Global Oil and Other Liquid Fuels Production Update

  • Global conventional crude oil + condensate production (C+C) attained a value of 73 million barrels per day (Mbpd) in May 2005. Since then conventional C+C has been bumping along a jagged plateau with the all time high of 73.3 reached in July 2008, immediately prior to the Chinese Olympic Games and the financial crash. It seems possible that the peak in global conventional oil production is behind us (Figure 1).
  • All of the growth in global liquid fuels has come from non-conventional sources, shale oil and tar sands, that currently are only produced in N America, and from “other liquids” such as biofuel and natural gas liquids. These liquids are inferior to conventional crude oil in a number of ways such as 1) requiring the use of more energy in their production, 2)  being less energy dense and 3) not usable as liquid transport fuel.

Figure 1 Conventional crude oil + condensate production has been on an undulating plateau just over 73 million barrels per day (Mbpd) since May 2005, that is for almost 10 years and despite record high oil prices! As the remainder of this post will show all of the growth in global liquid fuel supply has come from unconventional and low grade sources of supply. The periodic dips in C+C production reflect OPEC production cuts designed to support the oil price. The fact that OPEC has not cut production when faced with current price weakness has resulted in the recent oil price decline. Note that chart is not zero scaled in order to amplify details. Click chart for large version.

In the good old days, oil was oil. But now oil comes in many different flavours making the analysis of production trends more challenging. As it turns out, this also casts some light on the concept and timing of Peak Oil. Oil is now categorised as conventional crude and condensate (C+C), light tight oil (LTO or shale oil), syncrude (tar sands), natural gas liquids (NGL), biofuels and refinery gains (see Glossary at end of article for definitions). The energy content and ERoEI (energy return on energy invested) of all these categories varies significantly and lumping them all together as “global liquid fuel” obscures the underlying C+C production trends. Stripping out the chaff from the wheat shows that the all time high conventional C+C production peak occurred just before the Chinese Olympic Games in July 2008 when 73.26 million barrels per day was produced.

Figure 2 shows the big picture where total global liquid fuel continues to rise. The plateau that many felt may have been reached in 2004-2008 has been swept away by subsequent increases liquid hydrocarbon production.  The 73 million bpd plateau in Figure 1 is converted to 92 million bpd by the addition of syncrude, shale oil, natural gas liquids, processing gains and biofuels that now amount to some 19 million bpd, 21% of the global total.

Figure 2 World total liquid fuel production. Conventional crude oil and condensate in blue. Since 2005 all of the significant growth in liquid fuels production has come from unconventional and low grade liquid fuel sources (Figure 3). 

Figure 3 Non-conventional C+C and other liquids production. 50% of the total is from natural gas liquids. These will continue to grow in lock step with natural gas production. Only a small portion of NGL is used in transport fuel, the remainder used for heating and petrochemicals feedstock (Figure 4). Individually, shale oil, syncrude and biofuels are not that significant, but collectively they add significantly to global liquid fuel the vast majority being produced in North America.

Figure 4 The uses of natural gas liquids according to the EIA. Some NGL is used in transportation, but much goes to other uses such as petrochemicals and heating.

The OECD economies and global economy remain stuck in the mud. Economic growth requires access to growing supplies of cheap energy, especially oil. Since May 2005, conventional supplies of crude oil stopped growing and energy prices have remained high, in part due to persistent high prices for fossil fuels and in part due to international energy policies that mandate use of new renewable energy sources that are expensive and disruptive.

The recent fall in the oil price, taken as good news by politicians and the public, may actually result in greater constraint on future supplies. The world may yet learn that having ample supplies of expensive oil is better than inadequate supplies of cheap oil.

The extent to which a peak in conventional oil production is responsible for economic malaise and widespread global unrest remains to be assessed. It is a complex picture of debt, geopolitics, economics, geology and technology. Only time will tell.


