Hubbert peak oil plot

A bell-shaped production curve, as originally suggested by M. King Hubbert in 1956.

PU200611 Fig1

Peak oil depletion scenarios graph which depicts cumulative published depletion studies by ASPO and other depletion analysts.

A Special Feature

Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum production is reached, after which the rate of production enters its terminal decline. If global consumption is not mitigated before the peak, an energy crisis may develop because the availability of conventional oil will drop and prices will rise, perhaps dramatically. M. King Hubbert first used the theory in 1956 to accurately predict that United States oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970. His model, now called Hubbert peak theory, has since been used to predict the peak petroleum production of many other countries, and has also proved useful in other limited-resource production-domains. According to the Hubbert model, the production rate of a limited resource will follow a roughly symmetrical bell-shaped curve based on the limits of exploitability and market pressures.

Some observers, such as petroleum industry experts Kenneth S. Deffeyes and Matthew Simmons, believe the high dependence of most modern industrial transport, agricultural and industrial systems on the relative low cost and high availability of oil will cause the post-peak production decline and possible severe increases in the price of oil to have negative implications for the global economy. Although predictions as to what exactly these negative effects will be vary greatly, "a growing number of oil-industry chieftains are endorsing an idea long deemed fringe: The world is approaching a practical limit to the number of barrels of crude oil that can be pumped every day."[1]

If political and economic change only occur in reaction to high prices and shortages rather than in reaction to the threat of a peak, then the degree of economic damage to importing countries will largely depend on how rapidly oil imports decline post-peak. The Export Land Model shows that the amount of oil available internationally drops much more quickly than production in exporting countries because the exporting countries maintain an internal growth in demand. Shortfalls in production (and therefore supply) would cause extreme price inflation, unless demand is mitigated with planned conservation measures and use of alternatives, which would need to be implemented 20 years before the peak.[2]

Optimistic estimations of peak production forecast a peak will happen in the 2020s or 2030s and assume major investments in alternatives will occur before a crisis. These models show the price of oil at first escalating and then retreating as other types of fuel and energy sources are used.[3].

Pessimistic predictions of future oil production operate on the thesis that the peak has already occurred[4][5][6][7] or will occur shortly[8] and, as proactive mitigation may no longer be an option, predict a global depression, perhaps even initiating a chain reaction of the various feedback mechanisms in the global market which might stimulate a collapse of global industrial civilization.

Demand for oilEdit

EIA petroleum consumption of selected nations 1960-2005

Petroleum: top consuming nations, 1960-2005

US Oil Production and Imports 1920 to 2005

United States oil production peaked in 1970. By 2005 imports were twice the production.

The demand side of Peak oil is concerned with the consumption over time, and the growth of this demand. World crude oil demand has grown at around 2 percent in recent years. Demand growth is highest in the developing world. World demand for oil is set to increase 37% by 2030, according to the US-based Energy Information Administration's (EIA) annual report. Demand will hit 118 million barrels per day (bpd) from today's existing 86 million barrels, driven in large part by the transportation sector.[9][10]

As countries develop, industry, rapid urbanization and higher living standards drive up energy use, most often of oil. Thriving economies such as China and India are quickly becoming large oil consumers. China has seen oil consumption grow by 8% yearly since 2002, doubling from 1996-2006[11], indicating a doubling rate of less than 10 years. It currently imports roughly half its oil, with predictions of swift continued growth in coming years. India's oil imports are expected to more than triple to some 5 million barrels a day by 2020.[12]

Energy demand is distributed amongst four broad sectors: transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial.[13][14]

The sector that generally sees the highest annual growth in petroleum demand is transportation, in the form of new demand for personal-use gas-powered vehicles.[15] Cars and trucks will cause almost 75% of the increase in oil consumption by India and China between 2001 and 2025.[16] As more countries develop, the demand for oil will increase further. This sector also has the highest consumption rates, accounting for approximately 68.9% of the oil used in the United States in 2006[17], and 55% of oil use worldwide as documented in the Hirsch report. Transportation is therefore of particular interest to those seeking to mitigate the effects of Peak oil.


World population history

World Population Growth

Another large factor on petroleum demand has been human population growth. Oil production per capita peaked in the 1970s.[18] The world’s population in 2030 is expected to be double that of 1980.[19] Some analysts project that people will be much more oil-dependent than they are now[citation needed], while others predict that oil production in 2030 will have declined back to 1980 levels as worldwide demand for oil significantly out-paces production[20][21]. Some physicists maintain that the long-falling rate of oil production per capita has gone undiscussed because a politically incorrect form of population control may be implied by mitigation.[22]

One factor that has so far helped ameliorate the effect of population growth on demand is the decline of population growth rate since the 1970s. In 1970, the population grew at 2.1%. By 2007, it had declined to 1.167%[23]. From 2000 to 2005, human population only grew by 6.2%[19], whereas global oil production increased by 8.2%. [24]

Agriculture and population limitsEdit

Supplies of oil and gas are essential to modern agriculture techniques,[25] so coming decades could see spiraling food prices and unprecedented famine affecting human populations across the globe.[26][27] Geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer contends that current population levels are unsustainable. To achieve a sustainable economy and avert disaster, he maintains that the United States must reduce its population by at least one-third, and world population will have to be reduced by two-thirds[28].

