Peak Oil

December 6, 2007

I saw “A Crude Awakening/The Oil Crash” last night. Its about Peak Oil; what happens when the oil runs out. I made a few notes and carried out some subsequent research. It got me thinking. Great education.

So, I thought about the Verhulst equation of population growth. And I thought about the “bell curves” or normal/Gaussian distributions. According to the film oil production (by Nature) follows a normal distribution. Subsequent human oil extraction also follows a similar normal distribution but displaced in time, i.e. happens later. Further, a key limiting factor in population growth according to Verhulst is the “carrying capacity”, i.e. how many resources which are needed to sustain the population remain available.

We used the Verhulst equation in Science for Sustainability to model populations of villages around a Kenyan lake. In that case resources used to calculate the carrying capacity included:

  • the amount of water in the lake (depleted by the sun and increased by rain)
  • fish which the lake could support as a result of its oscillating volume
  • similarly the bush surrounding it which itself contained fish eagles (predators of the fish), etc.

You can see it was a Complex System.

So, now I find myself wondering – in a ‘Western’ context – if the water becomes oil, the fish cars/trucks and the trees the machines we rely on to plough the land, etc. then how does that normal distribution interact with the Verhulst sigmoid function?

I personally don’t have a lot of time to start modelling this but its an interesting problem? According to the IPCC we have until around 2015 ‘to allow emmissions to peak’. I guess Peak Oil is in the models too but I can’t be sure.

Anyhow, Dr. Albert Bartlett (see the video above), Professor Emeritus of Physics at University of Colorado at Boulder, was talking about Peak Oil way back in the 50s. Please do draw your own conclusions.