Commentary: Is Peak Oil Dead?  

Posted by Big Gav in has a post by Steve Andrews of ASPO USA - Commentary: Is Peak Oil Dead?.

Q: So, in your opinion, M. King Hubbert more or less had it right, at least in the big picture, not down at the granular level?

A: Some have mentioned that, “well Hubbert….back in the 1950s and 1960s he didn’t have access to the concept of unconventional oil or shale oil plays. He did good work, but it was only applicable to the conventional oil he knew about.” I would propose that it doesn’t really matter and that in hindsight, after a couple of more years, it will be more evident that effectively he did take unconventional oil into account because the unconventional oils are not easy oils.

Conventional oil--which was found in huge quantities, in giant fields in the 40's and 50's - well those giant fields had huge reserves and high porosities and permeabilities - meaning they would flow at very high rates for decades. This is in contrast to a relative few shale oil plays which have very low porosity and perm and which must be hydraulically fractured to flow. Conventional oil is just a different animal than unconventional oil; some unconventional oil wells have high initial rates of production, but all of these wells have high decline rates. Yet it’s essential that we produce this oil. Without unconventional oil, what we wind up with is essentially Hubbert’s cliff instead of a Hubbert’s rounded peak.

I think Hubbert anticipated a lot of incremental efforts by the industry to make the right-hand or decline side of his curve a more gradual curve rather than a sharp drop. He was thinking about secondary recovery, though perhaps it was too early for him to think about tertiary recovery, but those are the types of incremental efforts that he would have anticipated. Likewise, I would say that unconventional oil is another incremental type of recovery, at least compared to conventional oil.

Q: So the peak oil problem isn’t dead yet, as has been shouted in a few headlines?

A: Our bottom-line problem here is that if we ignore peak oil as a result of these plays, we ignore it at our peril. This is no time for complacency.

Peak oil is still a looming transportation problem—a huge one. I would suggest that we’ve made some progress…some things have been done. We’ve made several years worth of efforts collectively, whether it is more movement towards electric cars, mass transit, scaling down our vehicle purchases, or driving less due to price signals. But we’ve only just begun and we have a long ways to go in order to deal with the still-looming Hubbert’s peak, in order to not deal with the severe consequences that Bob Hirsch wrote about in his 2005 research for DOE.

The big problem is that it’s hard to be proactive when there’s no current crisis. We’re a country of optimists. That’s helped us do what we do, including the development of new technologies to create, innovate and develop better than anyone else in the world. I think it’s imperative to maintain a positive outlook. At the same time, peak oil is something unique. Peak Oil is not reflective of optimism or pessimism, or positive or negative; it’s just the result of the finite volume of oil the Earth was endowed with, and the rate at which that oil can be produced. Some way or another we’ve got to get to where we can be proactive, and we’ve got to work together.


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