Peak Oil? nah...
August 19, 2005 6:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good refutation of "Peak Oil". Articles about the certainty/validity of Peak Oil are not hard to come by, but I have yet to find a decent opposing view. I'm open to the possibility that these claims have basis, but I feel as though my reading on the topic is skewed heavily in favor of it.
posted by phrontist to Science & Nature (48 answers total)
 
You're looking for articles claiming world oil production is going to continue increasing forever?
posted by cillit bang at 6:31 AM on August 19, 2005


Perhaps you could clarify what you mean by "Peak Oil"?

Do you mean the theory that one day, the oil will run out?

Or do you mean the theory that this day is fast approaching?

Or something else?
posted by cleardawn at 6:34 AM on August 19, 2005


Okay, allow me to redefine what I mean by "Peak Oil".

I mean the theory touted here, that essentially claims that within the next decade we are looking at a global depression, or, more dramatically, "the end of civilisation as we know it".
posted by phrontist at 6:36 AM on August 19, 2005


Well, you'll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't think that oil is a non-renewable resource.

That said, there's a lot of debate on timing, severity, and solutions. The wikipedia article on this subject is an excellent place to start for such discussions.

The abiogenic petroleum theory might be of interest to you, as it posits (I think) potentially exploitable hydrocarbons deep underground.

Also possibly of interest: Non-conventional oil.
posted by selfnoise at 6:36 AM on August 19, 2005


Actually, instead of "the next decade" lets extend this to say, the next 50 years.
posted by phrontist at 6:37 AM on August 19, 2005


New Pessimism about Petroleum Resources (PDF) the kind of thing you want?
posted by claxton6 at 7:03 AM on August 19, 2005


Generally, I think peak oil skeptics argue that are easily available oil prices rise, technology will improve, allowing for more discoveries, more recoverable oil, and better substitutes, making the transition to either different fossil fuels or to fossil-fuel substitutes relatively smooth. A lot of it depends on guesstimates about the size and recoverability of undiscovered reserves, and a general faith in the ability of technology to respond quickly to abrupt market changes.
posted by claxton6 at 7:06 AM on August 19, 2005


Of course, I don't think any of that really rises to the level of "refutation." Furthermore, I think a refutation would depend a whole lot on what your interest is. I'd wager that most people have a lot of other concerns that get bonded to the peak oil issue--energy security (vis-a-vis China, for instance), environmental damage, urban form, defending the economics-based view of the world--that makes the specific question--"is the hubbert peak coming in the next few years"--one point in a much broader debate. Which, to my mind, makes that specific question much less useful to agonize over.
posted by claxton6 at 7:12 AM on August 19, 2005


I definitely hear your want for some more information, phrontist. Something about the words "James Howard Kunstler" trigger an involuntary spasm of skepticism in my mind. I'm crunchy and dyed-in-the-wool and all, but I'd love to read something that takes a critical approach to Kunstler and Co.'s doomsaying, even if it ultimately supports or affirms their message.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 7:26 AM on August 19, 2005


Light crude oil so clean you could probably put right in your gas tank, most definitely has a peak and we're probably approaching it. My guess is that Kunstler's theory will be modified from a hellish Mad Max future to the end of cheap oil. There exists plentiful reserves of heavy oil that are too expensive to extract when you can dip a bucket into the desert and ship it directly to the US. We probably are seeing the beginnings of the transition from light to heavy, at least in its beginning stages, right now. In the long term it might be more expensive in cost of extraction per barrel but considering that the US is chock full of coal and Canada has that tar, it's a lot better for the world than funneling money into the volatile middle east.
posted by geoff. at 7:52 AM on August 19, 2005


Cicero (of WindsOfChange.net) on Kunstler's Peak Oil gloom and doom scenario. (caveat: WindsOfChange.net)
posted by brownpau at 7:54 AM on August 19, 2005


start here.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:55 AM on August 19, 2005


This all makes me wonder: why hasn't there been more interest in synthetic oil? I mean, I understand the attraction of getting away from oil dependency entirely, but it seems like there would be a great deal of money in it for someone would could create a synthetic oil that could be used in all of the already existing machinery that uses natural oil.

Or maybe this does exist and it's just so expensive that no one talks about it.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:15 AM on August 19, 2005


It's possible to create synthetic gasoline. It's expensive, though, and IIRC it usually involves coal, which is another nonrenewable resource (and is not at all good for the environment).
posted by selfnoise at 8:23 AM on August 19, 2005


I mean the theory touted here, that essentially claims that within the next decade we are looking at a global depression, or, more dramatically, "the end of civilization as we know it".

