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A Maverick Geologist’s Quest for a Sustainable Future

A Maverick Geologist’s Quest for a Sustainable Future thumbnail

The Oracle of Oil is the untold story of M. King Hubbert, one of the twentieth century’s top scientists.

Known as “the father of peak oil,” Hubbert made bold forecasts about crucial turning points in oil supplies—the timing of the peak of production—for both the United States and the whole world.

Despite holding one of the top research positions in the oil industry, and despite being one of the nation’s most respected geologists, his predictions were widely rejected.

When his predictions did come true, The New York Times and Washington Postboth celebrated him as a “prophet.” Some called him an “oracle.”

But of course he was a scientist, through and through.

Throughout his life, he advanced controversial and unpopular ideas about energy and society, motivated by his concerns about the long-term fate of civilization.

He sought a society that shares resources fairly among citizens, and that plans ahead to avoid shortages.

During the Second World War, U.S. intelligence labeled him “the power” behind a radical movement called Technocracy.

President Ronald Reagan’s energy adviser once said about him: “That man did more damage to the thinking of Congress and this country than any one man I know.”

Now, a quarter-century after his death, Hubbert and his ideas are again at the center of debate about the future of world oil supplies.

Some say he has been vindicated. Others say he’s been proven wrong—so wrong that he should be “spinning in his grave.”

The Oracle of Oil is the first biography of Hubbert’s long and varied life.

It is also the story of energy in the modern age—and in the centuries to come.

You may also be interested in Peak Oil: A Graphic Story. – SO

24 Comments on "A Maverick Geologist’s Quest for a Sustainable Future"

  1. PracticalMaina on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 2:27 pm 

    Really cant hate on a guy who accurately predicted the peak in conventional oil, in the days before computer modeling and advanced electronic surveying ect. The guy probably did not predict the worlds largest solar array being used to flush oil out of the ground in the dessert, I cant say I blame him, seems like taking a perfectly good clean tech and whoring her out for the destruction of our climate. Or mountain top removal, or sacrificing good water on a thirsty planet for fracking, or an oil explosion leveling a sleepy little town in Quebec without the world skipping a beat. The guy seemed to be based in logic 2 much for any of those scenarios.

  2. Pennsyguy on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 3:00 pm 

    I just began reading the book. In Hubbert’s era, many people believed that tar sands, oil shale and liquids from coal would replace conventional oil, along with breeder reactors. That makes me think that EROIE pioneers like Charles Hall should also be recognized for a hugely important contribution to our understanding of energy resources.

  3. twocats on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 3:40 pm 

    pennsyguy, yeah I was surprised when GregT mentioned something similar (that Hubbert thought unconventional would be a huge contribution) because I heard George Inman HIMSELF in an interview say that Hubbert underestimated unconventional URR. Apparently that is not true, so I must have misheard the author when we was speaking.

  4. Pennsyguy on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 3:48 pm 

    Another thought (two in one day-wooo!): it’s a pity that instead of searching for ways to power infinite growth forever, more time, energy and wealth should have been devoted to promoting voluntary birth control via education and incentives, even if this upset the fundamentalists of all religions. An autographed photo of Elvis or Marilyn for a vasectomy might have been a good incentive.

  5. Plantagenet on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 6:03 pm 


    Tsk tsk! I’m surprised you’d ignore what you think to take GregT’s word for it that Hubbert predicted unconventional oil would be huge.

    Actually, Hubbert thought that unconventional oil reserves were huge but that production wouldn’t be enough to reverse declines after conventional oil peaked. He was, of course, quite wrong on that.

    Hubbert’s most famous prediction was that US oil production would peak in 1970 and decline thereafter. But US oil production has grown more rapidly in the last 10 years then ever before in history and current US oil production is right back at 1970 levels.

    And as for the global peak—-we’re in an oil glut now.


  6. Boat on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 6:04 pm 

    Just another dude who was wrong about peak oil. Millions of them out there. Why even write about him.

  7. peakyeast on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 6:36 pm 

    @Plant: With just a mililiter of oil you could increase the peak to any amount you want – only requirement is to put the timeframe in uS.

    Its a little like when you buy computer loudspeakers proclaming they can output 2000Wrms from a 10Wp psu. You have to look closer at ALL the parameters.

    The same with unconventional: The higher the top reaches – the shorter it will last.

    And it doesn’t look like its going to last for even one generation (25years).

    It is IMO the proverbial scraping of the bottom of the bowl. Actually I think you also think that.

  8. GregT on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 6:54 pm 

    Link to Hubbert’s 1956 paper here;

    Page 24 of the original report above, and I quote ( for about the sixth time planter);

    “One other contingency merits comment. By means of present production techniques, only about a third of the oil underground is being recovered. The reserve figures cited
    are for oil capable of being extracted by present techniques. However, secondary recovery techniques are gradually being improved so that ultimately a somewhat larger but
    still unknown fraction of the oil underground should be extracted than is now the case. Because of the slowness of the secondary recovery process, however, it appears unlikely
    that any improvement the can be made in the next 10 or 15 years can have any significant effect upon the date of culmination. A more probable effect of improved recovery will
    be to reduce the rate of decline after the culmination with respect to the rates shown in figure 21.”

    M.King Hubbert – 1956

    The date of culmination Hubbert was referring to was 1970. Three years before the one and only peak in continental US oil production.

  9. twocats on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 6:58 pm 

    I’m surprised you’d ignore what you think [planty]

    and that’s true I wouldn’t, I was actually questioning what I thought for sure I HEARD Mason Inman himself say about Hubbert on the matter of underestimating unconventional.

