Thursday, January 26, 2012
Researchers Argue Peak Oil Is Here, Bringing Permanent Volatility
The global production of oil has remained relatively flat since 2005 and peaked in 2008, declining ever since even as demand has continued to increase. The result has been wild fluctuations in the price of oil as small changes in demand set off large shocks in the system.
In Wednesday’s issue of Nature, James Murray of University of Washington and David King of Oxford University argue this sort of volatility is what we can expect going forward, and we’re likely to face it with other fossil fuels as well.
The notion of peak oil is fairly simple: Oil is a finite resource and at some point we simply won’t be able to extract as much as we once did. There is no getting around that limit for any finite resource. The issue that has made peak oil contentious, however, is the debate over when we might actually hit it. Murray and King are not the first to conclude that we’ve already passed the peak. Even as prices have climbed by about 15 percent per year since 2005, production has remained largely flat.
The strongest argument against this being a real peak is the increasing volume of petroleum reserves many countries are reporting. Even assuming those estimates were reliable (which Murray and King aren’t certain of), those reserves clearly have not brought increased production. In the United States, for example, production as a percentage of total reserves has dropped from 9 percent to 6 percent during the last three decades. More