It seems like you might be a little confused about what peak oil actually is. let me try to explain how it works.

For a long time, in the US we drilled up more oil every year then we had the year before. So in 1960 we drilled more then we did in 1950.

One year a scientist looked at a bunch of data on availability and calculated that in the 1970s, that trend would change and the amount of oil extracted in the US would start to drop every year. That turned out to be true. The US was still the worlds largest oil producing nation, and stayed that way until the 1990s, when we were overtaken by Saudi Arabia. We are still the worlds second largest oil producer, actually, there is still plenty of oil left in the US, but US oil production has 'peaked' and will never get back up to the 1970s level.

Now people have taken the model used for the US, and applied it to the whole world. They think oil will peak this decade or the next for the entire planet. This isn't some mumbojumbo stuff, people have made accuret predictions with these methods before.

But that doesn't mean we are going to "run out" of oil at all. There will still be plenty of oil for everyone, but we will no longer be able to 'expand' our use of oil every year like we have been doing (you know, more cars, bigger cars, more factories power plants, etc, etc, etc).

Oil will become more expensive, (and it's already very expensive now, probably due to the fact that people see the peak coming) and the price will continue to rise. People who can't afford the oil they need will either switch to some alternative (like ethanol) or give up what they're doing. So yes, there will be some economic impact. But I don't think it's going to be a very big economic problem.

Another reason that it won't be so expensive is that a changeover is going to require a lot of work, retrofitting gas stations, etc. That will produce a lot of jobs.
posted by delmoi at 8:42 AM on August 19, 2005


It's hard to find counterarguments to Peak Oil because it doesn't actually assert anything. Using Karl Popper's terminology, the Peak Oil hypothesis can't be refuted because it doesn't make any falsifiable predictions.

Hubbert's original prediction was that global oil production would peak in 1995. He was wrong, but proponents of Peak Oil simply moved the date and came up with an explanation. We might continue to have increasing oil production for the next 10 years (geoff and claxton6 give reasons why that's possible). If that happens, Peak Oil still won't be refuted. Advocates will simply argue that they were a little off in the date, and that the urgency of doom is even more pressing.

The right answer is "we don't know when Peak Oil will occur, because we can't make economic predictions of that scale and precision". That position won't get you anywhere once the discussion stops being about economic science and starts being about politics.
posted by fuzz at 8:45 AM on August 19, 2005


dpx.mfx:

It's my understanding that such technology does exist, but, suprise suprise, is expensive and inefficient. The one that springs to mind is Thermal Depolymerization, which essentially mimics the natural geological process of turning dead organic matter into crude.

Oil is a great way to store energy from all perspectives except the environmental, which is, to say the least, important. Hydrogen is much better, but again, it is just a form of storage, like oil. The difference is, tons of solar energy has already been conviently stored in the form of oil, whereas you'll have a tough time finding unbonded hydrogen, as it bonds readily with oxygen to make... well you know the rest. It's easy to reverse that process with an investment of electrical energy to turn water into hydrogen fuel through but the question of what you harness to produce that electricity is the important one.

I think what it essentially comes down to is we are using energy inefficiently and it might catch up with us, forcing us to scale back. Kids these days have it too easy anyway...
posted by phrontist at 8:48 AM on August 19, 2005


It's hard to find counterarguments to Peak Oil because it doesn't actually assert anything.

it asserts that at some time, production will decline ... unless you believe there is an infinite amount of oil, i would think this is obvious

the Peak Oil hypothesis can't be refuted because it doesn't make any falsifiable predictions.

you're confusing the hypothesis that peak oil will happen at year xxxx with the hypothesis that peak oil will happen at some time in the future

the relevant argument isn't IF it will happen ... the argument is WHEN
posted by pyramid termite at 9:19 AM on August 19, 2005


A couple of comments from an oil chemist (who doesn't know anything more than you do about economics):

Statements about reserves are (well) beyond what I know, but I know enough to know that there are widely divergent opinions on the matter in the geophysical community. Economic policy and politics (both corporate and international) play a large role in their determination. Any reserve estimates you find are not likely to be objective, but serving some particular viewpoint. This essentially restates fuzz's point---there is no falsifiable hypothesis at least partly because the data is so poor.

