“Peak Oil” refers the moment when world oil production begins
to decline. This Peak Oil event is likely to prove to be the
pivotal economic issue of our time, with enormous public policy,
investment, and military repercussions.
A Peak Oil Overview
Over the past 150 years worldwide consumption of oil-based
energy has increased every year. Energy from liquid fossil fuels
have been a key driver underlying world industrial growth.
Worldwide discovery of new reserves has been in decline for
decades. In the chart below you see new discoveries peaking in the
1960s, followed by a general declining trend. We have been living
off the pool of past discovery, which is not being replaced nearly
fast enough to cope with increasing annual consumption demand.
Putting the two trends together obviously at some point there
will be a collision, and consumption will not be able to
increase. In petroleum charts the is sometimes referred to as “the shark fin”. There are many scientists and researchers working on this problem. The attached integrates a number of projections into a single graph.
It needs to be stressed very strongly that this has never
happened before — the modern world has never experienced an
environment of declining fossil fuel consumption. We are
quickly moving toward a completely new scenario that is profoundly
different from our current realities.
What happens to the world’s economies at this moment is the
subject of increasing debate and research.
The decline in new discoveries projected will begin to impact
production at some point which may begin in the near future. Though
the exact timing could be debated endlessly, the event is a
certainty. To do nothing would be like, well, choosing to be struck
by an oncoming bus because you are uncertain about the exact moment
you will be struck.
Many experts have concluded that Peak Oil is imminent, including
prominent private sector geologists, physicists, and engineers, for
- Jeremy Gilbert, former Chief Petroleum Engineer for BP where he
was responsible for the company’s worldwide petroleum
engineering and research and development
- Dr. Colin Campbell, who has acted as an oil exploration
geologist / engineer for Amoco, BP, Shell, Esso
Check ASPO to learn more about
Peak Oil thought leadership.
Of geopolitical interest, the decline in production is not
evenly distributed. What we see is that oil from the Middle East
will much more strategically important in the coming decades,
increasing its share of world oil production 63%, from 30% of
the total in 2006 to a projected 50% by 2030.
Put another way, the only oil producing region on the planet
expected to be able to hold or increase oil production from now on,
is the Middle East.
Are Bush administration insiders “true believers” in Peak Oil?
Indications are strong that they are.
Here is a 1999 quote from Dick Cheney, as CEO of Halliburton in
1999: “By some estimates, there will be an average of
two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years
ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline
in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will
need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a
Some have argued that Cheney and Bush reasoned that creating a
military presence in Iraq could serve as a hub to protect our oil
supplies when Peak Oil hits, thus explaining the administration’s
ardor for a military initiative there. Instead of oil, we used
anti-terrorism to sell the war.
Economists predict of course that when Peak Oil hits, prices
will increase dramatically with global economic impacts. The
biggest impact here in the United States will be in liquid fuels
used for transportation (see chart), which consume the majority of
oil based fuels. There will be an impact on the many industrial
usages of fossil fuels as well.
To materially reduce our transportation liquid fuel consumption,
private individuals would have to drive less (40% or more of
personal driving is discretionary / non-commuting), replace current
vehicles with re-engineered models, and pursue other forms of
transportation such as mass-transit, and other initiatives.
These adjustments would require a time period of 10 to 15
years to begin actually reducing our national consumption (
Campbell has commented that the 73-74 oil shock and recession
was a mild, gentle prelude compared to the “earthquake” potential
of Peak Oil. Thus to avoid a severe shock to the national economy
when Peak Oil hits, our mitigation efforts to soften the impact
should be an urgent national priority… now.
These impacts and how to plan for them are under intense review
by investors, the military, the academic community, economists,
national governments, local governments… the list goes on. The
buzz boom reminds me of what was happening in the late 90’s when
the web was beginning to take off. You can sense that something
very, very big is gathering momentum.
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