24 Nov 2005
Up the Hill and Down the Slope
**The Hubbert Peak**. It’s that thing you draw on napkins in cafes and gesticulate wildly in the air when trying to tell people about peak oil. You know the one, looks like a nice gently curving hill, up one side, down the other. It is of course a stylised version of what the peak will actually look like, but it gets the idea across. It turns out however that it may not actually end up looking quite like that. Colin Campbell has estimated that once decline sets in it will be at a rate of 2-3% each year. That is an alarming enough prospect. A new report just published deeply questions this, and makes for more sobering reading.
The report, “Supply and Demand – shaping the peak of world oil production” by Robert Hirsch is well worth your taking the time to read. He challenges the assumption that the peak will actually take the form of the classic Hubbert Curve. In his study, published on the World Oil website, Hirsch looks back at 7 countries or regions who can be safely assumed to have already peaked, Texas, North America, UK, Norway, Argentina, Columbia, an Egypt, and studied their depletion curves. He first looks at the profile for the Lower 48 States in the US, and observes that in that case, the peak was more a triangular point than a gentle curve. He observes that a decline rate of less than 2% could be considered gradual, more than 2% could be considered steep.
He observes that in the case of the US Lower 48 States, increasingly sophisticated technology made no difference to the rate of decline in production. This, he feels, undermines the idea, put forward by many of those who criticize the Hubbert model, such as Odell, Lynch and Lomborg, often collectively termed the ‘optimists’ or the ‘cornucopians’, that high oil prices and advancing technology will mitigate decline. Hirsch’s findings are that in all of the cases he studied, decline took place at between 3 and 13%, which presents a far greater challenge than the 2-3% decline rate projected by Campbell. The case study of the UK oil fields is especially illuminating, as it shows the most severe drop off rates of any of the case studies.
In his conclusion he writes *“thus, if historical patterns are appropriate indicators, the task of planning for and managing world conventional oil peaking will indeed be very challenging