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Michael Lynch: Peak Oil 2 The True Believers

General Ideas

One of the interesting facets about the peak oil debate is the nature of the many believers in peak oil.  The article that moved the debate into the public view appeared in Scientific American (1998) and included an old photo of M. King Hubbert at a blackboard.  Very scientific.  And the authors, Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrere, are geologists, a hard science (ignoring the views of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory).

And Campbell himself created the myth that the debate was between geologists and economists, making it seem as if doubters were denialists, to use the current term, or anti-science.  (He also once said my lack of experience in the oil industry made my opinions of no value, which makes his decision to turn over the Association for the Study of Peak Oil to an academic physicist.)  But this argument gradually faded, as it became clear that most petroleum geologists did not support the concept.

Indeed, most of the writing has come from generalists, or at least people unfamiliar with the field.  Granted some, like Walter Youngquist, Richard Duncan and Robert Hirsch are petroleum geologists or engineers, and Kenneth Deffeyes is a professor emeritus of geology at Princeton.   But others, such as David Goodstein (physicist) and Richard Heinberg (writer) have not particular expertise regarding oil.  And don’t get me started on Michael Ruppert, the retired police officer.

Crucially, the geologists are not familiar with statistical modeling, which has been the primary method supporting claims of an imminent peak (not science).  Few if any are familiar with supply modeling history or theory, and they often make technical mistakes as a result.  Their embrace of the Hubbert curve as a scientific model has proven an embarrassment, especially since novices still see older publications and don’t realize it has been refuted.

And Matthew Simmons book, “Twilight in the Desert” about Saudi oil was full of technical mistakes, yet was enthusiastically embraced by the peak oil community.  Similarly, many still point to the supposed peak in crude plus condensate production, excluding other liquids, which the industry never does.  As one said to me, “you don’t use NGLs to power an automobile”.  Of course, you don’t use crude, either.  It all goes to refineries, including large amounts of NGLs, which generate usable products.

In many ways, this is reminiscent of the debate over vaccines and autism, where so much of the support comes from people with no medical or scientific background, but much fervor.


10 Comments on "Michael Lynch: Peak Oil 2 The True Believers"

  1. Plantagenet on Wed, 25th Jun 2014 10:49 am 

    I wonder how exactly the economists propose to create more deposits of oil now that conventional oil production has peaked? Perhaps they will find more oil by drilling down into their numerical models?

  2. Pops on Wed, 25th Jun 2014 12:03 pm 

    I love science, I think scientists are cool but I think specialization is for insects. Battling diplomas is a funny game but just another compensation exercise.

    I also think belief is for mystics and those unwilling to try and understand what is scientifically understood.

    Because really, who is more dogmatic than a scientist with a pet theory? Is a Priest? Or an economist?

    People make predictions all the time and need no diploma to do it. Lynch predicted $30 oil indefinitely about the time of the SciAm article.

    Who was closer?

  3. Jerry McManus on Wed, 25th Jun 2014 12:08 pm 

    Lynch doing what he does best, spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).

    Funny how he never tires of attacking his favorite whipping boys, lo these many years, for being “unscientific” while at the same time he somehow manages to completely fail at providing anything remotely resembling a statistical analysis of his own.

    Not hard to see why, if he did he would have to twist himself into a pretzel trying to explain why entire regions of what were formerly major oil producers have already peaked, but don’t worry, there’s no way the world will peak for many decades if not centuries to come.

    Right. About as likely as his previous dazzling predictions that oil will soon be USD$30 per barrel. Any day now!

  4. Hugh Culliton on Wed, 25th Jun 2014 12:09 pm 

    Plantagenet: As with money, they’ll just will more oil into existence. Because, after all, silly things like “physical limits” and “finite resources” are nothing compared to demand and must bow to the will of market.

  5. HARM on Wed, 25th Jun 2014 12:38 pm 

    Yet another hit piece from the BAU crowd. Perhaps this guy can explain how “statistical modeling” or “supply modeling history” can somehow put more oil into the ground (to replenish what took millions of years to form by geological processes, and we are extracting at a breakneck speed?