Petroleum SupplyEdit


Hubbert world 2004

2004 U.S. government predictions for oil production other than in OPEC and the former Soviet Union

All the easy oil and gas in the world has pretty much been found. Now comes the harder work in finding and producing oil from more challenging environments and work areas.
— William J. Cummings, ExxonMobil's spokesman in Angola, Dec. 2005, [29]

As Peak oil is concerned with the amount of oil produced over time, the amount of recoverable reserves is important as this determines the amount of oil that can potentially be extracted in the future.

Conventional crude oil reserves include all crude oil that is technically possible to produce from reservoirs through a well bore, using primary, secondary, improved, enhanced, or tertiary methods. This does not include liquids extracted from mined solids or gasses (tar sands, oil shales, gas-to-liquid processes, or coal-to-liquid processes).[30]

Oil reserves are classified as proven, probable and possible. Proven reserves are generally intended to have at least 90% or 95% certainty of containing the amount specified. Probable Reserves have an intended probability of 50%, and the Possible Reserves an intended probability of 5% or 10%.[31] Current technology is capable of extracting about 40% of the oil from most wells. Some speculate that future technology will make further extraction possible,[32] but to some, this future technology is already considered in Proven and Probable reserve numbers.

In many major producing countries, the majority of reserves claims have not been subject to outside audit or examination. Most of the easy-to-extract oil has been found.[29] Recent price increases have led to oil exploration in areas where extraction is much more expensive, such as in extremely deep wells, extreme downhole temperatures, and environmentally sensitive areas or where high-technology will be required to extract the oil. A lower rate of discoveries per explorations has led to a shortage of drilling rigs, increases in steel prices, and overall increases in costs due to complexity.[33][34]

The peak of world oilfield discoveries occurred in 1965.[35] Because world population grew faster than oil production, production per capita peaked in 1979 (preceded by a plateau during the period of 1973-1979).[18]

The amount of oil discovered each year also peaked during the 1960's at around 55 Gb/year, and has been falling steadily since (in 2004/2005 it was about 12 Gb/year). Reserves in effect peaked in 1980, when production first surpassed new discoveries, though creative methods of recalculating reserves has made this difficult to establish exactly[6]

Concerns over stated reservesEdit

[World] reserves are confused and in fact inflated. Many of the so called reserves are in fact resources. They're not delineated, they’re not accessible, they’re not available for production
— Sadad Al-Husseini, former VP of Aramco, Oct. 2007; by Al-Husseini's estimate 300 billion of the world’s 1200 billion barrels of proved reserves should be recategorized as speculative resources. [7]

One difficulty in forecasting the date of peak oil is the opacity surrounding the oil reserves classified as 'proven'. Many worrying signs concerning the depletion of 'proven reserves' have emerged in recent years.[36][37] This was best exemplified by the 2004 scandal surrounding the 'evaporation' of 20% of Shell's reserves.[38]

For the most part, 'proven reserves' are stated by the oil companies, the producer states and the consumer states. All three have reasons to overstate their proven reserves:

  • Oil companies may look to increase their potential worth.
  • Producer countries are bestowed a stronger international stature
  • Governments of consumer countries may seek a means to foster sentiments of security and stability within their economies and among consumers.

The Energy Watch Group (EWG) 2007 report shows total world Proved (P95) plus Probable (P50) reserves to be between 854 and 1255 Gb (30 to 40 years of supply if demand growth were to stop immediately). Major discrepancies arise from accuracy issues with OPEC's self-reported numbers. Besides the possibility that these nations have overstated their reserves for political reasons (during periods of no substantial discoveries), over 70 nations also follow a practice of not reducing their reserves to account for yearly production. 1255 Gb is therefore a best-case scenario.[6] Analysts have suggested that each of the OPEC member nations also has economic incentives to exaggerate their reserves, due to the OPEC quota system, which allows greater output for countries with greater reserves.[32]

The following table shows suspicious jumps in stated reserves without associated discoveries, as well as the lack of depletion despite yearly production:

Declared reserves with suspicious increases in bold purple (in billions of barrels) from Colin Campbell, SunWorld, 80'-95
Year Abu Dhabi Dubai Iran Iraq Kuwait Saudi Arabia Venezuela
1980 28.00 1.40 58.00 31.00 65.40 163.35 17.87
1981 29.00 1.40 57.50 30.00 65.90 165.00 17.95
1982 30.60 1.27 57.00 29.70 64.48 164.60 20.30
1983 30.51 1.44 55.31 41.00 64.23 162.40 21.50
1984 30.40 1.44 51.00 43.00 63.90 166.00 24.85
1985 30.50 1.44 48.50 44.50 90.00 169.00 25.85
1986 31.00 1.40 47.88 44.11 89.77 168.80 25.59
1987 31.00 1.35 48.80 47.10 91.92 166.57 25.00
1988 92.21 4.00 92.85 100.00 91.92 166.98 56.30
1989 92.20 4.00 92.85 100.00 91.92 169.97 58.08
1990 92.20 4.00 93.00 100.00 95.00 258.00 59.00
1991 92.20 4.00 93.00 100.00 94.00 258.00 59.00
1992 92.20 4.00 93.00 100.00 94.00 258.00 62.70
2004 92.20 4.00 132.00 115.00 99.00 259.00 78.00

Kuwait, for example, was reported by a January 2006 issue of Petroleum Intelligence Weekly to have only 48 Gb in reserve, of which only 24 are "fully proven." This report was based on "leaks of confidential documents" from Kuwait, and has not been formally denied by the Kuwaiti authorities. Additionally, the reported 1.5 Gb of oil burned off by Iraqi soldiers in the first Gulf War[39] are conspicuously missing from Kuwait's figures.

