Whatever your feelings about the cost of oil, the means of obtaining it, or the effect that burning it has on the environment, one thing’s for sure: there’s a finite amount of it, so sooner or later it has to run out. At least, I hope so, because once all the oil’s gone, perhaps the planet will finally have a fighting chance against global warming. Most people, however, would take a decidedly negative view of the impending disappearance of the world’s oil reserves for all the obvious reasons. Either way, just how long will the oil last?
In 1956, a geophysicist named Marion King Hubbert developed a theory to predict future oil production. He assumed that for any given oil field, production follows a bell curve. After the well’s discovery, production quickly ramps up as new wells are added. But eventually, as the oil is drained from the underground reservoirs, the production rate hits a peak after which it begins to decline, eventually returning to zero. And what is true of an individual oil field should, Hubbert reasoned, be true for the entire planet as well. Using these assumptions and the best data he had available at the time, he plotted historical oil production on a curve and estimated that oil production in the U.S. would peak by 1970, and worldwide by about…now. The moment at which global oil production peaks came to be known as Peak Oil (or Hubbert’s Peak), while the overall theory that oil production follows a bell curve in this way was called the Hubbert Peak Theory. After that time, there would of course still be plenty of oil, but the production rate would drop at about the same rate it rose, until eventually it was all gone. [Article Continues…]