Oil Change International

Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels

Oil’s new supply boom is a bust for the climate

What if you knew that smoking that one last packet of cigarettes was going to give you cancer?  Imagine if our understanding of cancer was so precise as to allow doctors to predict with virtual certainty that smoking that particular pack, which you just picked up at the corner store, would definitely be the last straw and cause you to contract life-threatening cancer?  Obviously, you would not smoke that pack.

In the world today, global warming is our collective cancer, and despite dire and clear warnings, the oil industry is still smoking away. The best climate science in the world tells us that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.  But the amount of new oil production the industry is bringing online over the next eight years is exponentially more than we can afford to burn and stay under two degrees.  We simply cannot afford to burn all the oil that the industry is capable of producing over the next few years, and in the long term.

It is worth noting that this is a new equation that reaches essentially the same conclusion as the Carbon Tracker / Bill McKibben Math, but by using the actual plans of the industry itself rather than estimates of fuels in the ground.  Carbon Tracker measured the total amount of carbon in fossil fuels in existing reserves (2,795 gigatons) and found them to be five times more than can be safely burned (565 gigatons).  That is terrifying, although this does not tell us along what timeline those reserves will be pulled out of the ground.

In this case, we are looking at what the oil industry is building or is expected to build in the next eight years (110.6 million barrels per day of oil production capacity), and comparing it to what experts agree that our oil usage needs to be in just the next eight years if we are to avoid climate disaster (88.1 million barrels per day).  In short, what this new analysis tells us is that the oil industry is in fact developing more than enough oil over the next 8 years to lock in climate chaos.

Oil’s New Supply Boom

In June 2012, a paper from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs shook the energy policy world.  The paper was titled Oil: The Next Revolution.

In the paper, Leonardi Maugeri, a former executive at Italian oil giant ENI and fellow of the Belfer Center’s Geopolitics of Energy Project, detailed the astounding level of investment and activity going on in the global oil industry today.

Maugeri conducted a unique field-by-field analysis of the major oil projects proposed and under construction in most of the world’s oil producing zones. He concluded that just less than 50 million barrels per day (b/d) of oil production capacity is potentially under development through to 2020.  He adjusted this down to 28.6 million b/d after factoring risks that would prevent some of these projects materializing.

When factoring in the decline in production from currently producing fields he concluded that by 2020 global oil production capacity could reach 110.6 million b/d (See Figure 1).

The United States and Canada are at the forefront of this oil boom. Triggered by high global oil prices, the development of technology to access unconventional oil resources in these countries is a significant factor in the global oil boom. Canada’s tar sands and America’s tight oil, obtained through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling, are the new heavyweights in North American oil production.

Maugeri’s analysis has U.S. production growing by 3.5 million b/d by 2020, to 11.6 million b/d[1]; this factors-in infrastructural constraints on development and decline in existing fields. He forecasts Canadian oil production, led by tar sands production and tight oil, growing 2.2 million b/d to 5.5 million b/d. See Table. So the U.S. and Canada alone could be contributing 32% of the world’s oil production growth over the next 8 years.

Table 1: Maugeri forecast for global oil and NGL production capacity in 2020 in million barrels per day

Production Capacity


Estimated New Production Capacity

Estimated  Additional  Capacity after Depletion

Estimated Production Capacity 2020











Rest of World










US/Can. %





Maugeri’s analysis indicates that the global oil industry, with North America leading the charge, is currently investing in an energy production scenario that guarantees global climate chaos.

Finally, it should be noted that Maugeri’s analysis of the industry’s growth is by no means the most aggressive.  Citigroup, for one, has a much more bullish scenario for the North American oil industry that has been widely cited, including by both U.S. Presidential campaigns.

Narrow pathway for climate stability

The International Energy Agency produces annual energy demand forecasts using several scenarios.  These scenarios include one that charts where current policies take us and another mapping where policies that would have a strong chance at constraining climate change to within 2 degrees would place energy demand.

If we use the 2011 IEA scenarios as a benchmark, the difference between the oil production capacity that the industry is currently planning for 2020 and where oil demand must be to constrain climate change is a staggering 22.5 million barrels per day.

Therefore, 79% of the oil production capacity being planned today for 2020 is over and above the safe level of global oil demand in that year.

Scenario Oil Use Predicted Average Global Warming
2010 Global Oil Demand 86.7 million b/d 0.8 degrees C (actual)
2020 – IEA Current Policies (path we are on) 94.6 million b/d 6 degrees C
2020 – IEA 450 (path we need to get on) 88.1 million b/d 2 degrees C
2020- Maugeri forecast oil production capacity 110.6 million b/d >8 degrees C?

Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that the IEA Current Policies Scenario is in line with a rise in global temperatures of 6oC. This is commonly considered to herald an unlivable planet. Even under this disastrous scenario the industry’s current objectives represent an excess of 16 million b/d.

Spurred on by rising oil prices since 2003, the global oil industry, with the U.S. and Canada at the forefront, has invested billions of dollars in developing technology to access billions of barrels of previously inaccessible oil. This may have postponed the so-called “peak oil” crisis but it has precipitated a far worse crisis that will be irreversible.

