GLOBAL supplies of conventional oil are likely to peak by 2030, with a “significant risk” of a peak before 2020, a new assessment by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has concluded.

“There is a growing consensus that the age of cheap oil is coming to an end,” the UKERC study, “Global Oil Depeletion”, says.

The authors warn that without early investment in strategies to reduce oil demand and deliver new energy sources, dwindling supplies of cost-effective energy from conventional oil could cramp the global economy.

The US Department of Energy has calculated that such investment would need to begin at least 20 years before oil supplies peak to avoid serious energy shortfalls.

UKERC acknowledges that there a large uncertainties in predicting the timing of “peak oil”, but argues that there is sufficient information available to make an adequate assessment.

It puts the timing of “peak oil” somewhere between 2009 and 2030.

“Although this range appears wide in the light of forecasts of an imminent peak, it may be a relatively narrow window in terms of the lead time to develop substitute fuels,” the authors say.

The challenge of heading off peak oil through more exploitation of existing reserves is “at best … likely to prove extremely challenging”.

The authors judge that the global oil industry needs to open up the equivalent of a new Saudia Arabia every three years just to maintain production at current levels.

More than two-thirds of current crude oil production will need to be replaced by 2030, just to prevent production from falling.

Remaining global oil reserves are now estimated to lie in a broad range between 2000-4300 billion barrels. Total global oil consumption by 2007 was 1128 billion barrels.

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