Oil production is likely to peak before 2030, with a significant risk of a peak in the next 10 years, according to the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).
The UKERC claims that its report is the first study to take an independent and systematic review of the evidence and arguments in the ‘peak oil' debate.
The report states that oil will become increasingly expensive and harder to find, extract and produce. Significant new discoveries, such as the one announced recently in the Gulf of Mexico, are only expected to delay the peak by a matter of days and weeks.
According to the UKERC, to maintain global oil production at today’s level will require the equivalent of a new Saudi Arabia every three years. The report concludes that the UK is not the only country that is unprepared for such an event.
Steve Sorrell, the report's chief author and senior researcher at UKERC, said: ‘In our view, forecasts that delay a peak in conventional oil production until after 2030 are at best optimistic and at worst implausible.
‘Given the world's overwhelming dependence on oil and the time required to develop alternatives, 2030 isn't far away. The concern is that rising oil prices will encourage the rapid development of carbon-intensive alternatives that will make it difficult or impossible to prevent dangerous climate change.’
The report supports more optimistic estimates of the size of oil resources but adds that much of this is in smaller, less accessible fields that may only be produced relatively slowly and at a high cost. It also highlights the accelerating decline in production from existing fields, and states that these need to be replaced by 2030 to maintain production.
Sorrell added: ‘It makes no sense to provide precise forecasts of when a peak in oil production will occur. The data is unreliable, there are multiple factors to consider and a 'bumpy plateau' seems more likely than a sharp peak. But, we can say that the window is narrowing rapidly.
'The effects of global oil depletion will depend greatly on the response from governments and on the scale of investment in new energy technologies.’