Busting the Hubbert Myths Part I

By Jason Brenno and David Room of the Hubbert Tribute

Over the next several months, the M King Hubbert Tribute will publish a series of articles that discredit some popular myths surrounding the work of M King Hubbert – the father of peak oil theory – that are beginning to be accepted as fact and thereby confounding the peak oil debate.

The first myth is that Hubbert was stuck on one projection for world oil production.

Peter Jackson of Cambridge Energy Research Associates exclaims: “Despite his valuable contribution, M. King Hubbert’s methodology falls down because it does not consider likely resource growth, application of new technology, basic commercial factors, or the impact of geopolitics on production. His approach does not work in all cases – including on the United States itself – and cannot reliably model a global production outlook.” [1]

Jackson and other optimists contend that peak oil is several decades away.

In fact, Hubbert had a flexible conceptual model of world oil production as demonstrated by two differing models for world oil production that he published and discussed in the latter stage of his career. His traditional model had a peak of world production occurring before 2000.

Hubbert, however, recognized that there were multiple scenarios for world oil production and he documented at least two of them. The diagram below is from a paper by Hubbert from the American Journal of Physics in November 1981 [2].

hubbert1.jpgReproduced with permission from American Association of Physics Teachers Publications. Copyright 1981, American Association of Physics Teachers.Hubbert explains the figure “shows the rate of world crude oil production to the end of 1977 and two possible complete cycle curves, based upon a value of 2000 billion barrels for [total recoverable reserves]. The first represents an orderly rise and decline on the assumption of no major political or economic disturbances. This curve would reach its peak about the year 1995, and its middle 80% time span would be about 58 years from 1965 to 2003. The second assumes that due to Middle East and other disturbances, the rate of production remains fixed at the present rate of about 20 billion barrels per year until depletion decline occurs. For this curve the middle 80 percent span would be extended to about 81 years, or from about 1965 to 2056. In either case most of the world’s oil will be consumed during the lifetimes of children born within the last decade.”The chart is also in The Global 2000 Report to the President Entering the Twenty First Century by Gerald O Barney. [3]Hubbert also discussed an alternative oil production scenario where oil peak is delayed by a decade or more in the video for the American Hospital Association in 1975, an excerpt of which is available at http://www.mkinghubbert.com/resources/video.%5B4%5D In the wake of the 1973-1974 oil crisis, Hubbert said that OPEC countries were curtailing production causing world oil production to deviate from his traditional model. He continued “it’s conceivable that [the peak] might be shifted over to the backside a little bit… that would extend [the point at which 90% of the world’s recoverable reserves have been produced] about 7 or 10 years or so. But it doesn’t alter the basic thing that I’m saying significantly… in terms of human history, [the fossil fuels era] is a very brief epoch.” [4]

The “one model” myth is false. Clearly, Hubbert recognized decades ago that world oil production did not fit a strict bell curve, and therefore peak estimates would need to be adjusted over time to account for actual production. The implication is that many different scenarios are indeed possible and they depend on (among other things) the planned production policies of producer nations and changes in world oil demand do to geopolitical circumstances and conservation efforts. Despite that we may not yet have reached world oil peak, conventional oil is limited, may peak within the next decade, and prospective alternatives (e.g., shale oil) will not replace oil. Dismissing peak oil theory because Hubbert’s traditional model indicated oil would peak in 1995 is without merit.


  1. Why the “Peak Oil” Theory Falls Down – Myths, Legends, and the Future of Oil Resources by Peter Jackson Nov 10 2006 http://cera.ecnext.com/coms2/summary_0236-821_ITM
  2. [The Worlds Evolving Energy System American Journal of Physics, Volume 40, Number 11, November 1981
  3. The Global 200 Report to the President Entering the Twenty First Century by , Gerald O Barney, Study Director, Penguin Books,1982, p. 353.
  4. American Hospital Association Tim Robbins 1975

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Published in: on December 25, 2007 at 6:26 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As one who has followed the peak oil discourse since 1995 I have never witnessed a projection from Cambridge that was even close to what our history has now proven. CERA currently claims the peak will not occur until To believe we will not reach a peak until 2030 is to ignore the obvious present state of affairs and continue wearing the same rose colored glasses.

    Truly, peak oil is not the problem anyway. Exponential growth in global population and resource use is the real problem. Sustainability will only become possible when the world’s population returns to a lower level, one that will not require mass transport of any substantial commodity.

    Instead of spending so much energy “debunking” Hubbert they should be working to provide innovative answers to those significant questions surrounding our present energy predicament.

  2. There are 3 important facts here:

    1. The US (Lower 48 States) oil production peaked about 1970.

    2. Sense then the US has been fighting to control access to as much oil as possible and maintain the status quo.

    3. This is not workable in the long given the finite quantity of oil that exist.

    My conclusion is that peak oil is not a theory but an event in progress and the sooner we retool and do the transition to a post carbon world the better.

    Bob Pike

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