It’s official: Peak oil came in 2006

vintage oil cans

Photo: northbaywanderer via Flickr.

The subject of peak oil seems to hover always at the margin of the national conversation.

Every so often a prominent politician will make a veiled reference to problems with oil supplies. The Saudis will talk about “demand” declining. A mainstream media outlet will do a tongue-in-cheek profile of someone who’s preparing for a post-peak world. Or some country’s military will warn us yet again that oil depletion poses a threat to world peace.

Then it’s up to the peak oil community to read the tea leaves, parse the text and say that, yet again, peak oil is an album that’s on the verge of going platinum.

Yesterday, the International Energy Agency gave us another of those hermeneutic opportunities.

Their World Energy Outlook 2010 concluded that global production of conventional oil (remember that word “conventional”) likely reached its highest point in 2006. For the foreseeable future, the report predicts that production will remain on a plateau of 68 to 69 million barrels a day. In this scenario, conventional oil “never regains its all-time peak of 70 million barrels per day reached in 2006,” said the report.

This sounds serious. National Geographic notes that the peak came without the headlines seen for Darfur, Iraq and North Korea in 2006, but with more more far-reaching consequences than any of those stories.

But don’t worry too much about oil shortages, the IEA seems to imply. Unconventional oil and gas will come (partially) to the rescue. As National Geographic puts it:

The projected flat crude oil production doesn’t translate into an immediate shortage of fuels for the world’s cars and trucks. IEA actually projects that the total production of what it calls “petroleum fuels” is most likely to continue steadily rising, reaching about 99 million barrels per day by 2035.

Yes, oil will get more expensive. But the IEA clearly wants us to take what reassurance we can from the prospect of such unconventional sources as polar, deep water, and oil sands production.

More to the point now: will the IEA report help make peak oil a priority for US political and business leaders?

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  1. Jb says

    Wow, $167 for a .pdf of the 2010 World Energy Outlook. Don’t they know it’s a Depression? I love the doublespeak:

    “Oops we’re running out of cheap, easy to get to oil. But DON’T PANIC everything will be OK for you baby boomers.”

    Remember that scene from Waterworld where the old man is sitting in the row boat at the bottom of the tanker measuring the ‘go-juice’ level? Not so funny anymore, is it?

  2. says

    I saw the original National Geographic on line article and thought it was interesting (if not ironic) that it was sponsored by Shell- the folks that employed M. K. Hubbert his bad self way back when. It was nice to see a little honesty about conventional oil (maybe we should start calling it “real oil”), but everyone and their sock monkey seems to be relying on unconventional oil (I’m thinkin’ “fake oil” here) to take up the slack and lead the way to a future of even more oil. A word to the wise: Don’t. You’ll notice when people talk like that, they never talk price. There’s reason for that.

    Chip Haynes, author
    “Peak of the Devil”

  3. says

    Hi, I’m the author of the National Geographic News article that you linked to here. Just for the record, the IEA report considered three different scenarios, and the main one—one that involved modest action on climate change—was the one with flat production of conventional crude oil from 2005 to 2035. The scenario with no climate policies had oil rising (as I noted in the story).

    So I wouldn’t say it’s official that the IEA says peak oil is here. But in April, the IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, did say it looks like we reached peak oil in 2006. Some may quibble and say the production rate this year is a bit higher than in 2006. But it seems Birol means that production won’t go much higher than in 2006. I’m curious to see what the 2011 IEA World Energy Report says…. That may be the year when peak oil really becomes official.

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