Glossary of terms

Conventional Crude Oil and Condensate is the black stuff that normally flows from sub-surface reservoirs to the surface under natural buoyancy pressure. This is the stuff that flows out of the North Sea, Middle East, Texas and Nigeria. It is not always black and there is a continuum towards very light and gassy oil that is called condensate that is a clear amber coloured liquid, like gasoline, when it comes out of the ground.

Light tight oil or shale oil is very similar to the light and gassy conventional crude oil apart from it occurs in rocks that lack the permeability to allow it to flow to surface under its own steam. To exploit these resources it is therefore necessary to artificially create permeability through fracking the rocks. This creates permeable fracture networks allowing the liquids to flow to well bore and then to surface.

Syncrude and tar sands are ultra heavy oil deposits found mainly in Alberta, Canada, but also in Venezuela. They are developed through either a mining process or through a process called steam assisted gravity drainage where steam is pumped underground to make the viscous liquids flow. The bitumen produced requires “upgrading” to synthetic crude oil by the addition of hydrogen.

Biofuels come in three main varieties. Sugar cane ethanol from Brazil, corn ethanol mainly from N America and biodiesel produced from crops like rape in Europe. Temperate latitude biofuels tend to have ERoEI around 1 where  the main energy inputs are natural gas (ammonia fertiliser), diesel and electricity. Temperate biofuels therefore do not actually represent energy production but rather energy conversion of methane+diesel+electricity+land/soil+water to make a liquid fuel.

Natural gas liquids are C1 to C5 gaseous hydrocarbons produced with natural gas (C1 – methane). These condense in sub-sea pipelines or are recovered in natural gas processing plants. In general, NGL has been increasing in lock step with global gas production. Their inclusion with liquid fuel production is questionable. Their use is detailed in Figure 4.

Refinery gains are a correction applied to account for volumetric expansion of liquids during the refining process. Refinery gains have been increasing since the global crude supply has been marching towards increasingly heavy grades of crude oil. If production was measured by mass (i.e. tonnes) then refinery gains would be reduced.

Data and Methods

1) Global crude + condensate, biofuels, NGL and refinery gains from the Energy Information Agency (EIA)
2) Canadian syncrude and crude bitumen from National Energy Board Canada
3) Bakken shale oil production from North Dakota State Government
4) Shale oil production in Canada from National Energy Board of Canada up to 2012 and extrapolated thereafter.
5) Eagle Ford shale oil production from the Texas Railroad Commission

Canadian tar sands production and N American shale oil production was deducted from the EIA global C+C totals to give the C+C less tar and shale production shown in Figure 1. The compilation of other charts should be self explanatory.

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24 Responses to Global Oil and Other Liquid Fuels Production Update

  1. dcoyne1984 says:

    Hi Euan,

    It would seem to make sense to adjust barrels of biofuels and NGL to Barrels of oil equivalent(boe).
    This is easily done by multiplying NGL and biofuels by 0,7 to account for the lower energy content per barrel. At the link below I use BP’s metric tonnes of oil and then convert to barrels using BP’s 7.33 barrels/metric ton.

    From 2007 to 2013 all liquids consumption increased from 81 Mboe/d to 84 Mboe/d.
    Over the same period C+C output increased from 73 Mb/d to 76 Mb/d.

  2. Great summary. Net energy would be essential to see!


  3. Sam Taylor says:


    Presumably refinery gain would actually represent a net energy loss, since no energy is gained by cracking the hydrocarbons, and the process itself is somewhat energy intensive?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Sam, I am plotting liquid volume here in millions of barrels per day. And denser heavy oil has volume expansion when it is refined. There are a lot of good and valid ideas flying around like adjusting for energy content and ERoEI (net energy). It becomes difficult to be consistent. For example, do you chop all N American biofuel because it has zero net energy? And do you only count the liquid transport fuel component of LNG? The non-C+C part can be sliced and diced a dozen ways.

      It should suffice to know that non-C+C amounts to 19 million bpd and that could potentially be reduced by over 50% depending upon ones prejudice.

      • Sam Taylor says:

        I understand that, I’m just not all that familiar with the refining side of things, so was trying to clear that up in my head. I’m more interested in upstream to be honest.

