Peak Oil Myth

The Recurring Myth of Peak Oil

By Ismael Hossein-zadeh


The Peak Oil theory maintains that world production of conventional oil will soon reach a

maximum, or peak, and decline thereafter, with grave socio-economic consequences.

Some proponents of the theory argue that world oil production has already peaked, and is

now in a terminal decline [1].


Although, on the face of it, this sounds like a fairly reasonable proposition, it has been

challenged on both theoretical and empirical grounds. While some critics have called it a

myth, others have branded it as a money-making scam promoted by the business interests

that are vested in the fossil fuel industry, in the business of war and militarism, and in the

Wall Street financial giants that are engaged in manipulative oil speculation.

Regardless of its validity (or lack thereof), the fact is that Peak Oil has had significant

policy and political implications. It has also generated considerable reactions among

various interest groups and political activists.


While environmental and similar activists have used Peak Oil to promote more vigorous

conservation and more energetic pursuit of alternative fuels, the oil industry and its

representatives in and out of the government have taken advantage of Peak Oil to argue

in support of unrestrained extraction of oil and expanded drilling in the offshore or

wildlife regions.


Because of its simple logic and facile appeal, Peak Oil has also led many ordinary

citizens, burdened by high fuel bills during periods of energy crisis, to support

unrestrained or expanded drilling. According to a Rasmussen poll, taken during the recent

rise of the cost of energy, 57 percent of Americans favored more offshore drilling. Misled

and misplaced popular perceptions, in turn, play into the hands of the oil industry and

their representatives to lobby for the lifting of the Federal ban on oil production in

hitherto restricted regions.


Citing voter anger over soaring energy prices, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the

Republican presidential nominee, recently argued that opening vast stretches of the

country’s coastline to oil exploration would help America eliminate the dependence on

foreign oil. “We have untapped oil reserves of at least 21 billion barrels in the United

States. But a broad federal moratorium stands in the way of energy exploration and

production,” he said. “It is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions” [2].

Perhaps the financial giants of New York and London have benefited the most from the

misleading implications of Peak Oil: “As much as 60% of today’s crude oil price is pure

speculation driven by large trader banks and hedge funds. It has nothing to do with the

convenient myths of Peak Oil. It has to do with control of oil and its price. . . . Since the

advent of oil futures trading and the two major London and New York oil futures

contracts, control of oil prices has left OPEC and gone to Wall Street. It is a classic case

of the tail that wags the dog,” points out William Engdahl, a top expert on energy and

financial markets [3].


Just as Peak Oil plays into the hands of manipulative speculators and beneficiaries of

fossil fuel, so too can it be used by the champions of unilateral wars and military

adventures, as it implies that war power and military strength are key to access or control

of the “shrinking” or “soon-to-be-shrinking” oil. It thus provides fodder for the cannons

of war profiteering militarists who are constantly on the look out to invent new enemies

and find new pretexts for continued war and escalation of military spending—that is, for

the looting of the national treasury, or public money.


By the same token that Peak Oil can serve as a pretext for war and military adventures, it

can also serve as a disarming or pacifying factor for many citizens who accept the Peak

Oil thesis and, therefore, internalize responsibility for U.S. foreign policy every time they

fill their gas tank. In a vicarious way, they may feel that they own the war!

Thus, Peak Oil serves as a powerful trap and a clever manipulation that lets the real

forces of war and militarism (the military-industrial complex and the pro-Israel lobby),

and the main culprits behind the soaring energy prices (the Wall Street financial giants

engaged in manipulative commodity speculation) off the hook; it is a fabulous

distraction. All evils are blamed on a commodity upon which we are all utterly


Not only millions of lay-citizens, but also many scholars and academics have taken the

bait and fallen right into this trap by arguing that recent U.S. wars of choice are driven

primarily by oil and other “scarce” resources. More broadly, they argue that most wars of

the future, like the recent and/or present ones, will be driven by conflicts over natural

resources, especially energy and water—hence, for example, the title of Michael T.

Klare’s popular book, Resource Wars [4].


