When I was a small person, (or at least shorter than I am now), summer evenings meant raspberry picking from the giant bush in our garden. At first it was easy: I’d go to the nearest corner of the bush, and pick the nicest fattest raspberries in reach. Of course those were soon gone so I’d move along further from the house, picking as I went. After those were picked I’d start looking under leaves or down by the roots, and eventually either my mum would have to come along or I’d fetch a step and we’d work on the higher parts of the bush. At first this would give us loads of raspberries, and then gradually we’d find less and less, and we’d be standing on tiptoe on a box to get those. The Last Raspberries -the ones on the highest branches- were impossible to get at without a step ladder so we’d leave them for the birds.
The reason I’m delighting you all with this anecdote is that I keep coming across very intelligent people far more learned than I, who are suggesting that the Deepwater Horizon rig was trying to do the oil equivalent of getting The Last Raspberries: just as you don’t get a ladder and start at the top of a raspberry bush when there’s lots of raspberries at eye-level, you don’t drill through 13 000 feet of rock under 5000 vertical feet of ocean when there’s lots of oil to be found in your back yard, or friendly governments willing to sell it to you. Their conclusion: we aren’t running out of oil: but what’s left is very hard to get at.
This is ‘Peak Oil Theory’. A quick look at the Wikipedia page reveals this dates back to 1956 when M.King Hubbert noticed that oil fields reach a peak when about half the oil is removed, and start to decline pretty quickly. He also noticed that oil producing regions follow the same pattern. After the peak, it gets harder and harder to get the last half of the oil out: you need more and more energy for less return.
Hubbert suggested that worldwide oil discovery would peak then decrease every year, and this would be followed by a peak in production, and that we’d have to look
further up the raspberry bush further out under the earth to keep digging out more oil. Hubbert then accurately predicted American peak production would be in the early 1970s,. He also said global peak production would be about forty years later (Work it out: 1970 plus forty makes…)
More and more people have been suggesting that Hubbert’s sums add up better than the oil industries, and as many of these people can talk about things like “pro-capita oil drilling and consumption on a macro scale in Russia during 1977” and understand it, I’m guessing they know what they are talking about. Fortunately some of them are also able to speak in normal sentences. See here, here (TED video, 20min). Academic types can look at a very long video here.
The oil industry of course, says Peak Oil won’t happen for gosh, ages yet: it’s all lies from unwashed environmentalists trying to scare us, but the International Energy Agency (hardly yurt-dwelling hippy types) “World energy outlook 2009” suggested that demand will become greater than supply by 2020, while those well-known tree-huggers at Lloyds Insurers recently published a report with Chatham house on ‘energy security’. Their main point: assuming oil wil last forever we will land us in big trouble, very soon. The US Defence Ministry have been making worried noises as well, although you never know: some of them may have a yurt or two.
So could change be coming, and soon? please add your thoughts, links to anything I may have missed etc. Especially if you think I’m dead wrong.