A Geologist Weighs in on Peak Oil

We’ve blogged repeatedly, and somewhat skeptically, about the “peak oil” frenzy. Chris Turner of The Walrus recently profiled Dave Hughes, a Canadian geologist who has crisscrossed North America lecturing on the end of the fossil-fuel age. Hughes, who spent 32 years mapping Canada’s coal reserves, believes that “there’s no possible way to keep running the engine of a modern global economy for much longer at the pace we’re burning [hydrocarbons].” [%comments]


George Hoberg

Well, does this change your view? I continue to be amazed at how folks can write stories about peak oil like this without talking to a resource economist! Best piece on this - Mark Jaccard chapter in Thomas Homer-Dixon's Carbon Shift.

Peakisreal

What do you mean you are skeptical about peak oil? There is no debate. The only thing in question is when it will hit.

Just ask yourself why we have to go further and dig deeper to get stuff that's not as nice as the old sweet crude. When you take a deep breath you will figure it out.

If you are still not convinced, you will be in less than 3 years. Tops. The demand needs to catch up to past production numbers (around 86 mbd). When it does, look out. Good luck and I hope you are just full of it and are still preparing.

If not, you have fire insurance right? Well, Peak has multiple times more chance to hit and hit early.

Mike

Peakisreal, clearly oil is a finite resource that will eventually, someday, go into a serious production decline. The problem with you peak-oilers is that you're constantly screaming that doomsday is here. We'll be convinced in 3 years tops? Sure we will. How many times over the past decade have you people smugly stated "peak oil is here! end of the world as we know it!"? Yet here we are.

DaveyNC

There is no peak oil, only peak easy oil. We will never run out of oil, period. However, it will eventually become too expensive to produce so that other forms of energy will be more economical, which will then leave the oil in the ground. Therefore, we won't run out, though we may stop using so much of it. None of this will happen in the next 50 years.

Brianpdx

Here is an interesting, true story. My grandmother (born in 1900) once described the hysteria created in 1910 of that day's preeminent mathematicians calculating that the growth in the economy would soon falter and decline. The reasoning, that there were not enough horses alive in the United States to continue to do the work required and to birth new horses at the required rate. Caused quite a stir and frenzy. These were the top folks in that age. They left out of course the oil economy right around the corner. Seems to me that we are on the verge of the electric economy. If oil is the grease for the economy today and the cost continues to move higher, the efficient economies will adjust to new sources of power. Cheaper, cleaner will be brought online due to new technologies solving some of the older technologies weaknesses.

Glenn

Brianpdx, if we're moving to the electric economy, where are we getting the electricity from?

ruralcounsel

Willful ignorance and blind optimism begets hysteria and doomsayers. Though Dave Hughes doesn't sound too hysterical to me.

The reality will probably be somewhere in between, since no one has a finely focused crystal ball. World-wide depression should stave off the collision for a while. But we should rest assured that cold hard reality will eventually turn over the rest of it's cards and win the hand. While most of society screams in denial.

No one says we'll run out of hydrocarbons, but think long and hard about what it means when the EROEI is 1:1! Think it's worth driving to the gas station if it takes you an entire tankfull of fuel to get there?

Kirilius

To Glenn (@6): from the sun, wind, ocean tides and waves, geo thermal, etc.

Of course shifting from oil to electricity will require huge investment but it has to happen anyway.

Jason

The CBC had an interview along similar lines:
http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/current_20090525_16090.mp3

Eric M. Jones

@Glenn #6...."if we're moving to the electric economy, where are we getting the electricity from?"

Solar, Wind, Fission, Fusion, Geothermal, Coal, Oil, Photosynthesized Hydrogen, Biomass, Temperature gradients, Waves, etc. Some or in combination. Maybe some clever things we haven't even thought of.

Here's more Dave Hughes--a video
http://www.globalpublicmedia.com/interviews/823
He seems chronically depressed, but maybe it's me.

I am on the other side of this issue (and anti-AGW). I think cheap oil will run out. Of course it will. I think we need efficieny and recycling and all those good things.

But here's my concern: Dave Hughes and most AGW people aren't going in the right direction at all:

-- The world population is growing with no restraints except in China. Nobody will even bring up the subject. We'll be driving tinfoil and paper cars....but meanwhile diapers are unbalancing the Earth's rotation and nobody says boo. A first-world child contributes one million kilograms of CO2.

-- Wars upon wars upon wars. Patriotic flag-waving religious jingoistic zealots. No matter your concerns about humankind's future. The next nuclear war will produce such damage that all efforts in cleaning things up, or conserving or greening anything is total nonsense. And it will all be in the name of Jesus or somebody.

Look, I'm hoping for the best. But don't waste my time unless the big issues are on the table.

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David

Economists are like astrologers. Trust them at your own peril.

The problem of resource depletion, scarcity and overpopulation promise to generate unspeakable horrors for humankind in the 21st century.

Read the lastest issue of National Georgraphic and weep:

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/06/cheap-food/bourne-text/1

As to worries about the economy, I'd say that it is much wiser to worry about the extinction of the Homo sapiens instead. Yet the economists live in their own dreamworld in which resources are unlimited and growth can go on forever.

Except that nothing lasts forever. Civilizations don't last forever, technologies don't last forever, and tool-making planet-destroying primate species don't survive forever.