As a number of critics have pointed out, this is reminiscent of Thomas R. Malthus’s

theory of “scarcity” and “overpopulation.” Malthus (1766-1834), a self-styled British

economist, argued that the woes and vagaries of capitalism such as poverty, inequality

and unemployment are largely to be blamed on the poor and the unemployed, since they

produce too many mouths to be fed, or too many hands to be employed.

In a similar fashion, Peak Oil implies that current crisis in energy (and other

commodities) markets is to be blamed, in part, on less-developed or relatively poorer

nations such as India and China for growing “too fast” and creating “too much” demand

on “scarce” resources. (Similarities between the Peak Oil theory and the Malthusian

theory of scarcity are further discussed below.)


Peak Oil Thesis Is Not New: Geology vs. Geopolitics

Peak Oil theory is not altogether new. M. King Hubbert, a well-known geologist,

provided a dramatic discussion of the theory in 1956. A year later, Admiral Rickover

discussed the end of the fossil fuel era even more emphatically—at the time, he gave oil

about fifty more years to run out. Thirty years ago, the Club of Rome predicted an end of

oil long before the present day.


Indeed, there is evidence that projections of oil peaking, then declining and running out,

have been floated around ever since oil was discovered in the second half of 19th century.

For example, the chief geologist of Pennsylvania predicted in 1874 that we would run out

of oil in four years—just using it for kerosene [5].


While Peak Oil theory has been around for a long time, it has usually been dormant

during “normal” economic times, or “reasonable” oil prices, but has gained heightened

currency during periods of energy crisis and high oil prices. For example, Peak Oil

became quite popular during (and immediately after) all of the three recent oil crises: the

early 1970s crisis, the late 1970s and early 1980s crisis, and the early 1990s crisis.


The obvious reason for the rise in the Peak Oil popularity in the context of those periods

of energy crisis was the perception that oil shortage must have played a major role in the

respective oil price hikes. It is not surprising, then, that as recent geopolitical convulsions

in the Middle East have triggered a new round of oil price hikes, Peak Oil theory has

once again become fashionable.


It turns out, however, that oil price shocks of all the previous periods of energy crisis

were precipitated not by oil shortages, or any real prospects of oil “peaking and running

out,” but by international political convulsions, revolutions and wars: the Arab-Israeli

war of 1973, the 1979 Revolution in Iran, and the 1990-91 invasion of Kuwait by

Saddam Hussein’s armed forces. Each time, as the turbulent period of war or

revolutionary atmosphere ended, higher oil prices of the respective crisis situation

subsided accordingly [6].


The current oil price hike too is precipitated not by an oil shortage, as popularly

perceived, but by manipulative speculation in energy futures markets—which are, in turn,

prompted largely by the unstable atmosphere of war and geopolitical turbulence in the

Middle East.


Evidence is therefore unambiguous that, so far, almost all oil price shocks can be

explained not by geology, or the so-called Peak Oil, but by geopolitics.


The Paradoxical Reasonableness of Peak Oil: Return of Thomas Malthus

Peak Oil has a prima facie reasonableness that makes it readily acceptable to most

people: since oil is a finite natural resource, it is subject to depletion.


But while the rationale behind Peak Oil seems reasonable, it is also seriously flawed and


One of the major defects of Peak Oil is its facile extrapolation or transition from micro to

macro level, that is, an unwarranted generalization or extention of what is true in the case

of an existing oil well or oil field to the entire world oil production. It is true that every

operating or producing oil well or field increases in production rate until it reaches a

maximum or peak flow rate, after which the rate of production enters a terminal decline.

It does not follow, however, that global world oil production as a whole must soon reach

a maximum and begin to run out afterward—some Peak Oil champions claim that this

has already taken place.


Proponents of Peak Oil are quick to point to oil wells or fields that have actually peaked

and declined, such as those correctly predicted by geologist M. King Hubbert. They fail,

however, to point out the ever newer discoveries of new oil fields and/or other sources of

energy that tend to more than offset the depleted ones.

The Peak Oil debate boils down, essentially, to natural versus social limits, or naturally determined

versus socially-determined limits. A similar debate erupted more than 200

hundred years ago over the limits of population growth, on the one hand, and the growth

of food supplies, on the other. The debate was prompted largely by a 1798 essay written

by the British economist Thomas R. Malthus, titled “An Essay on the Principle of


Malthus projected an alarming specter of food shortages, hardship, and even starvation

“because of faster population growth than food supply.” According to his theory, poverty

and distress are unavoidable because, if unchecked, population increases at a geometrical

rate (i.e. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.), whereas the means of subsistence grow at an arithmetical rate

(i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.), thereby leading to inevitable shortages of foodstuff.

