Last updated on: 10/22/2008 7:39:00 AM PST

What Is Peak Oil?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Post Carbon Institute, a research and educational organization concerned with fossil fuel depletion and climate change, wrote in an article titled "What Is Peak Oil," published on its website (accessed Oct. 7, 2008):

"So what exactly is 'Peak Oil'? Simply put, it is the period of maximum global oil production, after which we go into permanent oil decline...

It turns out that an oil reservoir usually reaches its maximum output when it is about half empty – which we call peak production. At that point, the only long-term way to keep production up is to find a new oil reservoir...

Therefore when the whole planet reaches its maximum period of oil production, which is usually what is meant by Peak Oil, no amount of debate, argument or other vigorous action will be able to reverse the decline that will inevitably follow."

Oct. 7, 2008 - Post Carbon Institute 

Robert L. Hirsch, PhD, Former Senior Energy Program Advisor for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), stated in his Dec. 7, 2005 testimony before the US House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, that:

"The concept of the peaking of world oil production follows from the fact that the output of an individual oil field rises after discovery, reaches a peak, and then declines. Oil fields have lifetimes typically measured in decades, and peak production often occurs roughly a decade or so after discovery under normal circumstances. It is important to recognize that oil production peaking is not 'running out.' Peaking is the maximum oil production rate, which typically occurs after roughly half of the recoverable oil in an oil field has been produced. What is likely to happen on a world scale will be similar to what happens with individual oil fields, because world production is by definition the sum total of production from all of the world's oil fields...

World oil demand is forecast to grow 50 percent by 2025. To meet that demand, ever-larger volumes of oil will have to be produced. Since oil production from individual oil fields grows to a peak and then declines, new fields must be continually discovered and brought into production to compensate for the depletion of older fields and to meet increasing world demand. If large quantities of new oil are not discovered and brought into production somewhere in the world, then world oil production will no longer satisfy demand. Peaking means that the rate of world oil production cannot increase; it does not mean that production will suddenly stop because there will still be large reserves remaining."

Dec. 7, 2005 - Robert L. Hirsch, PhD 
Hirsch Testimony on Peak Oil: House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality (135KB)  

Energy Bulletin, a clearinghouse for information regarding a peak in global energy supply, published an article titled "Peak Oil Primer," available on its website (accessed Oct. 7, 2008):

"Peak oil is the simplest label for the problem of energy resource depletion, or more specifically, the peak in global oil production. Oil is a finite, non-renewable resource, one that has powered phenomenal economic and population growth over the last century and a half. The rate of oil 'production', meaning extraction and refining (currently about 84 million barrels/day), has grown almost every year of the last century. Once we have used up about half of the original reserves, oil production becomes ever more likely to stop growing and begin a terminal decline, hence 'peak'. The peak in oil production does not signify 'running out of oil', but it does mean the end of cheap oil, as we switch from a buyers' to a sellers' market. For economies leveraged on ever increasing quantities of cheap oil, the consequences may be dire...

Our industrial societies and our financial systems were built on the assumption of continual growth – growth based on ever more readily available cheap fossil fuels. Oil in particular is the most convenient and multi-purposed of these fossil fuels…Oil is so important that the peak will have vast implications across the realms of war and geopolitics, medicine, culture, transport and trade, economic stability and food production."

Oct. 7, 2008 - 

The National Petroleum Council wrote in its July 2007 report "Hard Truths: Facing the Hard Truths about Energy," that:

"Concerns about the reliability of production forecasts and estimates of recoverable oil resources are the basis of warnings about future oil supplies and the deliverability of oil. The concerns are compounded by the challenges some companies face in adding new reserves to replace those already produced. The warnings are strongly expressed in a set of forecasts known collectively as peak oil. The term derives from the Hubbert's Peak analysis of U.S. oil production written by M. King Hubbert.

Peak oil forecasts project that oil supply will not grow significantly beyond current production levels and therefore may not keep pace with projected global demand; a peak and decline in oil production is inevitable and may be near-at-hand. The conclusions lead to calls to develop additional resources to increase supply, accelerate the use of unconventional resources as substitutes for oil, and moderate demand in order to bridge the forecast supply shortfalls. Such actions generally converge with the recommendations of this study...

Peak oil forecasts emphasize various physical limitations to raising production rates, including: reserve estimates that are lower than reference cases; limited future development opportunities; and insufficient volumes from unconventional production over the study time frame. These forecasts generally consider oil supply independently of demand and point to supply shortfalls...

Views of an impending peak in liquids production are usually countered by expectations for new discoveries, additions to the resource base, new technologies, and greater operating experience that change the production profile of new and existing producing fields...

Peak oil forecasts assume that remaining smaller reservoirs will not compensate for declines in the larger reservoirs, resulting in declining conventional oil production in the near future."

July 2007 - National Petroleum Council