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Peak Oil Matters

A fresh perspective on the concept of peak oil and the challenges we face


Tag: Hubbert’s Theory








This is a second look at a recent Reuters article by John Kemp, which got me thinking that those who deny peak oil ought to be magicians.

The tactics are standard by now: Toss out some carefully massaged facts bearing the imprint of near-truths but without context (just to be continue reading…








They should be magicians. continue reading…







Mason Inman recently posted an excellent 2012 interview he conducted with James Schlesinger, our nation’s first Secretary of Energy, who passed away shortly before that posting. This is the second part [first here] of my observations on what Mr. Schlesinger had to say about peak oil and related energy-supply considerations. [Quotes here are from that interview.] continue reading…


Lately, President Obama has been talking up the frenzy of domestic oil drilling under his watch. ‘Right now,’ the president said in his [2012] State of the Union Address …, ‘American oil production is the highest it’s been in eight years.. Technically, that’s true. But it’s worth taking a longer view. Since 1970, U.S. oil production has actually been in severe decline — and the recent boom is nowhere near enough to reverse it.
Thanks to new shale oil drilling in North Dakota and offshore production in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. production has picked up recently and is at about 6 million barrels of oil per day. But that’s still way down from 1970, when production peaked at 10 million barrels per day [1]

The graph above, and the source, comes from any of dozens of fact-based articles verifying that United States crude oil production did in fact peak in 1970, just like M. King Hubbert predicted.

Reality and facts being optional as they are these days, yet another voice has been added to the fact-free-let’s-not-consider-reality chorus of peak oil deniers. The playbook is the same: optimistic statements; no facts except a few carefully excised-from-context cherry-picked ones; no explanations, and certainly no reality-based evidence which puts a very different spin on the Happy Talk.

It was only a few years ago that the prophets of doom were reviving their warnings about ‘peak oil.‘
That’s the notion, introduced by M. King Hubbert in 1956, that the world would some day reach its maximum level of petroleum extraction. Yields would then begin declining until we had sucked the last drop of oil from the earth.
Hubbert thought the U.S. would reach its peak oil point between 1965 and 1971.
He was wrong….

Actually, no he wasn’t, although that fact certainly screws up a perfectly nice argument. (The author does, however, get points for “sucked the last drop of oil from the earth”–a new variation on the ongoing nonsense about the “running out of oil” meme which deniers love to attribute to peak oil advocates.)

Simply put, Peak Oil is the point at which oil production reaches its maximum rate. Every single oil field on the planet goes through this cycle.
Now, let’s be clear here. We’re not talking about how much oil is left in the world. The problem has never been that we’re running out of oil…
Rather, Peak Oil refers to the rate at which we can produce it. [2]

Here’s the problem with this writer’s commentary: when members of your own denier team are already on record admitting that Hubbert was correct in his prediction of when U.S. oil production would peak [followed most often by a pivot to a pseudo-plausible nugget of irrelevant truth; statements indicating a deliberate attempt to mislead or—to be kinder—that they don’t know what they are talking about; gushing about our vast not-exactly-the-same-as-crude-oil resources—while neglecting to mention anything at all about actually being able to extract most of them; or the now-popular human ingenuity/technology to the rescue approach], perhaps you might want to try a different lame approach to see what kind of traction you can get with a new one.

[I]n 1956, another renowned expert called M. King Hubbert declared that oil reserves were far more limited than was generally recognised; in the US supplies would peak between 1965 and 1970. Sure enough US oil production did indeed peak in 1970. [3]

The Peak Oil hypothesis got its start in 1956 when M. King Hubbert, then a Shell Oil geologist, suggested that all oil fields were subject to peaks followed by inevitable, irreversible and predictable declines. U.S. oil production did peak in 1970. Hubbert’s prediction turned out to be correct, though not entirely for the right reasons….[4]

National oil production, which declined steadily to 4.95 million barrels a day in 2008 from 9.6 million in 1970, has risen over the last four years to nearly 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department projects that daily output could reach nearly seven million barrels by 2020.[5]

… US oil production did peak in 1970, the same time period which Hubbert suggested oil reserves would reach their half-way point and start an inevitable decline…[6]

The theory claims that production of oil rises then falls into terminal decline after hitting a level of maximum production. The theory can be used to describe individual oilfields, production in a specific country or, indeed, the world. The US hit peak oil production in the 1970s. [7]

From US conventional oil production peaking in 1970 to global conventional oil production peaking in 2006 the figures are indisputable. Even institutions such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) and publications like The Economist that are not known for alarmism have admitted that oil production from conventional sources has peaked. [8]

From time to time, the theory of how oil was formed has been challenged but not successfully. In addition, in the 1950s, King Hubbert predicted that oil production would peak in the 1970s and then begin a steady decline. In fact that is what did occur. [9]

Of course, there’s always this, courtesy of our very own U. S. Energy Information Administration [although if you suspect this evidence is part of a nefarious scheme to convert us all to take-away-our-guns-while-taxing-us-forever-while-plotting-to-secretly-convert-us-all-to-godless-socialism, Dave Cohen had some thoughts worth pondering, too]:

