Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What is Peak Oil

Ok, should have written this in the introduction, so here goes.

Colin Campbell: "The term Peak Oil refers the maximum rate of the production of oil in any area under consideration, recognising that it is a finite natural resource, subject to depletion. Understanding depletion is simple. Think of an Irish pub. The glass starts full and ends empty. There are only so many more drinks to closing time. It’s the same with oil. We have to find the bar before we can drink what’s in it."

The problem is that global oil discovery peaked in 1964, since then oil companies haven't found any oil fields of significant size, plus oil consumption has increased a hundred fold.

It was M. King Hubbert who first coined the term Peak Oil in 1949, that the fossil fuel era would be of very short duration. The in 1956, he predicted that US oil would peak around 1970, most people in the oil and energy industry scoffed these predictions, US oil did indeed peak around 1970-1971.

Hubbert, a geophysicist, created a mathematical model of oil extraction which predicted that the cumulative amount of oil extracted over time would follow a logistic curve, which follows a bell-shaped pattern now known as the Hubbert curve. The theory implies that the predicted rate of oil extraction at any given time would be given by the derivative of the logistic curve at that time.

When oil reserves are discovered, production is initially small, because all the required infrastructure has not been installed. As wells are drilled and more efficient facilities are installed, oil production increases. At some point, a peak output is reached that can not be exceeded, even with improved technology or additional drilling. After the peak, oil production slowly but increasingly tapers off. After the peak, but before an oil field is empty, another significant point is reached when it takes more energy to recover, transport, and process a barrel of oil than the amount of energy contained in that barrel. At that point, it is no longer worthwhile to extract petroleum for energy - it becomes a resource sink. According to Hubbert's model, oil reserves in the United States would be exhausted before the end of the 21st century.

Given past oil production data, and barring extraneous factors such as lack of demand, the model predicts the date of peak oil production output for an oil field, multiple oil fields, or an entire region. Hubbert's original formulations applied to a "theoretical, unconstrained province," and that the model must be adjusted if significant artificial impedances, such as political or environmental regulations, are in effect.

Taken from Wikipedia.

In 1971 Hubert predicted that a world peak would between 1995 and 2000, though current experts believe that events since then may have delayed the peak, events such as the 1973 energy crisis, in which a decreased supply of oil resulted in a shortage, and ultimately less consumption. The 1979 energy crisis and 1990 spike in the price of oil due to the Gulf War have had similar, albeit less dramatic effects on supply. Most experts believe this peak will now happen around 2010 and that natural gas will peak around 2010 to 2020.

In 2004, 30 billion barrels of oil were consumed worldwide, while only eight billion barrels of new oil reserves were discovered. the International Energy Agency reported annual global demand at 84.9 million barrels per day (mbd) which means over 31 billion barrels annually. This means consumption is now within 2 mbd of production. At any one time there are about 54 days of stock in the OECD system plus 37 days in emergency stockpiles.

there are now new theories that suggest that world peak did happen between 2004 and 2005,

Colin Campbell of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas (ASPO) has calculated that the global production of conventional oil peaked in the spring of 2004 albeit at a rate of 23-GB/yr, not Hubbert's 13-GB/yr.

Another peak oil proponent Kenneth S. Deffeyes predicted in his book Beyond Oil - The View From Hubbert's Peak that global oil production would hit a peak on Thanksgiving Day 2005 (Deffeyes has since revised his claim, and now argues that world oil production peaked on December 16 2005. (

No one knows for sure when global oil production/consumption will peak or has peaked, we won't know until we have passed the point of no return. By then it will probably be too late to switch over to other suitable form of energy.


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