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Hubbert's Peak

Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage (New Edition)

With new commentary by the author KENNETH S. DEFFEYES
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Hubbert's Peak
    Book Description:

    In 2001, Kenneth Deffeyes made a grim prediction: world oil production would reach a peak within the next decade--and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Deffeyes's claim echoed the work of geophysicist M. King Hubbert, who in 1956 predicted that U.S. oil production would reach its highest level in the early 1970s. Though roundly criticized by oil experts and economists, Hubbert's prediction came true in 1970.

    In this updated edition ofHubbert's Peak, Deffeyes explains the crisis that few now deny we are headed toward. Using geology and economics, he shows how everything from the rising price of groceries to the subprime mortgage crisis has been exacerbated by the shrinking supply--and growing price--of oil. Although there is no easy solution to these problems, Deffeyes argues that the first step is understanding the trouble that we are in.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2907-1
    Subjects: General Science, Technology, Geology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-13)

    Global oil production will probably reach a peak sometime during this decade. After the peak, the world’s production of crude oil will fall, never to rise again. The world will not run out of energy, but developing alternative energy sources on a large scale will take at least 10 years. The slowdown in oil production may already be beginning; the current price fluctuations for crude oil and natural gas may be the preamble to a major crisis.

    In 1956, the geologist M. King Hubbert predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s.¹ Almost everyone, inside and outside...

  2. (pp. 14-39)

    In 1970, several major U.S. oil companies paid the government millions of dollars for oil-drilling rights off the coasts of Oregon and Washington.¹ They drilled three holes, then rode off into the sunset and never returned. They kissed millions of dollars goodbye. What happened?

    1 They forgot the story about the Texas county that produced oil only after 30 initial dry holes were drilled.

    2 They did not listen to the economists telling them that the amount of oil discovered depends on the number of dollars spent in the search.

    3 Environmentalists were better organized in Oregon and Washington than...

  3. (pp. 40-69)

    In western Pennsylvania during the early years of oil exploration, a favorite strategy was drilling next to a cemetery. It wasn’t as ghoulish as it sounds. Cemeteries in western Pennsylvania were usually located on prominent hilltops. Sometimes the hilltops were there because sedimentary beds resistant to weathering had been “domed up”: the surface hill could be the expression of an underlying structural dome.

    The connection between a structural dome and an oil field was first appreciated in 1880.¹ Oil is less dense than water. Oil floats above water. If oil is present in the pores inside a sedimentary rock, the...

  4. (pp. 70-87)

    A lady goes into a fabric store and enlists the salesclerk’s help in picking out a nice fabric for a nightgown. After they find something suitably frilly, the customer asks to buy 17 yards. Naturally, the salesclerk asks what kind of nightgown needs 17 yards of fabric. “Oh, my husband is an exploration geologist. For them, looking for it is as much fun as finding it.”

    Finding it influences the price of gasoline and (indirectly) the price of groceries. Economists and geologists start from completely different viewpoints. Economists state that oil discoveries depend on the level of investment put into...

  5. (pp. 88-112)

    The most powerful stimulant for finding more oil would be a reduction in drilling costs. Reservoirs that are now marginal could become economic. All those dry exploration wells would be a smaller drain on earnings.

    If you started out today to design an automobile absolutely from scratch, you probably would not invent the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine. The survival of the ordinary gasoline engine is not the result of some sort of conspiracy or conservatism. A hundred years of effort by backyard tinkerers, race car owners, and automotive engineers have produced a reasonably reliable and reasonably priced product. The rotary...

  6. (pp. 113-132)

    Would we find more oil if we simply drilled holes at random? I had hoped that the answer would be a loud “No!” In 1975, however, Bill Menard of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography suggested that the answer was a quiet “Yes.” Menard calculated that we would have found the East Texas oil field (7 billion barrels) much earlier if we had been throwing darts at a map.¹ In fact, the odds were better than a billion to one that East Texas would have been found earlier by drilling at random. My own reaction was that Dad Joinerdiddiscover...

  7. (pp. 133-149)

    Even if M. King Hubbert had said nothing about future oil production, he would deserve an important place in the history of geology. His analyses of groundwater flow, size scaling, Darcy’s law, hydrodynamic oil traps, and great thrust faults were huge contributions. Hubbert’s 1956 warning was not something to be dismissed lightly.¹

    Although journalists occasionally mention “scientific authorities,” there are no authorities in science. Scientists can, and do, make mistakes, even after receiving honorary degrees, high government appointments, and Nobel Prizes. However, when Linus Pauling gave his 1955 opinion that atmospheric nuclear weapons tests were a health hazard,² a lot...

  8. (pp. 150-158)

    There is a fascinating parallel between studies of population growth and future oil predictions. The population studies began more than 100 years before Hubbert’s first analysis of U.S. oil production. In 1798, the Reverend Thomas Malthus wrote that any population that grows by a fixed percentage each year eventually outgrows its food supply.¹ The analogy is to a compound-interest savings account, in which the interest paid in is a fixed percentage of the money currently in the account. Up through 1955, there was a widespread assumption that the U.S. oil industry would always be able to keep up with a...

  9. (pp. 159-175)

    Years ago, a visitor to Switzerland asked how people earned a living in those high Alpine villages. “Each village gets paid for doing laundry for the next village.” Today, an equally silly answer would be, “Each village uses the Internet to sell toilet paper to the next village.” The lesson for the global village: we can’t all work in the service economy; somebody has to be down grubbing at the base of the economic pyramid. The list of fundamental activities is short: agriculture, ranching, forestry, fisheries, mining, and petroleum.

    Consider the names on some great art museums: Getty (oil), Guggenheim...

  10. (pp. 176-185)

    There are plenty of energy sources other than fossil fuels. Running out of energy in the long run is not the problem. The bind comes during the next 10 years: getting over our dependence on crude oil. This chapter begins by discussing two nonrenewable energy sources, followed by the renewable resources.

    “Geothermal” energy is just what its name implies, heat recovered from within the Earth’s crust. Just as with oil fields, there are a few high-grade geothermal areas, a larger number in the middle, and extensive low-grade heat sources that may not be economic in this century. Before 1960, three...

  11. (pp. 186-190)

    During the 2000 presidential campaign, Democrats and Republicans debated about how to use the new surplus in the federal budget: pay off the national debt, fix Social Security, improve Medicare, or reduce taxes. There is another option: gift wrap the entire surplus and present it to the Saudi royal family. We could go happily on, pretending that either (1) a permanent decline in world oil production won’t happen or (2) it doesn’t matter. Ask anyone who remembers the 1980 crisis: it happens and it matters. In 1980 it was a problem in distribution; the oil was there, but it wasn’t...