We were wrong on peak oil. There’s enough to fry us all

George Monbiot writes: The facts have changed, now we must change too. For the past 10 years an unlikely coalition of geologists, oil drillers, bankers, military strategists and environmentalists has been warning that peak oil – the decline of global supplies – is just around the corner. We had some strong reasons for doing so: production had slowed, the price had risen sharply, depletion was widespread and appeared to be escalating. The first of the great resource crunches seemed about to strike.

Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted it to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case.

Some of us made vague predictions, others were more specific. In all cases we were wrong. In 1975 MK Hubbert, a geoscientist working for Shell who had correctly predicted the decline in US oil production, suggested that global supplies could peak in 1995. In 1997 the petroleum geologist Colin Campbell estimated that it would happen before 2010. In 2003 the geophysicist Kenneth Deffeyes said he was “99% confident” that peak oil would occur in 2004. In 2004, the Texas tycoon T Boone Pickens predicted that “never again will we pump more than 82m barrels” per day of liquid fuels. (Average daily supply in May 2012 was 91m.) In 2005 the investment banker Matthew Simmons maintained that “Saudi Arabia … cannot materially grow its oil production“. (Since then its output has risen from 9m barrels a day to 10m, and it has another 1.5m in spare capacity.)

Peak oil hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to happen for a very long time. [Continue reading…]

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3 thoughts on “We were wrong on peak oil. There’s enough to fry us all

  1. Steve Zerger

    No doubt there is enough technically recoverable oil to fry us all. But just because something is technically possible doesn’t mean it will be done, and the vast majority of technically recoverable oil may stay in the ground. The costs of fossil fuels are snowballing on us, and those costs can and will manifest in many ways – climate change, the capital starvation of economic sectors not related to extraction, the massive build-up of unserviceable government debt due to efforts to manage oil-related international conflicts – the list is almost endless. And as in any complex system, there are a myriad of positive and negative feedback loops. My money is on Gaia. She is a sure bet. Whether humans can make it is another matter. And civilization as we know it is very long odds.

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