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What is Peak Oil

written by: Willie Scott • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 4/29/2010

Peak oil is the point where the maximum rate of extraction from an oil producing nation’s reservoirs has been reached. Currently America and the UK are among the oil producing nations who have reached their peak oil point, with their oil production now declining until it finally runs out altogether.

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    Introduction to Peak Oil

    Peak oil is defined as the point where oil production has reached its maximum output and from this point is said to be in decline.

    Hubbard, an American oil expert, devised a curve (known as Hubbard's Curve) to predict peak oil forty years ago and this is still being consulted today.

    Many oil producing nations have reached peak oil including the US and the UK, so their oil production is now in decline.

    This article on peak oil will examine how the Hubbard Curve was developed and its accuracy in predicting new oil reservoirs and global oil production. We begin by having a look at the theory behind Hubbard's Peak Oil.

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    Peak Oil Theory

    M. K. Hubbard devised this theory in 1956 and based his prediction on the world’s oil discovery rates, maximum production rates, and consecutive production rates. He used this data to produce the now famous Hubbard curve; a bell-shaped curve which predicted global peak oil would occur in 2025 and declining from then till it runs out in 2200. Peak oil should not be confused with oil depletion, which is the rate of the decline of oil production and reserves.

    So how accurate has Hubbard’s peak oil predictions been? We shall examine this in the next section.

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    Oil Experts Opinions on Hubbard's Peak Oil Predictions

    Reasons for disputing Hubbard’s peak oil predictions

    1. According to the experts, since oil production records began, every year has seen an increase in global oil production.

    2. The four major oil producing nations Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia all confirm that there has been no depletion in their oil production.

    3. New technology in oil reservoir exploration has led to the emergence of more oilfields in countries such as Azerbaijan and Angola.

    4. Many of the major oil producing companies agree that there is enough oil to keep us going for at least another 60 years, with natural gas lasting longer again than the oil.

    5. New technology in oil production methods, such as deep water and sub-sea manifold oil production has made it possible to extract the oil from ever increasing depths and other hitherto unreachable locations.

    6. As world population increases along with the demand for more oil, pressure will be applied to increase oil production rate.

    7. Renewable energy technology is advancing at a fast pace and is already supplementing power station electrical output produced from combustion of fossil fuels. This is expected to rise with a reduction in the amount of oil used.

    Reasons to support Hubbard’s peak oil predictions

    1. The prediction that America would reach peak oil in 1970 has been proven correct (oil experts agree it peaked in 1973)

    2. The UK oil production was predicted to peak around 2000 and it peaked in 1999.

    3. Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) stopped issuing their member states’ individual oilfield production figures in the 1980’s. Since then the individual nations have issued their own data. (Some experts maintain this is to control oil prices.) The production and export figures have never been verified, so do we really know how much oil reserves these countries own.

    4. Environmental pressures to reduce greenhouses gasses mainly produced through using fossil fuels in power stations will also influence the oil peak prediction, not necessarily by using less oil but by using less coal, which could result in the use of more oil.

    Remember that Hubbard’s peak oil is only a theory and a theory depends on the accuracy of the information, such as OPEC’s oil production figures and reported reserves.

    Also, there are huge reserves of unconventional oil in the form of tar sands and oil shale, which if brought into the equation, will eke out the oil a lot further than Hubbard anticipated.

    So we can see that there are still a lot of factors to influence peak oil, and whether these substantiate Hubbard’s peak oil theory or prove it to be completely wrong only time will tell.

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    Images

    Hubbard's Curve (http://www.hubbertpeak.com)Global Peak oil


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