Throw into the mix the oft-overlooked fact that Hubbert was concerned with petroleum production rather than the myriad other oil derivatives (many of which didn’t exist back when Hubbert made his predictions back in 1956), and it’s easy to see why the story quickly gets muddy.
World production of crude and lease condensate oil. Y axis represents thousands of barrels per day.
So Peak Oil is A Long Time in the Coming, Then?
Unfortunately, no. And nor does the data undermine Hubbert’s bell-curve of oil production in specific regions, excluding the affect of advanced drilling technology squeezing more out of these regions. Speaking of which, a common charge against Peak Oil is that we’re always finding new reserves, but as we can see from the above, this isn’t really true – we’re just eking out different more oil and different derivatives from existing supplies. In fact, only around 8% of the US proved reserve growth in 2011 came from new field discoveries:
In a nutshell, kick away the crutch of North America and we end up with what looks startlingly similar to the beginnings of a Hubbert-esque bell curve:
Again, not particularly. The only thing propping up U.S. and Canadian oil production figures – and indeed, those of the world – is shale oil. This type of petroleum is remarkably difficult to obtain (in an economically viable manner), and the reason two-thirds of all shale oil is produced in North America is that drilling rigs elsewhere aren’t, for the most part, capable of getting to it.
As such, the shale dream isn’t something a gambling man would be wise to bank on in the long term. Once the shale becomes too difficult to get at, it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen to the global market though the EIA has issued a prediction that the U.S. crude output will grow to 9.5 million barrels per day by 2016 before growth starts to slow and reach its peak of 9.6 MBPD by around 2019.
We may not be any clearer on when Peak Oil will arrive, but that doesn’t make its arrival any less inevitable. And really, the ‘when’ isn’t the important question…
… it’s the ‘what’ we’re going to do in the mean time that deserves greater focus.“You can only use oil once.”
- M. King Hubbert