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2008-09 Seminars


Assessing the Ultimate Production of Oil, Gas, and Coal, and the Implications for Fossil-fuel Alternatives and Climate Change

David Rutledge
Tomiyasu Professor of Electrical Engineering
California Institute of Technology

Abstract
An accurate estimate of the ultimate production of oil, gas, and coal would be helpful for the ongoing policy discussion on alternatives to fossil fuels and climate change. By ultimate production, we mean total production, past and future. It takes a long time to develop energy infrastructure, and this means it matters whether we have burned 20% of our oil, gas, and coal, or 40%. In modeling climate change, the carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the most important factor. The time frame for the climate response is much longer than the time frame for burning fossil fuels, and this means that the total amount burned is more important than the rate of burning. Oil, gas, and coal ultimates are traditionally estimated by government geological surveys from measurements of oil and gas reservoirs and coal seams, together with an allowance for future discoveries of oil and gas. We will see that where these estimates can be tested, they tend to be too high, and that more accurate estimates can be made by curve fits to the production history.