Fears that the massive Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia may have passed its prime have been the stuff of speculation for many years. Ghawar has underpinned Saudi Arabia’s dominance of the oil market ever since it came on stream in 1951. With its ability to pump out some five million barrels per day on average, more than half of Saudi Aramco’s total of 9.1 million barrels per day, the slow death of Ghawar may help to ensure that the low oil prices of the 1980s are but a dream for the average consumer.
Don Coxe, an analyst from the Bank of Montreal, once described Ghawar as having passed “Hubbert’s Peak”, a phrase used in honour of geologist M King Hubbert, who predicted oil field decline in the 1950s. The best indication of this is the steadily increased usage of water injection in the wells. Water injection is normally used on older oilfields to maintain pressure within the well and force out more oil. The problem is, once the water reaches the well head, the field has to be abandoned. Many are now pondering the connection between Saudi production and increasing water usage. As Coxe puts it, “Isn’t water flooding [the] Viagra of ageing wells?”