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Hubbert's Peak

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Hubbert's Peak

The Impending World Oil Shortage

Princeton UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

If the turmoil is, at least in part, about oil, what is oil about? It is about to run out.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


When a wise old codger of rural roots warns you in humble fashion, "Pardon me, sir, but I dare say you’re headed down the wrong road!" something tingling there on the back of your neck warns that you’d better listen. Even more so when the old-timer has risen beyond his oil-patch roots to become a Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. Kenneth S. Deffeyes doesn’t have to impress anybody, and perhaps that’s one reason he has written a book on oil that will never give you that scratchy sensation of wool being drawn over your eyes. Deffeyes returns to his Oklahoma City roots to point out, as any fellow atop a tractor or toting a pipe wrench might, that things just can’t keep going up and up forever. The difference: Deffeyes has a lifetime of industry and academic experience behind him. So, how real is the coming energy shortage? Well, put it this way: highly recommends this book only to those individuals and companies who rely on electricity or the internal combustion engine. Stone age denizens need not sign up.


Peak Performance

Rather than a geological formation to be scaled by extreme sporting enthusiasts - as the name might imply - Hubbert’s Peak is a description of the likely course of the supply of oil in the decades to come. As such, it is obviously important to an economy suffering under the twin ills of sluggish performance and turmoil in the Middle East.

M. King Hubbert was an American geophysicist and geologist who predicted in 1956 that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s. Hubbert made important contributions to the science of fluid dynamics and the behavior of rock bodies. He became a research scientist at the Shell Oil lab in Houston, where he made his estimates of oil production, and later worked at the U.S. Geological Survey.

In 1956, Hubbert’s analysis was almost universally rejected, if not condemned, perhaps in part because he reputedly had a contrarian, combative personality. Five minutes before he made his prediction in a speech at the American Petroleum Institute, his headquarters pleaded with him on the phone to withdraw the prediction. Hubbert went ahead and delivered his pronouncement. Lo and behold, in 1970, U.S. domestic oil production...

About the Author

Kenneth S. Deffeyes was born in the Oklahoma City oil fields. His father was a petroleum engineer. He’s been a pipeyard worker, roustabout, lab assistant and seismic crew member. He graduated from the Colorado School of Mines, explored for Shell Oil and studied geology at Princeton. He rejoined Shell, but colleague M. King Hubbert’s prediction about oil caused him to leave and join Princeton’s faculty in 1967. He consults for the oil industry and was the guide/mentor for author John McPhee’s seminal series, Annals of the Former World.

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