As Malthus thus blamed misery and poverty on the poor and the miserable (for giving

birth to too many mouths to be fed), he also concluded (logically) that poverty alleviation

depended on selective restriction of population growth, that is, curbing the number of the

poor and working people.

As checks on population growth, Malthus accepted war, famine, and disease. He also

recommended “moral restraint” (marrying late or not at all, coupled with sexual

abstinence prior to, and outside of, marriage) as additional checks on the growth of

population. His hostility toward the poor was expressed most vividly when he openly

argued in favor of dismantling social safety net programs, called “poverty laws”: “We

cannot, in the nature of things, assist the poor, in any way, without enabling them to rear

up to manhood a greater number of their children.”

By blaming social ills and economic calamities on the poor and working people,

Malthus’s views tended, willy-nilly, to exonerate the underlying socio-economic

structure, and to prove the inevitability of privation and misery under any social system.

What Malthus failed to see is the fact that growth rates of population and food supplies

are not determined purely by nature as fixed, innate, or immutable rates. Instead, they are

dynamic categories that can change drastically, depending on the level of economic

development, social structure of production, and the state of technology.

Although not identical, the Peak Oil theory is similar to the Malthusian theory in that it

too is based on natural, innate, or fixed and immutable limits. There are, of course, limits

to everything—energy, food, water, population. But those limits are not absolute or predetermined,

as implied by the Peak Oil thesis. They are perhaps more social than natural

This is why although the Peak Oil theory is not false in saying that there are limits to oil

production, it does not explain much. In a real sense, it is a truism. It explains neither the

current energy crisis nor any of the past ones. Nor can, therefore, its dire predictions

about future global oil production be trustworthy.


More Oil Found than Used Up

Peak Oil misconceptions have many times led to alarmist predictions and dire warnings

of an end of global oil production before the current day. Time and again, those forecasts

turned out wrong because oil reserves, including proven or cost-efficient reserves, have

continued to grow, and more oil wells or fields have been brought under utilization than

those peaked and declined. The following is a partial list, as collected by Jason Schwarz,

Options Strategist for Lone Peak Asset Management, Westlake Village, CA:

1. An offshore find by Brazilian state oil company Petrobras (PBR) in partnership with

BG Group (BRGYY.PK) and Repsol-YPF may be the world’s biggest discovery in 30

years, the head of the National Petroleum Agency said. A deep-water exploration area

could contain as much as 33 billion barrels of oil, an amount that would nearly triple

Brazil’s reserves and make the offshore bloc the world’s third-largest known oil reserve.

“This would lay to rest some of the peak oil pronouncements that we were out of oil, that

we weren’t going to find any more and that we have to change our way of life,” said

Roger Read, an energy analyst and managing director at New York-based investment

bank Natixis Bleichroeder Inc.

2. A trio of oil companies led by Chevron Corp. (CVX) has tapped a petroleum pool deep

beneath the Gulf of Mexico that could boost U.S. reserves by more than 50 percent. A

test well indicates it could be the biggest new domestic oil discovery since Alaska’s

Prudhoe Bay a generation ago. Chevron estimated the 300-square-mile region where its

test well sits could hold up to 15 billion barrels of oil and natural gas.

3. Kosmos Energy says its oil field at West Cape Three Points is the largest discovery in

deep water West Africa and potentially the largest single field discovery in the region.

4. A new oil discovery has been made by Statoil (STO) in the Ragnarrock prospect near

the Sleipner area in the North Sea. “It is encouraging that Statoil has made an oil

discovery in a little-explored exploration model that is close to our North Sea

infrastructure,” says Frode Fasteland, acting exploration manager for the North Sea.

5. Shell (RDS.A) is currently analyzing and evaluating the well data of their own find in

the Gulf of Mexico to determine next steps. This find is rumored to be capable of

producing 100 billion barrels. Operating in ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the

Perdido spar will float on the surface in nearly 8,000 ft of water and is capable of

producing as much as 130,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

6. In Iraq, excavators have struck three oil fields with reserves estimated at about 2

billion barrels, Kurdish region’s Oil Minister Ashti Horami said.