    Greg posted a link and said go to page 24, but went to it but it was… like… you know… a lot of… numbers… that didn’t seem relevant to the direct question, and so I said fuck it, I just don’t care that much.

    but then pennsyguy, who is READING THE BOOK, said something similar, which makes me go “hmmm”. I also know that “eye-witness” testimony, “I heard” or “I saw” is actually fairly unreliable, even if its me.

    So yes, my comment was partly tongue in cheek and partly a willingness to admit I mishear shit.

    Keep up the interesting Hubbert tidbits as they come pennsyguy!

  10. GregT on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 7:08 pm 

    Page 24 of Hubbert’s original document twocats, not the PDF.

  11. peakyeast on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 7:14 pm 

    Also do remember what limits to growth and Albert Bartlett taught us:

    A doubling of the resource base provides a very limited amount of extra time.

    Oh yeah – And get your gall bladder surgery NOW… 😉

  12. peakyeast on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 7:21 pm 

    @twocats: I recommend you read the hubbert report. – Skip the numbers – just ready the plain text: circumstances, the caveats and so forth. Its a quick read and from then on you can smell the illiterate urban legend fed wisecracks a mile away when they criticize hubbert.

  13. GregT on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 7:41 pm 

    Also, for anybody who is interested in what Hubbert actually said, as opposed to the constant stream of nonsense falsely attributed to him, the following is from page 14:

    “Since the production curves here considered are of crude oil only, then the pertinent reserve data must also be limited to crude oil.”

    And the next from page 19:

    “Oil Shales and Tar Sands,”

    “A.C. Rubel (1955) has recently made a review from published literature of all the bituminous shales of the United States which are potential sources of oil, and has arrived at an estimate of a possible
    2.5 trillion barrels of oil obtainable from shale.”

    Clearly Hubbert understood the potential for un-conventional production, but that was not what he was referring to when he spoke of the US Peak. He was referring to the production of conventional crude oil only. Which peaked exactly as he predicted it would, in or around 1970.

  14. Plantagenet on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 7:47 pm 


    You may well her right that unconventional oil won’t last more than a couple of decades. However, I would like to see a good technical analysis of when global peak oil—including unconventional oil—will occur. It sure as heck didn’t happen in the year 2000 as Hubbert predicted.


  15. Plantagenet on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 7:51 pm 

    GregT, like many people, doesn’t understand the concept of peak oil. Yes, Hubbert was aware that there were huge unconventional resources of oil. But PEAK OIL refers to the production rate, not the total amount available for production. Hubbert lived before the invention of horizontal drilling and slick water fracking, and didn’t predict the that global oil production rates would continue to grow thanks to tight oil shale production in the USA.



  16. makati1 on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 7:53 pm 

    Arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin … lol.

    We passed per capita peak NET energy a long time ago. Whether it comes from oil, nat gas, coal, wood, solar, wind, waves, cow farts, etc. does NOT matter. We are on the down slope of the energy mountain and there is a huge cliff ahead called extinction. The good times are over. The pain lies ahead. If you are not preparing to ease as much of that pain as you can, you are a blind fool.

  17. marmico on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 8:40 pm 

    The guy was a fucktard communist who was wrong about everything he ever did.

  18. makati1 on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 9:09 pm 

    We passed “sustainable future”…

    “Ten Thousand Dead Sea Lions Wash Up In California, “This is A Crisis”. What is the Cause?”

    The only way now, is down.

  19. GregT on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 9:27 pm 


    “It sure as heck didn’t happen in the year 2000 as Hubbert predicted.”

    Stop spreading nonsense. In 1956 Hubbert predicted a peak in conventional oil production of then known reserves in “about 50 years”. Which would have been around 2006.

  20. PracticalMaina on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 8:59 am 

    Marmico did you know the guy? Are you a little frustrated with something in your own life?

  21. penury on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 1:04 pm 

    The condemnation of Hubbert by an individual whose claim to fame is posting under a fake name on a inter net site is too too funny for words.

  22. GregT on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 4:17 pm 

    “Yes, Hubbert was aware that there were huge unconventional resources of oil. But PEAK OIL refers to the production rate, not the total amount available for production.”

    Hubert was the person who come up with the theory of PEAK OIL planter. It should be rather obvious that he understood what he was referring to.

  23. Robert Spoley on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 1:15 pm 

    There is a huge difference between oil in the ground and production (rates). The rate of production is reflected in the quantity available for use as it is produced. Failing to acknowledge this difference just indicates that the failure is a function of the inability to recognize the effect of TIME. Oil in the ground is what it is. no more, no less. Being able to produce that oil is a function of technology, finance, locating it and so forth. There will always be bumps in the road, caused primarily by a failure of self discipline on the part of a lot of different groups. In conclusion, there is a finite amount of the stuff out there. At some point, as a civilization, we will find it and produce it. The production rate will ultimately will drop because we have produced more than 50% of the stuff. Finding more does not change that fact. It just changes certain parts of the graph for a short time period. I believe this is what Mr. Hubbert was referring to.

  24. Boat on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 1:46 pm 

    ” Finding more does not change that fact. It just changes certain parts of the graph for a short time period. I believe this is what Mr. Hubbert was referring to”.

    That is the debate now isn’t it. Climate change may get disruptive enough to cause peak oil with plenty of oil in the ground. Electric cars or a stiff carbon tax might drive demand down. Of course there is war, economc collaspe, astroid, etc.

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