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The `Peak Oil` Theory

Posted June. 08, 2010 08:36,   


American geophysicist Marion King Hubbert made an ominous projection in 1956. Based on his research on estimated oil reserves and analysis of oil production, he predicted output in the U.S. would peak between 1966 and 1972 followed by a decline due to a shortage of basic oil reserves. When his projections coincided with the first oil shock in 1973, it sent shockwaves throughout the world but this was short-lived because oil companies soon secured new supplies by digging oil underwater outside of the U.S.

Unlike Hubbert, former MIT professor Peter Huber said the more the world uses energy, the more it can produce new energy. He meant people will find new energy sources even after oil reserves run out. Sheikh Yamani, the Saudi Arabian founder of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, was also an optimist like Huber. Yamani said, “The Stone Age did not end due to a shortage of stones. The oil era will also end one day, but it will not be due to a shortage of oil.”

With the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico dampening the future of offshore oil drilling, Hubbert’s "peak oil" theory has attracted renewed attention, according to the New York Times. In other words, oil supply has finally peaked. When oil companies ran into a brick wall with massive development of onshore oil fields, they turned their eyes to the sea searching for oil deep down with cutting-edge technology. BP mishandled an exploratory hole in one of its deepsea probes, and this shows how challenging conducting exploration is in polar regions or underwater.

BP’s accident has raised alarms over optimistic views of oil supply. A book on how to survive the end of oil has reportedly sold more than 150,000 copies in the U.S., and people are actively learning how to deal with oil depletion through self-guided sessions. There are even consulting firms that advise how to live after the end of oil, such as storing extra food for an emergency and investing in gold. The BP disaster is a timely reminder of the world`s need to brace for a post-oil era.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)