  6. HARM on Wed, 25th Jun 2014 12:40 pm 

    Does anyone have a link to a global survey of geologists and what they have to say about the Peak Oil “religion”?

  7. redpill on Wed, 25th Jun 2014 7:20 pm 

    So, a degree in physics = not qualified
    but a degree in political science = qualified?

  8. westexas on Thu, 26th Jun 2014 7:50 am 

    Substitution is always a factor, at least incrementally.

    However, in my opinion it is very likely that actual global crude oil production (45 or lower API gravity crude oil) peaked in 2005, while global natural gas production–and associated liquids, condensates & natural gas liquids (NGL)–have so far continued to increase.

    As I have periodically noted, when we ask for the price of oil, we get the price of 45 or lower API gravity crude oil, but when we ask for the volume of oil, we get some combination of crude oil + condensate + NGL (Natural Gas Liquids) + biofuels + refinery gains.

    Shouldn’t the price of an item relate to the quantity of the item being priced, not the item + (partial) substitutes?

    In any case, a key question is the ratio of global condensate to Crude + Condensate (C+C) production. Unfortunately, we don’t appear to have any global data on the Condensate/(C+C) Ratio.

    Insofar as I know, the only complete Condensate/(C+C) data base, from one agency, is the Texas RRC data base for Texas, which is shown below for 2005 and 2012:


    Condensate: 0.12 mbpd
    C+C: 1.08 mbpd

    Condensate/(C+C) Ratio: 11.1%


    0.30 mbpd
    C+C: 1.95 mbpd

    Condensate/(C+C) Ratio: 15.4%

    The 2013 Ratio (more subject to revision than the 2012 data) shows that the ratio fell slightly, down to 14.7%, which probably reflects more focus on the crude oil prone areas in the Eagle Ford. But rounded off, we are looking at about 15% for 2012 and 2013.

    The EIA shows that Texas marketed gas production increased at 5%/year from 2005 to 2012, versus a 13%/year rate of increase in Condensate production. So, Texas condensate production increased 2.6 times faster than Texas marketed gas production increased, from 2005 to 2012.

    The EIA shows that global dry gas production increased at 2.8%/year from 2005 to 2012, a 22% increase in seven years. What we don’t know is by what percentage that global condensate production increased from 2005 to 2012. What we do know is that global C+C production increased at only 0.4%/year from 2005 to 2012. In my opinion, the only reasonable conclusion is that rising condensate production accounted for virtually all of the increase in global C+C production from 2005 to 2012, which implies that actual global crude oil production was flat to down from 2005 to 2012, as annual Brent crude oil prices doubled from $55 in 2005 to $112 in 2012.

    Normalized global gas, NGL and C+C production from 2002 to 2012 (2005 values = 100%):

    Estimated normalized global condensate and crude oil production from 2002 to 2012 (2005 values = 100%):

  9. shortonoil on Thu, 26th Jun 2014 9:19 am 

    Dear Mr. Lynch,

    We understand that you have an opinion; we don’t have an opinion. All that we have is a rigorous, and definitive thermodynamic analysis of petroleum depletion. What that analysis demonstrates (for the economically minded individual like yourself) is that a point has been reached where the cost of producing petroleum, and its products is increasing faster than its price. It also shows that this trend will continue until the cost of production becomes equal to the price. We can even determine when that will occur. Of course even for an economist it must be apparent that when that time arrives, we have reached the end of the oil age; the central banks’ printing presses will have worn out by then.

    For your relief, we only very briefly touch on the subject of Peak Oil, so don’t be worried about being bored by tired old arguments concerning flow rates, URR, R/P ratios, and similar subjects. We skip all of that. We go straight to the application of First and Second Law principals affecting petroleum production.

    Send us a copy of your studies, and we will send you a copy of ours. We expect to hear from you unless you are concerned that physics really does trump economics.


  10. Bob Owens on Sat, 28th Jun 2014 11:34 am 

    Another article from Forbes of terrible quality, spouting beliefs that only a true believer could make sense of. Soon it won’t even matter as all we will have left will be solar. The world is already starting to fight over the table scraps of fossil fuels. It will be long and bloody with damn little left after it is over.

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