Peak Oil Matters

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Fossil fuel — oil, natural gas, coal — production should peak within the next half century. The term “peak oil” refers to the point at which crude oil reserves reach maximum production rate, and then starts to decline. This scenario states that any resource is finite, and employs the Geophysicist M.K. Hubert’s “Single-Hubert” approach to estimating fossil fuel production rates. Hubert applied this theory to U.S. crude oil production and correctly predicted that the peak would occur in 1970. In “When will oil, natural gas, and coal peak?”researchers G. Maggio and G. Cacciola explain two alternative mathematical models based on the Single-Hubert approach – the “Multi-Hubert” model, which accounts for the possibility of multiple peaks, and the “Multi-Hubert Variant” model, which is combination of the previous two. Using historical data gathered from multiple sources, including the Energy Information Association (EIA), Maggio and Cacciola apply all three models to global crude oil production, and predict that oil production will peak within one decade, between 2015 and 2021. Following peak oil, the economy will suffer from increased cost of petroleum-based products to petroleum-dependent products, such as food.

Fossil fuels – crude oil, natural gas, and coal – account for 86% percent of the world’s total energy demand. Moreover, crude oil accounts for over one-third of total energy consumption. Crude oil facilitates international commerce and the production of most of the world’s manufactured goods, including transportation, petrochemicals, fertilizers, plastics, asphalt, synthetic rubbers, and industrial solvents. Neither natural gas, nor coal can produce enough energy to sustain out dependent energy lifestyle; renewable energies are not reliable enough; nuclear energy only produces electricity; and hydrogen cells are still in research and development. Considering that a majority of all petroleum reserves reside in unstable Middle Eastern countries, news could break any day declaring the arrival of peak oil.

America is home to only 5% of the world’s population, but consumes 25% of the world’s energy. Consequently, the American public will undergo a drastic lifestyle change. Petroleum costs will spike and cause an economic tidal wave of cost of living increases for the average American. Global food supplies will dwindle as a result of our ubiquitous dependence on industrial agriculture. Peak oil could lead to mass starvation in underdeveloped countries, and global unrest for many years.


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“When will oil, natural gas, and coal peak?”, Maggio, G., Cacciola G., Fuel, Volume 98, August 2012, Pages 111-123

Student Researcher: Ashley Conard, Hunter Leaman, Broderic Schoen

Faculty Instructor:  Professor Kevin Howley, Ph.D.

Evaluator: James G. Mills, Jr., Chair, Dept. of Geosciences, Professor of Geosciences, DePauw University