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Page added on October 25, 2011

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Re-Visiting The Export Land Model (Pt 2)


This is a follow-up to my (only slightly) tongue-in-cheek post from last week regarding the Export Land Model [ELM) designed by petroleum geologist Jeffrey Brown and Dr. Samuel Foucher, a subject I first broached here.

Yet over and over again — on the radio, on TV, in print, in the blogosphere, and all over Washington — political ideology is substituting for thought. [1]

And when our leaders and influential voices aren’t thinking, when facts and science become nothing more than carelessly-dismissed casual opinions, problems are sure to follow. The onset of Peak Oil and the mounting evidence of global warming are but two casualties to facts, evidence, and truth as partisan (ignorant) ideology trumps … well, you know … the facts!

ELM is a fairly straightforward and actually quite logical mathematical concept. One can quibble until the cows come home that this percentile or that mathematical construct is incorrect/fails to take into account/yadda yadda yadda. But the basic premise is little more than common sense, a point I tried to drive home using the only slightly-embellished water bottle analogy in the first part of this series.

An owner of a resource of any kind, one beneficial not only to buyers/users but to the owner itself, will of course make use of that resource to grow or otherwise benefit its own standing. Simple enough. Growth inevitably follows, and with growth comes an increase in demand, and thus an increase in the amount of the resource retained by that owner. First-grade math will then demonstrate that if I keep more of what I own rather than give to you, the end result is that you get less from me.

Not really all that difficult to follow … even the most mathematically-challenged denier shouldn’t have much cause for dispute. But then again, when reality doesn’t matter at all if it conflicts with one’s delusion and denials, then I guess I could be wrong about that! Facts are damned inconvenient at times….

Even more significant is a corresponding factor to the basic tenet of the ELM, as noted in this post.

An ELM Key Insight is that the domestic consumption of oil exporting nations will, over long time periods, tend to grow faster than the domestic oil consumption of oil importers because of the windfall effect of oil revenues, and will tend to continue to grow even past the production peak, especially whilst net exports are positive.

In other words, in my example above, “owner’s” rate of consumption of the resource will be greater than the rate of growth exhibited by that of the established “buyers/users.” The more revenues “owner” acquires and plows back into growth or similar improvements to its own standing, the greater the “momentum” of that growth or increase … and thus the more of those resources “owner” must retain for itself to support the rapidly-expanding rates of growth. The end result is that the rate of export decline accelerates. Getting less, faster, is not good math.

A nation only exports the surplus of its vital resources. Following a peak in oil production, a nation is flush with capital after exporting more oil than ever in its history—oil that is often sold at previously unreached high prices as well–and its economy responds with growth. But with an expanding economy comes growing demand for oil, causing the nation’s domestic oil needs to cut into a supply that recently began a steady decline. These two sources of pressure on the nation’s oil surplus cause it to deplete at an ever-faster rate. Unless the nation does the unprecedented and keeps its rate of domestic consumption always at or below its exponentially declining rate of production, the surplus vanishes and exports stop. [2]

And so as our first-grade math quiz above convincingly demonstrated (complex though the concept may be), if owner keeps more for itself, less is available to everyone else, and “less” is proceeding along much quicker. Deniers should feel free to rest here if this is too much to absorb all at once.

So when this story appeared on news feeds recently (and has gotten precious little attention so far as best I can determine) and opened with this remark:

The world may have to live on a lot less Saudi Arabian crude towards the end of this decade as rampant internal demand eats into oil exports and the kingdom’s alternative energy plans may prove too little too late.

Followed a few paragraphs down by these tidbits:

‘Domestic consumption has been growing very fast as a result of rapid demographics, steady economic growth and heavy subsidies, with the latter leading to excess demand, said Ali Aissaooui, head of economic research at Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation in Saudi Arabia….

Excess demand could affect the capacity of some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to maintain the spare capacity needed to provide flexibility to the global oil market.

The head of state oil firm Saudi Aramco admitted last year that unless internal demand is controlled the amount of oil left for export could fall by 3 million bpd to less than 7 million bpd by 2028.

But Jadwa expects exports to fall far more dramatically, with less than 5 million bpd escaping onto the global market by 2020, thanks to a 60-percent surge in internal demand to nearly 4 million bpd and barely enough new production to offset declines from older fields.

added these statistics:

According to analysts at Riyadh-based Jadwa Investment, oil demand in the kingdom rose by 22 percent between 2007 and 2010, out pacing the Chinese oil demand growth rate despite China’s economy expanding almost three times faster.

Official data shows Saudi oil consumption rose by more than 5 percent a year from 2003-2010 to an average of 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2010. BP statistics put it closer to 2.8 million bpd last year, up 7.1 percent from 2009.

A simultaneous subsidy-driven fuel demand boom and natural gas shortage could see oil consumption hit 6.5 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2030, or over half Saudi’s current production capacity, according to a report by Jadwa published in July.

and finally offered this kicker:

The country’s domestic consumption of energy, especially oil, at very cheap prices, is also likely to rise rapidly, sharply reducing the amount of oil available for export.

It all adds up to a whooper of a problem, one surely not limited to this oil-producing nation. Any reason to think this isn’t happening in other exporting nations now seeking to provide greater opportunities for their own citizens? The end result (as that article noted) is not much of a surprise for those of who living in Fact-Land:

It’s because the decline in oil exports accelerates that the bottleneck in oil made available to importing nations occurs as a ‘crash,’ not the steady decline, or ‘long gradual tail’ so often pictured by authorities like the IEA.


For all the disputes and conflicts and name-calling and finger-pointing that dominates much of the (still-too-limited) public dialogue about our future supplies of fossil fuels, the clarity (and distress) of the Export Land Model is a bit much to ignore. When you add it to the mix of the other facts* suggesting we’re already past the peak in rates of oil production—the nonsense disputing evidence notwithstanding—(as I’ve discussed in recent posts), perhaps it’s time we start engaging in a much more serious, ongoing discussion about what we should be planning and thinking about and doing?

Now would be a very good time.

* As I noted in this post last December: “[E]xploration (deep water or tar sands, anyone?) and production has become more difficult and certainly more expensive, to say nothing of the resource quality. The primary exporters of oil are experiencing increasing domestic demand, and so naturally they are keeping more oil for their own national use. Hard not to understand that that just means less for everyone else. The majority of large producing oil fields are experiencing an inexorable decline in production. A poor worldwide economic environment has restricted investment in exploration and production, and there quite clearly will not be a ramp-up quickly or inexpensively. China is leading the way in higher demand for oil. On and on it goes….”

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2 Comments on "Re-Visiting The Export Land Model (Pt 2)"

  1. Dusko on Tue, 25th Oct 2011 4:38 am 

    The export land model does not take oil theft and smuggling into consideration. Pricing behaviour is the key to understanding who gets oil and who doesn’t. The UK and Hong Kong have the highest prices, therefore they are more resilient to oil scarcity. We need to replace the export land theory with “The export price model.”

  2. Johny K. on Tue, 25th Oct 2011 6:01 pm 

    To combat OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) we need to create OPIC (Organisation of Petroleum Importing Countries)
    OPEC has its quotas to control supply of oil – OPIC should create importing quotas to internally control the demand of oil, and make the demand artificaly low, to lower the oil price below market price (what it would be normally)

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