Kate Mackenzie Total, the ‘peak oil’ believer’s favourite IOC

Total, the French oil company, has not shied away from the controversial topic of how much more oil can be extracted from the world’s reserves, at least in a technically and economically feasible way.

Michel Mallet, head of Total’s business in Germany, in an interview with Der Spiegel, says he walks to work and that realistic production capacity is less than 105m barrels per day. There is plenty of oil, he says, but the question is how fast it can be produced. He also talks about the risk of underinvestment in oil production leading to an oil price shock, and the difficulties in getting drilling licences in some oil-producing countries.

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.

Mallet’s boss, Total chief executive Christophe Margerie went even further in an interview in February, saying that the world would never be able to produce more than 89m barrels a day of oil:

Christophe de Margerie, chief executive of Total, the French oil and gas company, said he had revised his forecast for 2015 oil production downward by at least 4m barrels a day because of the current economic crisis and the collapse in oil prices.

He noted that national oil companies, which control the vast majority of the world’s oil, and independent producers, which play a key role in finding new sources, were “substantially limited in their ability to fund investments in the current [financial] environment”.