Perhaps the title on this post is over the top (pun intended). The reality of peak oil is not a secret. However, that reality is generally among the media a pro-forma taboo. For media outlets where the cognoscenti need to know, it gets mentioned. For general consumption, the mass media, not so much. Save consumers from too much concern, doncha know. If people knew that the world production of oil would reach its peak around 2018, inexorably declining relative to demand forever after – and causing the price of everything connected to oil to rise (…skyrocket):
A bind is clearly coming. We think that the peak in production will actually occur in the period 2015 to 2020. And if I had to pick a particular year, I might use 2017 or 2018. That would suggest that around 2015, we will hit a near-plateau of production around the world, and we will hold it for maybe four or five years. On the other side of that plateau, production will begin slowly moving down. By 2020, we should be headed in a downward direction for oil output in the world each year instead of an upward direction, as we are today.
Things in the oil world are going to be just fine for the immediate future. We can buy gasoline at $3.00 per gallon or perhaps $2.75. That is fine for now. The problems come around 2013 or 2014, when we begin to find that this higher growth that you spoke about is nowhere matched by higher production of petroleum products and, obviously, we begin to run tight.
That begins to scare people, since they can look ahead and see that the issue is not going to be resolved quickly, since you have to find the oil many years in advance of being able to produce it. We just haven’t found enough oil for a number of years, so this problem is now beyond the reach of some big, major discovery that suddenly would provide us with a sufficiency. And so far, we have no technological breakthrough to assist us.
Will there ever be a last word on predicting peak oil? Probably not until years after it has happened. However, the quote above is close. It’s from an interview in one of the capitalist bibles (Forbes magazine) with the acknowledged ‘Dean of Oil Analysts’, Charles Maxwell, senior energy analyst at Weeden & Co (USA).
Maxwell has been talking about peak oil in the 2015-2020 range for at least a couple of years. His predictions, admittedly one among many score, have an unusual heavy-weight stroke of authority, especially in Forbes.
The point, as ever, is not precisely when peak oil will occur, but how pricing of oil and related products will be affected. Maxwell has mentioned oil at $300 a barrel, and gasoline (in the U.S.) at $15 per gallon. This brings in the issue of alternative energies. If alternative energy (wind, solar, coal, nuclear) can step in and fulfill the energy demand gap for declining oil production – then prices may not rise explosively. Maxwell is not optimistic. In his view the alternatives are either limited by their current state of technology, or they will take too long to ramp up to help with the painful transition years of oil decline.
There is a great deal of non-public debate about that ‘period of painful transition.’ Unfortunately, almost none of it has reached the legislative branches of government (in democracies). Far more effort and money is spent to downplay peak oil, than in facing the issues it will engender. The pronouncements of Charles Maxwell, even in Forbes, will not change that – probably not even in Forbes.
I bring this up (repeatedly), because peak oil is going to have an impact on the world like few other things.