The term ‘peak oil’ is ominous to the Middle East, as most of the countries in the region are heavily dependent on oil and natural gas for industrial, economic and social development. Petroleum is considered one of the world’s most important sources of energy generation, after uranium, of course. Many other substances have been tested in order to be used as alternatives to petroleum, but none have hitherto been successful. Scientific research illustrates how the world is facing catastrophe if it doesn’t find an alternative to oil, as it is currently impossible for the global economy to grow without sufficient amounts of energy which are adapted to the demands of this growth. There is more discussion now than ever before about how the world is definitely starting to approach a stage of peak oil.
What is Peak Oil
Peak oil is a termed coined by the renowned American geologist King Hubbert in the fifties. He managed to predict an oil peak in several regions in America which would occur in the seventies; and exactly what this scientist predicted did in fact happen. For when oil extraction reaches extreme levels it begins to decline and gradually ends. Oil is considered a finite resource, or one which isn’t renewed as it is used up.
This theory confirms that global oil production has reached its peak today and has started declining inexorably now that 50% of the world’s oil reserves have been consumed. This proves that oil could be on the brink of depletion if clear and serious plans are not put in place to guide consumption and therefore encourage using provisional reserves in the best way. However, this theory is not accepted by many or by those who continue to focus on how large the earth’s oil reserves are, and how they only need investment so that they can be drilled.
Peak Oil Scenario for Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is considered one of the largest global oil exporters and the only one able to regulate and stabilise the global oil market, thanks to its reserve stocks. These reserves are calculated to be at 265.4 billion barrels, or what is enough to last, at the current level of production, for more than 72 years. According to ARAMCO reports, there are around a trillion barrels that will be discovered in the future and will satisfy global demands, despite current consumption, for one whole century.
Saudi Arabia is currently focussing its efforts on drilling and extracting natural gas, as it doesn’t import it but depends on domestic production. Alongside this, the Saudi Kingdom is currently making huge investments in nuclear energy and solar power.
But can natural gas and renewable energy be relied upon as alternatives to oil in order to satisfy Saudi Arabia’s domestic needs, which are rapidly growing each day? According to a recent report by America’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), Saudi Arabia is the largest oil-consuming nation in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia consumed 2.9 million barrels per day of oil in 2013, almost double the consumption in 2000, because of strong industrial growth and subsidised prices. One important contributor to Saudi oil demand is the direct crude oil burn for power generation. There is not just enough fuel oil and natural gas to meet the demand and hence the resorting to crude oil.
Has peak oil really arrived? If not today, then when? And how will it look, especially for countries totally dependent on oil? Will its consequences be different for both developed and under-developed nations? Given that global demand for oil will only grow to exceed 100 million barrels a day after 2020, according to the most extreme estimates, I believe that the time may have come for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to start planning for what follows the oil era.
Despite looming threat of peak oil, power generation capacity in KSA is expected to rise from current level of 58GW to 120GW by 2032, however Saudi Arabia cannot afford to burn rising crude oil volumes for power generation. In spite of the fifth largest natural gas reserves in the world, it does not produce sufficient gas for power generation and for its vast petrochemical industry. The only solution at this point of time is transition to low-carbon economy whereby Saudi Arabia make use of its massive solar energy potential, implement effective measures for improving energy efficiency in the industrial sector and remove huge energy subsidies for industrial and domestic users.
Note: The article has been translated from Arabic by Katie Holland who graduated from Durham University in 2015 with a degree in Arabic and French, having also studied Persian. Currently working in London, she hopes to develop a career that uses her knowledge of Arabic and the Middle East, alongside pursuing her various interests in the arts.