Peak Oil Demand is Bogus and Meaningless

Peak Oil Demand is Bogus and Meaningless

For decades, Malthusian economists and others have predicted the world would run out of oil. They used Hubbert’s Curve to establish when the world would reach peak oil, from which point the world’s oil supply would begin to decline. Hubbert’s Peak represented when half the world’s oil supply would have been consumed.

It was debunked, as all Malthusian principles about resources being finite are eventually debunked, this time by the shale revolution. 

Now, proponents of battery-powered vehicles (BEVs) are predicting a new peak for oil: Peak Demand, the point at which the number of BEVs using electricity for their fuel rather than oil, offsets the annual increase in the demand for oil from light vehicles.

Recently the WSJ published an article, New Fuels Spur End Of Oil Era, which included projections as to when Peak Oil Demand would arrive.

DNV and Shell have predicted peak demand for oil will occur in 2023, five years from now, with Equinor (formerly the Norwegian company Statoil) not far behind.

“DNV GL is an international accredited registrar and classification society headquartered in Høvik, Norway.”

Peak Demand raises three issues:

  1. Is the End of the Oil Era upon us?
  2. Is it possible for BEVs to eliminate the need for oil for light vehicles? 
  3. What are the motives of those promoting Peak Demand?

Assumptions used for this and the next two articles:

    • Light vehicle (four-wheel passenger car and pickup truck) sold (worldwide) in 2016: 72,105,000 vehicles
    • Total light vehicles worldwide in 2018: 950 million
    • Ten-year average (2007-2017) growth rate of light vehicle sales worldwide: 4%
    • Average miles per year driven, per light vehicle, worldwide: 9,300 miles (This represents the approximate midpoint between US and European miles driven, with data from China being inconclusive, but credibly near 9,300 miles.)
    • Fuel efficiency of light vehicles: 26 mpg in 2018; and alternatively the proposed EPA requirements of 37 mpg

(Note: These assumptions are based on available data, which has been cross-checked to assure their credibility.)

Issue #1: Is the End of the Oil Era upon us?

The basic fact is: Only a portion of the oil used worldwide is for light vehicles. 

ExxonMobile’s, Outlook for Energy, depicts this graphically. 

  • Total demand for oil is approximately 98 million barrels per day (MMb/d) in 2018, while oil used for light duty transportation, including motorcycles and mopeds, etc., is around 24 MMb/d. Leaving around 74 MMb/d for other uses.
  • While the adoption of BEVs could result in a reduction of oil used for light duty transportation (dotted line in figure), demand for oil for other uses will continue to grow. 
  • Some heavy duty trucks might also convert to battery power or LNG, but demand for jet fuel and other uses will grow.

Even if the need for oil for light-duty vehicles disappears, there will still be a need for large quantities of oil.

From ExxonMobile’s 2018 Outlook for Energy.
Graphic depicts effect of policies that cut CO2 emissions

Peak Demand is intended to establish the End of the Oil Era, as headlined in the WSJ article.

But, at least 70% of the oil used today will continue to be needed in the future.

Peak Demand for oil is a bogus depiction of the future, that is intended to mislead people into thinking oil won’t be needed and should be kept in the ground.

The truth is:

Large quantities of oil will be needed in the future and new oil supplies will have to be found and exploited.
It’s possible for demand to once again go above 98 MMb/d during this century.

Peak Demand is bogus and misleading, but, will BEVs be able to eliminate increased use of oil for gasoline or diesel fuel by 2023?

The next article will address that issue.

. . .


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12 Replies to “Peak Oil Demand is Bogus and Meaningless”

  1. The major question is not whether we will run out of oil. More important questions are:
    Will the expense of extracting oil rise so much that economically its use is curtailed? What changes would that force in modern society?
    Will another energy source, better and cheaper than oil, replace it (as oil & coal replaced wood)?

    M.K. Hubbert’s contribution was more than just “peak oil”. His plots of cumulative production against annual production divided by cumulative production, when the trend is linearly downward, rather accurately predict the lifetime of an individual oil-producing region. Of course, fracking has changed the trend for some fields (e.g. Permian Basin), but other fields (e.g. North Sea) still follow the trend.

