation:  (Copy this link into the URL bar; it doesn't seem to allow a link to a PDF file.)

I'm more inclined to believe Simmons than the content of this presentation, although it is well-done.  There is no way to verify the data, of course, but nothing apparent is wrong with it to me.  I did find one inconsistency: their "Extent of Proved Reserves Depletion" slide claims that the proven reserves of Ain Dar/Shedgum (North Ghawar) are 60% depleted, as of 1/1/2004. However, if you do the math on their "Resources Depletion State" slide specifically about Ain Dar and Shedgum, you would see that the area is 66% depleted.  The only possibility besides an error is that there is a secondary reservoir for Ain Dar/Shedgum that is believed to contain a significant amount of recoverable oil.

It's also interesting that 60% of the OOIP is proven reserves, and a further 15% is probable and possible.  Saleri claims that Aramco is highly confident that it will recover both the probable and the possible reserves, yielding a 75% recovery.  This seems high.

I am in the Simmons camp, but reading this presentation was interesting, and I am open to opinions from any viewpoint.  The discussion is valuable.

Yeah, growth of OOIP to 700gb sounds plausible, and the trend doesn't look obviously bogus - a little too suspiciously smooth perhaps. Much more believable than al-Naimi's 1200gb. I don't buy the 200gb of undiscovered, given their lack of success to date (but maybe there's some deep water - though they seem to expect to mainly find gas there). However, the 1%-4% depletion rates in that presentation are much lower than the EIA quotes Abdullah Saif - 5%-12% Either the depletion rates have increased rapidly since Jan 2004 (in which case Matt Simmons is definitely right), or there's an inconsistency. Hard to believe they're going to get to 75% recovery rates of OOIP when depletion is running at 5%-12% already. And 75% recovery out of pretty tight rocks in Shaybah and Haradh? I believe this would be unprecedented right?
I was just talking about North Ghawar, but I agree when talking about Saudi Arabia as a whole.  North Ghawar's proven reserves are 60% of OOIP, but Saudi Arabia's cumulative production added to proven reserves totals 371gb, or 53% of OOIP.  That's a high number to assume.  Even if North Ghawar achieves its objective, you can't assume such high recovery of other areas.  This could mean newer areas like the Hawtah Trend or Shaybah, as well as unproduced fields.  Even Haradh has very different characteristics that would not suggest high recovery.

I want to clarify one thing: "depletion" refers to the extraction of oil out of a field, NOT a decline of production rate.  Depletion happens from day one.  This term seems to be misused in Peak Oil discussions.  If you produce an amount of oil that is equivalent to 5% of proven reserves, that is a 5% depletion rate.  Therefore, Baqi and Saleri are actually talking about depletion, while Saif is talking about decline.

53% was before al-Naimi add the 200gb.
Saleri boldly announced this increase in reserves.  He says it will be made "soon", but does that mean that 460gb or more will be the official 2005 reserves estimate?  Are you sure this is what he means by "soon"?

Yes, 53% becomes 82% recovery with the 200gb reserves addition, and this doesn't include any probable or possible reserves.  Clearly, the new number is absurd if OOIP is 700gb.  Perhaps Aramco has suddenly decided that they can already boost their OOIP to that 900gb "eventual" level?  That's awfully fast, of course, but it still implies 64% recovery, which seems too high, especially considering that these are just reserves that are considered proven right now.  I don't think their ultimate recovery could ever reach such a percentage.  For this new reserve addition to be reasonable, Al-Naimi's figure of 1,200gb must be the supporting OOIP number.  It seems unlikely that Baqi and Saleri would claim 700gb with a potential of 900gb if they could easily declare anywhere near 1,200gb.  Remember, Baqi and Saleri wanted to paint the most optimistic picture of Saudi oil supply that they could.

I still trust the 1970s data far more than even Baqi and Saleri's data.  The 1970s numbers were probably an underestimate, but not by much.  I am convinced that new technology like intelligent MRC wells greatly increases the ability to maintain high flow rates from thinning oil columns and to hide from water channeling, but only increases the amount of recoverable oil to a certain extent.  Once these problems cannot be staved off any longer, production from the key mature fields will plunge.  I see nothing that casts doubt on Simmons' contention that twilight for Saudi Arabian oil is near.  

You are right that we don't know what he means by "soon". Possibly he is just completely blowing smoke and these reserve additions will never be made. However, since he is saying this to the world and successfully getting covered in the press, and he is the Saudi Arabian minister for oil, it seems it is some kind of official position on their part. Going to 1200gb is sure going to blow away that nice straight line in their claimed OOIP rise graph. I pretty much agree with everything you say.
To my mind it's just a paper increase on the back of higher oil prices - like with shale, oil that previously would have been classified as unproducible or 'oil left behind' can be counted as 'proven' if the market fundamentals change sufficiently to guarantee that prices will remain higher.

They are building refineries, by the way, they should start coming on line from about 2007.

It is not a matter of producability. They are now claiming to have more producable than the Americans estimated was in the ground, total, in 1979.
They have discovered new fields since 1979. The initial estimate wasn't written inthe Quran, as it?