In yesterday’s post, I argued that the boom in unconventional oil is not the end of the peak oil debate, but evidence that we are in fact running out of easy and cheap oil. To read the mainstream press, one might think that the peak oil movement has been wrong-footed by the advent of shale oil and tar sands. The peak oil skeptics are certainly claiming that to be the case, with all the glee we have come to expect.
In reality, the best commentators on peak oil knew that this would happen and said so. Here’s Jeremy Leggett, who wrote this in 2004 and predicts the arrival of shale oil right down to the year:
“During and following the oil crisis of the 1970s major oil companies working on American shale deposits spent several billion in various unsuccessful attempts to commercially extract shale oil. As the next crisis looms, eager eyes are turning to them once again… An industry could not be initiated before 2011, because lead times for shale oil projects from planning to commercial operation range from five to ten years.”
That’s from Leggett’s book Half Gone, page 73.
Here’s Rob Hopkins, who knew five years ago that not only were tar sands on the way, so were the optimists who would say the tar sands disprove peak oil:
“Oil from tar sands is far more expensive to produce than most other sources of oil, but with the price of oil rising, these harder-to-extract oil sources are becoming increasingly financially viable… It is literally scraping the barrel, and rather than negating the peak oil argument – as those who say ‘look, there’s loads left’ propose – this confirms the peak oil argument: that we have reached the mid-point of the Oil Age, and the era of cheap oil is well and truly over.”
That’s from the Transition Handbook, page 23.
Jeff Rubin, writing in 2009, recognised that we are in an energy transition from conventional to unconventional oil:
“Whether we already at a production peak or not will be evident only in hindsight. But the precise date is not really the point. It is already clear that we are in the midst of a quantum supply shift from relatively low-cost conventional oil to high-cost and highly problematic nonconventional oil.”
Here’s a section from Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over, p118:
“extraction of conventional oil will peak before 2010; however, because more unconventional oil—including oil sands, heavy oil, and oil shale—will be produced during the coming decade, the total production of fossil-fuel liquids (conventional plus unconventional) will peak several years later.”
Those are from the first books off the shelf, and no doubt I could find more examples in the others. I’m sure you could find plenty of examples of people predicting imminent chaos too of course, but peak oil is a broad church. There are alarmists and there are reasonable and rational commentators. It pays to listen to the good ones, as it does in any other field.