The Missing Number – Peak Oil

The missing statistic – 81.73 Million Barrels of Oil Per Day the historical peak oil production which occurred in 2008.

Ghost Town on Flickr by Ken LundThere is a sizable community of energy pundits who, after reviewing oil production records, believe that world oil production peaked last year (2008) at 81.73 million barrels of oil per day. Many in this community follow the discussion at a site called The Oil Drum, where no topic is off limits – as long as it relates to energy future, which if you haven’t worked out yet, just about everything we do or touch exists because of cheap abundant energy. Unfortunately, this number and the impacts on society, culture, the economy and development are being ignored by the media and the general population.

Numbers that are in the Media

There are much more prevalent numbers out there at the moment, particularly atmospheric carbon dioxide counts and predictions: 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I’ll let Bill McKibben describe why this number matters:

The Tipping Point by Bill McKibben: Yale Environment 360

If we are at 385 parts per million, and everything is melting, what does that tell you? What it tells you is: This is not a future problem. We’re already past the line, out of the safe zone. We need to be scrambling like offside linemen to get back where we belong before the whistle blows. And the line we need to return to, if we hope to avoid wrenching disruptions from global warming, is 350 parts per million.

Sea Levels
How about sea levels? If there was ever a topic that had more varied opinions as to the extent of the impact of climate change on sea levels! Estimates range from 11cm to over one meter in the next 90 years…

Rising sea levels to exceed expectations, climate change congress hears |

The ministry’s report stated that sea levels for the Fraser River delta could rise by as much as 120 centimetres by 2100.


And what about temperature? 4 degrees is a number thrown around in discussions on climate change, but what if it the increase is greater?

Global warming ‘will be worse than expected’ warns Stern | Environment |

According to the 2006 Stern report, a rise of 4C would put between seven million and 300 million more people at risk of coastal flooding each year, there would be a 30-50% reduction in water availability in southern Africa and the Mediterranean, agricultural yields would decline by 15%-35% in Africa, and 20%-50% of animal and plant species would face extinction. Yesterday, scientists announced at the conference that a 4C rise would lead to the loss of 85% of the Amazon rainforest.

Global population predictions serve as a warning to preserve something for future generations – even so, there really isn’t a genuine effort to change the patterns of growth. Pick your number for 2100 – how about 14 billion people? See this graph from a UN report showing high, medium and low predictions. It is interesting that the low resembles the same bell curve that peak oil folks use to represent the available oil supplies.

Why No Peak Oil Numbers?

So I have to ask, why is Peak Oil a taboo topic in the media? Is it because everyone believes that the techno-miracle will save us and allow us to continue scraping the skin off the earth and shoving our waste under the next layer, hoping that no one, particularly future generations will notice? Or is it that we are so addicted to oil that, like a drug addict, we can’t see just how much damage we are doing to ourselves as a species and the environment we live in and rely upon for survival?

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Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

One reply on “The Missing Number – Peak Oil”

  1. An amazing post Mike, the statistics presented are staggering in themselves – but then the fact that peak oil is hidden behind all these other numbers is scary. Is there a conspiracy? Who benefits from the belief that there is no problem? Are the motor vehicle companies that strong globally, without a fuel alternative that they could easily make gazillions of dollars on all new vehicles?

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