If the abiogenic oil source arguments (deep oil, etc...) were true, I couldn't do my job. There are very, very good reasons for believing that oil is biogenic. Google on "oil biomarkers" to see some explanation of this. All arguments I've seen completely ignore oil chemistry. This is analogous to creationists ignoring DNA evidence of evolution.

By the way, if you live in North America, 5% to 10% of your energy use already comes from "synthetic" (i.e. hydrocracked tar-sands) crudes from Alberta and, to a lesser extent, coal-replacement products from Venezuela.
posted by bonehead at 9:25 AM on August 19, 2005


It's hard to find counterarguments to Peak Oil because it doesn't actually assert anything. Using Karl Popper's terminology, the Peak Oil hypothesis can't be refuted because it doesn't make any falsifiable predictions.

Peak Oil "theory" predicted that US oil production would peak in the 1970s, and it did. How is that not a falsifiable prediction? I suspect (but don't know) that the theory is used to make accurate predictions for various regions all the time. The global oil peak is just a summation of all those regional curves.

The global curves are sometimes hard to figure due to political problems, no one could have predicted the Iraq War, for example.

It's obviously going to happen sometime, unless you do in fact believe in infinite oil, which would be retarded.

Peak Oil theory has made falsifiable predictions, which were tested and turned out to be true.
posted by delmoi at 9:29 AM on August 19, 2005


Ask yourself if we've ever run out of any nonrenewable resource on a global scale? Remember Peak Coal? Peak Timber? Peak Whale Oil?

These resources are finite and exhaustible but we didn't manage to dig out every lump, fell every tree, or render every whale? Why is that?

The simple answer is that as we ran out of these resources we were able to find other, often better, substitutes. But, you say, there are no substitutes for oil. Well just wait. Pessimists have a horrible track record when it comes to these types of issues.
posted by euphorb at 9:45 AM on August 19, 2005


Um, fuzz, you might want to rethink that since you're completely wrong. Peak Oil is indeed very falsifiable. The basic assertion is that global oil production will peak. You can demonstrate that the model is false by showing oil to be renewable resource. It's quite simple and it's a perfectly valid scientific model.

And please do not confuse the accuracy of the data with accuracy of the model with accuracy of the predictions. They are each very different things. You will note that there are very few respectale people out there who will argue against the Peak Oil model (i.e. we can go on drilling more and more forever because of, say, technology)--the major argument is when. The model is generally and widely accepted. The people who try to smear the model are generally the same types who attempt to smear evolution.
posted by nixerman at 9:51 AM on August 19, 2005


Ironically, euphorb's assertion (though it's shared by many others) that "technology/ingenuity/aliens will save us" is indeed a perfect demonstration of a refutation of the Peak Oil model that is non-scientific and non-falsifiable. Not only does it make wild and inaccurate comparisons (as if extent of the usage of timber coal as an energy source in the past could be reasonably compared to the extent of the usage of oil today), it falls prey to the general historical fallacy: since X happened yesterday, it will happen again tommorow.
posted by nixerman at 9:54 AM on August 19, 2005


I mean ... that within the next decade we are looking at a global depression, or, more dramatically, "the end of civilisation as we know it".

The last time I looked into this, I found a US Department of Energy presentation which gives various scenarios and suggests that world oil production is likely to peak between 2030 and 2050. So we have some time to adapt.

Using a relatively simple algorithm, peak production years were estimated. ... For example, using the USGS mean (expected) resource base estimate (3,003 billion barrels) and an annual production growth rate of 2 percent (similar to the current rate), the estimated peak production year is 2037.

EIA's estimates for production peaks occur later than those generated by other analysts, some of whom predicted the production peak will occur as early as 2004. EIA's analysis indicates that instead world conventional oil production may increase two decades or more before it begins to decline.

posted by russilwvong at 9:58 AM on August 19, 2005


I thought the ironic thing about euphorb's assertion was that he calls trees and whales non-renewable.
posted by fleacircus at 10:06 AM on August 19, 2005


you're confusing the hypothesis that peak oil will happen at year xxxx with the hypothesis that peak oil will happen at some time in the future

You're right, it's important to separate them. I was trying to say that the assertion "Peak Oil will happen at sometime in the future" is unfalsifiable, because you'd have to wait forever. If it doesn't happen in 10 years, you haven't disproved the theory.

On the other hand, asserting that "Peak Oil will happen at year xxx" is falsifiable in year xxx. My impression is that the track record of global (not US) oil production predictions made by Peak Oil proponents is abysmal. If I'm wrong, does anybody have any links?

