Failed Predictions of Peak Oil


Matt Novak at Paleofuture has a great article on repeated failed predictions about peak oil. Just a reminder: mistakenly predicting X does not diminish the chances that X is true. A false positive on a cancer test does not mean you don’t have cancer, it just means you are back to where you started before the test.

Often people use these sorts of failed predictions as proof that apocalyptic projections should be ignored because they never come to pass. “Look at all that fuss about Y2K—–then nothing.” Isn’t it possible that at least some of these predictions were what motivated the change that kept the prediction from happening? For example, perhaps predictions of peak oil encouraged conservation as well as motivated oil companies to invest more in extraction technology. This seems obvious, perhaps, but I’ve read few people pointing that out.

Some interesting quotes from the article:


1909: 25 or 30 years longer

“Petroleum has been used for less than 50 years, and it is estimated that the supply will last about 25 or 30 years longer. If production is curtailed and waste stopped it may last till the end of the century. The most important effects of its disappearance will be in the lack of illuminants. Animal and vegetable oils will not begin to supply its place. This being the case, the reckless exploitation of oil fields and the consumption of oil for fuel should be checked.”

— July 19, 1909 Titusville Herald (Titusville, PA)



1919: Two to five years until maximum production

“In meeting the world’s needs, however, the oil from the United States will continue to occupy a less and less dominant position, because within the next two to five years the oil fields of this country will reach their maximum production and from that on we will face an ever increasing decline.”

— October 23, 1919 Oil and Gas News



1943: Peak oil has been reached

“There is a growing opinion that the United States has reached its peak oil production, the Oil and Gas Journal pointed out in its current issue. Since 1938, discoveries of new oil have not equaled withdrawals, in any single year, although there is a very good chance that 1943 will see enough new Ellenburger oil in West Texas to provide an excess.”

— June 7, 1943 Bradford Evening Star (Bradford, PA)



1980: In the year 2000

“Stressing the need for conservation, [physicist Dr. Hans] Bethe said the world will reach its peak oil production before the year 2000. Production of oil worldwide will then drop to zero over about 20 years, he said. Rigorous conservation could stretch the world’s oil supply to the year 2050, he said.

— October 17, 1980 Syracuse Post Standard (Syracuse, NY)