Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Until recently, peak-oil analysts got about as much respect from the energy establishment as do perpetual-motion enthusiasts. But now, with oil prices headed for uncharted territory and even Saudi Arabia seemingly unable to boost production to higher levels, the peak oil idea – which says that world oil production will go into irreversible decline sometime in the the next decade or two – is quickly morphing into conventional wisdom.
Fifty years ago, geologist M. King Hubbert showed that the output of an oilfield, or indeed the oil production of an entire country, increases year by year up to the point (a "peak") at which approximately half the oil is exhausted. From there, he said, annual output drops inexorably toward zero.
Hubbert hit the bullseye with his prediction that U.S. production would peak in 1970. And over the past half century, country after country has seen its oil production hit a peak and start dropping. Yet for decades, economists, petroleum executives and government officials refused to follow Hubbert's analysis to its logical conclusion – that in the easily foreseeable future, humanity will pass over a global peak of oil production, where there awaits a very grim, slippery slope.