7. Iran has discovered an oil field within its southwest Jofeir oilfield that is expected to

boost Jofeir’s oil output to 33,000 barrels per day. Iran’s new discovery is estimated to

have reserves of 750 million barrels, according to Iran’s Oil Minister, Gholamhossein

8. The United States holds significant oil shale resources underlying a total area of 16,000

square miles. This represents the largest known concentration of oil shale in the world

and holds an estimated 1.5 trillion barrels of oil with 800 billion recoverable barrels—

enough to meet U.S. demand for oil at current levels for 110 years. More than 70 percent

of American oil shale is on Federal land, primarily in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

9. In western North Dakota there is a formation known as the Bakken Shale. The

formation extends into Montana and Canada. Geologists have estimated the area holds

hundreds of billions of barrels of oil. In an interview provided by USGS, scientist Brenda

Pierce put the North Dakota oil in context: “Of the current USGS estimates, this is the

largest oil accumulation in the lower 48. . . . It is also the largest continuous type of oil

accumulation that we have ever assessed.” The USGS study says with today’s

technology, about 4 billion barrels of oil can be pumped from the Bakken formation [7].

In the face of such overwhelming evidence, which seriously undermines the Peak Oil

theory, proponents of the theory argue that their thesis is based on “proven,” not all,

reserves. Proven reserves are reserves that, given a certain level of technology and a

certain amount of investment, are proven or estimated to be economical, or cost efficient.

Let us briefly examine this “proven vs. total reserves” argument of the Peak Oil


Proven Reserves Are not a Measure of Future Oil Production: Short-Term Market

Imperatives vs. Long-Term Public Policy/Interests

That oil companies would want to invest only in the narrow category of proven, or cost

efficient, reserves is understandable; it is a simple business principle. But to base future

oil supplies on the currently proven reserves, as Peak Oil theory does, is problematic. It

represents a short-term, static view of future oil supplies that implicitly ignores the

critical role of new investments and technological innovations that can make profitable,

or cost efficient, what is currently considered unprofitable, or cost inefficient.

M.A. Adelman points out that “in 1944 a special expert mission estimated Persian Gulf

reserves at 16 billion proved and 5 billion probable. By 1975, those same fields had

produced 42 billion barrels and had 74 billion remaining. In 1984, geologists estimated a

five percent probability of another 199 billion barrels remaining to be added in the Gulf

region. In five years those reserves had already been added” [8].

Market imperatives and short-term profitability measures, thus severely limit oil reserve

estimates because they effectively exclude not only huge reserves of unconventional oil,

but also vast reservoirs of conventional oil that are not currently profitable. This is

obviously a major flaw of the Peak Oil theory, as it judges future supplies of oil by the

narrowest definition of oil production: currently proven reserves.

However, just as proven reserves determine the current level of oil production, and

therefore of investment, the amount of current investment also plays a crucial role in the

determination of the amount of proven reserves in the future. Peak Oil views this mutual

relationship as a one-way street, or causality—going from the amount of currently proven

reserves to the level of the necessary (or cost efficient) investment, and the global

production of oil.

Furthermore, reserves that may be considered unprofitable from the viewpoint of private

oil companies may well be economical from the viewpoint of state- or publically-owned

companies. For example, while a private oil company, may find an estimated profit rate

of below x or y percent cost inefficient, a publicly-owned oil company might invest in

reserves as long as estimated profit rate is not negative.

Indeed, as the experiences of state-owned oil companies in Russia, China, Venezuela, and

many other countries show, publicly-owned oil companies often take large short-term

losses in pursuit of long-term returns or rewards. Free from short-term market imperative,

Russia, for example, has invested heavily in long-term oil projects, with fantastic results

that have more than offset the enormous short-term costs of those projects. Here is how

Joe Vialls, an expert with first-hand experience in “ultra-deep drilling,” explains:

“In 1970, the Russians started drilling Kola SG-3, an exploration well which

finally reached a staggering world record depth of 40,230 feet. Since then,

Russian oil majors including Yukos have quietly drilled more than 310 successful

super-deep oil wells, and put them into production. Last Year Russia overtook

Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest single oil producer, and is now set to

completely dominate global oil production and sales for the next century. . . .