At that point, proponents fall back on asserting that the failed prediction doesn't invalidate the prediction that Peak Oil will come someday.

Delmoi makes my point for me:

The global curves are sometimes hard to figure due to political problems, no one could have predicted the Iraq War, for example.

It's obviously going to happen sometime, unless you do in fact believe in infinite oil, which would be retarded.


This boils down to "it's going to happen someday, but we can't say when". I won't argue with that. But that assertion has very different economic and political consequences from the assertion that Peak Oil is imminent.

My impression was that models of today's global oil economy don't have predictive power (yet). If they did, the oil futures market would be listening.
posted by fuzz at 10:07 AM on August 19, 2005


fuzz, again, you're incorrect. The assertion "Peak Oil will happen sometime in the future" is perfectly falsifiable. All you have to do is demonstrate that oil is a renewable resource and it will renew faster than demand will increase. Any evidence that demonstrates this will prove the Peak Oil false. Again, you're just barking up the wrong tree. Pretty much every respectable scientific institution in the world and the governments of the G8 assume Peak Oil will happen because there is no evidence to indicate (1) oil is renewable (2) it will renew faster than demand increases. The question is only whether it'll happen in the next 10 or 100 years.
posted by nixerman at 10:12 AM on August 19, 2005


These resources are finite and exhaustible but we didn't manage to dig out every lump, fell every tree, or render every whale?

Actually, something like this appears to have happened on Easter Island: they cut down all the trees they had used for fishing boats, resulting in a population crash (down to 10% of the previous population), with civil war and cannibalism along the way. They mined their forest instead of treating it as a renewable resource.

But I think your point is that even if we run out of a particular resource, it doesn't matter, as long as we have substitutes. That's true, but substitutes doesn't appear automatically: people have to make decisions and spend lots of time and money to make it happen. Given the extent of our dependence on oil, particularly for transportation, we have a lot of work to do. And we seem to be resisting simple and obvious measures, like applying higher fuel-efficiency regulations to SUVs (reducing our current oil consumption would give us more time to adapt).

The obvious substitute for oil -- nuclear power -- has its own big problems: nuclear waste disposal, proliferation of nuclear material and technology. Plus it takes a long time to build nuclear plants, not least because nobody wants them in their backyard. And there's a lot of infrastructure that has to get replaced.

We should be thinking about this kind of stuff, not saying hey, things will work out in the end, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
posted by russilwvong at 10:17 AM on August 19, 2005


russilwvong, the Department of Energy's prediction on when peak oil will occur is by far the most optimistic. This makes sense, since any official recognition of the upcoming Peak Oil Crisis by the US Government would probably spark a panic in the stock markets. Some might call it a "white lie", most would just call it disinformation. Do a further Google search, most credible sources have set the global peak oil date much much sooner.

The short-term consequences of Peak Oil include volatile, but steeply rising oil prices. Anybody have today's oil price?
posted by sic at 10:18 AM on August 19, 2005


my big question about peak oil is "when do i start stockpiling weapons"? Anyone want to give me a reasonable date by which I should be proficient with firearms and living on a commune in oregon?
posted by fishfucker at 10:22 AM on August 19, 2005


The question is only whether it'll happen in the next 10 or 100 years.

You're absolutely right. We have a lot of evidence now that Peak Oil will come someday, and that it might be in 10 or 100 years. If that's the Peak Oil hypothesis, then I agree with it.

It's easy to agree with that version of the theory because it makes no useful predictions for the next 10 years. If Peak Oil happens in 2015, the theory is right. If it doesn't happen in 2015, the theory isn't disproven. Over the last 10 years, production increased because of market forces, but proponents do not consider Peak Oil falsified. The convenient thing about predictions that don't have a date attached is that you can apply the "it's still coming!" strategy indefinitely, and never be wrong.

