Peak Oil

Definition

“Peak oil is the simplest label for the problem of energy resource depletion, or more specifically, the peak in global oil production. Oil is a finite, non-renewable resource, one that has powered phenomenal economic and population growth over the last century and a half. The rate of oil ‘production’, meaning extraction and refining (currently about 85 million barrels/day), has grown almost every year of the last century. Once we have used up about half of the original reserves, oil production becomes ever more likely stop growing and begin a terminal decline, hence ‘peak’. The peak in oil production does not signify ‘running out of oil’, but it does mean the end of cheap oil, as we switch from a buyers’ to a sellers’ market. For economies leveraged on ever increasing quantities of cheap oil, the consequences may be dire. Without significant successful cultural reform, severe economic and social consequences seem inevitable.

In 1956 U.S. geologist M. King Hubbert predicted that production from the US lower 48 states would peak between 1965 and 1970. He noted that oil discoveries graphed over time tended to follow a bell shape curve. He supposed that the rate of oil production would follow a similar curve, now known as the Hubbert Curve and in 1970/1 the US lower 48 oil production did peak. No oil producing region fits the bell shaped curve exactly because production is dependent on various geological, economic and political factors, but the Hubbert Curve remains a powerful predictive tool.

Our industrial societies and our financial systems were built on the assumption of continual growth – growth based on ever more readily available cheap fossil fuels. Oil in particular is the most convenient and multi-purposed of these fossil fuels. Oil currently accounts for about 41% of the world’s total fossil fuel consumption, 33% of all global fuel consumption, and 95% of global energy used for transportation [PDF]. Oil and gas are feedstocks for plastics, paints, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, electronic components, tires and much more. Oil is so important that the peak will have vast implications across the realms of war and geopolitics, medicine, culture, transport and trade, economic stability and food production. Significantly, for every one joule of food consumed in the United States, around 10 joules of fossil fuel energy have been used to produce it.

Later in life M. King Hubbert predicted a global oil peak between 1995 and 2000.Of the 65 largest oil producing countries in the world, up to 54 have passed their peak of production and are now in decline, including the USA in 1970, Indonesia in 1997, Australia in 2000, the UK in 1999, Norway in 2001, and Mexico in 2004.

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO)’s latest model suggests that regular conventional oil reached an all time peak in 2005. If heavy oil, deep-water, polar and natural gas liquids are considered (the ‘all-liquids’ category), the model suggests that this peak too is behind us, in 2008. Combined oil and gas is expected to have peaked globally simultaneously in 2008. ”  Excerpts taken from Post Carbon Institute’s, Peak Oil Primer

For More Information

Climate policy: Oil’s tipping point has passed.   January 26, 2012.  A study for Nature journal that asserts the economic pain of a flattening supply will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels.

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