Amazingly, there are many people who believe in peak oil.…

Michael Lynch offered that comment early in a not surprisingly vague article arguing peak oil this past summer. [Not that vague is a new tactic for him. Five years ago, Chris Nelder offered a concise analysis of Lynch’s work, and not much appears to have changed]:

With a background in political science, Lynch puts his rhetorical skills to work as an avid peak oil denier, despite seeming to live in an alternate universe when it comes to the actual data….
He has carried on a vigorous disinformation campaign against peak oil theory for nearly two decades, sticking to his guns despite all factual evidence to the contrary.

For those allergic to facts and reality, it’s easy to understand the consternation expressed by Lynch and his peers. Their antidote—make pronouncements and assume they will serve as the last word—is consistent with their avoid-evidence-at-all-costs approach to a subject with (I assume) unfortunate personal ramifications to their professional efforts.

No doubt adding to their consternation is the fact that some of us poor souls still rely on facts and evidence and reality to make determinations on matters of importance, and “amazingly” we believe that the concepts embraced under the peak oil umbrella are quite believable. We’re willing to review evidence, of course. Without any, however, we remain singularly unimpressed with puffed-up statements which deniers are quick to offer without substantiation.


Here’s the situation:  there have long been warnings of scarcity, going back to the 19th century, primarily reflecting pessimism about petroleum resources which was rather unusual, given the relatively poor understanding of the geology at that type. [sic]  A combination of hubris and Malthusian bias would seem to explain it.

That’s it? That’s his conclusion? Sounds impressive as hell, doesn’t it? Not only are those advocating for greater awareness of production challenges from finite resources burdened by hubris, we have Malthusian bias! I should get that checked out. It’s now quite clear to me why Lynch would not have wasted any time on facts, given the afflictions we peak oil believers must contend with every awaking moment.

In 1989, Colin Campbell revived the method, arguing that conventional oil production had peaked that year.  Subsequently, he joined with Jean Laherrere to produce a series of consulting reports and then articles, making various claims for their ability to accurately estimate recoverable resources and production patterns.  These proved to be incorrect, and they abandoned most of their early arguments, after initially deriding critics, like me, as not being ‘scientific’.

If just saying something were the final word, a lot of problems and challenges would be history in a flash. Perhaps Mr. Lynch might want to enlighten some of us lesser lights with an actual discussion of the evidence offered by Campbell and Latherer and his professional reasons for disagreeing with the conclusions they’ve consistently advanced over the years? How exactly were their claims “proved to be incorrect”? Since they continue to assert the validity of peak oil, how does that become an abandonment of their arguments?

Their work became eclipsed by others, particularly in the US, who basically argued that production had (or soon would) peak because of difficulties in raising production.  Given high prices, some argued that their argument were validated, even to the point of arguing that the loss of supply due to the 2003 Iraq war or the 2011 Libyan uprising were not very relevant.

What does that mean? How about a for-instance, for starters? Who are those “others” Lynch mentioned? If that’s too onerous a challenge, who are those “some”? Forgive me for being dense, but aren’t “difficulties in raising production” one of the peak oil rationales?

Nice distraction to mention both the Iraq war and Libyan conflicts in the same sentence, but what’s the point? Geopolitical supply or price disturbances are factors in the peak oil argument, but no advocate relies on the Iraq war or Libya’s domestic issues as the be-all and end-all of peak oil justification.

Various other technical arguments have been advanced, including that decline rates were too high to allow production to increase, or that the energy needed to produce oil had become too great, but all have faced the problem of increasing discoveries and production.

Decline rates for fracking are quite high. Someone of Mr. Lynch’s caliber should have ready access to that information, although what seems to be an argument he’s raising is so obtuse it’s hard to know if that’s a concern of his. Is he too busy to offer up examples of “technical arguments” and his expert rebuttals? The bigger issue with those statements are that that they are just more nonsense.

High decline rates for existing wells do not inhibit production elsewhere. If he’s that confused about the basics—or, more likely, deliberately trying to confuse readers by blending two distinct issues together—perhaps some remedial work might help.

Decline rates are a fact of production. If oil producers must contend with that fact, then more of what is produced elsewhere must first make up for those high decline rates before anyone can rationally discuss production increases. The faster that treadmill turns, the greater the effort just to keep up with existing levels. Not very complicated.

It’s also another pesky, annoying reality that investment costs—financial and energy-based—are now the norm. More energy needed to produce means less energy for everything else. Also not very complicated. When they become “too great” is a determination we’ll all await, but corporations concerned with bottom lines eventually must come to terms with the fact that investing more to get less is not all that wise.

As for “the problem of increasing discoveries and production” … how about any explanation at all? The “problem” of “increasing discoveries and production” is that they are not keeping pace with both production totals and demand. The U.S. reached a peak in production back in 1971, when crude oil was pretty much the only total that mattered.

To pump up the numbers, a lot more components are now added to oil production figures, so even suggestions that current totals are approaching the 1971 peak are a bit lame. Discovering resources is a nice argument if the only point in contention is discovery or no discovery. But if the costs are too great, or the technological capabilities inadequate, saying that more resources are being discovered is a short conversation if peak oil and its consequences are the focus.

If lame-ass refutations are the best one can come up with, perhaps another line of work might be worth considering, rather than regaling the public with nonsense. It’s not helping.

NOTE: This is it for 2014. Enjoy the holidays! Back on January 13th

~ My Photo: Long Beach, Rockport MA – 10.03.14


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