The Hirsch Report�One Year Later
By Tom Whipple
You can’t delve very deeply into the world of peak oil without encountering a reference to the “Hirsch Report.” This report, which is imposingly titled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management was published in February 2005 by SAIC under a contract with the US Department of Energy. The cumbersome title immediately led to the document becoming popularly known as the “Hirsch Report” in honor of its principal author Robert L. Hirsch.
Google “Hirsch Report” today and you will get over 20,000 hits. A quick review of the first thousand or so shows they mostly are referencing the peak oil study.
The Hirsch report is significant for three reasons.
1. It was sponsored and paid for by the National Energy Technology Laboratory, an arm of the US Government and prepared by highly qualified and respected researchers.
2. The report came to the devastating conclusion that the country and the world will face unprecedented economic, social, and political problems
3. The mainstream media and our country’s leaders have ignored it.
If there is a weakness in the report, it is the failure to grapple with the “when” of peak oil. After acknowledging the peak is inevitable, Hirsch and his associates list the many reasons it is difficult to project even a rough year for the peaking. They go on to say, “The bottom line is that no one knows with certainty when world oil production will reach a peak” and list 12 estimates ranging from 2006 to “no visible peak.”
It is the lack of a “when” keeping the report and its significance relegated to peak oil blogs and out of the New York Times or the 6 o’clock news.
However, given that the year of peak oil is really the major part of the controversy surrounding the concept, it is likely the formulation used in the report is the only one acceptable to DOE. They paid for the work and, of course, would have had trouble releasing conclusions in conflict with their own projections.
The report reaches ten major conclusions:
* World oil peaking is going to happen
* Oil peaking could cost the US economy dearly
* Oil peaking presents a unique challenge
* The problem is liquid fuels
* Mitigation efforts will require substantial time
* Both supply and demand will require attention
* It is a matter of risk management
* Government intervention will be required
* Economic upheaval is not inevitable
10. More information is needed.
On re-reading the report, I was struck by a section entitled “Wildcards” in which the authors list some developments which might make the peaking of world oil supplies more bearable, and some that are bound to exacerbate the situation.
On the upside are listed possibilities such as peak oil not coming for many decades, or that Middle East reserves might turn out to be much bigger than estimated, or that even a great scientific breakthrough will reduce the need for so much oil before it peaks. Unfortunately none of the items on the list looks very likely in the foreseeable future.
Now on the downside, here are some of the developments the Hirsch report sees as making life in a post peak oil world much worse:
* World oil production peaking is occurring now or soon.
* Middle East reserves are much less than stated.
* Terrorism increases and concentrates on damaging oil facilities.
* Political instability in major oil producers results in unexpected sustained oil shortages.
* Large sustained Middle East political instability hinders oil production.
To my mind, the downside list is starting to sound a lot like what has been happening for the last year and appears likely to continue into the foreseeable future.
If you have been following what I have been saying about peak oil for the last year or so, I recommend that you download your free copy of the Hirsch report. You can find all 91 pages in PDF at: www.hilltoplancers.org/stories/hirsch0502.pdf
Or if you believe the 12-page version is enough try: http://www.acus.org/docs/051007-Hirsch_World_Oil_Production.pdf
One day this report will be recognized as one of the most prescient the US government issued on life in the 21st century.