Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Discovering Mr. Hubbert

It was a dark, and lonely night. At my college in Colorado. I was tired from skiing all day and studying for mid-terms on the chairlift between runs. I spent some time finishing up my cheat sheets for the Chemistry, Physics and Geology exams. I always found that once you go to the trouble to make a cheat sheet you don't need to use it but some of my professors allowed us to use just one 3 by 5 card. Some people wrote their entire semester of notes in little hieroglyphics and I used to amuse myself watching them flip their little cards over and over squinting to read all the stuff they should have studied instead of partying. I had better results doing constant smaller efforts like the chairlift speed study sessions. I got up and wandered around the library in my usual habit of surprising myself by picking up random technical journals and periodicals outside my area of expertise. Every time I would shake my head in disbelief to think of the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria. What a shame. What a crime. I pinged around a bit and found myself orbiting about the science journals section like I was reconstructing the Lorentz Attractor. I stopped and reached out and grabbed a journal and cracked it open to a random page. There on the page was a simple graph. Up and down. Quantity versus Time. Ordinate and Abscissa. Interesting. I sat down and skimmed it over. The subject was Oil Production in the United States. I glanced back at the first page. Hubbert. Hubbert? Hey, wasn't that the guy that my first geology professor back in Junior College talked about. I remember they were buddies at Shell Oil or something? It was plain to see. The "Peak" of the graph was centered on the tick mark labeled 1970. Wow. Here it was 1981 already! Is this for real? Did Oil Production in the United States really Peak in 1970? I yanked down a pile of other journals from the oil biz and just skimmed and skimmed for a while. I wasn't really too familiar with production statistics. I had only punched the holes, drilled the wells. Production stats seemed like an engineer head trip, not really a geological focus like my studies in Petroleum Geochemistry. But after a while I got some numbers and sure enough, you could plainly see that production had dropped way off and then rebounded after Prudhoe Bay. Wow. What a trip! I was sort of motivated. It seemed that my country really needed me to help go find some more oil and gas out there in the world somewhere. It seemed strange to realize that everybody I knew was charging ahead doing more and more. Using more oil, burning more gas. No wonder we had the couple of years of oil boom in Colorado and Utah and other states. That was why they were always bitching at us to drill the wells faster and move the rig to the next hole as soon as possible. We were sliding down the backside of the curve. But it didn't really make sense. If this was true, which it obviously was, why didn't we have the gas rationing again? Didn't the government understand we were headed for trouble? When I think back on it now in 2008, I guess I just blindly assumed that "educated" people like me would charge out there and discover some huge new fields. I had my suspicions where those fields might be and tried to anticipate which companies would be hiring for work out there. The continental shelfs. The jungle and desert areas that were previously too remote and difficult to do some decent seismic profiling and wildcat wells. It's curious to reflect upon my intuition after 27 more years of participating in the most oil-wasteful society on Planet Ocean. I can think of all the millions of miles I have traveled in jets, helicopters, speedboats, jetskiis, motocross bikes, snowmobiles, ATVs. I must have one of the biggest oil-footprints ever! Amazing! And now in 2008, there is no place left to go to keep up with the demand. Is it Peaking today? No one "knows" for sure but intelligent people are already trying to look for the signs of the World Peak even while understanding that we totally missed the US Peak back in January 1971. Tune in next time for some more Peak Oil concepts and maybe even some talking heads or government propaganda!

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