        I suppose that the flipside of the refinery gain coin is that the heavier unrefined oil would not be in a state fit for any use. An increase in energy quality/usability is still a good thing I guess. However it still seems a little odd to me that the eia choose to include it in their total liquids statistics.

        Incidentally, is there a reason that it’s impossible to separate out the crude and the condensate in the stats? I can never seem to find numbers for just one or the other.

      • dcoyne1984 says:

        Hi Euan,

        The energy content is quite easily done and is well agreed. The energy return on energy invested (eroei) estimates can vary quite a bit depending on where one draws the boundry for energy invested so that metric is much less clear cut. To me, counting a barrel of ethanol or ngl in the same way as the average barrel of crude when each barrel of NGL or ethanol (which is the bulk of the liquid biofuel) contains only 70% (at most) of the energy of the average barrel of crude. This would only affect figures 2 and 3 of your post.

        Also note that the Texas RRC statistics are not very good, the best way to use them is to find the percentage of Eagle Ford and Permian output(of which about 40% is conventional) relative to total Texas C+C output and then multiply by the EIA Texas C+C estimate. The most recent 12 months of Texas RRC data will always underestimate actual output due to slow reporting in Texas.

      • dcoyne1984 says:

        “It should suffice to know that non-C+C amounts to 19 million bpd and that could potentially be reduced by over 50% depending upon ones prejudice.”

        I would have said non-conventional, I consider Canadian oil sands output and LTO as C+C output, in fact oil sands are quite heavy and some of the LTO (Eagle Ford especially) is very light, the average may not be that different from the average Worldwide barrel of crude in terms of energy per barrel.

        So Figure 3 only would need to reduce the 13 Mb/d of Biofuels and NGL by 4 Mb/d because those barrels only contain about 70% of the energy of the average crude barrel.

        In barrels of oil equivalent the nonconventional liquids amount to about 15 Mboe/d.

  4. Ralph W says:

    Another complication (or deliberate muddying of the waters) is that a lot of LTO is high API. In fact, the density of oil (or mix of heavy and light hydrocarbons) is extremely variable between fracked wells even within the same field. The API is often so high that the oil needs careful mixing of batches to bring the average density above the minimum to meet the specification of oil, which itself not clearly defined. In fact, a high percentage of LTO is for practical purposes condensate and not oil. This is one reason for the surge in deadly train fires in the US and Canada – the oil is so light that it does not burn in an accident – it explodes.

    This is the primary reason why there is call to allow the USA to start exporting oil. They are still the world’s second largest net importer of oil, but the LTO they produce is too light to be used economically in the US refineries which are optimised for heavy oils. It could be put to better use (and fetch a better price for the drillers) if it was exported to European refineries which generally process lighter oils.

    And of course, the LTO has a lower energy density than other crude oils, and some peak oilers claim that it even consumes more diesel fuel to drill for some barrels of LTO than can be refined from the LTO produced. DRODI below one, if you like.

  5. Since then conventional C+C has been bumping along a jagged plateau with the all time high of 73.3 reached in July 2008, immediately prior to the Chinese Olympic Games and the financial crash. It seems possible that the peak in global conventional oil production is behind us (Figure 1).

    I would say the financial crash, which began in the US in 3Q 2008, had a lot more to do with it than the Chinese Olympic Games. I think we are going to have to wait until the world recovers fully from the 2008 recession, if indeed it ever does, to see whether the peak in conventional C+C really is a peak or just a blip in the trend. It’s only a very tiny peak anyway. 🙂

    • Sam Taylor says:


      Chinese demand absolutely surged by almost 1mbpd in the run-up to the olympics in may 2008 (see this image)

      In the same month oil prices hit around $140. I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence.

