I am considered a leading critic of peak oil, the belief that oil production has peaked, is peaking, or will peak soon. I am a resource optimist in the Julian Simon tradition and believe that resourceship allows so-called depletable resources to expand, refuting the fixity/depletion mindset.
This said, I am empirically oriented. So let’s study and debate the facts, while remembering the record of peak-oil forecasts from the beginning to the present.
For my optimist/resourceship/expansionist position, I get slammed a good bit, such as by Joe Romm and by Gabriel Rotello at the Huffington Post (but also supported there by Raymond Learsay). I mostly take the fuss, which is two parts emotionalism to one part intellectual argument.
But when David Hughes of the Post Carbon Institute published a piece calling a New York Times story “inaccurate, misleading and unhelpful ‘journalism’” I thought to add a comment. However, the post was not approved for some reason. While I don’t have the precise wording (it’s lost on the Internet), I will reproduce the comments here as best I’m able in the next several paragraphs.
Hughes remarks that Chinese demand is growing, without explaining why that is different from the demand growth experienced throughout the past century and a half. He also criticized the citations to what he called the “uber-optimist” CERA and a failure to mention other “credible” reports that are more pessimistic (one added comment cited the Hirsch report), but doesn’t note that the National Petroleum Council, the definitive industry voice (though hardly infallible) in its report “The Hard Truth,” examined the peak oil arguments and found them without merit.
The IEA has certainly lowered its long-term oil production forecast, but could this be evidence for a demand response to high prices (which they also predict), rather than an indication that they are more concerned than before about supply? There is also a political element on what oil exploration will be permitted by government.
Finally, Hughes attacks the article’s optimism about shale gas, citing a variety of problems facing the industry, without acknowledging that production is booming, which seems pretty clear evidence that these problems are being overcome.
Other criticisms could have been made, but for a comment on a website, brevity seemed of value. However, no intemperate language was used in my attempted comment and only statements of fact were made, unlike the original piece by David Hughes, who didn’t give any indication of what, precisely, was “inaccurate”.
This is a perfect example of both the shortcomings of the Internet and peak oil theorists: throw out facts (Chinese oil demand will grow! A lot!), which is implied to be important, but meaningless without knowing the historical context or relation to, say, resource estimates.
And of course my favorite tactic: Hughes makes reference to ‘studies’ (without specific citation) as supporting his views. In a talk at the 2010 Degrowth Institute Vancouver, for example, he makes reference to various forecasts, and mentions the median prediction of the peak is 2012 (excluding the two high ones). One wonders if Hughes also judges the age of the Earth by the average estimate of American citizens, which comes to about 7,000 years.
And Hughes makes the claim that resource optimism is based in Washington, which is clearly untrue. As in so many cases of peak oil advocates (and hardly unique to the peak oil debate), he appears to be largely unaware of the breadth of studies on this issue, or perhaps is cherry-picking the ones he prefers. He mentions, for example, the late 1990s “watershed study” by Colin Campbell in New Scientist which I was unable to locate, except for a 1999 news story noting that Campbell thought the peak would be in two years, but there is no reference to his many other predictions that have failed, beginning with his 1989 article in Noroil, which argued that the peak had been reached in that year.
Hope about despair springs eternal.
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