Energy Executive on the End of Oil 'We Have to Save, Save, Save'

Part 2: 'The Old Oil Fields Are Dying'


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it even possible to increase oil production anymore?

Mallet: About 87 million barrels a day are produced worldwide. In the past, it was believed that this number could be increased to 130 million. I consider that an illusion. Realistically, the capacity is less than 105 million barrels.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It sounds like the peak oil theory, which isn't very popular among your competitors. It holds that maximum production will be reached soon.

Mallet: The old oil fields are dying. In the future, we will have to invest more and more just to maintain existing production.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is the age of oil coming to an end?

Mallet: No, not really. There is plenty of oil, geologically speaking. The question is just how much can be produced a year.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How much oil is left in the earth?

Mallet: Since the beginning of industrial production, mankind has used about 1 trillion barrels, most of it in the last 30 years. About the same amount is still available, plus possible new finds. And then there are unconventional reserves such as heavy crude oil, oil sands and oil shale, although developing them is expensive. And not all aspects have been resolved when it comes to the effects on the environment.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So how much longer will the oil last?

Mallet: We won't have any problems for the next 20 years. If we handle demand responsibly, it could even last another 40 or 50 years.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But what if demand increases, particularly in Asia?

Mallet: That's why we have a clear message: We have to save, save, save.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Total is the only oil company that is predicting stagnating production. Are the others ignoring the truth?

Mallet: I don't know. But I do know that anyone who encourages people to buy big cars to increase his oil sales is making a big mistake. I myself walk to work.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Perhaps you are just dramatizing the issue to justify high gasoline prices.

Mallet: Gasoline isn't expensive. It costs less than 32 cents a liter ($1.60 a gallon) before taxes. It's cheaper than good mineral water.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Millions of drivers would disagree.

Mallet: In Germany, we have the lowest profit margin in all of Europe. Competition is extremely tough. For a one-cent difference in price, Germans are willing to go well out of their way to drive to a different gas station.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some politicians want to see the petroleum tax reduced.

Mallet: The purpose of the petroleum tax is to pay for investment in new forms of energy, and in research that will guarantee long-term and environmentally friendly mobility. That's something drivers should also welcome.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Total wants a higher petroleum tax?

Mallet: No. But energy has to cost something. We need incentives to economize, as well as to develop alternatives. For instance, there is no tax on aviation fuel, which is completely unreasonable. There are three parties involved in saving energy: the political sphere, with its laws and guidelines, the industry, while makes efficient products available, and consumers, who can achieve a lot with their behavior.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Customers are likely to have other desires.

Mallet: Why? If energy consumption declines, it will not become more expensive overall for customers. A liter of gasoline will cost more, but those who drive fuel-efficient cars won't have to fill up as often.

Interview conducted by Anselm Waldermann.

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