• A look back on ‘peak oil’ proves enlightening

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

An interesting article looking back on the popularity of predictions of ‘peak oil’ in the 2000s hand early 2010s as been published on the Forbes website, written by Michael Lynch, one of the prominent critics of the belief at the time. He outlines how the concept of peak oil was based on poorly applied statistical techniques over short spans of data and the underlying belief that geology determined production trends, which gave a distorted picture of reality. In fact, knowledge of reserves, and the ability to exploit them, changes with time and under economic and political factors. For example, some of the justification for the idea of ‘peak oil’ in the early to mid-2000s was that production was already falling in some parts of the world (according to the theory, because of geology), but in reality the 2003 invasion of Iraq and coincidental shutdown of production in Venezuela were the reason for production dropping by one billion barrels. Some predictions that have not come to pass have been a collapse in Saudi Arabian oil production and the prediction that Russian production could not grow beyond 8 million barrels per day (it is currently 11 and increasing). There was also hubris to the peak oil theories, with a 1998 article in Scientific American stating that predicting “when oil production will stop rising is relatively straightforward once one has a good estimate of how much oil there is left to produce.” This was still going in 2012, when a Greenpeace official said “Oil company cheerleaders proclaiming huge supplies of oil are dead wrong. Peak oil is as real as rain, and it is here now. Not 2050. Not 2020. Now.”  Deniers of peak oil were derided as making “declarations of fact-free faith”.  The new enthusiasm for the idea of stranded fossil fuel assets is a good sign that the idea of ‘peak oil’ has now passed, but as history shows, prediction is a very difficult game. The article is well worth reading.