Blog post

rubber duckAccording to an article in Le Monde on March 25, the US Department of Energy "admits that 'a chance exists that we may experience a decline' of world liquid fuels production between 2011 and 2015 'if the investment is not there.'" This bombshell emerged in "an exclusive interview with Glen Sweetnam, main official expert on the oil market in the Obama administration."

The Le Monde article goes on: "The DoE dismisses the 'peak oil' theory, which assumes that world crude oil production should irreversibly decrease in a nearby future, in want of sufficient fresh oil reserves yet to be exploited. The Obama administration supports the alternative hypothesis of an 'undulating plateau.' Lauren Mayne, responsible for liquid fuel prospects at the DoE, explains : 'Once maximum world oil production is reached, that level will be approximately maintained for several years thereafter, creating an undulating plateau. After this plateau period, production will experience a decline.'"

In other words, we don't believe that world oil production will soon reach a maximum and begin to decline (the "peak oil theory"); instead, we believe that world oil production will reach a maximum, stay there for a few years, and then decline. That decline could commence as soon as next year.

Two comments: First, what's the difference? Is this just a way to announce Peak Oil without acknowledging it? The idea of the "undulating plateau" has been part of the Peak Oil discussion for years (see my book Powerdown), and world oil production has in fact been at a plateau since late 2004. Second, how is it that readers in France now know more about U.S. Department of Energy oil supply forecasts than Americans do? There has been no equivalent article in the mainstream press in North America.

It's time for the DoE to answer some tough questions. Too bad U.S. media outlets are evidently too timid, busy, or uninformed to bother themselves with the trivial business of alerting the American people to an impending calamity that is entirely foreseeable and that a few people in government are evidently willing to speak about (at least in code), if only someone asks.

See Post Carbon Institute's press release: "Obama Administration Cops to Likelihood of Looming Global Oil Shortage: Post Carbon Institute Requests Transparency of Energy Policy"

Like this post?

Keep the information flowing: Donate to Post Carbon Institute
Stay connected: Receive our monthly e-newsletter
Reposting: See our reposting policy

blog comments powered by Disqus

Reader Comments


Overpopulation and peak oil

From: mike3, Apr 12, 2010 05:01 PM

@Dan Robinson: Peak oil is not "based" on overpopulation. It is based on dependence on oil. Even if we had a more reasonable level of population & no growth, if we were dependent on oil it would still eventually decline and exhaust. It would take longer but it would still happen Overpopulation is a major exacerbating, amplifying, and complicating factor, but not the root cause or fundamental "base" of the problem.

Peak Oil mind block

From: Bob Boeri, Apr 7, 2010 05:47 AM

I have tried to engage people I consider intelligent and open minded about Peak Oil, and there is something about the concept that gives them a brain freeze. It is sort of like saying "Imagine you are at the outer edge of the expanding universe; now turn half way around; what do you see? Can't imagine that. They can't imagine life without oil, although soon they'll start feeling the effects of the "undulations".

The sooner the better I say...

From: Dan Robinson, Apr 5, 2010 12:28 PM

...considering that Peak Oil (and several other imminent crises based on over-population) seems to be the only way we can start to reduce CO2 emissions. Each year we attempt to continue business as usual may mean another century before we get back to 'civilization as usual', or better, or maybe it's already too late for that. Also, personally, I'd like to be alive for at least a little closer to the regrowing stage, rather than just the dying stage, whatever we may be growing toward next.

Peak Oil Debate in Mainstream Media

From: Leonard Poole, Apr 4, 2010 05:06 PM

I know of at least one blog in the "mainstream" North American media who is covering this issue. It is titled "Jeff Rubin's Smaller World" & is published every Wednesday in the Toronto Globe & Mail.
His bio states: After nearly 20 years as the chief economist of CIBC World Markets, Jeff Rubin left the bank earlier this year to seek a larger audience for the story he wanted to tell.

His predictions of steadily rising oil prices over the last decade, including $100 (U.S.) per barrel oil by 2007, had flown in the face of conventional economic wisdom. As he said, soaring oil prices demonstrated that the traditional laws of supply and demand were no longer working for one of the global economy's most basic and essential commodities.

The consequences would be severe. He argued that it wasn't sub-prime mortgages, but record oil prices that drove the world economy into its deepest post-war recession. And unless the economy starts to wean itself off an ever depleting supply of affordable oil, he believes there will be other recessions to follow as economic recoveries quickly push oil prices right back into triple digit range. But weaning our economy off oil means some fundamental changes in the way we live.

That's not the kind of message chief economists' at investment banks are supposed to deliver so he resigned from CIBC World Markets to write about it in his new book Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller. See his website at

US Energy Policy implications/denial

From: Mike Jackson, Apr 1, 2010 07:21 PM

The longer we wait to admit that there is a limit to oil the more difficult we make it for the future. Virtually no transportation authority in the US is basing its planning decisions on peak oil. We are building highways for no cars and basing billions of dollars of highway infrastructure improvements on the continued availability of oil, with 30 year bonds. The US Air force is about to buy $ 40 billion dollars worth of flying oil tankers, a 50 year supply of tankers for a 30 year supply of fuel and no one questions it. We're not just stealing from the future, we're robbing them blind.

quacks like a duck

From: JensV, Mar 30, 2010 03:26 PM

Not sure how this covers the issue, but an interesting document:

blog in le Monde and not proper article, hélàs ...

From: Pascaline Sala, Mar 30, 2010 03:18 AM

If I read Le Monde website correctly, it was not exactly an "article" from one of the regular journalist of this newspaper but a blog that Le Monde has accepted to link to his website. Being a reader of Le Monde for more than 20 years, I don't think, unfortunately, that this newspaper is ready to accept the concept of Peak Oil yet (even if some of its journalists may acknoledge it in private probably....). But nevertheless, it may be a good sign that such a blog has been accepted by the editor of the leading French quality newspaper ?

Such a sad commentary on the state of American society

From: John Andersen, Mar 29, 2010 09:49 PM

We have lost the ability to stomach the truth.

This episode with Glen Sweetnam should be a compelling reason to turn more attention away from national "leaders" and instead focus on the issues right in front of our noses in our immediate neighborhoods.

I believe only there can we find reason, meaning, and a sense of real accomplishment.

tar sands

From: Patricia Benson, Mar 29, 2010 04:48 PM

Just wondering, if all this 'liquid' oil is available, why we are scraping tar sands to fill the barrel....