Oil Prices: They are no surprise.
"Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to
use what we know" So wrote M.K. Hubert many years
ago. The truth of his words can be applied to many
situations, but they refer specifically to today's
problem with oil supply.
As the drama of oil prices unfolds into our
personal lives, we have to ask why policy makers, who
for years have had access to this information,
continued to steer society in the direction of
increasing oil use? Why have we built our cities on
the assumption of cheap oil based transportation?
Why do we pursue international dependencies based
on the long distance transport of our life needs?
It has been four decades since Mr. Hubert
identified the inevitability of tomorrow's oil crunch.
The rising price of oil is not the product of greedy
producers or government taxes. It is the inevitable
result of our steadily increasing consumption of a
As a resource supply specialist, Mr. Hubert
identified what is now called the Hubert Curve of
resource production, It goes like this:
First a use is found for a resource, then
production begins and consumption increases as the
resource becomes available on the market. As use
grows, production expands, initially using up the most
easily taped reserves and then moving into supplies
that are harder to reach. Consumption continues to
grow as more and more people find more ways to use
the resource. Eventually, as it becomes harder and
harder to find and extract new reserves, consumer
demand becomes greater than supply. This is called
the Hubert Peak. After that point is reached, the price
of the resource rises sharply until consumption falls to
the level of available supply. Supply proceeds into a
steady decline until the resource is practically
Mr. Hubert's methodology for predicting this
pattern of resource exploitation is broadly accepted. A
detailed explanation and abundant information about
the petroleum situation are available at:
With the exception of a brief dip following the
1970's "oil crisis", we have consumed more oil every
year since the first commercial production. The price
rise we are experiencing is because producers are either
unwilling or unable to increase production. If they are
unwilling, it is because they know that they will soon
be unable to do so and that soon after that, they will
be unable to continue producing even at their present
Today's problem with oil supplies is not a
surprise. The petroleum industry, governments and
independent consultants have known of the
approaching peak for many years. There are five
independent studies available at:
studies all predict the oil peak this decade. Some
suggest that it will be early in the decade.
If this information has been available for years,
why have we continued to build permanent
infrastructure on patterns that require oil powered
vehicles? Why have we pursued an economic policy
that is dependent on long distance transport?
At the Hubert Curve site you can find a
presentation made to the British House of Commons
last year by a Dr. Colin Campbell.
From a lifetime of experience exploring for oil, Dr.
Campbell describes the development of exploration
technology from the hit and miss technique of the early
days to the sophisticated methods used today. We can
be sure that there are no unexpected large reserves
awaiting discovery to justify our unwillingness to act on
the fact that oil is limited. We have been consuming oil
faster than our rate of discovery since 1980. We now use
four barrels from reserves for every new barrel discovered.
Dr. Campbell states "The general situation seems so
obvious. How can governments be oblivious to these
realities and their implications . . . given the critical
importance of oil to our entire economy?"
We need to join Dr. Campbell in asking why,
because our leaders have obviously not paid attention.
Ask your elected representatives when they will start
making decisions based on the understanding that the
age of oil is beginning to wane. (Contact information for
all MPs is available at: 1-800-667-3355) We have to take
action to move off of the limb of dependency and toward
sustainable local provision of our basic needs. Such
policies would insulate us from the difficulties of
depleting oil reserves and lead to far more local
employment. Also, by acting locally to meet our needs,
we would see the impacts of our actions and would be
inclined to treat the environment, upon which we are
ultimately dependent, with the sensitivity required for
"Oil has to be found before it can
meaning that there is an obvious
between discovery and production.
It follows that
the peak of discovery in the 1960s, which
an historical fact, has to be followed by
peak of production."
Sustainability Project - Inviting Debate
P.O. Box 374, Merrickville, Ontario
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Last update: 17 Oct 2000