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Editorial comment

The peak oil debate has been around for many years and is regularly commented on in one way, shape, or form. However, a report from Leonardo Maugeri, published by Harvard University entitled ‘Oil: The Next Revolution’ has been one of the most recent catalysts for debate. Maugeri proposes that we are not yet in a position to announce peak oil, as supply is growing worldwide at such a fast pace it is possibly going to overtake consumption. Maugeri also says that the constraints upon the oil industry ‘are above the surface, not beneath it, and relate to political decisions and geopolitical instability’. 

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Many people argue that conventional peak oil hit in the early to mid 2000s. This opinion has been championed as the oil industry suffered from a decrease in investment and the production of oil and oil products slowed down during the period. I agree that this could suggest peak oil was hit with regards to conventional resources, however, didn’t this coincide with the global economic recession? Of course investments would have slowed down at the time. As it can take several years to get oil from well to tap, this surely could have been a factor in the slow down too. Also, as Maugeri argues, peak oil theorists are continually championing that the time has come due to the ‘misguided perception that oil must become a rare commodity’. Inveitably, one day that will be the case as nothing lasts forever, however, shale oil and the oilsands are here to stay for a long while and EOR technologies are being developed continually. Oil cannot yet be considered scarce.

Those who consider themselves environmentalists seem to be unsure as to if we have hit peak oil, or in fact if they even view peak oil as a viable theory. George Monbiot, columnist for UK newspaper The Guardian, wrote a response to Maugeri’s report that puts forward the environmentalist argument, declaring that peak oil has ‘the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal’. Here, the notion of peak oil is a double edged sword, and it doesn’t necessarily fight a corner arguing for or against peak oil.

Currently I am inclined to agree that we have not yet reached peak oil and that the problems with supply are indeed above the surface and not below. The vast new reserves of shale oil, shale gas and oilsands that have been discovered and proved (and are yet to be proven) in recent months are by no means near declining and, with developments in technology, we will no doubt be able to find and economically recover more of these deposits as time goes on.