To my knowledge, we don't have much reliable evidence one way or the other for the assertions that Peak Oil is imminent, that anyone can predict when it will come with any confidence, or that it will lead to catastrophe. Can someone link to an example of any type of macroeconomic shock due to resource depletion? Haiti's deforestation and the collapse of some local fishing economies due to overfishing might be confined examples, but I don't know of any examples on a macroeconomic scale.
posted by fuzz at 11:00 AM on August 19, 2005


I was trying to say that the assertion "Peak Oil will happen at sometime in the future" is unfalsifiable, because you'd have to wait forever.

subsitute "the heat death of the universe" or "the sun swelling and swallowing up the earth" for "peak oil" and see how that argument stands ... the problem as i see it is that you're suggesting an "unfalsifiable" idea can't be true

just because i can't tell you what year the sun's going to swell up and swallow the earth doesn't mean it's not going to happen in the far distant future

My impression was that models of today's global oil economy don't have predictive power (yet). If they did, the oil futures market would be listening.

what gives you the idea they aren't?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:06 AM on August 19, 2005


fuzz ... your last point clarifies things a bit ... i agree that we can't know for certain if it's going to be in the next 10 years ... but i might say that some have said that it may take some time for us to realize that it's happened

in other words, it could have happened already and we just haven't realized it yet

could it be that others in the oil futures market think so, too and that's why the price is going up? ... hard saying ...
posted by pyramid termite at 11:10 AM on August 19, 2005


On the other hand, asserting that "Peak Oil will happen at year xxx" is falsifiable in year xxx. My impression is that the track record of global (not US) oil production predictions made by Peak Oil proponents is abysmal. If I'm wrong, does anybody have any links?

I've never heard of anyone predicting a peak before 2005, why don't you provide links? russilwvong linked to a page on the US department of energy, that predicted a peak by 2050, using USGS data. Hardly from a bastion of left-wing environmentalists.

There may be crazies out there who claimed that oil would peak in 1995, but those are the crazies.

---
My impression is that the track record of global (not US) oil production predictions made by Peak Oil proponents is abysmal.

Why would you think a method that can predict regional oil peaks would not work with the whole world? The world is also a 'region'.
posted by delmoi at 11:38 AM on August 19, 2005


subsitute "the heat death of the universe" or "the sun swelling and swallowing up the earth" for "peak oil" and see how that argument stands

The theories that predict the future of the sun make a lot of other very specific predictions about things we can observe now, such as the behavior of supernovas. Those predictions were made, tested, and found to be true. As far as I know (still waiting for links to the contrary), all the observable, falsifiable predictions from Peak Oil proponents about the global oil economy turn out to be false. A theory that still stands in the face of the failure to predict observations is hard to falsify.

... the problem as i see it is that you're suggesting an "unfalsifiable" idea can't be true
No, Peak Oil could be true. It could also be that everything will go just fine for the next 50 years, and then someone will invent a way to generate energy from a renewable resource like Internet porn. I don't believe anyone knows. Unfalsifiable assertions aren't wrong, they just don't say anything useful. They stay undecided until we have more evidence and models that can actually predict something.

That's another fallacy that makes it so hard to have a conversation with Peak Oil proponents. If you insist "we have no way to know right now" they assume that means you believe it's not going to happen. I personally believe that we should treat Peak Oil as a potential risk and find ways to increase investment in other sources of energy. But it's hard to have a conversation with people who claim that Peak Oil is a concrete problem, as long as no one has demonstrated an ability to predict anything concrete about the global oil economy from the theory.
posted by fuzz at 11:41 AM on August 19, 2005


My impression was that models of today's global oil economy don't have predictive power (yet). If they did, the oil futures market would be listening.

My mom is making a killing investing in some specific Oil companies where profits are tied to rising prices (like shale oil extraction). She's not the only one, lots of people are betting that Oil prices will skyrocket, and so far they're doing really well.
posted by delmoi at 11:43 AM on August 19, 2005


The theories that predict the future of the sun make a lot of other very specific predictions about things we can observe now, such as the behavior of supernovas. Those predictions were made, tested, and found to be true. As far as I know (still waiting for links to the contrary), all the observable, falsifiable predictions from Peak Oil proponents about the global oil economy turn out to be false.

The original questions asked for refutations. Saying "as far as I know it's not true, and ya'll aren't providing me any links that say otherwise!" is not a refutation.

A refutation of X generally accepts X as generally believed, and shows it to be false, rather then simply demands that X be proven.

Why don't you at least link to some of these 'erroneous predictions' that 'as far as you know' are endemic?
posted by delmoi at 11:46 AM on August 19, 2005


The theories that predict the future of the sun make a lot of other very specific predictions about things we can observe now, such as the behavior of supernovas.

I should have mentioned this in another post, But so does peak oil theory, such as oil peaks in various regions (like the US).
posted by delmoi at 11:54 AM on August 19, 2005


I've never heard of anyone predicting a peak before 2005, why don't you provide links?

