A Free-Market Energy Blog

The Return of Peak Oil?

By -- January 1, 2009

For several years now, a number of peak oil advocates such as Matt Simmons, T. Boone Pickens (aka “I believe in free markets, but give me subsidies”) and Ken Deffeyes have been arguing that May 2005 was the peak of world oil production.  They arrived at this by noting that crude plus condensate (excluding natural gas liquids, biofuels, etc) peaked and declined in that month.  Matt went so far as to wager with me that we would never surpass that amount. 

Aside from the fact that C+C production has peaked and dropped several times in the past 2 decades, only to recover, it has, on preliminary data, surpassed that again this July.  However, there is a distinct possibility that the numbers will be revised downwards leaving May 2005 as the highest point to date.  (Earlier this year, when I suggested Matt pay up on the bet, he argued that the spring data might be revised down enough to keep the earlier record intact, and this proved to be so.)

Since the most recent peak in July, OPEC has sharply cut production enough so that it is likely to keep the May 2005 record intact until economic recovery is well under way.  Low prices will certainly reduce the attention paid to peak oil, but the true believers won’t be persuaded, so this issue is not as dead as it deserves to be.


  1. Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D.  

    the top story of the year is that global crude oil production peaked in 2008.

    The media, governments, world leaders, and public should focus on this issue.

    Global crude oil production had been rising briskly until 2004, then plateaued for four years. Because oil producers were extracting at maximum effort to profit from high oil prices, this plateau is a clear indication of Peak Oil.

    Then in July and August of 2008 while oil prices were still very high, global crude oil production fell nearly one million barrels per day, clear evidence of Peak Oil (See Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly,” December 2008, page 1) http://www.peakoil.nl/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/2008_december_oilwatch_monthly.pdf. Peak Oil is now.

    Credit for accurate Peak Oil predictions (within a few years) goes to the following (projected year for peak given in parentheses):

    * Association for the Study of Peak Oil (2007)

    * Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly” (2008)

    * Tony Eriksen, Oil stock analyst and Samuel Foucher, oil analyst (2008)

    * Matthew Simmons, Energy investment banker, (2007)

    * T. Boone Pickens, Oil and gas investor (2007)

    * U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2005)

    * Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton professor and retired shell geologist (2005)

    * Sam Sam Bakhtiari, Retired Iranian National Oil Company geologist (2005)

    * Chris Skrebowski, Editor of “Petroleum Review” (2010)

    * Sadad Al Husseini, former head of production and exploration, Saudi Aramco (2008)

    * Energy Watch Group in Germany (2006)

    Oil production will now begin to decline terminally.

    Within a year or two, it is likely that oil prices will skyrocket as supply falls below demand. OPEC cuts could exacerbate the gap between supply and demand and drive prices even higher.

    Independent studies indicate that global crude oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

    Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. There is no plan nor capital for a so-called electric economy. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: “Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:”

    “By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame.”

    With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won’t be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated building systems.

    It is time to focus on Peak Oil preparation and surviving Peak Oil.


  2. Tom Tanton  

    Surviving peak oil is simple–increase production capacity. The only reason supplies have not caught up to demands (other than recently due to demand drops) is due to limits imposed on production by a) socialist driven GOOC (see e.g. Venezuela) with poor efficiencies and b) eco-alarmist driven restrictions (see e.g. North America OCS). This is true for both crude and refining capacity. Peak oil has nothing to do with actual OIP (oil in place.)


  3. mlynch  

    Well Clifford, your reference to the peaking of oil production in 2008 as a fact on the 2nd day of 2009 illustrates the difference between faith and evidence. Oil production rises and falls regularly; in fact, the decline you refer to last summer was a seasonal effect.
    Which highlights the fact that most peak oil advocates are not familiar with the oil industry (including the list of those predicting peak oil that you provide), or are novices at predicting oil supply and/or performing statistical analyses.
    You give credit for accurate forecasts to various groups, ignoring the fact that they are accurate if and only if you are correct that oil production peaked last year, which is circular logic.
    I can find no hard evidence of an imminent peak, only simplistic models that have repeatedly generated bad results.
    Mike Lynch


  4. Perry Curling-Hope  

    Peak oil is a ‘rear view mirror’ event.
    We will only see it when well past, by a decade or two, not a month or two.

    Its rather like trying to predict history.


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