Peak Oil News: Past its Peak?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Past its Peak?

Fairfield County Weekly

Cheap oil is probably gone forever

by Jim Motavalli

Are you worried about "peak oil" yet? You should be. An ever-expanding cast of oil geologists, futurists, environmentalists and world leaders are very concerned indeed. Consider the message of books like Twilight in the Desert,

The End of Oil , The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age... , Beyond Oil , Power Down and Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies , a collection about an increasingly likely fate.

I interviewed Matthew Simmons, a respected oil analyst and sometime adviser to the Bush administration, about his theses in Twilight in the Desert . Simmons says Saudi Arabia is at or near oil peak, and that both Iran and Iraq are past peak. His conjecture about the Saudis is pretty sobering, considering that all of our energy projections are based on their ability to open the spigots wider and deliver 15 million barrels of oil per day.

Simmons says, "Saudi Arabian oil production is at or very near its peak sustainable volume (if it did not, in fact peak almost 25 years ago), and is likely to go into decline in the very foreseeable future [emphasis in the original]. There is only a small probability that Saudi Arabia will ever deliver the quantities of petroleum that are assigned to it in all the major forecasts of world oil production and consumption."

Today's analysts and geologists follow trends in global oil field discovery and make an educated guess when the peak of production will occur. World oil discovery actually peaked in 1965, so the fact that the industry is finding less and less oil is very troubling.

Expert opinion varies on when oil peak will be reached. Ali Samsan Bakhitari, vice president of Iran's national oil company, puts the date at 2006 or 2007; oil company geologist Colin Campbell at around 2010; the nonprofit World Energy Council says sometime after 2010; and Royal Dutch Shell says it will be 2025 or later. "The crisis is very, very near," says Bakhitari.

A new report entitled "Peaking of World Oil Production" by Robert L. Hirsch makes sobering reading. Hirsch is not some think-tank intellectual: He is a former VP of Arco and RAND senior energy analyst.

Hirsch makes note of our 210 million gas-guzzling cars and trucks, and the nine to 15 years it normally takes to replace half of them. "While significant improvements in fuel efficiency are possible in automobiles and light trucks," he writes, "any affordable approach to upgrading will be inherently time-consuming, requiring more than a decade to achieve significant overall fuel efficiency improvement." Uh oh.

But then there's this: "The problems associated with world oil production peaking will not be temporary, and past 'energy crisis' experience will provide relatively little guidance. The challenge of oil peaking deserves immediate, serious attention if risks are to be fully understood and mitigation begun on a timely basis." Hirsch concludes that the only way to avoid a serious shortfall of motor fuels is to begin planning to replace oil 20 years before the peak period is reached. But as we've already seen, the critical peak year may be much closer than that already.

Read the entire Hirsch report at


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