5 years ago
5 years ago

Peak Oil - Last Decade's Hot Story Everyone Loves to Hate

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Global conventional oil extraction peaked around 2005. We had the financial crisis in 2007-08. The price of oil went from a high of around US$140 a barrel down to $40 a barrel over a few months in late 2008. The extraction of "tight oil" by fracking in the US was ramped up dramatically and the resurgence in available oil has powered the world's economy since then.

In 2013, the US Energy Information Administration estimated world reserves of tight oil to be around 340 billion barrels. The global economy uses about 93 million barrels of oil a day. And this must grow, continuously, along with the global economy, to stave off financial collapse. 340 billion divided by 93 million works out at about exactly 10 years of oil supply. Which puts the timing of the next global crash in the early few years of the 2020s. That's assuming all of the tight oil is recoverable enough to keep powering economic growth.

New York Mercantile Exchange prices for West Texas Intermediate since 2000, monthly overlaid on daily prices to show the variation.

There was once a time, around the early 2000s, when "peak oil" was a hot topic. Grandfathered by the Shell Oil Geologist M. King Hubbert, and carried into the 1990s and beyond by Colin Campbell and others, many speculated that the peaking of conventional oil would cause a devastating global economic crisis. Peak oil websites were read during sessions of US congress. Many people thought that we only had a handful of years left of life as we know it. Then the fracking boom began and the markets started to rise again, now with "unconventional" tight oil extraction driving the growth. The mass media, being owned by big business, and with a massive investment in keeping people's economic activity as high as possible, turned against the peak oil "theory" with a vengence.

However, peak oil is not a theory. Unless you believe that there's an infinite supply of oil in the ground that's available to be extracted. At some point, the rate of extraction has to reach an all time high (the peak) and then forever after go into decline. That's just basic reality. The only question is when the peak will be, not if there is going to be one. However even normally rational publications like Wikipedia state that peak oil is somehow a "theory".

When the modern petrol pumps all say sold out like these vintage ones, the world we live in will quickly become a very different one.

The balance of available evidence points to an end of the current glut of tight oil extraction close to the year 2020. Will another replacement be found, like that which happened around 2010 and gave the world one more decade of business as usual? Maybe, but then maybe not.

One thing is for certain - despite the claims of alternative energy investors - the global economy, along with modern life as we know it, cannot continue to exist without an ever-increasing supply of oil.

Which means that within a few years of the all-time peak of oil extraction, the real (and final) crash will begin.

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