On the other hand investigative journalist Greg Palast has argued that oil companies have an interest in making oil look more rare than it is in order to justify higher prices.[40] Other analysts in 2003 argued that oil producing countries understated the extent of their reserves in order to drive up the price of oil.[41]

Unconventional sourcesEdit

Extraction separation cell

Raw bitumen is separated from the sand in giant separation cells.

Unconventional sources, such as heavy crude oil, tar sands, and oil shale are not counted as part of oil reserves. However, oil companies can book them as proven reserves after opening a strip mine or thermal facility for extraction. Oil industry sources such as Rigzone have stated that these unconventional sources are not as efficient to produce, however, requiring extra energy to refine, resulting in higher production costs and up to three times more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel (or barrel equivalent).[42] While the energy used, resources needed, and environmental effects of extracting unconventional sources has traditionally been prohibitively high, the three major unconventional oil sources being considered for large scale production are the extra heavy oil in the Orinoco river of Venezuela,[43] the tar sands in the Western Canada Basin,[44] and the oil shale in the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming in the United States.[45][46] Chuck Masters of the USGS estimates that, "Taken together, these resource occurrences, in the Western Hemisphere, are approximately equal to the Identified Reserves of conventional crude oil accredited to the Middle East."[47]

Despite the large quantities of oil available in non-conventional sources, Matthew Simmons argues that limitations on production prevent them from becoming an effective substitute for conventional crude oil. Simmons states that "these are high energy intensity projects that can never reach high volumes" to offset significant losses from other sources.[48] Moreover, oil extracted from these sources typically contains contaminants such as sulfur, heavy metals and carbon that are energy-intensive to extract and leave highly toxic tailings. However, oil prices of over $90 a barrel in 2007 have brought increased attention to potentially mining these sources.[32] The results of one study suggest that within 15 years all the world’s extra oil supply will likely come from unconventional sources.[49]

A 2003 article in Discover magazine claimed that thermal depolymerization could be used to manufacture oil indefinitely, out of garbage, sewage, and agricultural waste. The article claimed that the cost of the process was $15 per barrel.[50] A follow-up article in 2006 stated that the cost was actually $80 per barrel.[51]



OPEC Crude Oil Production 2002-2006. Source:Middle East Economic Survey

The time when peak production of oil occurs is the measure which defines Peak oil. This is because production capacity in effect dictates supply. Therefore, when production decreases, it becomes the main bottleneck to the petroleum supply/demand equation.

World wide oil production has surpassed annual discoveries since 1980.[6] According to several sources, world-wide production is currently at or near its maximum.[4][5][6][7][8]

World oil production growth trends, in the short term, have been flat over the last 18 months. Global production averaged 85.24 mbbl/d in 2006, up 0.76 mbbl/d (0.9%), from 84.48 mbbl/d in 2005.[52] Production in Q3 2007 was 85.08 mbbl/d, down 0.62 mbbl/d (0.7%), from the same period a year earlier. Average yearly gains in world oil production from 1987 to 2005 were 1.2 mbbl/d (1.7%), with yearly gains since 1997 ranging from −1.4 mbbl/d, (-1.9%; 1998–1999) to 3.3 mbbl/d (4.1%; 2003–2004).[52]

Of the largest 21 fields, about 9 are already in decline.[53] Mexico announced that its giant Cantarell Field entered depletion in March, 2006,[54] as did the huge Burgan field in Kuwait in November, 2005.[55] Due to past overproduction, Cantarell is now declining rapidly, at a rate of 13% a year.[56] In April, 2006, a Saudi Aramco spokesman admitted that its mature fields are now declining at a rate of 8% per year, and its composite decline rate of producing fields is about 2%.[57] This information has been used to argue that Ghawar, the largest oil field in the world and a field responsible for approximately half of Saudi Arabia's oil production over the last 50 years, has peaked.[58][32]

OPEC had vowed in 2000 to maintain a production level sufficient to keep oil prices between $22–28 ea barrel, but this quickly proved impossible. In its 2007 annual report, OPEC projected that the price of oil would remain at around $50–60 ea barrel until 2030.[59] Then on November 18, 2007, with oil above $98 a barrel, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a long time advocate of stabilized oil prices, announced that his country would not increase production in order to lower prices.[60] Given Saudi Arabia's reversal and inability, as the worlds largest oil producer, to lower prices through increased production, it now appears that no nation or organization has the spare production capacity to lower oil prices, suggesting that those major suppliers who have not yet peaked are operating at or near full capacity.[32]

Commentators have pointed to the Jack 2 deep water test well in the Gulf of Mexico, announced September 5, 2006,[61] as evidence that there is no imminent peak in global oil production. According to one estimate, the field could account for up to 11% of US production within seven years.[62] However, even though oil discoveries are expected after the peak oil of production is reached,[63] the new reserves of oil will be harder to find and extract. The Jack 2 field, for instance, is more than 20,000 feet under the sea floor in 7,000 feet of water, requiring 8.5 kilometers of pipe to reach. Additionally, even the maximum estimate of 15 billion barrels represents slightly less than 2 years of U.S. consumption at present levels.[64]

The increasing investment in harder-to-reach oil is a sign of oil companies' belief in the end of easy oil.[29] In addition, while it is widely believed that increased oil prices spur an increase in production, an increasing number of oil industry insiders are now coming to believe that even with higher prices, oil production is unlikely to increase significantly beyond its current level. Among the reasons cited are both geological factors as well as "above ground" factors that are likely to see oil production plateau near its current level.[65]

