KING HUBBERT - UPDATED
The question is not WHETHER, but WHEN, world crude oil production will
start to decline, ushering in the permanent oil shock era. While global
information for predicting this "event" is not so straightforward as the
data Dr. M. King Hubbert used in creating his famous "Hubbert Curve" that
predicted the US (Lower 48 states-US/48) 1970 oil production peak, there
are strong indications that most of the world’s large exploration targets
have now been found, at the same time that the earth’s population is exploding
along with the oil needs of the developing nations.
This papers reviews Hubbert’s original analyses on oil discovery and
production curves for the US/48 and projects his proven methodology onto
1992 global oil discoveries and production. The world’s oil discovery curve
peaked in 1962, and thence declined as a Hubbert Curve predicts. However,
global production was restricted after the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Otherwise,
world production would have peaked in the mid-1990s. Two graphs show alternate
versions of future global oil production.
Idealized Hubbert Curves
Figure 1: (i.e. "Hubbert 1980 Fig. 4: Mathematical relations involved
in the complete cycle of production of any exhaustible resource (modified
from Hubbert 1956): "Production Rate" (annual barrels/year) vs "Time" (years)
produce an idealized "Hubbert Curve" of "Ultimate Cumulative Production."
The Hubbert Curve starts at "zero" (0=production rate & time) and
increases for the first years. This smooth "idealized" curve is the mathematical
"smoothed average" of the annual production which can oscillate wildly.
Figure 2: (ie: "Hubbert 1980, Fig. 29: Annual proved discoveries
of US/48 crude oil superimposed upon derivative of logistic equation of
Figure 3: (Adapted from Hubbert 1980, Fig. 13, after Hubbert
1962, Fig. 24): Rates of Proved Discoveries and Production during a
complete production cycle.
Hubbert Curves vs Current Oil Production
Figure 4: US/48 Oil Discoveries & Production.
This graph shows Hubbert’s US/48 DISCOVERY curve (after Figs. 2 &
3), plus Hubbert’s projected US/48 1972 PRODUCTION curve for ultimate production
of 170 billion barrels of oil (Bbo). US/48 oil production peaked in 1970.
This resulted in a permanent oil shortage for US/48 crude oil supplies.
This was offset by a major increase in imports of crude oil & products
and by the completion of the TAPS pipeline in 1977 which brought the supergiant
Prudhoe Bay oilfield (discovered in 1968 in arctic Alaska) on production.
In 1970, the US/48 supplied 61% of the total USA liquid petroleum consumption,
vs only 28% in 1994.3
The Production line shows crude oil actually produced in the US/48.
This line follows within 10%, the general trend of Hubbert’s 1972 decline
curve, (thin dashed line). Due to his lack of Production control points
for the decline side of his curve, Hubbert simply drew it in as a mirror
image of the earlier half of the rising US/48 production curve.
All of the US/48 production is defined here as "unrestricted" because
the nation produced virtually all oil that it was capable of. US/48 production
was at or near peak capacity since 1972. The heavy dots after 1995 to 2040
project the author’s opinion on future US/48 crude oil production, which
exceed Hubbert’s original 1956 predictions due to improved recovery techniques
in recent years.
Figure 5: World Annual Crude Discovery Rate Averaged Over
5-year Periods 1912-1992; Hubbert Curve is Weighted Average of Global Oil
This graph summarized the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) records through
1992. Ivanhoe added the "Hubbert Curve/Discoveries" to the USGS data.3,4
Figures 6 & 7: World Oil Discoveries & Production
These graphs show (on the left) the "Hubbert Curve" for global oil discoveries
from Fig 5, as modified by Ivanhoe from C.D. Masters’ USGS 1994 paper.4
The heavy line on the right shows global crude oil PRODUCTION to date.
This global production was "unrestricted" until the 1973 Arab oil embargo
which caused the "first global oil shock". Since then, global production
flattened out, due to worldwide more efficient energy use (insulation,
etc.), to a plateau of 20-25 Bbo/year after the "second oil shock" in 1979
(Iran-Iraq War). Global consumption = production has been increasing steadily
The DISCOVERY CURVE is well established by long-term USGS records (Fig.