U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil (Thousand Barrels per Day)
Decade Year-0 Year-1 Year-2 Year-3 Year-4 Year-5 Year-6 Year-7 Year-8 Year-9
  1850’s 0
  1860’s 1 6 8 7 6 7 10 9 10 12
  1870’s 14 14 17 24 30 33 25 37 42 55
  1880’s 72 76 83 64 66 60 77 77 75 96
  1890’s 126 149 138 133 135 145 167 166 152 156
  1900’s 174 190 243 275 320 369 347 455 488 502
  1910’s 574 604 609 681 728 770 822 919 920 1,037
  1920’s 1,210 1,294 1,527 2,007 1,951 1,700 2,112 2,469 2,463 2,760
  1930’s 2,460 2,332 2,145 2,481 2,488 2,723 3,001 3,500 3,324 3,464
  1940’s 4,107 3,847 3,796 4,125 4,584 4,695 4,749 5,088 5,520 5,046
  1950’s 5,407 6,158 6,256 6,458 6,342 6,807 7,151 7,170 6,710 7,054
  1960’s 7,035 7,183 7,332 7,542 7,614 7,804 8,295 8,810 9,096 9,238
  1970’s 9,637 9,463 9,441 9,208 8,774 8,375 8,132 8,245 8,707 8,552
  1980’s 8,597 8,572 8,649 8,688 8,879 8,971 8,680 8,349 8,140 7,613
  1990’s 7,355 7,417 7,171 6,847 6,662 6,560 6,465 6,452 6,252 5,881
  2000’s 5,822 5,801 5,744 5,644 5,435 5,186 5,089 5,077 5,000 5,353
  2010’s 5,479 5,648

Sure looks like a peak to me; but then again, I’m one of those crazies who believes that facts matter.


[1]–but-for-how-long/2012/01/26/gIQApHGxSQ_blog.html; Oil production is booming — but for how long? by Brad Plumer – 01.26.12
[2]; Burying Peak Oil: The Secret Behind Report 117 by Keith Kohl – 02.01.12
[3]; Peak oil really could destroy the economy – just not in the way greens think by James Delingpole – 01.28.12
[4]; Peak Oil Scare Fades as Shale, Deepwater Wells Gush Crude by Joe Carroll – 02.06.12
[5]; U.S. Inches Toward Goal of Energy Independence by Clifford Krauss and Eric Lipton – 03.22.12
[6]; The Real Problem is Not Too Little Oil, But Too Much: The Myth of Peak Oil by George Wuerthner – 03.29.12
[7]; Peak oil doomsayers ignore human ingenuity by Garry White – 04.02.12
[8]; What Happened to Peak Oil? by James Picerno – 04.24.12
[9]; The Vanishing Peak by William O’Keefe – 06.18.12







[M]any people doubt that energy independence is even a remote possibility. They’ve been told too many times that the world’s running out of oil. Or at least all the affordable oil.
That’s just not the case, though. [1]

Gotta admire the tenacity of those who cherry-pick facts and/or continue to spout the same nonsense talking points. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. The strategy works, but if properly informing citizens is the objective in disseminating information, it would help if the full truth made an appearance now and then.

As I and others have stated ad nauseum, no credible proponent of peak oil argues that “we’re running out of oil.” It’s an appealing straw man argument, but why is it that the only people who continue to make that claim are the deniers? If that’s their best strategy to assure themselves that facts and reality aren’t the facts and reality, then have at it, but keep those discussions to yourselves!

The author of this Wall Street piece then doubles down on the claim:

Here are the two major reasons Hubbert’s Peak Oil theory breaks apart when put into practice…
First off, a peak in production doesn’t mean a peak in availability. In other words, even if production spikes and tapers off, it’s not an indication that oil’s running out.

He’s right! But the point is irrelevant, since only he and his peers keep raising that same “running out of oil” meme.

Second, Hubbert’s theory ignores ‘unconventional’ fossil fuel sources like tar sands, heavy oils and shale oil. They weren’t easily accessible back in his day, hence they couldn’t be considered affordable and/or available. Fair enough.
Fast-forward to today, though, and Peak Oil adherents still hold onto Hubbert’s idea. They ignore, or grossly discount, the impact of unconventional sources on availability.
Yet five decades’ worth of technological advancement has made many of these sources very accessible – and much more affordable. And vast amounts of oil have been discovered in these unconventional sources.

Great! “Many” of those unconventional resources are “very accessible.” And the bonus: “much more affordable.” Good to have details….

Affordable to and for whom? Deniers never get around to answering that obvious question. Wall Street financiers probably don’t care. The other 99% may have a different opinion on what’s “affordable.”

Another playbook term [See this]: “vast” amounts have now been discovered. Great! So what?

How much more does it cost to locate and extract these vast amounts? How about quality? How long does it take to get from there to here? How high do prices have to be to justify all the effort and expense? To whom do those higher costs get passed on? [Need a hint?] How much more energy is invested in obtaining the unconventionals? What other natural resources are being drawn done in ever-increasing amounts? What are those implications?

Facts still suck, but until deniers come to terms with the second part of their discussion: happy talk about vast resources buried underground must then be followed by the reality of what it takes—and costs—to get it to consumers, they continue to do a disservice to the tens/hundreds of millions of people relying on facts to prepare for their own futures.

* My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester MA Sept 2012

[NOTE: Back next week … Happy Thanksgiving to all!]


[1]; Energy Independence and the Myth of Peak Oil by Louis Basenese – 11.12.19