Nationalization of oil supplies‎ Edit

Another factor affecting global oil supply is the nationalization of oil reserves by producing nations. The nationalization of oil occurs as countries begin to deprivatize oil production and with-hold exports. Kate Dourian, Platts' Middle East editor, points out that while estimates of oil reserves may vary, politics have now entered the equation of oil supply. "Some countries are becoming off limits. Major oil companies operating in Venezuela find themselves in a difficult position because of the growing nationalization of that resource. These countries are now reluctant to share their reserves."[66]

According to consulting firm PFC Energy, only 7% of the world's estimated oil and gas reserves are in countries that allow companies like ExxonMobil free rein. Fully 65% are in the hands of state-owned companies such as Saudi Aramco, with the rest in countries such as Russia and Venezuela, where access by Western companies is difficult. The PFC study implies political factors are limiting capacity increases in Mexico, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Russia. Saudi Arabia is also limiting capacity expansion, but because of a self-imposed cap, unlike the other countries.[67] As a result of not having access to countries amenable to oil exploration, ExxonMobil is not making nearly the investment in finding new oil that it did in 1981.[68]

Alternately, commodities trader Raymond Learsy, author of Over a Barrel: Breaking the Middle East Oil Cartel, contends that OPEC has trained consumers to believe that oil is a much more finite resource than it is. To back his argument, he points to past false alarms and apparent collaboration.[41] He also believes that Peak Oil analysts are conspiring with OPEC and the oil companies to create a "fabricated drama of peak oil" in order to drive up oil prices and profits. It is worth noting oil had risen to a little over $30/barrel at that time. A counter-argument was given in the Huffington Post after he and Steve Andrews, co-founder of ASPO, debated on CNBC in June 2007.[69]

Timing of peak oilEdit

Hubbert US high

US oil production (crude oil only) and Hubbert high estimate.

M. King Hubbert initially predicted in 1974 that peak oil would occur in 1995 "if current trends continue".[70] However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, global oil consumption actually dropped (due to the shift to energy-efficient cars,[71] the shift to electricity and natural gas for heating,[72] and other factors), then rebounded to a lower level of growth in the mid 1980s. Thus oil production did not peak in 1995, and has climbed to more than double the rate initially projected. This underscores the fact that the only reliable way to identify the timing of peak oil will be in retrospect. However, predictions have been refined through the years as up-to-date information becomes more readily available, such as new reserve growth data.[73] Predictions of the timing of peak oil include the possibilities that it has recently occurred, that it will occur shortly, that a plateau of oil production will sustain supply for up to 100 years, or that oil production will not peak.

Pessimistic predictions of future oil productionEdit

Saudi Arabia's King Abdulla told his subjects in 1998, "The oil boom is over and will not return... All of us must get used to a different lifestyle." Since then he has implemented a series of corruption reforms and government programs intended to lower Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil revenues. The royal family was put on notice to end its history of excess and new industries were created to diversify the national economy.[74]

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) predicted in their January 2008 newsletter that the peak in all oil (including non-conventional sources), would occur in 2010. This is earlier than the July 2007 newsletter prediction of 2011.[75]

Kenneth S. Deffeyes argues that world oil production peaked on December 16, 2005.[4]

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens stated in 2005 that worldwide conventional oil production was very close to peaking[76]. Data from the US Energy Information Administration shows that world production leveled out in 2004, and reached a peak in the third quarter of 2006[5]. An October 2007 retrospective report by the Energy Watch Group concluded that this was the peak of conventional oil production.[6]

Sadad Al Husseini, former head of Saudi Aramco's production and exploration, stated in an October 29, 2007 interview that oil production had likely already reached its peak in 2006[7], and that assumptions by the IEA and EIA of production increases by OPEC to over 45 MB/day are "quite unrealistic."

Hubbert world 2004

2004 U.S. government predictions for oil production other than in OPEC and the former Soviet Union

Crude NGPL IEAtotal 1960-2004

World Crude Oil Production 1960-2004. Sources: DOE/EIA, IEA


World Crude Oil Production 2001-2007.[77] Source: U.S. Energy Information Agency

The July 2007 IEA Medium-Term Oil Market Report projected a 2% non-OPEC liquids supply growth in 2007-2009, reaching 51.0 mb/d in 2008, receding thereafter as the slate of verifiable investment projects diminishes. They refer to this decline as a plateau. The report expects only a small amount of supply growth from OPEC producers, with 70% of the increase coming from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Angola as security and investment issues continue to impinge on oil exports from Iraq, Nigeria and Venezuela.[78]

In October 2007, the Energy Watch Group, a German research group founded by MP Hans-Josef Fell, released a report claiming that oil production peaked in 2006 and will decline by several percent annually. The authors predict negative economic effects and social unrest as a result.[79][6] They state that the IEA production plateau prediction uses purely economic models which rely on an ability to raise production and discovery rates at will. [6]

Matthew Simmons, Chairman of Simmons & Company International, said on October 26, 2006 that global oil production may have peaked in December 2005, though he cautions that further monitoring of production is required to determine if a peak has actually occurred.[80]

Optimistic predictions of future oil productionEdit

Plateau oilEdit

Not all non-'peakists' believe there will be endless abundance of oil. CERA, for example, which counts unconventional sources in reserves while discounting EROEI, believes that global production will eventually follow an “undulating plateau” for one or more decades before declining slowly.[3] In 2005 the group had predicted that "petroleum supplies will be expanding faster than demand over the next five years."[81]

Dr. R.C. Vierbuchen, Vice President, Caspian/Middle East Region, ExxonMobil Exploration Co. believes a peak, "from resource limitations, is unlikely in the next 25 years." He claims that future technologies will increase production, and that the peak will be the result of non-production factors.[82]

Similarly, some analysts believe that the rising oil prices will instigate a move toward alternative sources of fuel, and that this will take effect long before oil reserves are depleted[citation needed].

