World oil supply and unconventional resources : Bottom-up perspectives on tight oil production

Abstract: Oil is the world’s largest primary energy source. It dominates the transportation sector which underpins the world economy. Yet, oil is a nonrenewable resource, destined not to last forever. In the mid-2000s global conventional oil production stagnated, leading to rising oil prices and fears of permanent oil scarcity. These fears, together with the high prices, receded with the unforeseen emergence of a new supply source: tight oil.This licentiate thesis investigates unconventional tight oil production and its impacts on world oil supply in terms of resource availability and oil market dynamics, and in turn briefly discusses some possible wider economic, political and environmental implications of these impacts. The thesis is based on three papers. The first investigates the usefulness of bottom-up modelling by a retrospective study of past oil projections. The second looks at how unconventional tight oil production can be modelled on the well level using decline curve analysis. The third derives typical production parameters for conventional offshore oil fields, a growing segment of conventional production and a useful comparison to tight oil.The results show that tight oil production has increased resource availability significantly, as well as introduced a fast responding marginal supply source operating on market principles rather than political ones. The emergence of tight oil production has altered OPEC’s strategic options and led to a period of lower and less volatile oil prices. However, this condition of world oil supply can only last as long as the unconventional resource base allows, and, at the same time, total fossil fuel consumption will have to fall to limit climate change. It is concluded that this breathing space with lower oil prices could be used as an opportunity to develop and implement policy for an efficient managed decline of global oil use in order to achieve the dual goals of increased human economic welfare and limited climate change, and in the process preempt any future oil supply shortage. Unconventional tight oil production can both help and hinder in this endeavor. Accurate models and analyses of oil production dynamics and impacts are therefore crucial when maneuvering towards this preferred future.

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