A glowing tribute to the founder of Peak Oil foolishness – peak oil #46

Comparison of Dr. Hubbert's 1956 prediction with actual gas production. Rough approximation of Dr. Hubbert's graph.
Comparison of Dr. Hubbert’s 1956 prediction with actual gas production. Rough approximation of Dr. Hubbert’s graph.

Professor R. Tyler Priest has a review at the Wall Street Journal of The Oracle of Oil by Mason Inman. His assessment is covered in the title:  Ignoring the Shale Revolution / U.S. oil production, at nearly nine million barrels per day, is nine times what Hubbert predicted it would be in the 21st century.

My rough graph above shows the lousy accuracy of Dr. King’s 1956 projections of natural gas production in the US.

Dr. M. King Hubbert fell in with a fellow named Howard Scott, whom Prof. Priest calls

a magnetic charlatan.

Mr. Scott dreamed of a glorious time in which scientists and engineers would run the world through a powerful Technate or Technocracy Inc.  As I have mentioned before, I’m not sure if this authoritarian system was more fond of fascism or communism, but it certainly was authoritarian. My inclination is this tended toward fascist, meaning our betters would let us peons own private property but they would tell us what we can do with our property and how we can live.

Dr. King was apparently not a very nice person. The review highlights Dr. King’s approach to knowledge:

It was not enough for him to be right. Someone had to be humiliated in the process. Mr. Inman appears uninterested in pondering the mixture of arrogance and resentment that shaped Hubbert’s personal interactions.

That Dr. King had an overabundance of arrogance is visible if you read through his 1949 and 1956 papers.

He was confidently able to calculate the total amount of coal, natural gas, and oil that will ever be produced on the entire planet. Usually he is able to calculate to within two or three significant digits. All the energy that will be produced. Ever. On the entire planet.

Did I already mention he knew how much of those energy sources that would be produced through all time?

He was also able to determine there would never be any technological breakthroughs. The review quotes Dr. King in a 1959 interview:

 “I think we can rule out any radical improvement in geophysical techniques.”

The review points out the author of the book does not acknowledge seismic surveying breakthroughs that took place a few years after that confident prediction that knowledge would not develop further.

I am guessing that secondary recovery, tertiary recovery, directional drilling, horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, pad drilling, and all sorts of things I don’t know anything about are skipped over in the book.

Apparently Dr. King got into a big fight with his boss at USGS about whether the ultimate amount of oil ever to be recovered in the US was just over 200 billion barrels or around 590 billion, as his boss estimated.

I’m not going to take time to look up total US production to date plus proven reserves in order to compare to Dr. King’s ironclad calculation. Hope to do that analysis later.

The review points out several additional conceptual problems with Dr. King’s work, which the reviewer says were not addressed in the book. Specific issues are “curve-fitting” and over reliance on aggregate data. I was already aware of the problems of ignoring any future discoveries and that reserves might be larger than what the geologists can see.

Next to last paragraph points out that current production of crude oil in the US is nine times larger than what Dr. King predicted. Off by a factor of nine. Nine. That is almost a large enough error to lead one to think Dr. King was all wet even if you had never taken a look at Peak Oil foolishness.

Last paragraph points out some of the major paradoxes in Dr. King’s life that the book did not address.  Just one example: he was a breakthrough innovator who discounted the value and possibility of any further breakthrough innovation.

Another project on my ‘to do’ list is graph Dr. King’s 1956 predictions of US and world-wide production of crude oil against the actuals. My graph of his failed prediction of natural gas production is shown above.

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