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What is Hubbert's Theory of Peak Oil and Why Is There a Debate?

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 3/15/2010

Has oil really hit its peak? Is it in steady decline? There is much to debate about Peak Oil. What is certain is that while we are uncertain how close we are, we can expect to run on empty in the near future.

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    Oil Won't Last Forever

    Oil, like many non-renewable resources, has a shelf life of availability. There is a fixed amount of the substance on the planet and once those reserves have been tapped to their capacity there is no practical way to get more. Since the industrial revolution, and the explosion of energy consuming technologies like the automobile, oil has been over used as if it were the only efficient energy source. As we spiral quickly into the twenty-first century, the life expectancy of the oil-rich world is in question. Many analysts have set the time frame of fifty years for oil to run out, which is an estimate that holds a great amount of validity.

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    What is The Peak Oil Theory?

    Theories in "peak oil" state that finite, or fixed amount, resources will always have a production cycle of beginning, middle, and end. This is the principle of the Hubbert peak theory which explains that for each spot that is a oil source the rate of oil production comes in a bell curve. The Hubbert peak is the title given to the single event where oil hits its peak production rate and from that point descends steadily down to zero.

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    Timeframe Debate

    The real debate is as to when Hubberts peak is to occur, right now or sometime in the near future. Scientists have been charting the peak oil phenomenon and a vast majority have targeted it at the present. According to Life After the Crash, an online periodicle chronicling the fall of the oil trade, we have already hit the hight of production and the coast downward is underway. This is a model done while analyzing the production of oil over the last century, with comparing the volume that has been discovered over this period of time and the amount that is being used on a continuous and rising basis. This creates a new condition in the world economy where the loss of supply is at clash with the growing population and demand by industrializing nations.

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    Is Peak Oil Occurring Right Now?

    The real disagreement seems to be whether the peak oil scenario has just occurred or is about to. Almost as much information states that we still have a few more years of incline in production rates before the rapid trip downward. Many experts working in the policy forming field of energy conservation have set this mark forward, which includes respected geologists like Robert Bentley working for The Oil Depletion and Analysis Center in London. In a scientific study Bentley reported that not only were the world's hydrocarbons about to hit a decline, the date lying in the range of 2010 or 2011. Study found primarily that the Hubbert method of studying the oil peak is highly adequate, the methods for finding this peak is based on statistics that lead to the correct solution, and the only reason that there has been a recent spike in oil extraction is because of miscalculations and better removal processes. The educated estimate is that we are only years away from the lowering of oil production rates, and it is an inevitable event.

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    Not If, But When Peak Oil Will Happen

    When the date is set in the present or within the next few years, both assumptions hold a high amount of validity. It is hard to differentiate between the two because their dates are so close and neither would be able to display a current drop in production. It seems that the future scenario is more likely, and that the fall will occur in the upcoming decade. The evidence tends to point more toward an almost downward slope in the Hubbert model, while it does not appear that we are quite at peak extraction quite yet. There still seems to be an accention in the very viable future with the inevitable following it.