Oil Peaking Projections 
This report was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States Government SUMMARY AND CONCLUDING REMARKS
, February 2005
By Hirsch Robert, Roger Bezdek, Robert Wendling

Our analysis leads to the following conclusions and final thoughts.

 1. World Oil Peaking is Going to Happen 

World production of conventional oil will reach a maximum and decline thereafter. That maximum is called the peak. A number of competent forecasters project peaking within a decade; others contend it will occur later. Prediction of the peaking is extremely difficult because of geological complexities, measurement problems, pricing variations, demand elasticity, and political influences. Peaking will happen, but the timing is uncertain.

2. Oil Peaking Could Cost the U.S. Economy Dearly

Over the past century the development of the U.S. economy and lifestyle has been fundamentally shaped by the availability of abundant, low-cost oil. Oil scarcity and several-fold oil price increases due to world oil production peaking could have dramatic impacts. The decade after the onset of world oil peaking may resemble the period after the 1973-74 oil embargo, and the economic loss to the United States could be measured on a trillion-dollar scale. Aggressive, appropriately timed fuel efficiency and substitute fuel production could provide substantial mitigation.

3. Oil Peaking Presents a Unique Challenge

The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.

4. The Problem is Liquid Fuels

Under business-as-usual conditions, world oil demand will continue to grow, increasing approximately two percent per year for the next few decades. This growth will be driven primarily by the transportation sector. The economic and physical lifetimes of existing transportation equipment are measured on decade time-scales. Since turnover rates are low, rapid changeover in transportation end-use equipment is inherently impossible. Oil peaking represents a liquid fuels problem, not an “energy crisis” in the sense that term has been used. Motor vehicles, aircraft, trains, and ships simply have no ready alternative to liquid fuels. Non-hydrocarbon-based energy sources, such as solar, wind, photovoltaics, nuclear power, geothermal, fusion, etc. produce electricity, not liquid fuels, so their

5. Mitigation Efforts Will Require Substantial Time
Mitigation will require an intense effort over decades. This inescapable conclusion is based on the time required to replace vast numbers of liquid fuel consuming vehicles and the time required to build a substantial number of substitute fuel production facilities. Our scenarios analysis shows:

189 Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action would leave the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades.

189Initiating a mitigation crash program 10 years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked.
189Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.

The obvious conclusion from this analysis is that with adequate, timely mitigation, the economic costs to the world can be minimized. If mitigation were to be too little, too late, world supply/demand balance will be achieved through massive demand destruction (shortages), which would translate to significant economic hardship.

There will be no quick fixes. Even crash programs will require more than a decade to yield substantial relief.

6. Both Supply and Demand Will Require Attention

Sustained high oil prices will stimulate some level of forced demand reduction. Stricter end-use efficiency requirements can further reduce embedded demand, but substantial, world-scale change will require a decade or more. Production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels can and must be provided. A number of commercial or near-commercial substitute fuel production technologies are currently available, so the production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels is technically and economically feasible, albeit time-consuming and expensive.

7. It Is a Matter of Risk Management

The peaking of world conventional oil production presents a classic risk management problem:

189Mitigation efforts initiated earlier than required may turn out to be premature, if peaking is long delayed.

189On the other hand, if peaking is imminent, failure to initiate timely mitigation could be extremely damaging. Prudent risk management requires the planning and implementation of mitigation well before peaking. Early mitigation will almost certainly be less expensive and less damaging to the world’s economies than delayed mitigation.

8. Government Intervention Will be Required
Intervention by governments will be required, because the economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic. The experiences of the 1970s and 1980s offer important lessons and guidance as to government actions that might be more or less desirable. But the process will not be easy. Expediency may require major changes to existing administrative and regulatory procedures such as lengthy environmental reviews and lengthy public involvement.

9. Economic Upheaval is Not Inevitable

Without mitigation, the peaking of world oil production will almost certainly cause major economic upheaval. However, given enough lead-time, the problems are soluble with existing technologies. New technologies are certain to help but on a longer time scale. Appropriately executed risk management could dramatically minimize the damages that might otherwise occur.

10. More Information is Needed

The most effective action to combat the peaking of world oil production requires better understanding of a number of issues. Is it possible to have relatively clear signals as to when peaking might occur? It would be desirable to have potential mitigation actions better defined with respect to cost, potential capacity, timing, etc. Various risks and possible benefits of possible mitigation actions need to be examined. (See Appendix V for a list of possible follow-on studies).


Hirsch Robert, Roger Bezdek, Robert Wendling, “ PEAKING OF WORLD OIL PRODUCTION: IMPACTS, MITIGATION, & RISK MANAGEMENT Report, February 2005 Prediction oil peak

This report was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States Government.