Energy Information Administration and USGS 2000 reportsEdit

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects world consumption of oil to increase to 98.3 million barrels a day in 2015 and 118 million barrels a day in 2030.[83] This represents more than a 25% increase in world oil production. A 2004 paper by the Energy Information Administration based on data collected in 2000 disagrees with Hubbert peak theory on several points:[15]

  • Explicitly incorporates demand into model as well as supply
  • Does not assume pre/post-peak symmetry of production levels
  • Models pre- and post-peak production with different functions (exponential growth and constant reserves-to-production ratio, respectively)
  • Assumes reserve growth, including via technological advancement and exploitation of small reservoirs

The EIA estimates of future oil supply are countered by Sadad Al Husseini, retired VP Exploration of Aramco, who calls it a 'dangerous over-estimate'.[84] Husseini also points out that population growth and the emergence of China and India means oil prices are now going to be structurally higher than they have been.

Colin Campbell argues that the 2000 USGS estimates is a methodologically flawed study that has done incalculable damage by misleading international agencies and governments. Campbell dismisses the notion that the world can seamlessly move to more difficult and expensive sources of oil and gas when the need arises. He argues that oil is in profitable abundance or not there at all, due ultimately to the fact that it is a liquid concentrated by nature in a few places having the right geology. Campbell believes OPEC countries raised their reserves to get higher oil quotas and to avoid internal critique. He also points out that the USGS failed to extrapolate past discovery trends in the world’s mature basins[85].

No Peak OilEdit

Some commentators, such as economist Michael Lynch, believe that the Hubbert Peak theory is flawed and that there is no imminent peak in oil production; a view sometimes referred to as "cornucopian" by believers in Hubbert Peak Theory. Lynch argued in 2004 that production is determined by demand as well as geology, and that fluctuations in oil supply are due to political and economic effects in addition to the physical processes of exploration, discovery and production.[86]

Abdullah S. Jum'ah President, Director and CEO of Aramco states that the world has adequate reserves of conventional and non conventional oil sources for more than a century[87][88], though Sadad Al-Husseini, a former Vice President of Aramco who formerly maintained that production would peak in 10-15 years, stated in October 2007 that oil production peaked in 2006[7].

OPEC has never acknowledged imminent Peak oil concerns.[citation needed] In OPEC's 2007 annual book[89], which discusses issues such as future supply position, forecasted demand, and ultimate recoverable reserves (URR), the authors state that the conventional oil resource base is sufficient to satisfy demand increases over the projected period until 2030 at a price of $50-60 per barrel, increasing afterwards to account for inflation. It also states that, comparing the 5% confidence (P5) URR of 3300(sic) billion barrels from the 2000 USGS survey[90] to what appears to be (there is no reference given) the 95% confidence (P95) URR of 1700(sic) billion barrels from the 1980 Rand corporation survey, production after 1980 has been only 1/3rd of reserve additions happening during the same period, which would contrast with Peak oil predictors. However, four other surveys from 1980 give estimates of 2600, 2400, 2280, and 2015 billion barrels.[91] Comparing the average of the five 1980 estimates (2219 billion barrels when using the actual Rand estimate of 1800 billion barrels) to the P95 URR from the 2000 USGS survey (2272 billion barrels), production after 1980 has been over 10 times more than reserve additions.


The theory that petroleum derives from biogenic processes is held by the overwhelming majority of petroleum geologists in the United States. Abiogenic theorists however, such as the late professor of astronomy Thomas Gold at Cornell University, assert that the sources of oil may not be “fossil fuels” in limited supply, but instead abiotic in nature. They theorize that if abiogenic petroleum sources are found to be abundant, Earth would contain vast reserves of untapped petroleum.[92] One of the main counter arguments to the abiotic theory is that biomarkers, which have been found in all samples of all the oil and gas accumulations found to date, suggest that oil comes from a biological origin and that oil is generated from kerogen by pyrolysis.[93]

Possible effects and consequences of Peak OilEdit

The widespread use of fossil fuels has been one of the most important stimuli of economic growth and prosperity since the industrial revolution, allowing humans to participate in takedown, or the consumption of energy at a greater rate than it is being replaced. Some believe that when oil production decreases, human culture and modern technological society will be forced to change drastically. The impact of Peak oil will depend heavily on the rate of decline and the development and adoption of effective alternatives. If alternatives are not forthcoming, the products produced with oil (including fertilizers, detergents, solvents, adhesives, and most plastics) would become scarce and expensive. At the very least this could lower living standards in developed and developing countries alike, and in the worst case lead to worldwide economic collapse. With increased tension between countries over dwindling oil supplies, political situations may change dramatically and inequalities between countries and regions may become exacerbated.

The Hirsch ReportEdit

In 2005, the US Department of Energy published a report titled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management.[94] Known as the Hirsch report, it stated, "The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking."

