25 barrels a day

There was an extreme typo in today’s (my printed edition, anyways) WSJ: “…the U.S., which consumes 25 barrels (of crude oil) a day per person”. Presumably they meant to say 25 barrels a year per person.

They quote Saudi per capita use at 32 barrels/day/person, as the highest in the world — figures are sourced to Eni World Oil and Gas Review 2007. A table shows just a few countries barrels/day/person usage and increase over the period 2000 to 2006. U.S. was slightly down. The only European country mentioned was the Netherlands which for some reason had a whopping increase — it is still well below U.S. levels (of course) but not for long if that rate holds up. Unmentioned in the story: other EU countries per capita rates are far, far below the US, e.g. Germany 11.7, UK 11, France 11.3 (CIA World Factbook, divide oil consumption by population). WSJ editorials (not this story) often mislead by crowing about miniscule percentage change differences between EU and US.

Anyway, the story was very interesting — Saudi Industrial Drive Strains Oil-Export Role, WSJ p. A1, Dec 12, 2007 (the whole article is here, at least for the time being). In a nutshell the Saudis embarked on a huge project to build immense scale industrial facilities that were to be powered by natural gas that was at the time yet to be developed. Well, it as it turns out, years later, the gas is still not tapped and doesn’t look like it will be ready any time soon, if ever. So plan B is to switch fuels to… oil, of course. This, also of course, spells trouble going forward for the world oil markets. It also means that Saudi Arabia can be counted on less-and-less to be a swing oil producer. They also will push for nuclear electricity generation. Iran oddly didn’t come up in the story. Besides the nuclear tie-in, Iran has well-known problems with increasing domestic oil consumption. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia (and Venezuela too) heavily subsidize fuel prices to placate their citizens.

There was this humorous passage about electricity prices in Saudi Arabia (much of which is generated from petroleum): “Saudis consume vast quantities of electricity because the government holds the price unusually low to keep the populace happy, a sit does with gasoline. Nearly two-thirds of power goes to air conditioning. Saudis routinely keep their air-conditiones on full blast even when on vactio. The average Saudi power bill, Mr. Barrak says, weighs in at one-fifth the cheapest tab in the U.S. ‘You try getting people to conserve at that cost,’ he says. ‘It’s impossible.’ ”

Some updates about Norway

a commenter who said he was from Norway, on another post led me to look up Norway figures also from the CIA World Factbook (retreived October 2008):

Norway oil consumption: 17.94 barrel per capita, significantly lower than the US’s 25.  (p.s. Norway’s CO2 per capita emission is just two notches below the U.S. for 2004 — to the point where the data is hard to believe, according to the Wikipedia article, their per capita emissions more than doubled from 2000 to 2004, from 9.9 to 19 metric tons per capita. The US didn’t change more than a couple percent over the whole period from 1990 to 2004).

Norway’s population density is a sparse 14.3 people/km2. The US is 30.1 — in other words the usual moan, that the US is so spread out that we have to drive a lot, doesn’t really hold up. Canada is a staggeringly sparse 3.3, and somehow each person there manages to get around on less oil than Americans.

But here’s what really gets me about a big producer like Norway (or Canada for that matter) is that here’s a country swimming in oil and they have a LOWER per capita consumption. Would their economy benefit by their citizens “choosing” to drive bigger cars further? Thus driving up consumption, and driving down oil exports. I don’t think so.

The US — though a significant world producer in its own right —  is choosing to act more like a Mexico or a Venezuela, instead of following the examples of a Norway or Canada and limiting domestic consumption. It is no coincidence that Norway and Canada have far higher fuel taxes that the US. And Mexico and Venezuela have far lower.

No practical amount of drilling in the US is going to change this. And further, the US simply doesn’t have the reserves. By that I mean, if somehow some super-human amount of drilling could be done, it could never be sustained. Only consumption (conservation) can significantly alter the equation.