With no shareholders holding out their grubby little hands for a wad of pocket

money every month, the Russian oil industry managed to surge ahead, underreaming

thousands of its older existing onshore wells in less than ten years” [9].


The Role of Technology: a Dynamic, not Static, Process

A major flaw of Peak Oil, as already pointed out, is that it discounts the fact that energysaving

technologies have drastically improved (and will continue to further improve) not

only the efficiency of oil production but also of oil consumption. Evidence shows that,

for example, “over a period of five years (1994-99), U.S. GDP expanded over 20 percent

while oil usage rose by only nine percent. Before the 1973 oil shock, the ratio was about

one to one” [10].

Cars, airplanes and other means of transportation have become more fuel-efficient than

ever before—though not as much as they could, or should. Both businesses and

consumers are also doing a better job of trimming their energy costs. Obviously, this

means that our demand for energy does not grow as fast as the growth of our economy.

For example, According to the Energy Information Administration, in 1981 the United

States devoted nearly 14 percent of its overall gross domestic product to energy; by 2006

that number had fallen to about 9 percent.

One of the results of the more efficient means of research and development has been a far

higher success rate in finding new oil fields. The success rate has risen in twenty years

from less than 70 percent to over 80 percent. Computers have helped to reduce the

number of dry holes. Horizontal drilling has boosted extraction. Another important

development has been deep-water offshore drilling, which the new technologies now

permit. Good examples are the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and more recently, the

promising offshore oil fields of West Africa [11].

The following are some of the recent technological advances that (as described by Red

Cavaney, a top oil expert) have dramatically increased the ability not only to find and

extract new oil, but perhaps more importantly, to recover more or additional oil from

existing reserves that were formerly considered “peaked and dried” under old

● Directional Drilling. It used to be that wellbores were basically vertical holes. This

made it necessary to drill virtually on top of a potential oil deposit. However, the advent

of miniaturized computers and advanced sensors that can be attached to the drill bit now

allows companies to drill directional holes with great accuracy because they can get realtime

information on the subsurface location throughout the drilling process.

● Horizontal Drilling. Horizontal drilling is similar to directional drilling, but the well is

designed to cut horizontally through the middle of the oil or natural gas deposit. Early

horizontal wells penetrated only 500 to 800 feet of reservoir laterally, but technology

advances recently allowed a North Slope operator to penetrate 8,000 feet of reservoir

horizontally. Moreover, horizontal wells can operate up to 10 times more productively

than conventional wells.

● 3-D Seismic Technology. Substantial enhancements in computing power during the

past two decades have allowed the industry to gain a much clearer picture of what lies

beneath the surface. The ability to process huge amounts of data to produce threedimensional

seismic images has significantly improved the drilling success rate of the

industry [12].

“Primarily due to these advances,” Cavaney further points out, “the U.S. Geological

Survey (USGS), in its 2000 World Petroleum Assessment, increased by 20 percent its

estimate of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil. USGS noted that, since oil became

a major energy source about 100 years ago, 539 billion barrels of oil have been produced

outside the United States. USGS estimates there are 649 billion barrels of undiscovered,

technically recoverable oil outside the United States. But, importantly, USGS also

estimates that there will be an additional 612 billion barrels from reserve growth—nearly

equaling the undiscovered resources. Reserve growth results from a variety of sources,

including technological advancement in exploration and production, increases over

initially conservative estimates of reserves, and economic changes” [13].

Thanks to new technologies, additional oil can now be recovered from the apparently

exhausted reserves. Specifically, the peaking and declining of oil from an existing well is

not the same as the peaking and declining of oil from the respective oil field or reservoir.

