Summary and Comments by Ugo Bardi

ASPO-5: The Fifth International Conference on Oil and Gas Depletion

July 18 19 2006, San Rossore (Pisa. Italy)

Summary and comments by Ugo Bardi

Aug 23, 2006

The Fifth International Conference on Oil and Gas Depletion (ASPO-5) took place on July 18-19 2006 in the park of San Rossore, not far from the leaning tower of Pisa. Sponsored by a number of organizations, private and public, including the Presidency of the Tuscan regional government and the Italian Ministry of the Environment, the meeting has collected more than 250 participants, 25 experts from all over the world presenting their views, more than 20 poster presentations, more than 30 media representatives and several media teams.

ASPO-5 was the fifth of a series of conferences organized by the Association for the Study or Peak Oil and Gas. A characteristic of this year’s meeting has been the linking of the conference to the political institutions of the hosting country. The ASPO-5 meeting in San Rossore had as sponsors the Italian Ministry of the Environment and the Tuscan Regional Presidency. It preceded and introduced the “New Global Vision” (NGV-2006) conference directly organized by the Tuscan Government, this year with the title “Energy: the problem and the solutions”. The president of Tuscany, Claudio Martini, declared that, in view of the problems of pollution and of dwindling natural resources, a priority for Tuscany is to exit from the dependency on oil by developing renewable energies, already producing about 30% of the region electrical power.

A list of the speakers and of their affiliations is reported at the end of this document. In the following, their contribution is summarized according to the main themes of the conference, which were:

1. Resource assessment. The basis of all depletion studies lies in a geological data assessing the real consistency of the fossil resources.

2. Economics and modelling. It is not enough to know what we have; we must go beyond primitive concepts such as the “resources/production” ratio. We need to model how and how fast the economic system is going to exploit these resources. We also need to know how the dynamics of fossil fuel production is going to affect and is being affected by the economic system.

3. Technology and mitigation. There are several ways to mitigate the problem of the reduced availability of fossil fuels. There are ways to accelerate the finding and enhance the recovery of fossil resources, to shift from one fuel to another, and to rely on new energy sources or new technologies, not based on fossils, i.e. renewables.

4. Policy and politics. The use of mineral resources is strongly affected by political factors and politics can bring solutions to the problem of depletion by encouraging the use of new resources and regulating the use of traditional ones. Substantial changes in lifestyle cannot be avoided and need to be encouraged.

Resource estimations were reported by several speakers. The most comprehensive presentation was probably by Laherrere, who concluded that oil resources are poorly reported and probably overestimated. Data on oil resources were also reported by Aleklett, Bauquis, Campbell, Skrebowsky, Salameh, and others. There seems to be a general consensus that oil resources have been exploited to the point that “conventional” oil is becoming scarce. Gerling presented extensive data on global coal resources, which appear to be relatively abundant in comparison to oil, whereas Kolodzej reported on the North American natural gas which is likely to result in a coming supply crisis owing to the regional nature of the gas market. Bourdaire compared the worldwide resourcesof oil, gas and coal arriving to the conclusion that all three resources could peak before mid 21st century.

Modelling of the future use of the remaining resources was made using variations of the Hubbert approach by Aleklett, Bourdaire, Campbell, Heinberg, Laherrere and Bauquis. Hirsch used a simplified version of the model to address his mitigation scenarios. The Hubbert model was theoretically examined by Michel, while a more sophisticated curve fitting model based on the Bass model is reported by Guseo; by this method, peaking of conventional oil is shown to have taken place in 2005. Dynamic modelling of resources exploitation was presented by Meadows and Trjissenaar. In both cases, the models stress the need of a global view of resource exploitation, well beyond the case of oil alone. Salameh and McKillop discussed the effect of depletion on the world markets and prices, while Barillaro discussed the speculative elements of the oil market. Hall stressed how all models must take into account the concept of EROI (or EROEI), energy return for energy invested and that the EROEI for oil extraction is becoming smaller with time, indicating serious troubles ahead. Leggett linked the depletion problem to that of climate change, emphasizing the potential threat to climate of switching to coal.

On the mitigation side, technological advances in natural gas extraction were reported by Racheli. Hirsch quantitatively examined the possibility of mitigating peak oil by means of various technologies based on other fossil fuels, concluding that the dwindling oil production cannot be countered in this way unless mitigation starts well before the peak. Some of the speakers (mainly Bauquis) favored a return to nuclear energy, whereas Hall showed that the EROEI of nuclear fission is too low for making it a significant alternative to oil. Rock proposed another approach to engineering design based on the concept of net energy profit ratio (NEPR) to take into account depletion. Several new renewable technologies were presented in the poster session.

