When will oil production peak?

The previous article indicated that our oil-based society is fast approaching a turning point where the production of oil will be less than the demand of our world. At this point, a seller’s market will exist and the price of a barrel of oil may be $300 or higher. This translates to gas at $4.50 a litre. Need a loan to fill your gas tank?

Some visionaries have made predictions on our future:

“We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned”.

— Sir Fred Hoyle, “Of Men and Galaxies,” 1964 –

Back in 1956, a geologist named M. King Hubbert predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in 1970 – The actual peak was 1971. His 1969 prediction that world oil would peak in approximately 1995 would seem to be a little early. Similarly, George Orwell’s novel entitled “1984” did not seem to be realistic when 1984 actually arrived. Today it seems a little more possible. What is perhaps more important than absolute accuracy of timing is the clarity of vision that these thinkers have brought to us. How many of us can predict anything in the future?

A number of industry related individuals have shared their predictions of when oil production may start declining. Most predictions for a peak of oil production fall between 2006 to 2025.




Bakhitari, A.M.S. Oil Executive (Iran) 2006-2007
Matthew Simmons Investment Banker (US) 2007-2009
Chris Skrebowski Petroleum Journal Editor After 2011
Deffeyes, K.S. Oil Geologist (Ret. US) Before 2009
Goodstein, D Cal-Tech Before 2010
Campbell, C.J. Oil Geologist (Ret. Ireland) Around 2010
World Energy Council World Non-Gov. Body After 2010
Pang Xionqgi Petroleum Exec (China) 2012
Laherrere, J Oil Geologist (ret. France) 2010 – 2020
EIA nominal case DOE energy info (U.S.) 2016
Thierry Desmarest Total Oil Company (France) 2020
CERA Energy Consultants (US) 2020 or later
Shell oil Major oil company 2025 or later

The world’s largest oil fields were all discovered more than 50 years ago. Given that age, it is possible that a large Saudi field will soon go into decline. The major Canterell field in Mexico will start its decline in 2006. The decline of super giants will be extremely difficult to replace.

Since the 1960’s, annual oil discoveries have generally decreased. Since 1980, annual consumption has exceeded annual new discoveries. The approximately number of oil fields is 4200, with 1% of these containing over 75% of reserves.

If the historical maximum of oil discoveries has already arrived, then it logically follows that the maximum of oil production will follow with an appropriate time delay.

The replacement of declining oil fuel by conservation, fuel switching or production by other sources (coal gasification) is a process that would take ten to fifteen years even if a concentrated effort were to be undertaken. If the pessimists guessing 2010 are right, then we are too late to avert a crisis of large and expensive proportions. If the optimists guessing year 2020 are right then we have 14 years to prepare. Some ask the question: when will the peak oil crisis come? A better question is – do we as a human race on this planet have the intelligence to demand and support the political leadership necessary in the coming years? We are well past the moment where short-term gamesmanship by our political leaders is acceptable.

Given the history of human cooperation in the past, it is not at all reassuring for the survival of the human race on this planet.


One comment

  1. Daniel Swanson · April 30, 2009

    Very nice piece.
    I think that too much time and thought is put into when the exact month of maximum production is. What we should be looking at is: What is the effect on our society of the depletion of all of these precursors? What you ask that question, you really realize that we are past the time to keep thinking about perpetual growth.

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