So, Don’t Hear Much About “Peak Oil” These Days

The notion that there was a finite amount of oil reserves in the world, the vast majority of which mankind had already discovered, and a much smaller portion of which could ever be economically extracted, was known as the “Peak Oil” theory.  The theory was developed in 1956 by Marion Hubbert, a geologist who worked in the Texas research facilities of Shell Oil.  Hubbert died in 1989, but not before seeing the realization of his fundamental prediction, which was that worldwide petroleum production would “peak” in the late 1960s and steadily decline thereafter.

It recently occurred to me that there are some similarities between the liberal left’s attitude on Peak Oil in the 1970s and their attitude now on AGW/Climate-Change.  In the seventies and eighties, before AGW alarmism began to overshadow it, Peak Oil was the catastrophe that the left relied upon to panic the populace into thinking that, whatever the economic and/or inefficiency drawbacks of doing so, the nation must immediately launch into a monstrously expensive, government-coerced adoption of green energy.

I have a good friend who used to believe in the Peak Oil theory strongly, and he, along with his environmentalist friends, would use it as a justification for advocating vigorous governmental action to move the American citizenry away from the consumption of fossil fuels.  Nowadays, of course, they rely on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), or Anthropogenic Climate Change, or whatever the currently favored terminology happens to be.

But you don’t hear much these days about Peak Oil, because the discovery and exploitation of shale oil deposits since the late 1990s has made almost everyone understand how foolish the notion was to begin with.  And just this spring, another development in the Williston Basin (graphic at right, click to enlarge) along the Canadian border with Bakken_FormationMontana and North Dakota has reinforced that realization.

The basin, named for and surrounding the town of Williston, North Dakota, contains multiple layers of oil-bearing rock.  The top-most layers constitute the well-known Bakken formation, but recent discoveries are somewhat deeper.  These deeper layers are referred to on the U.S. side as the Three Forks formation, after Three Forks, Montana, and on the Canadian side as the Torquay Formation, after the seaside resort town of Torquay on England’s southern coast. 

The oil producers in the region are now “cracking the code” on the best drilling techniques and practices for the Three Forks and Torquay formations, and are coming up with incredible economic returns.  These wells cost, on average, less than four million dollars each including equipment and drilling expenditures for a one-mile horizontal well, but the yield is so great that the producers are recovering that investment in as little as one year, sometimes even less!

This kind of return on investment has re-invigorated the Canadian side, and on the US side, the production of the Three Forks wells is causing the industry to leap-frog estimates of the amount of recoverable oil available in the basin, by numbers ranging from 50% to 100%!  And this scenario, to one degree or another, is being repeated above the sites of shale oil deposits all over the world.

It is true, of course, that the earth is not growing any more dinosaurs, so the TOTAL reserves of petroleum are, indeed, finite.  However, for the immediate future, the proven reserves are growing at a rate that seemed incomprehensible a half-century ago when Marion Hubbert’s ideas were the prevailing wisdom.

For the WikiPedia page on “Peak Oil”, click HERE.  For the recent article in the industry journal Oil Voice, on which this post is partially based, go HERE.  And for the WikiPedia page on the Williston Basin, click THIS link.