Current Events

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November 13th, 2009

Halloween Delivery

On Halloween, I delivered the manuscript for my third oil book. At the moment the title is When Oil Peaked. The title is deliberately in the past tense. In my first oil book, Hubbert's Peak, I predicted on page 158 that world oil production would peak in the year 2005. Earlier in these Current Events postings, I refined the prediction to focus on November or December of 2005. Hurricane Katrina put the kibosh on November-December, but 2005 seems to have emerged the winner. The US Energy Information Agency now reports the 2005 production to have been a tiny bit larger than the price-boosted year of 2008. It was a close game, sports fans, but 2005 won. When they give out the Super Bowl rings, they don't look at the point spread.

I think it unlikely that oil production will ever climb back to the 2005 levels.

Production in the first seven months of 2009 is down by about two million barrels per day, with OPEC responsible for most of the reduction. I think it unlikely that oil production will ever climb back to the 2005 levels. A large number of projects have been canceled or postponed. If they ever get reinstated, the older oilfields will have declined more than the postponed projects could produce.

The International Energy Agency is still emitting cornucopian forecasts. They are slightly less optimistic than before, but still enormously larger than my predictions. Am I upset? Not in the least. I suspect that this month's IEA forecast is actually a giant publicity stunt engineered by my publisher. If everyone suddenly accepted Hubbert, we couldn't sell books.

My third oil book originated from a query from my editor. Why not write a reply Hubbert's numerous critics?

My third oil book originated from a query from my editor. Why not write a reply Hubbert's numerous critics? My first reaction was that I couldn't be negative for 30,000 words. However, as I started outlining the book, a miracle happened. Some of the responses to critics turned into opportunities to update or to refine the original story. There were new opportunities, such as natural gas from low-permeability shale. And in half a dozen places, I could introduce new ideas.

This round, I had another new luxury. Early in 2009, my son Stephen and I published a book Nanoscale: Visualizing an Invisible World. ( While I wasn't watching closely, Steve emerged as a major talent in computer-generated graphics. While writing When Oil Peaked, I could send graphs off to Stephen and nice clean graphics emerged.

I have been mostly off the lecture circuit for the last two years. As a trial run, I gave a lecture last week at San Diego State University. Because I am 77 years old, I was pleased that I could still give a 50-minute standup lecture, followed by a long (sitting down) Q. & A. period. My health is doing OK; I'm the poster boy for treatable conditions.

This week, I did a video Q. & A. session with students at the University of North Carolina. Good students, good questions. There were two side benefits:

  1. The video teleconference had a Hubbertian correctness. I didn't burn up fuel on the airlines. I drove about five miles to a video conference room at the University of California San Diego.
  2. Before I drive to a new address, I look on and write down the name of the cross street before my critical turn. The cross street on the UCSD campus before the parking lot was Pangea. "Pangea" was the supercontinent just before the Atlantic started to open.

Another piece of good news came from my patent attorney. The US Patent Office approved all 15 claims on my patent application for a magnetic-field detector, and a patent will issue soon. That project began because my grandson Michael has an implanted magnetically-resettable ventriculoperitoneal shunt. My daughter was told to keep him away from magnetic fields stronger than 90 gauss. Gauss? She knew that my Freshman Seminar students built magnetometers, but we were dealing with nanoteslas. After much fooling around, I devised a small inexpensive detector. It then turned out that patients with implanted pacemakers and defibrillators were told to stay out of fields stronger than 50 gauss. Pacemakers and defibrillators greatly outnumber cerebrospinal shunts; Dick Cheney has lots of company. (And if you are curious, Michael is making remarkable progress, overcoming what could have been a major disability. He's now in a regular class in the second grade.)

Unfortunately, I've gotten hooked on designing the next version of a supersensitive magnetometer, moving down into the picotesla range. This is definitely in the "hobby" category. The entire world market for field-portable ultra-sensitive magnetometers is probably fewer than 100 units.

For Thanksgiving week, I'm going with my daughter, son-in-law, and the two grandchildren to Manele Bay, on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. It's for a break, but then again, Lanai should be in magnetically reversed rocks. Also, several years ago, evidence was presented showing that the Manele Bay side of Lanai was hit by a 1000-foot-high tsunami wave. Later publications challenged the tsunami interpretation, but I think the issue is still unresolved. Mainly, I'm not going to worry about oil. I'll burn jet fuel to get there, run the air conditioner if I want, and luxuriate in the hot tub. After Thanksgiving week, I'll go back to trying to conserve fossil fuels.

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