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Hubbert's Peak: the impending oil shortage
October 18, 2002 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Hubbert's Peak: the impending oil shortage Is this the REAL reason behind the push to invade Iraq? In 1956. M. King Hubbert, a respected petroleum geologist, predicted - to within a year! - the peak in US oil production: 1970. US oil production has declined every year since. Using the same statistical methods, others now predict a world peak in oil production within a decade or even as early as 2006.
posted by troutfishing (21 comments total)

 


Before this thread goes nuts, I'd like to ask a question. When all of the oil in this planet is used up and the world is sucked dry, will that have any sort of effect on the planet? I mean geologically. I'm just kinda wondering.
posted by Hall at 2:02 PM on October 18, 2002


the fire you left me -- I've been pushing/discussing/posting those docs. - especially "Rebuilding America's Defenses" on Mefi at every possible opportunity. I'm glad you posted them on this thread.

Hall - Damned if I know......though I think they often pump in water to displace the oil and force it out. Then again, given that the coal industry has taken (especially with new laxity of the Bush Adm.) to blowing the tops off mountains to get coal, who knows? Earthquakes? Tidal waves? Or maybe the Morelocks will ge pissed off and swarm to the surface to carry us all back to their lairs for food.
posted by troutfishing at 2:27 PM on October 18, 2002


Hall: All the minerals and oil in the Earth is found in the crust which is only about 50km thick. Oil by itself is not even close to being the most abundant substance in the crust. So even if we sucked it all up it would have almost no effect on a large geological scale. Cities aren't going to start sinking into the ground if that's what you're thinking.
posted by PenDevil at 2:32 PM on October 18, 2002


There are few statistics as fudged, as political as the "reserve" reported by each producing country. All the producers manipulate reserve levels to affect price levels.

Some background from Scientific American: The End of Cheap Oil
posted by bonehead at 2:33 PM on October 18, 2002


Hall: Wells are typically refilled with seawater to force out oil, if nothing else. Rock pressures are little changed afterwards.
posted by bonehead at 2:34 PM on October 18, 2002


bonehead - thanks for that link. I was aware of the article, and chose to not put it on my post for fear of "too many links" (a criticism of my giant multilinked post from yesterday). In retrospect, the "End of Cheap Oil" link might have been a better lead link - Trout
posted by troutfishing at 3:02 PM on October 18, 2002


Bonehead - One aspect of reserve fudging sticks out in my head though; the giant increase in "reserves" which immediately followed the formation of OPEC, which has been attributed to the fact that OPEC quotas are apportioned on the basis of reserve size. This incentive to maximize reported oil reserve size seems to have conjured into being whole seas of nonexistant oil.
posted by troutfishing at 3:10 PM on October 18, 2002


Hubbert's article is flawed on a lot of premises having to do with excavation, including...
-"Reserves" values change based on available technology and the cost of available technology. Many resources that were impossible to excavate in the 50's and 70's are within easy reach now.
-Saying there are lots of reserves drives the price down for oil - it has in the past and will again.
-Besides new drilling technology, which allows us to get more petroleum out of lower concentration deposits, new prospecting technology has been developed. The more we use seismology, geology and various signals from the earth, the more deposits are found that twenty years ago we wouldn't have known about.
-Remember that it's all very very speculative. Very.

For references to articles that support and counter Hubbert's points, check out the articles here. If anyone's interested in more I can dig them out...
posted by whatzit at 3:38 PM on October 18, 2002


Thanks for the thread, troutfishing, and all the other links posted. I have often argued that we, the United States, should be looking for viable alternatives to oil if for no other reason than that oil is a finite resource. The Economist has an interesting article linked in the posted link "America's energy policy was wrong before September 11th. Now it is even more so." which talks about the economics of the issue.
posted by Eekacat at 3:43 PM on October 18, 2002


As background for this link, you should check here, the
Oil and Gas Journal Online. Sure, it's an industry 'paper', but at the same time, they don't seem to be particularly afraid of running out of business, or beating the drum for conservation.
They also have tons of information that is complementary to the Department of Energy Country Analysis Briefs.

More than you EVER wanted to know about oil reserves.
Me, I'm not scared of running out any time soon.
posted by kablam at 4:00 PM on October 18, 2002


Running out of oil is a big red herring, in geopolitical terms.

The advantage of oil is that it petroleum products are damn fine batteries, in terms of the ratio of available energy to mass and volume, and taking into account price to extract, process, and transport.

No one seriously questions the ability of technology to evolve non-hydrocarbon "batteries" (using the term loosely) with far energy to mass-and-volume ratios than those of the current non-fossil-fuel energy sources -- but so long as there is plenty of relatively cheap oil there is no economic incentive to develop them and the infrastructure to support and distribute them.

If and when (and, yes, it is an "if" in terms of generations, although obviously not in terms of centuries) actual, as opposed to spurious, oil reserves begin to be exhausted, then the incentives will exist to devlop other energy-storage systems and reengineer technologies to utilize them.

Water-based fuel cells, efficient batteries charged from solar- or hydro-powered grids, etc. ... it will be far less of transition, in terms of social and economic effects, than the transition from horse-drawn land-transport to fossil-fueled locomotives and cars. It may be that there won't be as cheap a fuel as oil, but consider this: oil is 50% to 200% more expensive in many parts of Europe (depending upon use) than it is in the US, and I don't there'd be much trauma, in historical terms, if the US were suddenly forced to live the lifestyle of Britain or Germany.
posted by MattD at 4:05 PM on October 18, 2002


MattD - Even the US Geological Survey doesn't predict that world oil reserves will last for "generations". They predict 50 years. That term might be construed as generations but....meanwhile, I agree that other energy sources can be developed. And the world certainly needs to wean itself off oil. BUT......when the "Peak" happens, the world economy will take a very heavy hit. Oil price will escalate and, although the developed countries will be able to pay the higher prices, the developing companies will be hard hit. Geopolitical tensions will escalate. Oil production, furthermore, will drop every year thereafter.


