The Moral of the Hubbert’s Peak Story

by Meghan Butts

(Cover figure source:

For many years it has been known that oil is a finite resource and not found all over the planet. The knowledge of finite sources is that at some point there will be no new discoveries and the resource will deplete. The Hubbert Peak is a theoretical bell-curve model projection of maximum oil production in the world or any specific geographic region. The curve determines a point of peak oil production based on discovery rates, production rates, and cumulative production. The curve follows an increase in production rate as the discovery rate and infrastructure increase. Then the curve peaks at maximum production and production declines as resources become depleted.

Recently there have been new discoveries of oil reserves in different parts of the world. These reserves, however, are difficult and costly to extract and refine to be useful with current technology. Oil demand has continued to increase over time and consumption has been linked to population growth, industrial development, and economic growth. Oil for energy use is a part of the developed and developing world’s living habits.


As you can see in the figure below, the primary energy source in the United States is petroleum oil. The next two sources of high consumption in the United States are also fossil fuels and finite sources.



Figure 1: US energy consumption, by source, 1775-2010. Vertical axis is in quadrillion BTU (British Thermal Units)


But the fact is that one day, oil resources will be gone. With this knowledge the world should act now in anticipation of this day and to reduce dependence on oil as a source of fuel. There are two options and optimally both should be utilized in all countries both developed and developing:


  1. Cut back on oil usage with the goal of cutting it out completely. No one is saying stop all usage right now (although if that were possible, it would be ideal). The transportation sector is a great place to start (U.S. oil consumption is 20% in the transportation sector). Set goals for consumers and big businesses to reduce oil dependency. For example, drive less or carpool, walk or bike to destinations, change building heat and electricity sources to renewable sources, etc.
  2. Invest in renewable technologies and infrastructure. Why continue putting money into oil technologies and infrastructure with the knowledge that someday it will be obsolete? It is not cost-effective in the long-term. Invest in many renewable energy technologies as they each have different geographical levels of capacity as well as it is important to not have dependency on any one source of energy. Invest in technologies and infrastructure that can be multi-use systems between renewable sources as to cut down on costs and on space.


The moral of the story is that it is not as important to define when peak oil production will happen, but to realize that it will happen and preparing for it now will ease our transition to a less oil dependent future.


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