Conclusions from the Hirsch Report and three scenarios Edit

  • World oil peaking is going to happen, and will likely be abrupt.
  • Oil peaking will adversely affect global economies, particularly those most dependent on oil.
  • Oil peaking presents a unique challenge (“it will be abrupt and revolutionary”).
  • The problem is liquid fuels (growth in demand mainly from the transportation sector).
  • Mitigation efforts will require substantial time.
    • 20 years is required to transition without substantial impacts
    • A 10 year rush transition with moderate impacts is possible with extraordinary efforts from governments, industry, and consumers
    • Late initiation of mitigation may result in severe consequences.
  • Both supply and demand will require attention.
  • It is a matter of risk management (mitigating action must come before the peak).
  • Government intervention will be required.
  • Economic upheaval is not inevitable (“given enough lead-time, the problems are soluble with existing technologies.”)
  • More information is needed to more precisely determine the peak time frame.

Possible Scenarios:

  • Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades.
  • Initiating a mitigation crash program 10 years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked.
  • Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.

Other predictionsEdit

Some envisage a Malthusian catastrophe occurring as oil becomes increasingly inefficient to produce. Others claim that applying lessons learned from "mature oil fields" to operational procedures of other basins could preserve their operational tempo[citation needed].

Agricultural effectsEdit


Tractor and Chaser Bin

Since the 1940s, agriculture has dramatically increased its productivity, due largely to the use of petrochemical derived pesticides, fertilizers, and increased mechanization (the so-called Green Revolution). This has allowed world population to more than double over the last 50 years. Every energy unit delivered in food grown using modern techniques requires over ten energy units to produce and deliver. Because of modern agriculture's heavy reliance on petrochemicals and mechanization, as well as the lack of any quickly available non-petroleum based alternatives, many agriculture, petroleum, sociology, and ecology experts have warned that the ever decreasing supply of oil will inflict major damage to the modern industrial agriculture system (a list of publications supporting this thesis can be found here in the section: "Food, Land, Water, and Population"), causing a collapse in food production ability and food shortages.

One example of this chain reaction is the effect of petroleum supplies on fertilizer production. By far the biggest fossil fuel input to agriculture is the use of natural gas as a hydrogen source for the Haber-Bosch fertilizer-creation process[95]. Natural gas is used because it is the cheapest currently available source of hydrogen[96][97]. When oil production becomes so scarce that natural gas is used as a partial stopgap replacement, and hydrogen use in transportation increases, natural gas will become much more expensive. If other sources of hydrogen are not available to replace the Haber process, in amounts sufficient to supply transportation and agricultural needs, this major source of fertilizer would either become extremely expensive or unavailable. This would either cause food shortages or dramatic rises in food prices.

One effect of oil shortages (and by far the most sustainable alternative) is a full return to organic agriculture methods. This conversion would take time, as well as major reconditioning of soil which now relies on chemical fertilizers to produce enough food to meet demands. Also, while some farmers using modern organic-farming methods have reported yields as high as those available from conventional farming (but without the use of fossil-fuel-intensive artificial fertilizers or pesticides)[98][99][100][101], this may be more labor-intensive[citation needed] and require a shift of work force from urban to rural areas.

Farmers have also begun raising crops such as corn for non-food use in an effort to help mitigate peak oil. This has already lowered food production[102], an effect which will be exacerbated when demand for ethanol fuels rises. Rising food and fuel costs has already limited the abilities of some charitable donors to send food aid to starving populations.[103] In the UN, some warn that the recent 60% rise in wheat prices could cause "serious social unrest in developing countries."[104]

In 2007, higher incentives for farmers to grow non-food bio-fuel crops combined with other factors (such as over-development of former farm lands, rising transportation costs, climate change, and growing populations) to cause food shortages in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Mexico, as well as rising food prices around the globe. Some of these shortages resulted in riots and even deadly stampedes. The rise of bio-fuel uses for oils traditionally used for cooking purposes, such as palm oil, has put further strain on families in countries which rely on cooking oil for the bulk of their daily calories, as well as indiginous tribes displaced by new plantations. "As the multiple conflicts and economic pressures associated with palm oil play out in the global economy, the bottom line seems to be that the world wants more of the oil than it can get." [105]

Transportation and housingEdit


Housing subdivision near Union, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio.

A majority of Americans live in suburbs, a type of low-density settlement designed around universal personal automobile use. Electric vehicle, hydrogen power[citation needed], or other technologies[citation needed] may extend the usefulness of these living arrangements, but commentators such as James Howard Kunstler argue that because over 90% of transportation in the United States relies on oil, the suburb's reliance on the automobile is an unsustainable living arrangement. Peak oil would leave many Americans unable to afford petroleum based fuel for their cars, and force them to move to higher density areas, where walking and public transportation are more viable options. Suburbia may become the "slums of the future."[106][107] Methods which have been suggested for mitigating this include transit-oriented development, new pedestrianism, smart growth, shared space, and New Urbanism.


To avoid the serious social and economic implications a global decline in oil production could have, the Hirsch report emphasized the need to find alternatives at least 10-20 years before the peak, and to phase out the use of petroleum over that time, similar to the plan Sweden announced in 2005. Such mitigation could include energy conservation, fuel substitution, and the use of non-conventional oil. Because mitigation can reduce the consumption of traditional petroleum sources, it can also affect the timing of peak oil and the shape of the Hubbert curve.

Positive aspects of peak oilEdit

There are those who believe that peak oil should be viewed as a positive event[citation needed]. Many of these critics reason that if the price of oil rises high enough, the use of alternative clean fuels could help control the pollution and climate effects of fossil fuel use[citation needed]. Others, in particular anarcho-primitivists, are hopeful that it will cause or contribute to the collapse of civilization. [108]

Peak oil for individual nations Edit

Peak Oil as a concept applies globally, but it is based on the summation of individual nations experiencing peak oil. In State of the World 2005, Worldwatch Institute observes that oil production is in decline in 33 of the 48 largest oil-producing countries.[109] Other countries have also passed their individual oil production peaks.