While oil production from an existing well is bound to peak and then slow down, “offset

wells” can be drilled later into the same field or reservoir to produce more oil. Here is

how Vialls explains:

“Now we come to the completely false [or deliberately misleading] claim by Peak Oil

shills that production from existing oil wells is ‘slowing down,’ thereby proving that the

oil fields are ‘running dry.’ This is so wrong that it is almost breathtaking. Think of this

slowing down process in the same way you might think of the engine oil in your

automobile. The longer you run the engine, the higher the level of contaminates that get

into the oil. The higher the level of contaminates, the higher the level of friction. Sooner

or later you have something closely akin to glue coating your piston rings, and the

performance of your engine declines accordingly. This is an inevitable mechanical

process well known to all automobile owners.

“Henry Ford and others managed to slow down the rate of contamination in engine oils

by inventing the oil filter, through which the oil has to circulate each time it passes

around inside the engine. A high percentage of the contaminates stick to the filter

element, thereby allowing extra miles between oil changes, though heaven help the

careless motorist who thinks he can get away without ever changing his clogged oil filter

when recommended.

“When oil is extracted from a producing formation underground, it flows out through

pores in the reservoir rock, and then into the open borehole, from where it is transported

to surface by the production tubing string. So by the very nature of the beast, the bottom

section of the well is ‘open hole’ which allows the oil to flow out in the first place, but

because it is comprised of exposed and sometimes unstable rock, this open hole section is

also continually subject to all manner of turbulence and various contaminates. For

example, tiny quantities of super fine silt may exit through the pores but not continue to

the surface with the oil, tumbling around in the turbulence instead, until the silt very

slowly starts to block off the oil-producing pore throats. Yes, of course there are a variety

of liners that can be used to slow down the contamination, but there is no such thing as a

Henry Ford oil filter 10,000 feet underground.

“The inevitable result of this is that over time, the initial production rate of the well will

slowly decline, a hard fact known to every exploration oilman in the business. However,

this is certainly not an indication that the oil field itself is becoming depleted, proved

thousands of times by ‘offset wells’ drilled later into the same reservoir. Any new well

comes on stream at the original production rate of its older cousins, because it has not yet

had time to build up a thin layer of contaminates across the open hole. Though as we

shall see it is possible to ‘do an oil change’ on a producing well and bring it back to full

production, this is extremely expensive, and rarely used in the west” [14].


Substitutes or Alternative Sources of Energy

Peak Oil is also subject to criticism because it pays insufficient attention to substitutes or

alternative sources of energy, both actual and potential. These include solar, wind, nonfood

bio-fuel, and nuclear energies. They also include natural gas. Natural gas is now

about 25 percent of energy demand worldwide. It is estimated that by 2050 it will be the

main source of energy in the world. A number of American, European, and Japanese

firms have and are investing heavily in developing fuel cells for cars and other vehicles

that would significantly reduce gasoline consumption [15].

Peak Oil also pays short shrift to what is sometimes called “unconventional” oil. These

include Tar Sands, Heavy Oils, and Oil Shale.

Tar Sands can be recovered via surface mining or in-situ collection techniques. Canada’s

Athabasca Tar Sands is the best known example of this kind of unconventional reserve—

estimated at 1.8 trillion barrels. Although this was originally considered cost inefficient,

experts working in this area now claim that they have brought down the cost from over

$20 a barrel to $8 per barrel.

Heavy Oils can be pumped and refined just like conventional petroleum except that they

are thicker and have more sulfur and heavy metal contamination, necessitating more

extensive refining. Venezuela’s Orinoco heavy oil belt is the best known example of this

kind of unconventional reserve—estimated at1.2 trillion barrels.

Oil Shale requires extensive processing and consumes large amounts of water. Still,

reserves far exceed supplies of conventional oil, and costs are bound to decline as newer

and more efficient processing techniques become available [16].

A rarely mentioned but potentially very important substitute for conventional oil “is an

even bigger hydrocarbon resource that can be developed to provide nearly endless

amounts of energy: methane hydrates (methane frozen in ice crystals). The deposits of

methane hydrates are so vast that when we develop the technology to bring them to

market, we will have clean-burning energy for 2,000 years. It’s just one of the exciting

scenarios we may see in the far-off future” [17].

Except for natural gas and nuclear energy, most of these alternative sources of energy are

still highly costly, and are therefore used in only insignificant quantities. But, considering

the ever evolving newer and more efficient technologies, they are bound to rise in

significance. This means that the prospects of reaching a day in our search for energy

sources when conventional oil is no longer the world’s dominant source of energy are

quite realistic. Humans did not invent motor vehicles because they ran out of horses or

horse-driven carriages; nor did they invent electricity because they ran out of candles.


