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Peak Oil, Part 3: Bell Curve and Global Discovery

As we reach Peak Oil, how will industrialized society respond to the necessity for change? As we reach Peak Oil, how will industrialized society respond to the necessity for change?

“One thing is clear: the era of easy oil is over. What we all do next will determine how well we meet the energy needs of the entire world in this century and beyond.” David J. O’Reilly, Chairman & CEO of Chevron.

Whatever your outlook, whether pessimistic or optimistic, the paradigm is being shifted.

We live in what many call the Age of Oil. Characterized by the discovery and exploitation of petroleum some 150 years back, the Age of Oil represents the ‘big bang’ in history that precipitated contemporary civilization – industrialization, transportation, technology, and 6.8 billion people. The Age of Oil unequivocally relies on cheap and easy to find oil (the technical term being “conventional oil” reserves) to literally fuel virtually all aspects of life, from eating to drinking, electricity to manufacturing. We collectively assume that oil will always flow out of the earth in great abundance. And indeed, every human alive today was born into the Age of Oil and doesn’t know otherwise. But what if this oil, a finite resource, begins to run dry? What would happen to the edifice of global industrialized civilization that is constructed from and for petroleum? If we today live in the Age of Oil, and we are soon to run out of oil, what age will we transition into?

Bell Curve and Global Discovery

In 2008, data published by National Geographic showed that out of the 50 largest oil producing countries, 42 had passed their peak and are in decline. It is strikingly clear that the world’s major conventional oil fields can no longer be relied on to sustain current levels of consumption – not to mention the growing population and economic demand in countries such as China, which require ever increasing rates of petroleum use.

It would be completely natural to assume the major oil cartels have this stuff figured out and, when the time comes, will just increase investment in exploring, drilling, and exploiting new oil reservoirs. This makes sense, but it does not comply with the data. Simply put, all the major oil fields have been discovered, and this explains why oil corporations have been moving to unconventional drilling and costly retrieval methods, like the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Currently, there’s about four or five barrels of oil used for every one barrel discovered. No rational person can expect world petroleum supply to fill the increasing demand by indefinitely discovering more oil fields – it is a physical impossibility. We would have to discover six more Saudi Arabias by the year 2030. How many times have we found a reservoir as big as Saudi Arabia’s? Just once.

Physicist and oil geologist M. King Hubbert exposed this mathematical certainty in 1949. (He was laughed at.) His predictions have proven alarmingly accurate (just the specific prediction date for global Peak Oil was off, but his overall logic has borne out). He gave us, compiled now with modern statistics and technology, the clear understanding that oil production peaks approximately 40 years after discoveries do. It always follows, much like bacteria in a petri dish, a bell curve. We now know global oil discoveries peaked in the mid 1960s, which means the peak is right now, at this very historic moment. We stand looking over the edge of global oil production, right on the precipice of a new age, one that is depleted of oil whether we like it or not.

Oil is a non-renewable resource. Human civilization, in the Age of Oil, is built by and relies upon this non-renewable and highly potent resource. There are 10 hydrocarbon calories of energy in every single calorie of food consumed in the industrialized world. Take away that energy, and what will happen? Will it be a brutal transition of famine and war in a world bereft of petroleum? Or will it be a peaceful move into a green future – a world that no longer pollutes or destroys itself with weaponry. Whatever your outlook, whether pessimistic or optimistic, the paradigm is being shifted. And in the words of legendary Peak Oil activist, petroleum geologist, and author Colin Campbell, “The human race will not become extinct, but the subspecies of Petroleum man almost certainly will.”

Read Peak Oil, Part 2 – click here.

Read Peak Oil, Part 1 – click here.

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As the availability of oil declines, we’ll have to turn to alternative energy sources.
Last modified on Saturday, 01 September 2012 07:08

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