Will Blog for Experience: Emily

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Peak Oil Debate

As mentioned in my introductory post, my first topic is the widely debated subject of Peak Oil. The subject itself is not so much an issue of debate but when this global peak will occur is a point many disagree upon.

First, let me clarify what Peak Oil means. Marion King Hubbert, a geologist in the 1950’s, modeled oil reserves and production rates and projected a bell-shaped production curve (known as Hubbert’s Curve and pictured below).

The peak of the bell curve is the point at which production (in an oil field or globally) reaches its maximum rate of production. Many people confuse Peak Oil with the point at which the world will run out of oil; but it is not, it is simply the point at which production rates begin to decline. Very few dispute the finite nature of oil as thus it is widely accepted that world oil production will eventually hit a peak. The United States hit its peak in 1971, and has been a net importer of oil ever since.

So why is this peak so widely disputed? The main argument is over when peaking will occur. Some argue that the world has already passed its peak; some believe we will cross the peak within the next five years, and others don’t see production declining for over twenty years.

How can there be such a wide variation in predictions? Estimating the world’s oil supply depends on hundreds of variables: price, foreign relations, accuracy of reported information, measurability/collection of data, technology, demand…the list goes on. There is so much uncertainty surrounding these variables and so many diverging opinions about how to interpret information that everyone seems to be able to support a different estimate with a valid argument.

So what if we peak? The real concern over when peak oil will occur stems from the increasing world demand and growing reliance on oil. Oil affects our daily lives in more ways than we usually recognize. Yes, we’re all aware that we need oil for fuel to power our cars, planes and other machinery but petroleum is also used in the production of plastics, fertilizers, lubricants, and pharmaceuticals. With an ever growing demand for oil (especially from large developing countries like China and India) we will not only need to maintain current production rates but increase them at a pace sufficient enough to meet this new demand.

And herein lies the significance of the Peak Oil debate. To simplify the debate, you can lump the different outlooks into three groups: 1) Those who think the world's oil production has already peaked, 2) those who think we will peak within the next five years, and 3) those who don’t think peaking will occur for over twenty years. General perspectives for each of these three groups can be explored in greater depth at the following sites: 1) Pessimists' view: www.dieoff.com, 2) Matthew Simmons’ speeches: www.simmonsco-intl.com, and 3) Exxon Mobil’s take on Peak Oil: http://exxonmobil.com/Corporate/Files/Corporate/OpEd_peakoil.pdf

My outlook falls somewhere in the middle. I believe that oil resources are exhaustible but that current changes (to be discussed in a future post) can significantly delay the inevitability of a peak and more importantly can avoid overwhelmingly negative situations as oil becomes increasingly scarce.

For more information regarding peak oil, you can also check out ASPO’s site: www.peakoil.net.


  • At 7:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hope you win, Kyla's dad

  • At 12:53 PM, Anonymous A. Frick said…

    Huh, interesting stuff. I didn't know anything about this--thanks for the clear and well-written information!

  • At 8:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great article. Your blog is the best read. The others got the back button really quick.

    I'm not too worried about the oil issue. New sources of energy are being produced or found everyday such as the oil from crops. The threat of a danger is just a push to be more innovative. Yes, I'm an optimist, but I also look at both sides of the argument. I do believe we should reduce our fuel consumption, but not dramaticly. Businesses will begin to see the benefits in using "green" fuels and then the change will occur. After all, that is how politics works. Nothing changes, until the business say so.

  • At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Nice. Interesting and well written blog. Just giving some Colby support.

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    I hate to say it, but I'm in the first camp. I think we've already peaked.

    Great Blog - I'll have to check it out again.

    Sam Butler (Leigh Butler's brother)

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