    • Thanks for the comments.
      Hubberts plots for individual reservoirs were fairly accurate, but new reservoirs are being discovered all the time so applying his analysis worldwide was a mistake. Our newly developed ability to see below the salt layers under the ocean has increased our ability to find even more oil. This is the case for Brazil, Guyana etc. In a more traditional area, a new field was just discovered north of the UK near the Shetland Islands. Whether that can be considered the North Sea you would know better than I.
      As for expense, that’s always an issue. What’s interesting in that regard is that the expense for new wells has come down, to where it is below 30 dollars per barrel, even for deepwater according to Shell. If oil rises to too high a price, it will encourage alternatives. When uses other than for light-duty vehicles, using ExxonMobiles category, are defined, there aren’t many for which alternatives are easy to come by. Long haul trucking is the exception, but using battery’s for long-haul trucks will have limitations. LNG is a possible alternative for long-haul trucks and ships etc., but that raises other issues.
      The alternative being promoted today is battery-powered vehicles. My next few articles will look at them.

    • At some point, yes. But that could be a hundred or two hundred years from now. When an organization says it will happen in 5 years, I think we should examine whether the prediction is realistic, or has other motives.

  2. At what point was the earth not creating oil? 500 years ago? 5000 years ago? 50,000 years ago? 500,000 years ago? 5 million years ago? 50 million years ago? Further back? Perhaps you understand my point.

    • Yes, I do, though I don’t agree with that hypothesis.
      I also admit I haven’t spent much time looking at it either.
      Thanks for your comment.

  3. The US has been called the Saudi Arabia of coal. If it had copied South Africa and started building synthetic oil plants in 1973, it would now be the Saudi Arabia of oil as well. If it had kept on building nice simple light water reactors, it wouldn’t have needed any more coal or gas to make the oil. Of course it would have needed more uranium. But if it had built breeder reactors like EBR 2, it could have used the 2000 odd years worth of depleted uranium and spent fuel that the US has in store. The reactors could even have provided the power to use the CO2 produced by ordinary oil refineries and the synfuel plants to produce more oil.

    I agree it didn’t need to do this to obtain oil. But I still think it made much better sense to spend the taxpayers’ dollars on synfuel plants rather than Middle Eastern wars.

    So essentially I would argue that, regardless of how much oil the US has available, with simple off-the-shelf technology, it can produce all the oil it needs for thousands of years. With slight technical advances, eg. Willauers’ gasoline from seawater and the Japanese technique of extracting uranium from seawater, it could produce oil until all the uranium was leached from the continents. This doesn’t count the thorium that the Norwegians are testing to eke out uranium in LWR’s. Or the fusion power plants that they’ll no doubt perfect some day.

    Plainly I agree with you. There is no need to worry about peak oil.

    • Thanks.
      The Fischer-Tropsch method for using coal to produce oil was developed in Germany during the 1920s and was used by the Germans during the war to produce diesel fuel for their tanks. South Africa used the method to convert its large supply of coal to oil during the 1950s.
      I certainly wish we had built more nuclear power plants.

  4. Having worked on numerous alternative energy programs, including coal conversion, it is clear that none of these can compete with fossil fuels from the economic viewpoint.
    Coal to liquids or gas is clearly demonstrated technology and lots of research money was poured into it in the 80’s and beyond. I worked on this technology where both corporate and government $$ were poured into development beyond the German technology which were employed by South Africa because of sanctions..
    Even then, liquid fuels from coal was very expensive, (circa $100+ dollars/bbl) and the technology was killed by the Saudi’s by lowering the price for crude to eliminate the competition. Vast investments in coal and shale plants were cancelled because of economics. I remember the vast number of jobs eliminated by these cancellations.
    We overcame the dependence on foreign oil with technology and investment by private companies, despite the efforts to kill fossil fuels with restrictions and regulations, now largely abandoned by Trump. For the last 10 years the jobs and economy have been propped up by oil and gas, not the politicians or government decisions who often want to take credit for the recovery.
    Coal conversion will only come back when we actually run out of cheap oil and gas and the price is much higher.
    Thanks for another great article