When “peak oil” theory was first widely publicized in such path breaking books as Kenneth Deffeyes’ Hubbert’s Peak (2001), Richard Heinberg’s The Party’s Over (2002), David Goodstein’s Out of Gas (2004), and Paul Robert’s The End of Oil (2004), energy industry officials and their government associates largely ridiculed the notion. An imminent peak — and subsequent decline — in global petroleum output was derided as crackpot science with little geological foundation. “Based on [our] analysis,” the U.S. Department of Energy confidently asserted in 2004, “[we] would expect conventional oil to peak closer to the middle than to the beginning of the 21st century.”
Recently, however, a spate of high-level government and industry reports have begun to suggest that the original peak-oil theorists were far closer to the grim reality of global-oil availability than industry analysts were willing to admit. Industry optimism regarding long-term energy-supply prospects, these official reports indicate, has now given way to a deep-seated pessimism, even in the biggest of Big Oil corporate headquarters.
The change in outlook is perhaps best suggested by a July 27 article in the Wall Street Journal headlined, “Oil Profits Show Sign of Aging.” Although reporting staggering second-quarter profits for oil giants Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell — $10.3 billion for the former, $8.7 billion for the latter — the Journal sadly noted that investors are bracing for disappointing results in future quarters as the cost of new production rises and output at older fields declines. “All the oil companies are struggling to grow production,” explained Peter Hitchens, an analyst at the Teather and Greenwood brokerage house. “[Yet] it’s becoming more and more difficult to bring projects in on time and on budget.”