Helping America Navigate a New Energy Reality

What Hubbert Got Really Wrong About Oil

By on 8 Sep 2016 in notable posts, viewpoints

(Forbes) If you happen to be someone who is interested in the topic of “peak oil”, you know the name M. King Hubbert.

The history of the scientific study of peak oil dates to the 1950s, when Hubbert, a Shell geophysicist, reported on studies he had undertaken regarding the production rates of oil and gas fields. In a 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels , Hubbert suggested that oil production in a particular region would approximate a bell curve, increasing exponentially during the early stages of production before eventually slowing, reaching a peak when approximately half of a field had been extracted, and then going into terminal production decline.

A peak in oil production, that is the maximum rate of production after which a field, country, or the world as a whole begins to decline is at the core of the peak oil issue. A country is said to have peaked, or reached peak oil after it becomes apparent that oil production in the region is steadily declining year after year. Hubbert is widely credited with accurately predicting the peak of U.S. oil production. In fact, his prediction has taken on a mythological status, which I address below.

Oil production in the U.S. from 1900 through 2010 did approximate a bell curve, with peak production occurring in 1970. I documented this production curve in my book Power Plays: Energy Options In The Age Of Peak Oil : Source: Power Plays: Energy Options In The Age Of Peak Oil Hubbert’s fame in peak oil circles comes primarily from the assertion that he accurately predicted the 1970 U.S. peak. Because of this prediction, Hubbert is widely-regarded among peak oil adherents as a visionary. He has been called an oracle and a prophet.

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