At the base of Hubbert’s Peak: Grounding the debate on petroleum scarcity

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Publication date: 2010-03-03
First published in: Geoforum
Authors: E. Hemmingsen


M. King Hubbert’s 1956 prediction of a ‘peak’ in US oil production has spurred a durable and divisive debate on the exhaustion of the petroleum resource. Pitting physical against economic explanations of resource scarcity, the peak oil debate has seemingly sunk into the well-worn grooves of a long history of scarcity debates. As this paper argues, this ‘stale dichotomy’ can partly be attributed to a severance from the contexts and ideas that informed Hubbert’s mathematical calculations.

Specifically, this paper examines the broader influences on the peak oil model: Hubbert’s career in the newly formed field of geophysics; his personal concern with the relationship between energy and population growth; and his ties to Technocracy, Inc., a social movement originating in the US that aimed to replace political and business control with a group of specialist engineers and technicians. The paper further emphasizes the importance of institutional and political interests to the arguments launched against Hubbert, and in motivating change in this opposition over time. Last, it makes the case that the contemporary de-contextualization of Hubbert’s model has contributed towards a narrow focus of discussions within the oil industry and in certain governments on predicting the timing of a global peak, without addressing the wider questions implied by Hubbert’s model.

Published in: Geoforum, article in press
Available from: ScienceDirect

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