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DOE publishes poster: "Peak Oil - the Turning Point"

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) recently made available on its website a large poster explaining peak oil. Most of the text is reproduced below. The original is attractive and has more photos and graphs. -BA

Peak Oil - the Turning Point

The theory that the world's oil production rate will reach a maximum and then decline has been terms "peak oil."

"The world is not running out of oil -" but it does face "the end of the abundant and cheap oil on which all industrial nations depend."
- Colin J. Campbell and Jean H. Laherrere, 1998
Scientific American

The Hubbert Curve
M. King Hubbert

The Hubbert peak theory, also known as peak oil, concerns the long-term rate of conventional oil (and other fossil fuel) extraction and depletion. M. King Hubbert proposed, in a 1956 paper he presented at a meeting of the American Petroleum Institute, that oil production in the continental United States would peak between 1965 and 1970. U.S. oil production peaked in 1971, and has been decreasing since then. Hubbert's theory is subject to continued discussion because of the potential effects of lowered oil production, and because of the ongoing debate over aspects of energy policy. Opinions on the effect of passing Hubbert's peak range from the faith that the market economy will produce a solution, to predictions of doomsday scenarios of a global economy unable to meet its energy needs.

Discovery vs. Production

Although many experts were skeptical of his prediction, Hubbert was proven correct when U.S. oil production peaked in 1971. Although the Prudhoe Bay oil field was discovered after 1971, even the great volume of oil produced from that field was not enough to bring U.S. oil production out of a long-term decline.

[GRAPH of U.S. oil discoveries and production]
U.S. oil discovery peaked in the 1940s
U.S. oil production peaked in 1971.

"There's no such thing as limitless,
but the limits keep being expanded all the time.
There are many offshore places that in the fullness of time will get explored... I don't know (how much oil) there is there, and in fact nobody does.
M.A. Adelman, 2004.

Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 1
In Production Mode

As a result of the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976, the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 1 (NPR-1) near Elk Hills, California, began operation in a production mode rather than a conservation mode. The field peak oil rate occurred in 1981.

[GRAPH of the production of NPR-1]
At its peak in July 1981, NPR-1 produced 181,000 barrels of oil per day. (DOE, 2005)

When will world's oil production peak?
Energy Information Administration

When will world production peak? EIA's short answer is not soon, but within the present century. A peak in world oil production is decades away...not years away.
- Guy Caruso
United States Energy Information Administration, DOE, 2005

[Graph: Global oil production]
Global oil production approached 26 billion barrels of oil per year at the end of 2003
[EB note: The projections for future oil production look very optimistic.]

Depletion of an Exhaustible Resource

Whether from a single well, oil field, country, or the world, peak oil marks the point of maximum oil production. Peaking does not mean that oil is about to run out, only that a decline in production rate is inevitable since oil is an exhaustible resource. The volume of oil discovered every year reached an all-time high in the mid-1960s and has been declining ever since. Unless this trend is reversed, the stage is set for global oil production to peak and begin to fall.

Peak Scenarios
The "Ultimate" Unanswered Question

The size of the conventional resource base determines the peak event, which by theory occurs when a 50 percent depletion of the ultimate oil reserves is reached.

[GRAPH of Selected Published Estimates of World Ultimate Recovery]

Selected Published Estimates of Peak Oil Timing

When will the world reach its peak oil production? "Peak year" projections by experts vary widely, in part because there is disagreement as to the size of the ultimately recoverable oil resource. Most, however, agree that is question is not if, but when the peak will occur.

[TABLE of estimates for the year in which peak oil will occur, including estimates by CERA, Campbell, Shell and Simmons]

Other posters are available from the DOE site:

All About Oil and Gas - Printable, Educational Posters

The following educational posters trace the origin of oil and gas, the means to get it to market, the U.S. and global disposition of oil and gas, as well as unconventional sources of oil. The posters are designed for high school students and higher. For younger students, go to our online energy lessons to learn more about oil and natural gas.

To download a copy of the educational posters, click on the link below each poster [at the DOE site].

Each poster is in PDF format and requires the Acrobat Reader.

  • The origin of Oil and Gas

  • The Energy Revolution
  • Reservoir Drive Mechanisms
  • Drilling for Oil and Gas
  • From Reservoir to Refinery
  • U.S. Oil Endowment
  • Global Oil Endowment
  • Unconventional Oil
  • Peak Oil - the Turning Point
  • Oil and Gas Reserves Evaluation
Editorial Notes: The text itself seems to be an even-handed presentation of peak oil basics, and the design is attractive. One wonders about the behind-the-scenes story of this poster. Are there peak oil champions within DOE? Will we be hearing more from the U.S. government about peak oil? I haven't looked at the other nine posters on oil and gas that the DOE has made available, and so I can't judge the quality of the information. Suggested by The Energy Blog Direct link for the peak oil poster (3.5MB PDF). UPDATE (November 3, 2007) Reader CW was struck by the comment by Guy Caruso of the Energy Information Administration (EIA) that peak oil is "decades not years away". I suspect that Mr. Caruso may be regretting that comment, in light of the recent voices from the oil industry warning against over-optimistic forecasts (for example, Christophe de Margerie of Total). The poster wisely avoids taking a position itself, instead presenting multiple points of view, from peak oil prophet Colin Campbell to cornucopian M.A. Adelman of the Cato Institute. UPDATE (Nov 5) Leanan at The Oil Drum says the peak oil poster has been available since September 2006. I'd never seen it before. Well, might as well give the Department of Energy a plug when it's doing a good job! -BA

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