Peak, what peak?

by Chris Harries

Amid continuing media headlines that the US is experiencing an energy bonanza and will soon rival Saudi Arabia in production of hydrocarbons, it is somewhat disturbing how many people are reading those pointed headlines at face value, some even questioning whether oil depletion is a problem after all.

For those who wish to dig deeper than the headlines, below are some links to articles that give a much more robust picture of the true story. If you wish to keep abreast on these issues we urge you to read through these erudite essays and invite your comment.



In the New York Times: “Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas”:

In Resilience.Org: “Peak Oil Crisis: alternative futures”

The reality of peak oil is that it will define what happens to the global economy. And that ‘disruption’ is likely to happen before most climate impacts will. A systemic response is needed because the problems we face are systemic.

Definition of peak oil:
“The point at which the cost of incremental supply exceeds the price economies can pay without significantly disrupting economic activity.”

Here is some more background from New Economics: “Our dependence on oil puts a glass ceiling on economic recovery”

Gail Tverberg probably does the best job in explaining these issues in layperson’s terms on her site Our Finite World: “An economic theory of limited oil supply”

Another reliable reference is oft quoted Chris Sebrowski, a petroleum economist who has been predicting the current relationship between oil price and the GFC with almost perfect accuracy for a number of years. Here is an article that goes back more than a year: “Peak Oil: New old reason for business”

The US experience does show that with a monumental effort and huge investment it is possible to extract significant volumes of unconventional oil and gas but what they aren’t telling us is that the financial and greenhouse costs of such exercises goes only one way…. up!

If you would like to pick apart the US boast that it is on a roller coaster with oil, here is a more sober assessment from, Dr. Tad Patzek, an analyst who is an exceptional expert in the field: “Peak what peak?”

Also suggested is science writer Kurt Cobb’s series of articles in Resource Insights, including this one: “Does the IMF believe we have a peak oil problem”

And lastly, in relation to what should be happening here in Australia here is academic Professor Nicholas Low’s take in The Conversation: “Wean transport off fossil fuels or grind to a halt”


I’ve been using the following graphic in recent workshops to help people understand these interconnecting issues in a systemic way. Ironically, people do grasp these concepts quite easily and find it very instructive, it is mainly government that has trouble along these lines, seemingly only capable of thinking in compartments.

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