Using Wikipedia to Account for the World's Oil


Wikipedia is at once a revered stead of all the world’s knowledge and a reviled depository of the trite and trivial — great for procrastinating, good for background, and terrible for specific numbers. But can the wonders of wiki software allow for a collaboration that could shed light on the peak oil debate? That is exactly what a team from The Oil Drum (TOD) is attempting to do. And their project, to list and add up as thoroughly as possible the world’s oil megaprojects, could have big implications for charting oil production. [digg=] Graph 1

They already have some impressive preliminary results, complete with oodles of great graphs. But it is important to reiterate the proviso the megaproject tabulators keep repeating — these are preliminary results that are part of a work in progress. “Many of these projects have just been piling up over the years and every year it always looks like next year there will be a lot of new capacity coming online,” noted Stuart Staniford, an editor at TOD and leader of the undertaking.

Work on the project started about a month ago, and already the team claims to have reviewed every press release and all the annual reports from 2003-2006 for more than 20 oil companies, including all the majors and OPEC projects. Methodically going through the information on all past, present, and future oil field projects has taken, Staniford estimated nearly 200 man-hours. The team has also developed an Oil Megaprojects Task Force, a sort of petroleum accountability wiki to keep track of participants, objectives, and progress. As the official oil megaproject page reads: “Maintaining an updated list of future oil projects is key to the forecasting of future oil supply, and assessing the date and seriousness of peak oil.”

The project was born out of a frustration on the parts of Staniford and TOD contributor “Khebab” who was unable to accurately assess the acceleration in base oil production decline rates. Instead the analysts found themselves forced to base their research on the capacity totaled by Petroleum Review’s megaproject reports. They admit that there is not a clear jump between accelerated base production decline and acceleration in actual petrophysical declines. However, also problematic was the fact that the list they were using was incomplete.

Graph 2

The task force’s case-by-case approach is looking to disambiguate “new” capacity from potential capacity that has been in the pipes for years. The project is hoping to attract contributors who are actually on the ground with some of these megaprojects to help verify that they are actually bringing new capacity online. “The simple folks who are investors in the industry have been contributing,” Staniford said. “Like one guy who follows the tar sand industry very closely has been helping.” Staniford solicits possible volunteers and offers a quick Wikipedia-editing tutorial on TOD. Staniford says that at one point the oil megaprojects post was the 88th most edited Wikipedia page on Wikirage.

In the end, the project is an aggregation of available and disclosed information compiled on the very public Wikipedia. Monitoring and reporting systems have yet to live up to their potential as devices to help us better understand our energy consumption. Just as IBM’s GreenCert software will offer quick feedback, the oil megaproject Wikipedia page, with enough qualified contributors, could be a powerful and dynamic resource for archiving the world’s oil supply.

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