Gautier: Peak Oil Draws Near And Prices Get Higher
by Valerie McNutt


As oil fields around the world reach their “peak,” or their maximum oil output rate, demand for oil will increase at a faster rate than the discovery of new oil fields. This will lead to a continued increase in the price of oil until the supply is eventually exhausted. So argued petroleum geoscientist Jeffery Brown and Professor Catherine Gautier of the UCSB Department of Geography at a talk on Peak Oil sponsored by The UCSB Energy Club at Corwin Pavilion April 15. The purpose of the lecture was to explain the concept of peak oil and the problems that it presents for the world.

The idea that the world’s oil fields have a definite “peak output” was first put forth by geoscientist Dr. M. King Hubbert in the 1950s. He attempted to find the peak oil production for oil fields in the 48 contiguous United States but his methods have since been extrapolated to determine the production levels of oil fields world wide.
Hubbert’s model claimed that production in oil fields in the lower 48 would reach their peak in 1971; the actual production numbers in 1971 showed that his model was 99 percent accurate. In the time since then, many companies and groups have tried to determine when the peak for the world’s oil fields will be. Some say that the time has already passed. The most generous estimates, made by oil companies, say the peak will not occur for another 70 years. “The question is not if, but when will
oil peak?” said Professor Gautier.

Global demand for oil has risen about two percent every year since the late 1990’s and the U.S. consumes two thirds of the oil used by developed nations according to Dr. Gaultier’s presentation. As output decreases and “peak oil” comes closer, Brown says that exports will decrease. Every oil producing country meets their own needs first and then exports the excess to consumer countries like the U.S.

Brown estimates that the top five oil producing countries will have a net export of zero somewhere around 2030 and that if things continue on their current course, oil prices will double every 18 months. Combating these dwindling oil resources will mean drastic changes to the average American’s way of life. “Large parts of suburbia are toast,” Brown said.

During the question and answer period, many in attendance asked why the mainstream media does not address this looming problem. Brown responded that the news stations do not wish to give up the money that they make from companies who depend on oil. “Exxon Mobile and others are giving the worst possible advice at the worst possible time,” he said.

Brown believes that the answer to alleviating America’s dependence on oil lies in wind energy and solar power. He said that ethanol and bio-fuels are not necessarily a good alternative because the amount of corn it takes to fuel a car for a week could feed a person for a year. In a time when high oil and gas prices could mean food will be transported shorter distances or be far more expensive, many people believe that the corn will be best used to fuel a person rather than a car.

The night’s moderator, Vice Chancellor Michael Young, praised the fact that students have led the university’s sustainability efforts. The UCSB Energy Club will meet next on April 28 at 8pm in the Student Resource Building.