© 2013 Miro Roman

on production – Hubbert’s peak

Origin of the Peakoil Theory

The peak oil theory is the belief that at some point the production of oil will reach a peak and then start to decline. The result of this decline will be a significant increase in the cost of oil and that will have a serious impact on the economy. The peak oil theory has been around since the 1950’s but it has really started to gain traction in the last couple of decades. This is because it is only possible to tell when oil has peaked after the fact. The successful prediction of when oil would peak in many countries has helped to lend credibility to the theory.

The peak oil theory was developed in the 1950’s by geologist M. King Hubbert when he noticed that if you graphed the discovery of new oil deposits over time they made a bell curve. Hubbert reasoned that the production of oil should follow a similar pattern and the result was what became known as the Hubbert curve. If one accepts this curve as being an accurate representation of the rate at which oil is produced then it is obvious that production will continue to grow until it reaches a peak after which there will be a decline in production. The decline in production will come with rising prices since it will be necessary to have higher prices to make it worthwhile to continue to produce oil that is becoming more and more difficult to get.

During the fifties Hubbert estimated that the oil production in the United States would peak about 1970. This turned out to be a remarkably accurate prediction and has made Hubbert something of a legend. While no countries oil production will fit under the bell curve exactly it has proven to be a fairly accurate representation at least as far as goals for individual nations goes. Certain factors like economics and geology will affect oil production so the curve is only an estimate but it has proven to be a fairly accurate one.

Despite the current popularity of the peak oil theory there are people who believe that it is in fact not true. Most of these people argue that peak oil is a theory promoted by the oil companies to justify the high price of oil. Most of the people who support this idea are also believers in the abiotic theory of oil. This theory suggests that oil is not made as the result of the decay of ancient life forms but is created from hydrogen deep in the earth’s core. The result of the abiotic theory is that there is far more oil than the oil companies suggest there is. If this is the case it would result in a collapse in the price of oil, something the oil companies are obviously keen to avoid. Whether the abiotic theory is true or the peak oil theory is true remains to be seen as there is currently a great deal of disagreement on the subject.


Title Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuel
Authors M. King Hubbert, Shell Development Company
Source Drilling and Production Practice, 1956
Copyright 1956. American Petroleum Institute


In the present review an attempt has been made to obtain an approximate idea of the world situation with respect to the requirements and supply of fossil fuels, and of whether nuclear energy from uranium and thorium will be able to replace that from the fossil fuels as the latter approach their inevitable exhaustion The initial supply of fossil fuels, reduced to a common unit of energy, consisted of about 70 percent coal, 14 percent petroleum and natural gas, and about 16 percent oil shale and tar sands. Should tile world continue to be dependent upon its fossil fuels for its energy requirements, the peak of coal production would probably be reached with the next 200 years, and that of oil in about 50 years.

Of these initial fuel reserves, the United States had about a third of the world’s coal, and about half of its oil shale, but only about an eighth of the initial supply of oil. Of this last, one third has already been consumed The reserves of coal and oil shale in the United States are sufficient for a fen centuries, but the production peaks for both oil and gas will probably occur in the comparatively near future. With regard to uranium and thorium, the heat obtainable from 1 gram of either of these elements, by means of the breeder reaction, is equal to the heat of combustion of 3 tons of coal, or 13 bbl of petroleum. The uranium equivalent of all the fossil fuels in the United States is only about a third of a million tons. The so-called high-grade ores of the Colorado Plateau will yield possibly 100,000 tons of uranium, but the large reserves are contained in the low-grade deposits of phosphate rocks and black shales which contain several hundred million tons of uranium The energy content of these low-grade deposits, occurring at a concentration equivalent to 250 tons of coal, or 1,000 bbl of oil per ton of rock, amounts to several hundred times that of all the fossil fuels combined. It appears, therefore, provided we can refrain from destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons, and provided also that the growth of the human population (which is now doubling in less than a century) can somehow be controlled, that the world at last has discovered a source of energy adequate for its needs for at least the next few centuries of the \”foreseeable future.\”

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