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What is Peak Oil Theory? A Thorough Look at This heavily Debated Topic

Currently there is a lot of debate going on regarding Peak Oil and precisely what we need to be doing about it, both now and in the near future.

The term "peak oil" refers to that specific point in time when the Earth's oil supply will finally reach that theoretical "maximum rate" of global petroleum extraction and will then signal the start of a progressive decline, where our thirst for oil will finally exceed our available supply of oil!

"Peak Oil Theory" is a concept originally derived from the measured postulates and predictions of M. King Hubbert, who in the year 1956, set out to scientifically formulate a method to prognosticate peak oil production within the United States between the years 1965 and 1970.

Vague interpretations and misunderstanding swept the media which led to people often confusing the concept of “Peak Oil” with the idea of “Oil Depletion!” The term “Peak Oil” actually refers to the point of “maximum production potential” of a particular oil well, oil field or through the use of deductive logic and some complicated mathematics, our world wide oil production as a planet.

Meanwhile, “Oil Depletion” refers to a progressively elongated period and process of slowly diminishing oil reserves and over time, the eventual cataclysmic collapse and utter exhaustion of the world’s oil supply.

The theory is based on the observed production rates of both individual oil wells, as well as that of conglomerate fields of oil wells. As technology increases the ability to drill oil quicker and more efficiently, the production of oil gleaned from each well continues to multiply exponentially, until the rate eventually peaks and then progressively declines, sometimes rapidly until the field or well is thoroughly depleted.

Supply shortfalls of oil then naturally lead to price inflation, which in turn lead to global energy shortages, extreme conservation measures and a panicked race to develop a wide variety of alternative energy sources, requiring significant changes in both lifestyle and technology in order to avoid world-wide crisis.

However, there is actually very little that is standard  and consistent within the science and accompanying mathematics utilized within Hubbert’s logistic model and as time rolled on, the theory grew in both complexity and fragility.

The greater the number of trained experts using Hubert’s theory to determine “Peak Oil,” the greater and wider the variances occurred in the predicted outcomes being forecast. So many unforeseeable and variable factors, such as weather, the economy, war, political upheaval and reliability of global cooperation had plugged into the formula; leading to as many dramatically different outcomes as there were scientists calculating the theory.

Now, as world wide conditions continue to change, day by day, hour by hour, so does the ability of Peak Oil Theory” to correctly foretell our future fortunes regarding available oil supplies around the globe.

One major occurrence that has quite dramatically altered much of the previously negative perspectives of many renowned energy experts is the recent discovery of some promising new, untapped oil reserves found in several locations all around the world.

So what exactly can we glean from our more comprehensive understanding of “Peak Oil” Theory?

First of all, we need to remember that “a theory” is just that, a mere postulate and nothing more! It is not a fact or a proven reality! It is a conceptual construct formulated from a collection of personal observations and speculations based upon the best data available but severely limited to ones capable depth and breadth of understanding and applying the information derived, in a manner that is both rational and logical.

Throughout history, the vast majority of “Peak Oil” predictions have proven time and time again to be incorrect, often substantially incorrect. As early as the 1950’s, several world class geologists began warning us about an eminent, devastating, world wide oil supply collapse that would bring technology and commerce to a screeching halt by the mid 1970’s.

Logic tells us that there very well could be some point in time, somewhere out there in our misty future, when oil supplies reach a critical peak and our need of oil begins to outweigh our supply of oil.


However, as previously discussed, with continually impressive technological innovations, we constantly get better and better at stretching our usage of oil so much further than we were able to do, even a decade ago.

This very same improved technology now allows us to find oil in places that we never could have guessed it might possibly have existed even 5 years ago. We can now drill 3 times further out in the great ocean depths than we were able to just a decade ago and have since developed robots that can easily withstand the pressure of deep sea diving and drilling that would quickly disable and kill a human being.

Written for OilPrice.com - the no.1 source for oil prices and crude oil information


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  • Anonymous on January 16 2010 said:
    This author is completely wrong. My students are told to perfectly master the story of the peaking of oil in the United States if they want a passing grade, because the entire story about peaking is told in the history of oil in that country.I can also mention that the production of oil has peaked, or is peaking, in the Non-OPEC countries, which produce 60% of the world's crude. Thus, to talk about what improved technology is misleading, and I hope that our political masters do not get any strange ideas about what technology can do for us.
  • Anonymous on August 03 2010 said:
    The "peak oil" teory, misconsider the fact that new hydrocarbon are continuosly forming in the Earth's mantle, by carburation of Lithium, Calcium, Sodium and Potasium, and posterior hydrolization forming acetylen. Acetylen rose to the Earth's crust, and natural processes of polimerization, form more complex hydrocarbon chains. Thus, the oil supply never be finished. Cheers. Miguel
  • Anonymous on August 03 2010 said:
    The "peak oil" theory misconsider the fact that hydrocarbons are continuously forming in the Earth's mantle, by carburation of Lithium, Calcium, Sodium and Potasium. Posterior hydrolization forms acetylen. Acetylen rose to rocks of the Earth's crust, and processes of polimerization forms more complex chains of hydrocarbon. Thus, oil supply never will be finished. But the public knowledge of that, would attempt against the high price of oil! Cheers. MAG

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