Policy solutions and political issues were examined from a variety of viewpoints. All speakers invited governments and policymakers to consider the problem of resource depletion and to implement appropriate policies. Campbell and Heinberg reported on the “Oil Depletion Protocol” a proposal to limit the amount of oil extractable from the ground to levels anticipating the predicted decline. Heinberg, Hopkins and Gunther examined a “bottom-up” response to peak oil, where dwindling resources are countered by a cultural and economical re-adaptation; in particular Gunther spoke about "peak food" and about “ruralization” of the present urban agglomerates. Morgan reported on the reaction of the Cuban society to the local scarcity of oil. Metz presented an analysis of the business sectors with a positive selfinterest to engage in the Peak Oil debate. The national ASPOs can find more support for their concerns with such companies - the potential victims of future energy unsecurity and unexpected energy prices - than with most fossil fuel corporations. Sanders went in some detail in examining how the economic and military system of the United States depends on oil resources whereas Ward examined the geopolitical contrast between Iran and the US suggesting that an armed conflict may take place soon. Finally, Prodi, as member of the European Parliament, stated that Europe should be more conscious of the problem and perspectives of peak oil. Other political representatives spoke also at ASPO-5, namely Ryan, Artusa and Roggiolani, all stressing the need of a society less dependent on oil.

Summarizing the results of the conference, there are different views on how serious the depletion problem is and on how fast depletion is taking place. However, when the field is freed from naïve misinterpretations, such as understanding peak oil as meaning that “we are running out of oil”, it seems that a remarkable degree of agreement is emerging. Most analysts admit that we are facing a depletion problem and that the high prices of oil and of all mineral commodities cannot be attributed to contingent factors alone, such as speculation or political factors. For several mainstream analysts, it still seems difficult to pronounce the word “peak oil”, but they can still correctly describe the situation. For instance, Gerard Doucet, president of the World Energy Council, WEC, who spoke at the NGV conference immediately after ASPO-5, stated that we’ll have to get used to higher costs of energy and that these high costs are related to the progressive depletion of “easy” resources.

The main point that is emerging from ASPO-5 and from the discussions before and after it is that “peak oil” is becoming such a commomplace concept that it may be time de-emphasize it. The peak is an important event, but it is not, in itself, a major discontinuity and surely it is not the end of the world. It is, rather, an element of a continuously changing curve where the relevant parameter is the energetic cost (EROEI) of the mineral resource. The EROEI becomes gradually lower as the resource is extracted and it is this change that leads to the gradual peaking and decline of production. There is no real discontinuity in the curve, but the EROEI of oil extraction (or of any mineral energy resource) becomes progressively smaller. In this process, society becomes gradually poorer as it has to invest more and more resources in order to maintain the level of energy and materials input that that people are accustomed to use. This situation is placing a tremendous stress on society, not the least result of which is the series of resource wars which we are seeing and which are hastening the decline.

There are no easy solutions to the present problems but , at least, we can say with Kjell Aleklett, president of ASPO that it is time to sober up!


Kjell Aleklett, Uppsala University, SE
Luca Barillaro, Compendium Consulting, IT
Pierre-René Bauquis, ASPO-France
Jean Marie Bourdaire, ASPO – France
Colin Campbell , ASPO – Ireland
Robert Hirsch, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), USA
Robert Hopkins, Transition Culture, UK
Marek Kolodzeij, University of Illinois, USA
Peter Gerling, Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe (BRG), DE
Renato Guseo, University of Padua, IT
Folke Gunther, Holon Ekosystem, SE
Jean Laherrere, ASPO – France
Jeremy Leggett, Solar Century, UK
Richard Heinberg, New College of California, USA
Andrew McKillop, Ecocentury, Fr
Bertrand Michel, Institute Francais du Petrole, Fr
Dennis Meadows, University of New Hampshire, USA
Paul Metz, Integer-Consult, NL
Francesco Racheli, NP-GE oil and gas, IT
Gregory Rock, Sustainability Watch, USA
Mamdouh Salameh, World Bank, UK
Chris Sanders, Sanders Research Associates, UK
Chris Skrebowsky, Petroleum review, UK
Terence Ward, Independent Expert, USA

Marino Artusa, Tuscan Regional Government
Vittorio Prodi, European Parliament
Fabio Roggiolani, Tuscan Regional Parliament
Eamon Ryan, Irish Parliament


Louis Arnoux IndraNet Technologies Ltd
Ugo Bardi Università di Firenze – Italy
Jan Bloemendal, University of Liverpool - UK
Victor Bronstein University of Buenos Aires – Argentina
Emmanuel Broto, Editions de l'Or Noir - France
Bruno Cernuschi Fries University of Buenos Aires – Argentina
Toufic El Asmar Università di Firenze – Italy
Neil Gavin University of Liverpool – UK
Rosa Hemmers Wissenschaftliche Referentin Landtagsverwaltung NRW - DE
Massimo Ippolito Sequoia Automation – Italy
Yoshinori Ishii University of Tokyo, Japan
Rembrandt Koppellar ASPO- Holland
Zhao Lin China University of Petroleum, Beijing
Bob Lloyd Otago University, New Zealand
Hitoshi Mikada Grad. Schoolof Eng., Kyoto University, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan
Faith Morgan, The Community Solution, USA
Shinichirou Morimoto National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tsukuba, Japan
Yasukuni Okubo National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tsukuba, Japan
Zhao Qingfei Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development, Sinopec, Beijing. China
Gregory Rock Sustainability Watch
Bruce Robinson ASPO-Australia
Alessandro Scrivani Università di Firenze – Italy
Simon P. Snowden University of Liverpool – UK
Alexander Tolstoguzov Università di Firenze – Italy
Pang Xiongqi China University of Petroleum, Beijing
Leigh Yaxley Independent Expert, Jakarta, Indonesia