A Book Review: Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage
By Kenneth S. Deffeyes, 2001, Princeton University Press
Reviewed by Dan Gibson
A lot of books are worth reading. This book is something more than that. It is important reading to help you understand a little of the thinking and science behind M. King Hubbert’s term “Peak Oil,” why further efforts to increase the liquid oil supply will probably fail, and why using less energy sooner than later is important.
So many have quoted or referenced “Peak Oil” that it has almost become a cliché. However, the concept is not a cliché; when verbalized by geophysicists’ it represents an understanding of the oil industry’s extraction process that has been developed over a hundred and fifty years by drilling, experimenting, and process improvement. It represents a scientific expectation that crude oil production will peak and then decline. Without a good layman’s understanding of what is involved it is hard to really believe this is true or understand some of the consequences. This book seeks to remedy that deficiency.
Kenneth S. Deffeyes grew up in the oil fields of Oklahoma, the son of a petroleum geologist. Deffeyes (pronounced De phase) graduated from the Colorado School of Mines, served in Korea, then after getting a graduate degree in geology at Princeton, he was hired into Shell’s research lab in Houston, where M. King Hubbert was the star of the show. He joined Shell in 1958, just two years after Hubbert had made his “prediction.” He worked with Hubbert, had discussions with Hubbert, and after four years of coming to understand the implications, moved into academe. In short, Deffeyes is the perfect teacher for this layman’s overview of the oil industry, past and present.
Deffeyes provides details about why new technology, drilling deeper, new drilling methods, drilling someplace new, or speeding up exploration will probably not increase supply. As he states, “A theme throughout this book: progress has been going on for a long time, and there is little expectation that something dramatic will come riding to the rescue as world oil production starts to decline.”
For me, the treat in this book was a review of what Hubbert did to make his prediction in 1956 that US oil production would peak in the early 1970s. Hubbert wasn’t the first to predict oil production would decline, but he was the first to do it with data and a methodology based on the underlying science. In 2001 Deffeyes uses pretty much the same methodology and the latest numbers to update his prediction for the World’s Peak Oil date and arrives on page 158 at 2005.
In the preface to the 2009 edition, Deffeyes provides some evidence that indeed 2005 was the year of peak oil production. Most interestingly, he shows that in 2005 a run up in oil prices from $40 a barrel to nearly $140 resulted in nearly no additional supply! Those oil prices pushed the world into a recession and not until recently is the supply limit being pressed again.
David Borton, in his blog “Peak Oil Redefined” explains how the U.S. Energy Information Agency, with a footnote in 2007, has added non-petroleum derived products such as ethanol and biodiesel, as well as, coal-to-liquids, and gas-to-liquids to the definition of “Oil Supplied.” This new definition has allowed the overall supply of “petroleum energy” to increase, but the original crude liquid oil product has not surpassed 2005 production.
If you like to understand the thinking, the scientific process and the data behind a concept, especially such an important concept as Peak Oil, this book will serve you well. It is easy reading (not a scholarly treatise) though it does have a little math in the footnotes for the inquiring mind. I highly recommend “Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage” by Kenneth S. Deffeyes for your reading "enjoyment" and enlightenment.
Dan Gibson is the Reporter and Chief Coordinator of Our Energy Independence Community (www.OEIC.us). Previously he performed home energy audits for five years in NYSERDA’s Home Performance program and new home ratings in the New York ENERGY STAR Home program. He is currently building a 100% Solar Home. He can be reached at DanG@OEIC.us