Peak Oil ≠ Peak Exports

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By Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon is an Advisory Board Member and Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A wildlife biologist, and environmental scientist and planner, Leon is the author of Where Salmon Come to Die: An Autumn on Alaska's Raincoast, the essay “Overpopulation versus Biodiversity” in Environment and Society: A Reader and was a contributing writer to Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.

In a career that spans three decades, three countries and more than 30 states, Leon has managed environmental impact statements for many federal agencies on projects ranging from dams and reservoirs to coal-fired power plants, power lines, flood control projects, road expansions, management of Civil War battlefields, NASA's Kennedy Space Center operations and a proposed uranium mine on a national forest. He also has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop comprehensive conservation plans at more than 40 national wildlife refuges from the Caribbean to Alaska.

The writer's views are his own.

July 13, 2015

Saudi Arabia must consume ever more of its oil to supply its own exploding population

Population Growth in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s explosive population growth:
The number of Saudis has increased by a
staggering seven times in the last half-century.

“Saudi Arabia is poised to break records for oil production this summer,” reports The Wall Street Journal, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into more crude oil for export to the rest of the world.

Why? Because of the high birth rate and exploding population of this very conservative, staunchly religious Muslim country. The Saudi population has grown by 17 percent just since 2005. Thus, thirsty Saudi consumers themselves are guzzling more and more of their crude oil production for domestic consumption, leaving less available for export. Recently, Saudi domestic energy demand has been increasing by about 8 percent per annum because of population growth, new construction to accommodate that growth and large-scale projects.

WSJ reports that:

More than 25 percent of the country’s crude is consumed domestically by cars, planes, homes and businesses, a figure that rises in the summer and is almost double what the kingdom used in the early part of the last decade.

While a population increase of 17 percent in a decade may not seem overly alarming, this must be viewed in the context of Saudi Arabia’s shocking population growth over the past half-century, and its projected growth to the middle of the current century. Unbelievably, the engorged Saudi population is seven times larger than it was just 50 years ago! In 1961 it was just 4.2 million, but by 2012, it had swollen to 28.7 million. Oil wealth fueled this vertiginous growth.

Yet these mind-boggling results are simply the logical, predictable outcome of exponential population growth extended over time, and not even all that long a period of time at that (well under a typical human lifetime).

Demographers have been warning about Saudi Arabia’s unsustainable growth for decades. And similarly, peak oil analysts have long predicted that eventually Saudi Arabia itself would have to consume most of the oil it produces just to meet the demands of its restless masses.

Saudi Oil Field
By the end of the century, Saudi Arabia will still have camels,
but not massive reservoirs of crude oil.

The authoritative Population Reference Bureau projects that Saudi Arabia’s population will grow by nearly 20 million more to reach 47 million by 2050. If this actually comes to pass, in less than a century Saudi Arabia’s population will have expanded by an order of magnitude (10 times)!

While Saudi Arabia’s fertility rate has fallen to about three children per female today (replacement level is 2.1) from much higher levels several decades ago, three is still high enough to ensure massive, utterly unsustainable, endless population growth, or at least until catastrophe and collapse put a stop to it, and nature itself performs its cruel “population pruning.”

Whatever the ultimate size of its huge crude oil reserves and resources, the largest in the world, by 2050 Saudi crude oil output will be much less than it is today, while its population will be much larger.

Citigroup Inc. has predicted a once unthinkable prospect: that the way things are headed – population headed up and crude oil output eventually headed down – the nation with the largest oil reserves on Earth, and which dominated the international crude oil market for decades, could start having to import oil by 2030. But from where and from whom? Mars? Martians?

A slow-motion train wreck – one long predicted and just as long ignored – is in the making, one with repercussions that will probably affect the entire world.


 

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