Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Peak Oil

For the doomsday crowd that follows regular predictions of gloom-and-doom, the "peak oil" story has been a good one.

The typical "picture of doom" is something like this from Wikipedia:

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That picture is pretty convincing. We are on the slide to perdition. Only a bleak and hopeless future awaits us...

But wait a second. Here is a more recent graph from an article in the Houston Chronicle:

Click to Enlarge

The article goes on to report a "new peak" in production:
North America appears headed for an oil renaissance, with crude production expected to hit an all-time high by 2016, given the current pace of drilling in the U.S. and Canada, according to a study released by an energy research firm this week.

U.S. oil production in areas including West Texas' Permian Basin, South Texas' Eagle Ford shale, and North Dakota's Bakken shale will record a rise of a little over 2 million barrels per day from 2010 to 2016, according to data compiled by Bentek Energy, a Colorado firm that tracks energy infrastructure and production projects.

Canadian crude production is expected to grow by 971,000 barrels per day during the same period, with much of the oil headed for the U.S.

Combined, the U.S. and Canadian oil output will top 11.5 million barrels per day, which is even more than their combined peak in 1972.

Goldman Sachs has estimated the U.S. could move from being the No. 3 oil producer behind Saudi Arabia and Russia to the No. 1 spot by 2017.

It's a reversal of the steady downward production trend that started after 1971, when U.S. oil production peaked around 9.5 million barrels per day.
I know this is a shock and disappointment to the end-of-days crowd. But this is an old story. If you followed the Club of Rome with its best seller in the early 1970s, the book "Limits to Growth" you've seen this tale before. It is so convincing. The end is nigh! Repent!

But human ingenuity keeps foiling that tale of gloom and despair. It is so seductive to believe that there is no hope and we must give up our sinful "modern ways" and go back to our pastoral past when we were disease ravaged and lived an average of 34 years. But those pesky scientists and technologists keep ruining out return to a "golden age" by creating new techniques or helping us conserve or producing a new substitute. This story is older than civilization. But the siren call of "repent! the end is nigh!" keeps winning because it appeals to our dark side that expects us to be punished for "having it too good".

The Club of Rome pessimists are still in business and no doubt still selling their siren song of "the end is nigh!". But you are better off reading "The Ultimate Resource" by Julian Simon. Unlike the Club of Rome, Simon has been right more than wrong. But unlike the Club of Rome, Simon is ignored by the press. It is so much easier to sell papers with the story of doom-and-gloom. Nobody wants to hear that we will "muddle through" or that we can count on "human ingenuity". We want morality plays. We want punishment for sinful ways, the excesses of the past. Nobody wants dull fact, reasoned judgement, and a scientific attitude. It doesn't sell.

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