One of the greatest questions of the modern world concerns whether our recoverable oil supplies will decrease faster than we can replace them with economical new energy sources. If we can keep up, then civilization can continue relatively unchanged and make the leap to the next stage of development. If not, then our modern civilization will face a resource shortfall that could spell the end of our way of life, much like other resource shortfalls have wiped out ancient civilizations.
A pivotal issue in this question is the ability of Saudi Arabia to not only maintain its current output of around 8 million barrels of oil a day, but to increase that rate of production as needed by the world, and to maintain these prolific rates for decades to come. Saudi Arabia claims it can keep up the same level of production for 50 years if necessary, and most of the world, even energy planners who should know better, take them at their word. But if their claims are wrong, it is the whole world that will suffer.
Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, Matthew Simmons believes it is very likely that Saudi Arabia's oil production rate has already peaked or will peak shortly and will then face sharp declines. Everyone believes that Saudi Arabia is sitting on massive oil reserves, but few people ever actually see specific production data to really understand just how much oil is flowing out of Saudi Arabia. For example, Ghawar, Saudi Arabia's primary oil field, is the greatest oil-bearing structure the world has ever known. Through the last half of the 20th century, Ghawar has produced over 55 billion barrels of oil, almost 60 percent of Saudi Arabia's total output. Saudi Arabia's five major secondary fields are still impressive giants in their own right but still can't keep up with the prolific production of Ghawar.
But what happens when Ghawar and these secondary giants runs dry?
Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia has stopped publishing field by field oil production data, making it very difficult for outside observers to prove or disprove the Saudi government's claims of sufficient reserves and the ability to scale production as necessary.
To get around this problem, Simmons had to resort to secondary information to piece together a picture of current Saudi Arabia oil reserves and production challenges. If there is one thing this book excels at, it's providing detailed evidence to support its contentions - there are pages, and pages, and pages of quotations and analysis of government documents and technical papers submitted to the Society of the Petroleum Engineers from Saudi engineers. You will learn more than you ever wanted to know about geological formations that contain oil, the problems that arise in aging oil fields, and the technology being used and developed to combat these problems.