Concluding Remarks

Predictions of global oil production peaking, and then running out, have been around

almost as long as oil was discovered in the second half of the 19th century. Time and

again, such dire predictions turned out to be false, largely because of the Peak Oil’s

apparently sound but actually deceitful logic: while it is true that, as Peak Oil maintains,

oil is a finite natural resource that is bound to run out some day, it does not follow, again

as Peak Oil argues, that therefore oil is or must be running out soon.

A major flaw of Peak Oil is that it is based on a static, or technology-neutral, assumption:

it implicitly assumes that limits to oil are set as natural, innate, and immutable. Yet, limits

to oil, like those to most other resources, are determined as much (if not more) socially as

they are naturally. Research, development, and technological advances have made (and

will continue to make) both the amounts of oil reserves and of oil production much more

fluid or elastic than perceived by the champions of Peak Oil.

Another equally-flawed proposition of Peak Oil is that it implicitly views the limits of oil

supply independent of substitutes or alternative sources of energy. These include solar,

wind, non-food bio-fuel, and nuclear energies. They also include natural gas. Further,

they include “unconventional” oil: Tar Sands, Heavy Oils, and Oil Shale. Although, with

the exception of natural gas and nuclear technology, the use of these substitutes is sill

quite expensive, and therefore, limited, technological advances are bound to reduce their

cost and increase their sue.

Viewed in conjunction with the vast pool of substitutes, both actual and potential, oil

limits would loom much wider than when they are considered in isolation from such

energy alternatives. The constantly evolving newer and more efficient technologies are

bound to further expand those limits far beyond the narrow, “natural” limits set by the

Peak Oil theory.



[1] Robert L. Hirsch, Roger Bezdek, and Robert Wendling, “Peaking of World Oil

Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management,” Testimony on Peak Oil before

the House Subcommittee on Energy and Industry (7 December 2005),

[2] Matthew Mosk, “Industry Gushed Money After Reversal on Drilling,” Washington

Post (27 July 2008),


[3] F. William Engdahl, “Perhaps 60% of Today’s Oil Price Is Pure Speculation,” (2 May 2008),

[4] Michael T. Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (Holt

Paperbacks, 2002).

[5] Red Cavaney, “Global Oil Production about to Peak? A Recurring Myth,” World

Watch (01 January 2006),


[6] Eliyahu Kanovsky, “Oil: Who’s Really Over a Barrel?” Middle East Quarterly

(Spring 2003),

[7] Jason Schwarz, The Peak Oil Myth: New Oil is Plentiful,” Seeking Alpha (22 June


[8] M.A. Adelman, The Genie out of the Bottle: World Oil since 1970, (Cambridge: MIT

Press, 1995); cited in Bill Kovarik, “The Oil Reserve Fallacy: Proven reserves are not a

measure of future supply,”

[9] Joe Vialls, “Russia Proves ‘Peak Oil’ Is A Misleading Zionist Scam,” (25

August 2004),

[10] Eliyahu Kanovsky, “Oil: Who’s Really Over a Barrel?” Middle East Quarterly

(Spring 2003),

[11] Ibid.

[12] Red Cavaney, “Global Oil Production about to Peak? A Recurring Myth,” World

Watch (01 January 2006),


[13] Ibid.

[14] Joe Vialls, “Russia Proves ‘Peak Oil’ Is A Misleading Zionist Scam,” (25

August 2004),

[15] The Wall Street Journal (10 March 1998); cited in Eliyahu Kantovsky, “Oil: Who’s

Really Over a Barrel?” Middle East Quarterly (Spring 2003),

[16] For an informative discussion of unconventional oil reserves, and a scathing critique

of Peak Oil see Bill Kovarik, “The Oil Reserve Fallacy: Proven reserves are not a

measure of future supply,”

[17] Red Cavaney, “Global Oil Production about to Peak? A Recurring Myth,” World

Watch (01 January 2006),



Ismael Hossein-zadeh, author of the recently published The Political Economy of U.S.

Militarism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007), teaches economics at Drake University, Des

Moines, Iowa.