Whatzit - you posted "Hubbert's article is flawed on a lot of premises having to do with excavation, including...

-"Reserves" values change based on available technology and the cost of available techno"Many resources that were impossible to excavate in the 50's and 70's are within easy reach now."

[ ALSO irrelevant - oil prices do not "determine" supply. They influence consumption rates but cannot make oil ] "- Saying there are lots of reserves drives the price down for oil - it has in the past and will again."

[ IF THIS argument were correct, US oil production would NOT HAVE PEAKED IN 1970. New technologies would have ennabled continued growth in production. Such was NOT THE CASE. ] "-Besides new drilling technology, which allows us to get more petroleum out of lower concentration deposits, new prospecting technology has been developed. The more we use seismology, geology and various signals from the earth, the more deposits are found that twenty years ago we wouldn't have known about.

-Remember that it's all very very speculative. Very." [NOT REALLY - The Hubbert Curve has a proven track record of accurate prediction. ]

At the time of the LAST Gulf War, 50% of known reserves lay in the Mideast. Today, at the time of an impending 2nd Gulf War, 65% of known reserves lie in the Mideast.

ALL THE NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND EXTRACTIVE METHODS AND NEW RESERVES HAVE NOT SUBSTANTIALLY CHANGED THIS SITUATION - THE DOMINANCE OF THE MIDEAST IN OIL PRODUCTION, IT'S PREEMINENT POSITION AS THE SOURCE OF THE BULK OF KNOWN WORLD RESERVES.
posted by troutfishing at 4:18 PM on October 18, 2002


ALSO irrelevant - oil prices do not "determine" supply. They influence consumption rates but cannot make oil

While higher prices cannot "make" oil, they can and do increase the size of economically recoverable reserves. If it costs you $20 to get a barrel of oil from a particular deposit, and the price of oil is currently $10 a barrel, you're not going to develop that field. But when oil prices go up to $50 a barrel, you will. And of course, when oil prices go up to $50 a barrel people will use a lot less of it.
posted by jaek at 5:06 PM on October 18, 2002


Besides energy, what happens to all the other things we make out of oil, like plastics or pharmaceuticals?
posted by gimonca at 5:34 PM on October 18, 2002


IF THIS argument were correct, US oil production would NOT HAVE PEAKED IN 1970. New technologies would have ennabled continued growth in production. Such was NOT THE CASE

Not as long as it's cheaper to get oil from the mideast. Why spend $30 to get a barrel out of TX or PA when you can get the same barrel from Saudi for $10?

Put differently, the new technology that enabled growth in production was called "going to Arabia and Venezuela and..."

There's a *lot* of petroleum out there, especially when prices rise enough to make oil shales and tar sands (more) profitable.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:41 PM on October 18, 2002


Thanks for the info. I had taken a thorough geology class before and didn't expect anything huge to happen, but I wasn't sure what they did with the holes in the earth.
posted by Hall at 7:14 PM on October 18, 2002


In the final analysis:

At the time of the LAST Gulf War, 50% of known reserves lay in the Mideast. Today, at the time of an impending 2nd Gulf War, 65% of known reserves lie in the Mideast.

Improvements in "extractive technology" haven't helped this equation.
posted by troutfishing at 9:15 PM on October 18, 2002


Perhaps the answer, my friends is blowing in the wind? Or simply basking in the sun, maybe...

... the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Thomas Jefferson

posted by y2karl at 10:10 PM on October 18, 2002


troutfishing....

I don't know why you believe the Hubbert Curve, but you'd be hard pressed to find any geologist or economist who thinks we're running out of oil anytime soon. First, known reserves will last *decades* at current demand equilibrium. As those reserves drop (and this assumes easily recoverable oil, such as that in the Balkans, is not fully developed), the price of oil will go up. As the price goes up, new extraction techniques will be used.

Oil will be more expensive, but we'll never run out in the foreseeable future. Just shale reserves, while expensive, make the Saudi oil look like pennies in the barrel.
posted by Kevs at 11:24 PM on October 18, 2002


Kevs - As I said, I tend to believe the Hubbert Curve because of it's aforementioned TRACK RECORD OF ACCURATE PREDICTION.

It's quite simple, really: compare 1) known reserves, 2) discovery rates of new oil, and 3) consumption rates.

Regardless of all new available technologies, the curve which describes world new oil discovery rates is FLATTENING OUT.

Now this does not mean that we suddenly will run out of oil one day. But when we pass the world peak of oil production, oil will get progressively more expensive - especially because we have been pumping the easiest to recover oil first. Recovering the rest of the known reserves will get harder, year by year.

Of course, higher oil prices will provide an inventive for greater fuel efficiency. This is a good thing.

But when the price of oil goes way up, we will price poorer countries like China out of the market. They will then be forced to turn to coal. Also, the world economy will be hard hit, especially because it is very reliant on oil for food production: geopolitical tensions will escalate.

By the way the USGS - taken by most as the standard authority on the subject - predicts that world oil reserves wil last another 50 years. I find that a very foreseeable time frame. But the USGS has nothing to say about when world oil production will peak, and the Hubbert Curve analysis suggests a peak of production MUCH sooner than 50 years.
posted by troutfishing at 12:48 PM on October 19, 2002


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