The IEA 2 degree Scenario (also known as the 450 Scenario, which recent science suggests is conservative), states that global oil demand should peak by 2018 and steadily decline thereafter. We are currently not on that trajectory, but investing in and developing capacity to surpass it by over 25% can only guarantee that we will not make it. Instead, the world needs to aggressively invest in oil demand reduction rather than a continued unsustainable binge.

We need to constrain global oil production to within climate limits now, before the oil industry locks us into inevitable climate disaster.


-This post was authored by Lorne Stockman, Steve Kretzmann, and David Turnbull.

[1] This includes Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs).

[2] Production capacity is not the same as production, the world totals include spare production capacity in OPEC.

Comments (4)

  1. We need to incorporate a new legal concept into our consciousness, ecocide. The campaign has begun lead by Polly Higgins a UK lawyer and author or The Earth is Our Business to have large scale long term damage or destruction of our environment recognized as criminal conduct, ecocide that should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
    This article points out to what must be viewed as global human, environmental and economic accounting fraud by politicians and the petroleum corporations and their investors as to the impact of their business plans. Throughout history ruthless murderous greed has driven humans to commit horrible atrocities such as slavery, colonialism, the holocaust, genocide and now ecocide.
    That may sound extreme but the destabilisation of our planets climate will result in ecosystem collapse due to increasing heat, ocean acidification and sea level rise. Hurricane Sandy will not be the last disaster to wreck havoc on people’s lives and our coastal communities. For an example of the capacity of corporate leaders to profit from horrific values you just have to look at the epidemic of illness, cancer, trauma and death by the tobacco and sugar contaminated foods corporations.
    We have to ask are political and corporate leader capable of ecocide and what we need to do to address the threat it poses to national security, human mental, physical, spiritual, environmental and economic well being.
    Are the following acts ecocide that are threatening our future?
    • Climate destabilisation causing arctic and global ecosystem damage and collapse;
    • Ocean acidification and ecosystem destruction;
    • 400 dead zones in our oceans, due to fertilizer and chemicals;
    • BP toxic oil disaster, that was not a spill;
    • Destruction of the Amazon and Congo ecosystems;
    • Destruction of the Aral Sea in Southern Russia;
    • Destruction of Boreal forest ecosystems due to strip mining in the tar sands plus the creation of toxic lakes, massive species impact;
    • Sabotage of the electric vehicle in Californian in 2000
    • Plundering of forest resources (Indonesia, Madagascar +) ;
    • Plundering of fish resources(Cod, Blue fin tuna, sharks, whales);
    • Chevrons toxic genocide in Equator;
    • Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline or tanker disaster /date to be determined;
    • Proposed mega quarry North of Toronto that is threatening food and water security.

    To find out more about this campaign visit http://thisisecocide.com/
    If you support this campaign write your elected official and ask what they intend to do to protect your nation and your family from ecocidal corporate agendas.

    Gordon Chamberlain
    Eradicating Ecocide Canada

  2. William Webber says:

    Could you clarify these projections somewhat? When you say in your final table that (say) the Maugeri forecast output by 2020 will lead to >8 c warming, is

    1. Warming by 2020

    2. Warming by some later date (say, 2100)

    ? And are you saying that this warming will be caused by:

    1. That level of consumption _in that year_.

    2. A projection of consumption over some extended period for which the consumption level at that year acts as a determinating parameter.




  3. Emily Coats says:

    Interesting that the Maugeri paper was funded by BP…

  4. Lorne Stockman says:


    The potential rise in average global temperatures of 6 degrees is generally considered to be by the end of this century. Note that in the table we put a question mark against 8 degrees as no one (to our knowledge) has predicted a temperature rise that high but we used it to illustrate how far beyond the IEA scenarios the level of oil production forecast in Maugeri’s report goes. The IEA does not have an 8 degree scenario.

    That level of warming will not be caused exclusively by this oil production. We are simply using the only reliable global model of energy production and consumption that factors in the effect of those consumption levels on global atmospheric carbon and climate as a benchmark. The IEA’s 6 Degree Scenario forecasts global oil demand at 94.6 million barrels per day in 2020. Following that trajectory of oil demand will be a result of failing to implement policies to improve efficiency and control emissions which will, in time, lead to the 6 degree rise, according to the IEA’s model.

    The IEA’s 2 degree model calculates the likely energy balance in order to stabilize atmospheric carbon at 450ppm, which gives us a 50/50 chance of keeping average global temperature rise from going beyond 2 degrees (C). In that model, oil demand is lower in 2020 than in the 6 degree model and sharply declines thereafter.

    The climate effect of the level of production forecast by Maugeri is not solely about the emissions from that oil production and consumption but is based on how it fits within these IEA models.

    Theoretically, we could consume 110.6 million b/d of oil in 2020 and not tip the climate over if we are burning far less coal for example. But of course all of these scenarios and models take into account a reasonable assessment of the global energy portfolio.

    I hope that answers your questions.

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