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  7. “The world may yet learn that having ample supplies of expensive oil is better than inadequate supplies of cheap oil.”
    Yes, but how on earth could inadequate supply go along with low prices ? Economics 101 would tell us, that the price would rise after a supply shortage, wouldn’t it ? Andreas

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Andreas, if current price weakness deepens and is prolonged then we will likely see global production capacity decline. When demand picks up against reduced capacity I would then expect to see another spike in price, but perhaps not so high as the July 2008 super spike.

      I have this theme of broken markets on the backside of Hubbert’s peak. Keep meaning to write a post. Economics 101 breaks down. It has to do with over production of expensive oil dumping price below the profit level. If new capacity coming on cost $5 / bbl the fall in price would not matter and would stimulate demand for all that cheap oil. It is not so easy to stimulate demand for expensive oil.

  8. Euan,
    so if you compare the today’s picture with what was commonly expected on TOD let’s say pre 2008 – what would be the most striking difference to those secanarios: The emergence of non- or quasi crude oil liquid fuels ? Or would it be the fact, that it has been possible to maintain C+C production nearly unchanged, despite ongoing depletion/decline in legacy production site ?

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  10. Ed says:

    A brilliant summary of where we are at.

    I bang on about Net energy available to society (ie Net of the energy used by the energy sector) but have no figures or graphs to hang my hat on. Would love a detailed analysis of Net energy production from oil (all sources of oil), Net energy production from all fossil fuels and Net energy production from all energy sources.

    I have tentative assertion that World GDP will peak at the same time as we reach the Net energy peak.

  11. Max Wolfe says:

    Although I am ignorant of most of this science may I point out that the price of oil has been used by the USA to pay the interest on its massive £17Tr debt & needs this money running through its accounts. Currently China & Russia are selling oil in Yuan & Saudi claims the USA to be in breach of their defence agreement so they are shifting.
    As the USA has in the past been willing to go to war to protect its PetroDollar in Iraq,Libya,Syria & possibly Iran how long will it be before it either/both sinks & attacks Russia, the source of the largest supplies of the worlds oil?
    The price of oil & the oil reserves are then secondary to the USA debt which was created mostly by pentagon overspending.
    The realities of the war & fraud oil corporations links to the instability of the world economy, to the Bankers who control the money supply & the arms manufacturers.
    This acceptance of fraud has spread into our own Real Economies with The Fracking Fraud in which the UK Government is charging UK Consumers £150 Bn on their energy bills to subsidise UK Petroleum which will produce no profitable oil & no reduction in energy prices.
    With reference to the Claire oil field’s massive new reserves I would suggest that the financial benefits of oil reserves are only of benefit to those in the Corporate Economy as the UK/UK/EU governments have resolved to keep their populations in enforced unemployment & poverty to protect their own bureaucracies.
    The fact that new technologies hoping to create a better world seem to either disappear or face unexplained disaster cannot be dismissed.

  12. Bernard Durand says:

    Euan, could you elaborate on the origin of condensates: are they coming mostly from the oil phase or from the gas phase of oil and gas reservoirs. It seems important to me to separate crude and condensate in the curves so as to see if they evolve in parallel ways or in differents ways?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Bernard, as you know there is a continuum between oil and gas. We start with C1 (methane) and go all the way up to the C40s. When you bury and oil prone source rock it will first give off black oil, then at higher pressure and temperature, light oil (that is often amber coloured clear liquid), then condensate and then gas. Condensate is ofetn treated differently because of its thermodynamic characteristics. In the reservoir it is a liquid, but drop the pressure during production and it goes two phase – liquid and gas. This is bad for production and recovery and so normally gas produced at surface is re-injected to maintain reservoir pressure and a reflux operation strips out all the liquids. The production stream becomes leaner and leaner in the liquid component until eventually they will let pressure decline and blow down the gas.

      Personally I don’t feel it is too important to distinguish condensate liquids from other oil. Lines have to be drawn somewhere.

      • Bernard Durand says:

        Euan, I don’t completely agree. If the condensate comes mostly from the gas phase ( gas caps and gas pools), it could be that , since gas production is globally increasing, crude sensu stricto is already decreasing. This has little consequences on the energy content of the barrel, but has some on refineries.

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