In 1976, Hubbert was predicting the world peak in 1995. He was wrong. ln the 1990s, Campbell predicted the peak should occur in 1999, although he prudently included a scenario that levelled off until 2015. Can we say he was wrong yet? Many models make predictions in the 2004-2008 range. Were the 2004 predictions wrong? How long do we have to wait before we can we say they are wrong? If the theory you're using to predict is compatible with any kind of outcome, what exactly are you predicting?

Similarly, for people who use the current price rise as evidence that Peak Oil is happening: if prices drop again, does that disprove the theory? Or can we write that off to political externalities? But if any outcome can be explained by externalitites, what would it take to falsify the theory?

This horrible track record of predicting the exact peak wouldn't matter if the models made predictions about some other measurable behavior of the global oil economy. I agree that Hubbert-style models have shown predictive power in some local situations. Unfortunately, I haven't seen anything that turned out to be true for the global oil economy, and the false predictions have been swept under the rug.

Once again, I'm not saying that Peak Oil is false. I'm saying that we don't know. It could be that I die at a very old age awash in cheap petroleum products. Or maybe we're headed for a Road Warrior scenario. The people who claim we know it's not going to happen lack evidence just as much as the people who claim we know it's about to happen.
posted by fuzz at 12:37 PM on August 19, 2005


fuzz, your argument is so off base it's difficult to even know where to start.

(1) You continue to intentionally mix up the model and predictions made by the model. Again, there is no reputable scientific institution that does not accept the Peak Oil model. You can prove the theory false when, as I said above, you show that (a) oil is a renewable resource (b) oil renews faster than demand increases.

(2) A hint about the way science works: when scientists make predictions they are incorrect the overwhelming majority of the time. This is called the scientific process. You create a model, take a guess, make a prediction, and then see if the evidence fits. When it doesn't--which is the common case--you revise the model or start from scratch.

(3) You admit Peak Oil has already demonstrated its predicative power and then you complain that it hasn't yet answered all possible the questions so it has no predicative power. Does this make any sense at all? Have you ever considered that like say, string theory, the model could explain a great deal without being The Final Answer?

(4) Your last statement is the kind of idiotic equivalence that makes logical debate about this so difficult. Peak Oil has plenty of evidence. Data exists to show that it's already happened. This is why it's such a commonly accepted model by scientists, governments and coporations. The people who claim it's not going to happen don't have "less" evidence, they have zero evidence. This is why they resort to statements like 'Peak Coal.'

The really sinister aspect of your argument is it's absolutist nature. You seem to be saying: well since we don't know exactly when it's going to happen, then we can safely disregard it. This is the exact same tact taken by those who claim "evolution is just a theory." If we were to be, say, intellectually honest it'd be clear that even the incomplete answers provided by science are still more valuable than wild speculation. People who care about the truth use tools, like science, that are carefully designed to produce something close to the truth. You can insist that one day you will be awash in cheap petroleum products, that's a perfectly fine theory, but you should have some sort of, say, rational justification or even evidence for such an assertion. Otherwise it's just you dishonestly trying to pass off bullshit.
posted by nixerman at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2005


Well this is fun.

The very original private industry study about peak oil -- oil production in the US -- was accurate and came to pass. The problem occured when the theory was applied to world oil production. The world is a big place -- it's hard to accurate information on the entire planet's oil production. So this talk about the dating for "peak oil" constantly moving is accurate. It has and peak oil advocates will have to continue moving the peak oil date because simply, they don't know when world oil production will peak.

As for a direct refutation of peak oil: a guy who wrote a book called The Prize which is an 800 page history of the oil industry, has said the world is no where near peak oil.

"This is not the first time that the world has "run out of oil." It's more like the fifth. Cycles of shortage and surplus characterize the entire history of the oil industry. A similar fear of shortage after World War I was one of the main drivers for cobbling together the three easternmost provinces of the defunct Ottoman Turkish Empire to create Iraq. In more recent times, the "permanent oil shortage" of the 1970s gave way to the glut and price collapse of the 1980s."
posted by raaka at 1:58 PM on August 19, 2005


There are also "Peak oil optimists", who see peak oil as a *good* thing — if we can ride out the economic ramifications, the environmental ones could be positive.
posted by goethean at 2:48 PM on August 19, 2005


Similarly, for people who use the current price rise as evidence that Peak Oil is happening: if prices drop again, does that disprove the theory?

