Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Peak Oil

Peak Oil is the theory that the world has already used (or soon will) all the oil that we are endowed with. Michael Lynch debunks the theory in the NYTimes.

Like many Malthusian beliefs, peak oil theory has been promoted by a motivated group of scientists and laymen who base their conclusions on poor analyses of data and misinterpretations of technical material. But because the news media and prominent figures like James Schlesinger, a former secretary of energy, and the oilman T. Boone Pickens have taken peak oil seriously, the public is understandably alarmed.

A careful examination of the facts shows that most arguments about peak oil are based on anecdotal information, vague references and ignorance of how the oil industry goes about finding fields and extracting petroleum. And this has been demonstrated over and over again: the founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil first claimed in 1989 that the peak had already been reached, and Mr. Schlesinger argued a decade earlier that production was unlikely to ever go much higher.

There are two big problems with the theory. First, it ignores improvements in technology which lowers the cost of recovering oil that was previously thought uneconomic. Second, it ignores the effect of rising prices on the search for new oil.

2 comments:

Alexander said...

in response to peak oil- my question is so what? maybe peak oil isn't a great argument, but are you advocating that we abandon attempts to discover and implement renewable energy. According to Michael Lynch, we should just put off all the "hairbrained" attempts to find clean energy. I love to procrastinate as much as the next, but does the fact that there may be more oil mean that we can continue to pollute with fossil fuels. Does that mean that we need to continue to depend on others for our unquenchable thirst? Regardless of supply, or its effect on price, I would hope that proponents of peak oil are successful in Washington using their "scare tactics".

Cool Guy said...

Both arguments are typically addressed by Peak Oil-ers. On (1): the energy returned on energy invested has gone down over time, not up. In other words, technological progress has not kept up with underlying depletion/difficulty to find oil. On (2): the peak in oil field discoveries was long ago, and new oil field discoveries have arrived at a trickle since then.

Moreover, Peak Oil is not about complete resource depletion - the main problem with the NY Times article - it's about when the peak level of production has been reached. Of course this has already happened in the US, as it has in the North Sea.