Where did this peak oil concept come from? Peak oil #2

I started a discussion of the silly concept of ‘peak oil’ here.

That is the concept that we will soon hit a peak of oil production at which point production will fall.  Furthermore, we will run out of oil very soon.

I’ve started off with a recap of a superb article by Daniel Yergin in a Wall Street Journal article There Will Be Oil.

Where did this idea come from?

Mr. Yergin identifies M. King Hubbert, Ph.D., as the culprit.

The idea owes its inspiration, and indeed its articulation, to a geologist who, though long since passed from the scene, continues to shape the debate, M. King Hubbert. Indeed, his name is inextricably linked to that perspective—immortalized in “Hubbert’s Peak.”

A friendly page, here, describes:

His prediction in 1956 that U.S. oil production would peak in about 1970 and decline thereafter was scoffed at then but his analysis has since proved to be remarkably accurate.

He did not limit his prediction to U.S. production. The broader and more serious prediction is that the use of fossil fuel in general would soon run out. From the same article:

He was probably the best known geophysicist in the world to the general public because of his startling prediction, first made public in 1949, that the fossil fuel era would be of very short duration. “Energy from Fossil Fuels, Science” ” [scanned, 260 kb]

Check out his original writings. I’ll have several things to say about it.

A brief browse through his 1949 article contains many comments indicated that geologists know the amount of oil, coal, and oil shale that is recoverable.  The ability to calculate recoverable oil is not limited to the U.S.  Dr. Hubbert can also make precise estimates of the worldwide energy that is in the ground.

Here from page 105 is one of many entertaining comments showing the absolute certainty of his knowledge:

While the quantities of fuels upon the earth are not known precisely, their order of magnitude is pretty definitely circumscribed.

He then cites the amount of coal on the earth at 6.3 x 10^12 metric tons.

Later on the same page he claims:

For petroleum the estimation is considerably less accurate than that for coal but still it is probably reliable as to the order of magnitude.

You can see the Doctor explain himself in this video from 1976. Watch for the reference to ‘proven reserves’ as he explains the peak of oil production.

The fallacies abound.

The production of oil in the U.S. did hit a peak in about that time frame.

The fallacy? That the only productive oil fields in the world are in the U.S.  That ignores fields that were unknown at the time.  The mere possibility of vast oil reserves that has since come on line, like the Middle East, isn’t a possibility in his worldview.

The major fallacy is found in the video, specifically that reference to proven reserves. His core prediction is based on how fast we will use the then-known proven reserves.  He assumes that there will never be any additional reserves.  Ever.  The only oil we can recover is what we know about today and what is feasible to recover today.  Thus, there is a finite, upper-bounded, never-to-be-expanded amount of oil, and that amount is what we know about at this instant.  Oh, and he can calculate the exact amount.

Another fallacy is that we will never find another productive field in the U.S.

Another fallacy is that oil technology will never, ever improve.

The ultimate fallacy is to ignore human creativity and ingenuity. (That criticism is from Mark Perry at Carpe Diem.)

Next post: Dr. Hubbert’s solutions, or, is quoting someone an ad hominem attack?

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