The price has nothing to do with it. Intrestinly, the page you linked to shows a peak in oil discovery almost 40 years ago.
posted by delmoi at 2:52 PM on August 19, 2005


Actualy, let me elaborate a bit. The 'real' peak oil prediction is, in my mind, that the volume under the production curve must equal the volume under the production curve. Thats the total amount of oil. The 'angle' of the curve dictates how long it is untill the peak actualy comes, but it's somewhat irrelevant. if the angle is high, we'll run out quicker. If the angle is flat, that means we are at the peak now, and if the angle is negative, that means the peak has already come.

The reason you can't predict the exact year, is because you can't predict the exact output rate but you can predict the exact output total.

Thats what I personaly think, anyway.
posted by delmoi at 2:55 PM on August 19, 2005


The brass age didn't end because we ran out of brass.

Oil may or may not peak, globally, before we switch to something better, but if it does I think the economic ramifications are severely overstated.

Example: All of the power supplied into my house is nominally from renewable energy and it only costs me around A$150 a year more -- money that doesn't just get thrown into a pit, but goes towards jobs in the science and technology industries surrounding solar and wind power.

(Aside: When my current car dies, I'm getting a Prius. Sure, the extra initial cost and ongoing maintence are more than it is likely to make back in fuel savings, but only having to got to the petrol station roughly six times a year, based on my current requirements, is going to rock.)

Anyway, look at all the plastic crap from China being sold at 99c stores. When that dries up I'll start to get worried.
posted by krisjohn at 4:41 PM on August 19, 2005


the page you linked to shows a peak in oil discovery almost 40 years ago.
posted by delmoi at 2:52 PM PST on August 19 [!]


Decreasing oil discoveries will lead to decreasing oil output, it is a matter of time, I think we can all agree on that. The problem is that while Supply will inevitably slow down, Demand is inevitably going to go up.

The most important aspect of the "Crisis" part of Peak Oil Crisis is that Demand will outstrip the Supply. One of the offshoots of this is a rise in the price of oil. This is already happening and yes it does have something to do with the Crisis. Miinor fluctuations in price are not indicative, but the overall trend is and will be upward, and this trend is indicative of the crisis (keep in mind the crisis won't be like an asteroid hitting the Earth, more like a decades-long strangulation of our economies, leading to social harship and later tragedy and the end of our oil-based society).

One of the big factors swelling the Demand side of the ledger is of course the rise of China (and, to a lesser extent, the rise of India), once China starts using oil at the same or near the same clip as the US or Europe, say goodnight to the "affordable" oil age. Like I said, the impact on our economies, cultures and societies is going to be huge, really huge, in fact it boggles my imagination. Some people think it will be a good thing, but that is only true if our governments were actually preparing for this inevitable scenario, they are not. The only action being taken is to provoke wars with oil rich nations to steal their oil. That's the extent of the plan. Ouch.
posted by sic at 5:28 PM on August 19, 2005


Ironically, euphorb's assertion (though it's shared by many others) that "technology/ingenuity/aliens will save us"...

You think that's an assertion? If I said that scientists will find a cure for a Alzheimer within our lifetime, would that be an assertion as well? If I said that there will be groceries on the shelves when I go to the store tomorrow would that be an assertion? There seems to be plenty of evidence for each of these statements. That would make them not assertions but something else.


... it falls prey to the general historical fallacy: since X happened yesterday, it will happen again tomorrow.

I think you may want to learn about something called induction, which uses past experiences to predict future events. You're welcome to believe that the past events I brought up have no relationship to the future. I would be interested in hearing why.


I thought the ironic thing about euphorb's assertion was that he calls trees and whales non-renewable.

Did you read the next sentence where I stated that these resources were finite and exhaustible? I never meant to imply that whale oil and timber weren't renewable.

But you raise an interesting question about what is renewable and what isn't. Whales were very nearly hunted to extinction. They also take many years to grow to maturity. If you kill all the whales, is whale oil a renewable resource? Compare that case with, say solar energy. Both are renewable but they are qualitatively different.

Of course, in a very facile sense of the word, oil is renewable, it just takes millions of years to renew.
posted by euphorb at 11:25 PM on August 19, 2005


Slightly late, but for the record, Freakonomics has a good debunking of the Peak Oil hype here.
posted by euphorb at 10:43 AM on August 22, 2005


« Older Before I call and start yelling...   |   Brits investingating emigrating to U.S.? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.