Record-breaking temperatures1 have induced governments to implement targets for reducing future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions2,3. Use of oil products contributes ∼35% of global GHG emissions4, and the oil industry itself consumes 3–4% of global primary energy. Because oil resources are becoming increasingly heterogeneous, requiring different extraction and processing methods, GHG studies should evaluate oil sources using detailed project-specific data5. Unfortunately, prior oil-sector GHG analysis has largely neglected the fact that the energy intensity of producing oil can change significantly over the life of a particular oil project. Here we use decades-long time-series data from twenty-five globally significant oil fields (>1 billion barrels ultimate recovery) to model GHG emissions from oil production as a function of time. We find that volumetric oil production declines with depletion, but this depletion is accompanied by significant growth—in some cases over tenfold—in per-MJ GHG emissions. Depletion requires increased energy expenditures in drilling, oil recovery, and oil processing. Using probabilistic simulation, we derive a relationship for estimating GHG increases over time, showing an expected doubling in average emissions over 25 years. These trends have implications for long-term emissions and climate modelling, as well as for climate policy.
Your institute does not have access to this article
Open Access articles citing this article.
Climatic Change Open Access 23 May 2020
Subscribe to Nature+
Get immediate online access to the entire Nature family of 50+ journals
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
NASA, NOAA analyses reveal record-shattering global warm temperatures in 2015. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (accessed February 2017); http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-analyses-reveal-record-shattering-global-warm-temperatures-in-2015
Paris Agreement (UNFCCC, 2015).
Green Transformation ‘Unstoppable’ as Countries Agree to Curb Powerful Greenhouse Gases. United Nations News Centre (15 October 2016); http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=55310#.WAZ4A2WFhuY.
Key World Energy Statistics (Intl. Energy Agency, 2015).
Gordon, D., Brandt, A., Bergerson, J. & Koomey, J. Know Your Oil: Creating a Global Oil-Cimate Index (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2015); http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/03/11/know-your-oil-creating-global-oil-climate-index-pub-59285
Gavenas, E., Rosendahl, K. E. & Skjerpen, T. CO2 emissions from Norwegian oil and gas extraction. Energy 90, 1956–1966 (2015).
National Inventory Report 1990–2015: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada: Executive Summary (Environment Canada, accessed July 2017); https://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/default.asp?lang=En&n=662F9C56-1
Pathways to an Energy and Carbon Efficient Russia (McKinsey Company, accessed February 2017); http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/pathways-to-an-energy-and-carbon-efficient-russia
Emissions of Greenhouse Gases (Statistics Norway, accessed February 2017); http://ssb.no/en/natur-og-miljo/statistikker/klimagassn
Brandt, A. R. Oil depletion and the energy efficiency of oil production: the case of California. Sustainability 3, 1833–1854 (2011).
Wallington, T. J. et al. When comparing alternative fuel-vehicle systems, life cycle assessment studies should consider trends in oil production. J. Ind. Ecology 21, 244–248 (2017).
Farrell, A. & Sperling, D. A Low-Carbon Fuel Standard for California. Part 1: Technical Analysis (Inst. of Transportation Studies, Univ. of California, 2007).
Farrell, A. & Sperling, D. A Low-Carbon Fuel Standard for California. Part 2: Policy Analysis (Inst. of Transportation Studies, Univ. of California, 2007).
Directive 2009/30/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009. Official J. Eur. Union 140, 88–113 (2009).
El-Houjeiri, H. M. et al. Oil Production Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimator (OPGEE) v.2.0a: User Guide Technical Documentation (2017).
Brandt, A. R., Sun, Y. & Vafi, K. Uncertainty in regional-average petroleum GHG intensities: countering information gaps with targeted data gathering. Env. Sc. Tech. 49, 679–686 (2014).
Norway Passes the Climate Buck Again. NEWSinENGLISH (5 February 2015); http://www.newsinenglish.no/2015/02/05/norway-passes-the-buck-again
Devold, H. Oil and Gas Production Handbook. An Introduction to Oil and Gas Production, Transport, Refining and Petrochemical Industry (lulu.com, ABB Oil and Gas, 2013); https://library.e.abb.com/public/34d5b70e18f7d6c8c1257be500438ac3/Oil%20and%20gas%20production%20handbook%20ed3x0_web.pdf
Norway and the environment. Binge and purge The Economist (22 January 2009); http://www.economist.com/node/12970769
Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area Gas Flaring Reduction Implementation Plan (The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, accessed Februay 2017); http://www.cnlopb.ca/legislation/guidelines.php
Masnadi, M. S. & Brandt, A. R. Energetic productivity dynamics of global super-giant oilfields. Energy Env. Sci. 10, 1493–1504.
Gordon, D. & Mathews, J. T. Smart Tax: Pricing Oil for a Safe Climate (Carnegie Endowment Intl. Peace, 2016); http://carnegieendowment.org/2016/06/15/smart-tax-pricing-oil-for-safe-climate-pub-63765
Resources to Reserves (Intl. Energy Agency, 2013).
Facts 2014 (Norwegian Petroleum Directorate and Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, 2014); http://www.npd.no/en/Publications/Facts/Facts-2014
Höök, M., Hirsch, R. & Aleklett, K. Giant oil field decline rates and their influence on world oil production. Energy Policy 37, 2262–2272 (2009).
Tripathi, V. S. & Brandt, A. R. Estimating decades-long trends in petroleum field energy return on investment (EROI) with an engineering-based model. PLoS ONE 12, e0171083 (2017).
El-Houjeiri, H. M., Brandt, A. R. & Duffy, J. E. Open-source LCA tool for estimating greenhouse gas emissions from crude oil production using field characteristics. Environ. Sci. Technol. 47, 5998–6006 (2013).
Brandt, A. R. Embodied energy and GHG emissions from material use in conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 13059–13066 (2015).
Rohatgi, A. WebPlotDigitizer v.3.9 (October 2015, accessed February 2017); http://arohatgi.info/WebPlotDigitizer
V. Tripathi provided historic data for five oilfields. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Ford Motor Company provided financial support to M.S.M.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Masnadi, M., Brandt, A. Climate impacts of oil extraction increase significantly with oilfield age. Nature Clim Change 7, 551–556 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3347
Green ionic liquids and deep eutectic solvents for desulphurization, denitrification, biomass, biodiesel, bioethanol and hydrogen fuels: a review
Environmental Chemistry Letters (2021)
Climatic Change (2020)
Nature Energy (2018)
Would constraining US fossil fuel production affect global CO2 emissions? A case study of US leasing policy
Climatic Change (2018)