The following list shows significant oil-producing nations and their approximate peak oil production years.[110]

Hubbert US high

US oil production (crude oil only) and Hubbert high estimate.

Canadian Oil Production 1960 to 2020

Canadian conventional oil production peaked in 1973, but oil sands production is forecast to increase to at least 2020

  • Australia (disputed): 2004; 2001
  • Egypt: 1987[111]
  • France: 1988
  • Germany: 1966
  • Iran: 1974
  • India: 1997
  • Indonesia: 1991[112]
  • Japan: 1932 (assumed; source does not specify)
  • Libya: 1970
  • Mexico: 2003
  • New Zealand: 1997[113]
  • Nigeria: 1979
  • Norway: 2000[114]
  • Oman: 2000[115]
  • Russia: 1987
  • Syria: 1996 [116]
  • Tobago: 1981[117]
  • Venezuela: 1970
  • UK: 1999
  • USA: 1970[118]

Peak oil production has not been reached in the following nations (these numbers are estimates and subject to revision):[119]

  • Iraq: 2018
  • Kuwait: 2013
  • Saudi Arabia: 2014

In addition, the most recent International Energy Agency and US Energy Information Administration production data show record and rising production in Canada and China.

Related peaksEdit

The amount of oil discovered each year peaked in the mid 1960's at around 55 Gb/year, and has been falling steadily since then (in 2004/2005 it was about 12 Gb/year)[35]. Reserves in effect peaked in 1980, when production first surpassed new discoveries. Because of world population growth, oil production per capita peaked in 1979 (preceded by a plateau during the period of 1973-1979).[18] Hubbert's curve has also been used to describe the peak production of other non-renewable resources, such as natural gas, coal, uranium, metals, and even renewable resources like water and fish.[120]

Oil priceEdit

Oil Prices Medium Term

Medium-Term Oil Prices, 1994-2007 (not adjusted for inflation).

Oil Prices 1861 2006

Long-Term Oil Prices, 1861-2006 (top line adjusted for inflation).


Gas coupon printed but not used in 1973 oil crisis

In terms of 2007 inflation adjusted dollars, the price of oil peaked at an equivalent of $101 in 1980. Despite wide fluctuations, crude oil prices in the last several years have steadily risen from about $25 a barrel in August of 2003 to over $100 a barrel in January of 2008. These prices are well above where many commentators have predicted economic effects[citation needed].

Helping to fuel these increases are reports from the U.S. Department of Energy and others that show a decline in petroleum reserves, and analysts reporting that petroleum production is at[4][5][6][7] or near full capacity[121][8] [122]. In June 2005, OPEC admitted that they would 'struggle' to pump enough oil to meet pricing pressures for the fourth quarter of that year.[123]

Demand pressures on oil are strong. Global consumption of oil rose from 30 billion barrels in 2004 to 31 billion in 2005. These consumption rates are far above new discoveries, which had fallen to only eight billion barrels of new oil reserves in new accumulations in 2004.[124] In 2005, consumption was within 2 Mbbl/d of production, and at any one time there are about 54 days of stock in the OECD system plus 37 days in emergency stockpiles.

Besides supply and demand pressures, at times security related factors may have contributed to increases in prices[125], including the "War on Terror", missile launches in North Korea, the Crisis between Israel and Lebanon, nuclear brinkmanship between the US and Iran[dead link][126], the incursion by Turkey into Northern Iraq[citation needed], and hurricanes[citation needed].

Another factor in oil price is the cost of extracting crude. As the extration of oil has become more difficult, oil's historically high ratio of Energy Returned on Energy Invested has seen a significant decline. The increased price of oil makes non-conventional sources of oil retrieval more attractive. For example, tar sands are a far less cost-efficient source of heavy, low-grade oil compared to conventional crude, but can become attractive to exploration and production companies when prices are high enough to cover production. Recent months have seen billions of dollars invested in the tar (bitumen) sands[citation needed].

Despite the rapid increase in the price of oil, neither the stock markets nor the growth of the global economy have been noticeably affected[citation needed], though inflation has increased. In the United States, inflation averaged 3.3% in 2005-2006, as compared to an average of 2.5% in the preceding 10-year period.[127] As a result, during this period the Federal Reserve has consistently increased interest rates to curb inflation.

An oil price chart can be seen here.

Effects of rising oil pricesEdit

World Energy consumption

World power usage in terawatts (TW), 1965-2005.[128]

In the past, the price of oil has led to economic recessions, such as the 1973 and 1979 energy crises. The effect the price of oil has on an economy is known as a price shock. In many European countries, which have high taxes on fuels, such price shocks could potentially be mitigated somewhat by temporarily or permanently suspending the taxes as fuel costs rise.[129]. This method of softening price shocks is even less viable to countries with much lower gas taxes, such as the United States.

Some economists predict that a substitution effect will spur demand for alternate energy sources, such as coal or liquefied natural gas. This substitution can only be temporary, as coal and natural gas are finite resources as well.

