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Two Letters Re: Bakken Oil Development has Ended the Peak Oil Debate

Dear Mr. Rawles:
Like the author of the letter concerning peak oil and domestic fracking, I too regularly follow your blog but have not felt the need to add comment. However, the author makes several assertions about both the theory of peak oil and the state of oil production that require clarification.

The primary hypothesis behind peak oil, the Hubbert peak theory, does not state that after a certain point a nation, or mankind in general, will “never discover any more oil”. Rather, it simply says that oil production at some point reaches a maximum rate, after which it enters a general decline. This decline can be demand-driven (through dwindling reliance on oil) or supply-driven (through decreasing discoveries of reserves and increasing costs of production). Needless to say, in America the latter is much more a factor than the former.

Oil production in the United States peaked in the early 1970s and has generally decreased since, with the exception of a brief increase in the mid-1980s and, or course, the recent resurgence brought about by fracking. This trend is not contrary to the theory itself; the downward trend does not necessarily have to be constant throughout, and Mr. Hubbert acknowledged the effects of technology in disrupting this decline. Oil production has increased over the past six years, but it has only been six years, and it still has some way to go to reach levels seen in the 1970s.

And while fracking is a welcome relief from importing foreign oil, including that from the OPEC cartel that includes our “allies” in Southwest Asia, it’s important to remember that this oil is only produced at a much greater financial and environmental cost than conventional methods. (Indeed, technology advances were only as much a factor in the economic feasibility of these methods as the skyrocketing prices of oil and energy as a whole.) These costs do take their toll, even if gas prices slow and the pipelines flow full.

Rather than use fracking developments as an opportunity to deride Peak Oil, it may be more prudent to consider it an opportunity to make a more reasonable, smoother transition to renewable energy sources. Regardless of the amount of oil reserves remaining to be exploited, it certainly won’t get any easier (and, by extension, less expensive or friendlier to the environment).

After all, taking peak oil seriously (and global warming, for that matter) is a bit like prepping: while it’s quite possible we may be working hard to prepare for something that may never happen, it’s much more palatable than the alternative of being caught unprepared once it’s too late.

Thanks for your work and for the opportunity to contribute. – F.S.

Dear JWR;
Love your blog, I read it daily. I first learned of peak oil in mid 2009. Since 2009, I have studied peak oil (PO), and information surrounding PO almost daily. Reading books, peer reviewed scientific journals, news articles, attending lectures at University’s with the goal of taking in as much data (not opinion) as I can.

Peak Oil (PO) is a fact. No one that is credible debates this fact. The only argument that exists is, when it happened, or when will it happen.
To move forward with the recent post that the Bakken has ended the PO debate, is just silly.

To start, the author lumps traditional light sweet crude, shale and natural gas together as the same thing. These types of fuel are most certainly not even close to the same thing, and cannot be valued as such. “Geologists have determined that world-wide natural gas production, with fracking could produce enough for hundreds of years usage.” The peak oil debate is about oil that is used in transportation, agriculture, fertilizers and plastics, among many other things. Natural gas is about heating homes and powering our computers. Natural gas is argued in the context of coal. Not oil.  So, we may have enough natural gas to last hundreds of years, but this concept has nothing to do with oil.  

Another red flag from this authors opinion is, there is no mention of a single number (data) with in that post that details how much the Bakken produces, or percentages of increase in that production. If data had been provided by the author, the next key element is comparing and contrasting that data with how much oil America consumes. The reason data is important when making a claim as the author has is, it allows other people to come to their own conclusions and think for themselves. An American value that seems to be lost in popular culture. American oil consumption reflects GDP. This means that an increase in oil consumption reflects a growth in GDP. Likewise with a decline in oil consumption, decline in GDP. A graph to detail this can be seen here [1].

I could go on and argue other aspects of the peak oil debate, and in fact many books, geologists and government’s have information out there that go in to much greater detail than I could. The reason I felt it necessary to send a long a retort is because of how I value survival blog and prepping. For me, the data and fact surrounding peak oil is key for me and my view of prepping. This web site serves as a great resource of information and someone “sitting atop sea of Western North Dakota oil,” in which that sea is more in line with extracting water out of the desert, is providing a false sense of security to many other people that value the reputation of SurvivalBlog. If there is interest, I can provide many articles and news stories with in recent years, that range from militaries and geologists among others, that detail PO is real, the negative effects are expected soon, and they are planning accordingly. I hope everyone who reads this blog digs further in to the topic to draw their own conclusions.

All the best, – Nathan

JWR Replies: While there is a sharp division of opinion on this issue, almost everyone agrees that easily exploitable oil is a declining resource. Petroleum engineers often use Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) calculations in describing the cost or obtaining each barrel of oil. Although they are vast, the Bakken oil deposits are fairly inefficient in terms of their EROEI [2].