5). The "unrestricted" (pre-1973) portion of the PRODUCTION CURVE (to the
right of the discovery curve) tended to parallel the DISCOVERY CURVE as
shown in Fig. 3, suggesting that global production would have peaked in
the mid-1990s (@ 32 years time lag) if the 1973-1979 oil shocks had not
altered the global consumption pattern, leaving area/volume (A) to be produced
later. The light dashed line is an "unrestricted production Hubbert curve",
and is drawn at the same shape (offset for 32 years time lag) to 2050,
as the established discovery curve. Note that the ultimate area under the
PRODUCTION curve cannot exceed that under the DISCOVERY curve. It is the
date and shape of the post-1994 global production curve that we are trying
Figure 6: World Oil Discoveries & Production - (Example
#1 = R/P)
Figure 6 shows global oil production increasing to more than 25 Bbo/year
by 1999. Thereafter a PRODUCTION curve (B), based on the arithmetic Reserve/Production
(R/P) ratio would result in a final drop-off 45 years away (year 2040),
which is commonly referred to by economists and the general public as "the
end of known oil". But such an R/P limit is impossible, because it would
require all of the known fields - big or small - to "die" in the year 2040,
with all of the world’s wells drying up at one time! But oil fields - like
human beings - do not die all at once, but gradually as each field (or
life) is exhausted. The popularity of this number (R/P=45) is based on
the hope that the next oil crisis can be ignored for 45 more years. Unfortunately,
the bad news of gradual oil fields’ decline/deaths is an unpleasant fact
that will not go away just because it is ignored!
Figure 7: World Oil Discoveries & Production - (Example
#2 = Hubbert Decline)
This graph shows the same basic data as Figure 6, except that the PRODUCTION
curve has been changed after year 1995 to curves (B) and (C). The straight
R/P = 45 years (to 2040) of Fig. 6 has been replaced by a more realistic
"oil field decline curve" (B) = crosses (+++++) after year 2010. This is
similar to the decline of the US/48 oil fields as shown in Fig. 4, and
is at the same decline rate for the world shown in Fig. 5.3
The critical "Hubbert Peak" year will be close to 2010 (curve B) due
to normal oil fields’ decline, or a little later depending on post-1992
discoveries. World production will continue for years thereafter at a dwindling
rate after the 2010 peak, as indicated by the line of crosses (++++). The
post-2006 production of area (B)(=hachured) will eventually equal the delayed
production of area (A)(=dotted) for the period 1973-2006. The critical
year on decline curve (B) is shown at the year 2010, which is where the
world’s oil demand will exceed global production (Hubbert Peak) which will
initiate the "permanent global oil shortage". Production thereafter will
dwindle to about 5 Bbo at year 2050. Thereafter little oil trickles in.
A possible earlier "Hubbert Peak" after the year 2000 (curve C)(=indicated by large dots) may result from unpredictable political problems in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region.
Figure 8: World Oil Supply
This figure summarizes the data of Figure 7. It shows that production
of the USGS global oil discoveries of 1912-1992 (Fig. 5) will peak about
year 2010, when the world’s demand will exceed global production. Thereafter
the gross production will decline steadily as individual oil fields decline
It is concluded that the critical date per USGS data when global oil
demand will exceed the world’s production will fall somewhere between 2000-2010,
and may occur very suddenly due to unpredictable political events.
This is within the lifetimes of most people now alive. This foreseeable
energy crisis will affect everyone on earth.
Governments will have first call on oil supplies during global shortages.
1Clark, R.D., 1983; King Hubbert - Science’s Don Quixote;
Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Geophysics-The Leading Edge of Exploration,
Feb. 1983, p. 16-24. (Excellent biography)
2Hubbert, M. King, 1980; Techniques of prediction as applied
to the production of oil & gas; in Oil & Gas Supply Modeling, Ed.
S.I. Gass; Proceedings of a symposium held at the U.S. Department of Commerce,
National Bureau of Standards, Washington, D.C., June 18-20, 1980; Report
N.B.S. Special Publication #631, May, 1982, p. 16-141. (Extensive summaries
of all of MKH’s earlier papers.)
3Ivanhoe, L.F., 1995; Future world oil supplies - There is
a finite limit; World Oil, October 1995, p. 77-88.
4Masters, C.D., Attanasi, E.D., and Root, D., 1994; World
petroleum assessment & analysis; Proc. of 14th World Petroleum Congress,
Stavanger, Norway, 1994, John Wiley & Sons.
5Ivanhoe, L.F., 1996; Updated Hubbert curves analyze world
oil supply; World Oil, November, 1996, p. 91-94.
L.F. (Buz) Ivanhoe-Coordinator
CSM-M. King Hubbert Center
1217 Gregory St., Ojai, CA 93023
805-646-8620 Fax 805-646-5506
This article was originally published in World Oil, November 1996.