What is survival worth, anyway?

http://www.flickr.com/dmathew1

DaveyNC

@David--

Seriously, "unspeakable horrors"? Bit of an over-reaction, don't you think? You must have watched "Soylent Green" recently.

As one resource is depleted, another will be developed. Scarcity problem solved.

The over-population thing has been around since we had a population.

The alarmists tend to assume that population growth, resource depletion, etc. will proceed linearly. It won't. We may be evil, but we aren't dumb. We make adjustments and technological advances as circumstances require.

Out of oil? No problem, we ramp up fuel cell technology. Out of food? No biggie, we have billions of hectares of arable land left in the world. Out of water? Desalinization, if we absolutely have to. New diseases? New treatments. Over-population? Encourage economic development and the birth rate will drop quite nicely.

Go find a real problem to worry about, like a meteor striking your house.

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Rob

Back when I was a little kid in the 40s it struck me that we could keep taking water out of the ground because it rained. But I wondered, having read World Book Encyclopedia, and about petroleum geology, how long oil could last. I think that the problem economists have, is that given just a little libertarian view, they assume markets will solve all problems. Note, in most cases this is a very useful trait in questioning verities. But not always.

mannyv

Someday, all the resources will be gone. The exact timing of that event, however, has always been in question.

Stu

You people that think it's as simple as.........one resource running low so we just develop another one..........you are deluded You have lived your lives in the land of plenty where everything just appears like magic. There was never.........ever a time like we have lived in..........in all of history........and our time has been made entirely possible by fossil fuels..........mainly oil. Yes we will ramp up renewables..........as much as we can..........do some research and you wil find that all the ramp;ing up of renewables in the world will still result in a massive................massive reduction in energy use per capita if we have to rely on them.............period...........we will never see a land of plenty anything like the land of oil from any other source or combination of sources. Cant believe people still mention hydrogen when they talk about renewables...........it takes more energy to extract hydrogen then the hydrogen releases when used.............period..........it's a net energy loss. Whatever the source of energy you use to extract the hydrogen............you would be better off using that energy dierctly instead of spending it extracting hydrogen............it is an energy user..........a dead loss.........you people that even mention it as an energy source are totally ignorant.

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Robert L. www.NeoLibertarian.com

I think it was Lomborg who said it best: "The stone age didn't end because they ran out of stones."

The age of horse/animal power didn't end because we ran out of animals.

We didn't stop using steam power because we couldn't build enough steam engines.

Sure oil is getting more expensive to extract, but the societies that want to get it are getting more technologically advanced and richer: we'll be able to get at it if we want to but sooner or later we won't want to (at least not on the scale we do now).

DaveyNC

Seriously. What if we ran out of oil? What would we do? Just sit there and moan about it or would a hardy few among us search for a new answer? I'm betting on the hardy few.

Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D.

Global crude oil production peaked in 2008.

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 August and September 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.

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; Samuel Foucher, oil analyst; and Stuart Staniford, Physicist [Wikipedia Oil Megaprojects] (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)

* Fredrik Robelius, Oil analyst and author of "Giant Oil Fields" (2008 to 2018)

Here is the latest, sure looks like we peaked: http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/5416#more

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Greg

#16 Robert L.:
"I think it was Lomborg who said it best: “The stone age didn't end because they ran out of stones.”

The age of horse/animal power didn't end because we ran out of animals.

We didn't stop using steam power because we couldn't build enough steam engines."

Except... we're using more stone now than ever before. (It was actually a Saudi oil minister who said that, by the way.)

We're using more steam power now than ever before. The number of draught animals has not declined very much, and the total number of domesticated animals is higher than ever. We're using more food, more wood, more water power, more coal than ever before.

So the Stone Age has not ended. Nor has the Bronze Age, the water-buffalo age, the charcoal age, the age of water mills, nor the Steam Age.

It is sloppy thinking to assert that one resource "replaced" another.

Replacement may have occurred in some specific use-cases -- the ones usually cited are whale oil replacing candles, and itself being replaced by kerosene and coal gas, which were replaced by electric lighting; and horse-drawn transport being replaced by horseless carriages. But one or two examples do not prove a general assertion. And these cases miss an essential point: energy resources are not technology.

History shows that none of our prime sources of energy has been replaced. New ones have been added, yes. They have even become dominant. But the old ones are still being used, more than ever.

Sometime in the next 25 years, we will find out what happens when we are forced to stop expanding our use of an energy resource. You have faith that the problem will be solved - something (better, cheaper, cleaner) will appear to replace oil, coal, and then natural gas, and we can continue expanding our use of energy.

Fine. But recognize your belief for what it is: a religious faith. Recognize what you're asking for: a miracle. And spend some time researching exactly how this miracle will come about (reading Lomborg does not count). Maybe, just maybe, miracles don't happen just because you need them to.

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Adam Berkan

Peak oilers (@3 Mike) are always talking about "Pretty soon demand will out pace production". So are they implying that right now we produce more than we consume? What do we pour our spare oil into the oceans since there's no demand?

This is basic economics folks!!! If demand rises, price rises, more oil becomes economically viable to recover, and production rises to meet demand. Sure there can be some wild ups and downs (this is the price of oil after all) but fundamentally there will always be a balance.

Most oil fields are only economically viable for the first 10-20% of the oil. After that you have to pump so hard it's not worth it. Unless of course the price goes up. For twice the cost you can produce about 50% more oil. There's tons of oil out there to meet demand once prices adjust a bit.