Prior to the runup in fuel prices, many motorists opted for larger, less fuel-efficient sport utility vehicles and full-sized pickups in the United States, Canada and other countries. This trend has been reversing due to sustained high prices of fuel. The September 2005 sales data for all vehicle vendors indicated SUV sales dropped while small cars sales increased. Hybrid and diesel vehicles are also gaining in popularity. [citation needed]

Historical understanding of world oil supply limitsEdit

Although the finiteness of the earth's oil supply means that peak oil is inevitable, technological innovations in finding and drilling for oil have at times changed the understanding of the total oil supply on Earth.[130]

  • In 1855, people could only access whatever oil happened to seep to the surface, and an advertisement for Kier's Rock Oil stated, "Hurry, before this wonderful product is depleted from Nature’s laboratory."
  • In 1874, the state geologist of Pennsylvania, the United States' leading oil-producing state, said that all the oil would be gone by 1878.
  • In 1920, the U.S. Geological Survey stated that the world only had 60 billion barrels of oil left.
  • In 1950, geologists estimated that the world had 600 billion barrels of oil.
  • Since the 1960s, major oil surveys have shown P95 EUR of close to 2,000 billion barrels (see below).
  • In 1970, scientists estimated that the world had 1,500 billion barrels of oil.
  • In 1994, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the world had 2,400 billion barrels of oil.
  • In 2000, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the world had 3,000 billion barrels of oil (P95 EUR of 2,300 billion barrels—see below).

The 95% confidence Estimated Ultimate Retrieval (EUR) of a little under 2,000 billion barrels has been the average finding of major oil surveys since 1965. The 2000 USGS survey assumed a discovery trend over the next 20 years which would completely and dramatically reverse the observed trend of the past 40 years. Their 95% confidence EUR of 2,300 billion barrels assumed that discovery levels would stay steady, despite discovery levels having fallen quickly and steadily since the 1960s. That trend of falling discoveries has continued in the 7 years since the USGS made their assumption.[6]

None of this means that new oil is forming, or that peak oil will never happen, but it implies that technological advances have allowed the discovery and recovery of more oil than was historically expected. As oil estimates have remained steady since the 1960s this appears to no longer be the case, as can be seen above. Nevertheless, one significant source of uncertainty is the continuing inability to independently audit stated reserves from many of the world's biggest oil producers.


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Further readingEdit


  • Colin J. Campbell,
    • Campbell, Colin J. (2004). The Essence of Oil & Gas Depletion. Multi-Science Publishing. ISBN 0-906522-19-6. 
    • Campbell, Colin J. (2004). The Coming Oil Crisis. Multi-Science Publishing. ISBN 0-906522-11-0. 
    • Campbell, Colin J. (2005). Oil Crisis. Multi-Science Publishing. ISBN 0-906522-39-0. 
  • Kenneth S. Deffeyes,
    • Deffeyes, Kenneth S. (2002). Hubbert's Peak:The Impending World Oil Shortage. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09086-6. 
    • Deffeyes, Kenneth S. (2005). Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak. Hill and Wang. ISBN 0-8090-2956-1. 
  • Eberhart, Mark (2007). Feeding the Fire: The Lost History and Uncertain Future of Mankind's Energy Addiction. Harmony. ISBN 978-0307237446. 
  • Goodstein, David (2005). Out of Gas: The End of the Age Of Oil. W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-05857-3. 
  • Richard Heinberg,
    • Heinberg, Richard (2003). The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies. New Society Publishers. ISBN 0-86571-482-7. 
    • Heinberg, Richard (2004). Power Down: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World. New Society Publishers. ISBN 0-86571-510-6. 
    • Heinberg, Richard (2006). The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse. New Society Publishers. ISBN 10: 0-86571-563-7. 
  • Huber, Peter (2005). The Bottomless Well. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-03116-1. 
  • Kleveman, Lutz C. (2004). The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-906-5. 
  • Kunstler, James H. (2005). The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-888-3. 
  • Leggett, Jeremy (2005). The Empty Tank: Oil, Gas, Hot Air, and the Coming Financial Catastrophe. Random House. ISBN 1-4000-6527-5. 
  • Leggett, Jeremy (2005). Half Gone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis. Portobello Books Ltd. ISBN 1-8462-7004-9. 
  • Lovins, Amory et al (2005). Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profit, Jobs and Security. Rocky Mountain Institute. ISBN 1-881071-10-3. 
  • Pfeiffer, Dale Allen (2004). The End of the Oil Age. Lulu Press. ISBN 1-4116-0629-9. 
  • Rashid, Ahmed,
    • Rashid, Ahmed (2001). Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08902-3. 
    • Rashid, Ahmed (2003). Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09345-4. 
  • Rifkin, Jeremy (2002). The Hydrogen Economy: After Oil, Clean Energy From a Fuel-Cell-Driven Global Hydrogen Web. Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-7456-3042-1. 
  • Ruppert, Michael C. (2005). Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil. New Society. ISBN-13: 978-0865715400. 
  • Simmons, Matthew R. (2005). Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. ISBN 0-471-73876-X. 
  • Shah, Sonia (2004). Crude, The Story of Oil. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 1-58322-625-7. 
  • Simon, Julian L. (1998). The Ultimate Resource. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00381-5. 
  • Smil, Vaclav (2005). Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspectives and Uncertainties. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-19492-9. 
  • Stansberry, Mark A. with Jason Reimbold (2008). The Braking Point. Hawk Publishing. ISBN 978-1-930709-67-6. 
  • Tertzakian, Peter (2006). A Thousand Barrels a Second. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-146874-9. 
  • Yeomans, Matthew (2004). Oil, Anatomy of an Industry. ISBN 1-56584-885-3. 
  • Yergin, Daniel (1993). The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. Free Press. ISBN 0-671-79932-0. 


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