World oil production is about eighty million barrels per day, four billion tonnes per year. The world has been stuck at that level since 2003, while demand has been increasing at about four percent a year. As a result, prices are going through the roof, largely because Chinese want to drive cars like Americans do.
All the remaining oil in the world is in places that are politically inaccessible – partly because greenies in developed countries have banned oil wells, but most of the remaining oil is in undeveloped places like Iraq, where anyone who drills a new well will probably have his well confiscated, and quite likely he will be murdered in the process.
Just to stay where we are now, for oil to stop rising, we need to increase oil production at about four percent a year, which is around one hundred and sixty million tonnes per year per year, or three million barrels per day per year.
Biofuels made from food are too expensive, and government subsidized biofuel made from food is causing starvation among poor people in poor countries. It is worth while making biofuel from sugar cane waste and paper mill waste, but the total amount we can get from those sources is not going to help us much.
So it has to be oil from shale, oil from tar sands, and oil from coal.
People are just pottering around with small experimental shale oil plants and coal to oil plants. Only Canadian oil from tar sands is being developed full speed ahead, as fast as physically possible. There are other oil sands in the world, but again, insecurity of property rights is a problem. If you try to develop oil sands in most countries, your plant will be stolen, and you will likely be murdered. Oil from tar sand in Canada is increasing at about four hundred thousand barrels per day per year, which about twenty million tonnes per year per year, about one eighth of what we need.
It is often said that the Chinese are developing coal to liquids in a big way, but compared to what is needed, not so big. They are building coal to dimethyl ether plants with a capacity of three million tonnes per year. If these plants were going to fix the problem, we would need around forty of them every year, rather than one or two every couple of years.
Typically people are building dimethyl ether pilot plants that do a few hundred tonnes per year, small scale plants that do a few hundred thousand tonnes per year, and a few big plants that do three million tonnes per year.
To match supply and demand at reasonable prices, the world needs to build sixteen ten million tonne per year plants each year, or fifty of the three million tonne per year plants the chinese contemplate.
The obvious solution is UCG-GTL – underground coal gasification followed by gas to liquid conversion. Digging the coal up is too messy to be done on the enormous scale needed. At present there is ONE such plant under development. Linc energy systems proposes to build, some time in the next several years, a UCG-GTL plant that makes seventeen thousand barrels per day of synthetic diesel, eight hundred and fifty thousand tonnes per year, about one two hundredth of the increase we will need every year.
Further, their coal gasification is air based, as befits the comparatively small scale of their proposed operation. For the really gigantic facilities of the future, oxygen based underground coal gasification is the way to go.
China and Estonia are rapidly expanding their oil from oil shale projects, but again this looks something like one hundred thousand tonnes per year per year, insignificant.
Coal to oil plants are highly profitable at present oil prices, but the trouble is that the obstacles to conventional oil production are political. People fear to invest in coal to oil plants, for an improvement in the security of property rights in oil rich countries could cause a huge drop in the price of oil. But with the steadily rising tide of hostility to capitalism, and the increasing propensity to murder people with property, this seems unlikely to me.