Running out of Saudi oil

If the proponents of fracking are of the opinion, the method heralds the beginning of a new oil age: Fracking should not only ensure cheap fuel prices, but also make producing states independent of countries like Russia or Saudi Arabia.

However, environmentalists fear that fracking will contaminate the groundwater if various chemicals are discharged into the ground. A new study now also dampens expectations from an economic point of view. The method with which production systems extract oil and gas from deep layers of rock using hydraulic pressure only insignificantly delay the end of fossil resources, write the scientists of the "Energy Watch Group" in their report "Fossil and Nuclear Fuels - the Supply Outlook".

"We will still experience the paradigm shift this decade. Instead of a little more every year, there will be a little less energy resources every year," said study leader Werner Zittel at the presentation of the study in Berlin. The shortage will first become noticeable in oil. A petrol price of two euros per liter is therefore conceivable within the next five years.

According to the scientists, gas and coal production will peak in 2020. The production of oil has already exceeded the maximum today. Compared to 2012, oil production is expected to fall by 40 percent in 2030. Even fracking will not change that. However, it is controversial when the global funding maximum will be reached.

According to the study, new methods have not led to more oil being extracted, but kept falling production at a certain level. The experts write that global funding has remained constant since 2005.

The report of the Energy Watch Group, an international network of scientists and parliamentarians with a focus on sustainability research, contrasts with another important study. In November, the International Energy Agency (IEA), based in Paris, published its report "World Energy Outlook 2013" (summary as PDF). There it is said that coal, oil and gas will continue to dominate the global energy mix beyond 2030 - because both demand and output will continue to increase.

Fracking, particularly in the United States, has fueled hopes for long-term prosperity from fossil fuels. In 2005, the Americans bought 60 percent of their oil on the world market; today it is only a little more than 40 percent. The USA, one of the largest oil importers in the world for decades, is on the verge of being able to cover a large part of the demand from its own production. The IEA estimates that in 2017 the USA will replace Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer and become less dependent on imports. Around 2030, the country is likely to become a net exporter of oil.

The example of the USA also arouses high expectations among European governments and business associations. In Germany there is disagreement about the controversial funding through fracking, state governments in Bavaria, for example, are resisting it. However, the federal government expects revenues in the billions from undeveloped gas areas. In times of uncertain energy supply through renewable energies, they should offer a reliable alternative.

The high price for fossil raw materials and weakened environmental regulations in countries like the USA have fueled new extraction methods, the experts from the Energy Watch Group analyze. But the boom in America is also coming to an end: From 2015 to 2017, funding should decrease significantly.

The lower oil production will soon lead to an "energy gap" worldwide. This could not be replenished by other fossil raw materials such as coal or gas, especially since these energy sources will also reach their limits in the future.

© Süddeutsche.de / jab / bavo