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M. King Hubbert: The Limits To Oil

Inside the mind of the father of Peak Oil
Sunday, May 8, 2016, 12:52 PM

M. King Hubbert did more to raise awareness of the finite nature of global oil reserves than any other person, living or dead. He was a larger-than-life figure, who fought tirelessly to insert the limits of nature into the national dialog regarding the strategic use of resources. Yet surprisingly little has been publicly documented about the man, even though we are hurdling ever faster into a future shaped by the very limits he warned about.

In today's podcast, Chris talks with Mason Inman about his new book The Oracle Of Oil, the first in-depth biography of M. King Hubbert, to learn more about the genesis of the Peak Oil theory:

Hubbert was in a much higher position within the oil industry than I had realized. He was Head of Research at Shell Oil with the research for exploration and production of oil. At the time -- this was in the 40’s through the 60’s when he was there -- Shell’s lab was the most advanced in the industry, so he was really a leader within the industry.

Also, it turned out there wasn’t a job for trying to forecast the future of oil. Basically, nobody was really doing anything rigorous. It had been growing quickly and they just kind of assumed that this would continue. He was doing this on his own, going against the grain in the industry to try to make forecasts that were rigorous. When he came out with bad news where he was saying that it looks like the oil production in the US will peak around the late 60’s or early 70’s, this was not a message that the industry wanted to hear. He had to fight to try to get people to take it seriously even though he had this really important position within the industry(...)

He was very stubborn, which had some good sides to it and some bad sides to it. Even when people weren’t listening to him, he still kept hammering away at these issues about that growth can’t continue forever, that we’ll run into limits with oil production and that the economy is often shaped by forces that aren’t the best for common people necessarily. Even when people weren’t listening, he still kept trying to get these messages across for decades because he believed that education and rational discussion was the best way to try to change society.

I really came to appreciate his persistence in his and it was remarkable how he never seemed to get bitter that it was difficult to get these messages across. Sometimes when other people did start to get attention for similar ideas, he wasn’t bitter that they were getting a lot of attention rather than he was. For example, in the early 1970’s there’s this report, The Limits to Growth that came out that got a lot of attention and in his talks Hubbert pointed out this was essentially what he had been talking about for years and the people who were behind The Limits to Growth report, these MIT researchers, they actually said that they got a lot of inspiration from Hubbert. I have a letter that I ran across in Hubbert’s papers from Dennis Meadows, who was one of the leaders of The Limits to Growth report and he was suggesting a collaboration with Hubbert and it never came about, but it’s kind of amazing to think about What if they had? (...)

It's important for people to realize that conventional oil production did peak a decade ago in 2006. Conventional oil makes up about 90% of the oil that we consume now and it's from the kind of fields where you drill a hole in the ground and oil comes out. The unconventional oil that we hear a lot more about -- like from fracking, where you have to pump all this fluid in to create fractures in the rocks in order to get any oil out, or tar sands where you have to dig things up and cook them down in order to get oil out -- those unconventional sources get a lot of attention because they’re the marginal source that have a lot of influence on what the price of oil is. But, they actually make up a very small part of what we consume, so people have generated a lot of hype around fracking but it's a relatively small player in the overall oil market -- though it can have a big influence on prices, as we’ve seen lately. Fracking is not the only reason why the price of oil has dropped lately. It’s also because the world economy is not doing well and the growth forecasts keep getting revised downward, but it definitely played a role that oil production in the US was able to increase so rapidly. But that’s tied up with a whole bunch of stuff like cheap credit being available to these companies so that they could boost production without really having to worry about the normal things that businesses worry about.

That’s a big reason why we’re not seeing the death of peak oil I think, because we’ve hit this limit with conventional oil production. Companies have had every reason to try to boost production of conventional oil if they could, and so far it seems like they haven’t been able to. And now major forecasters like the International Energy Agency or Exxon Mobil or BP: they all say that conventional oil production isn’t going to go any higher than it is now. But those forecasters have also generally been overly optimistic about how much conventional oil production there would be. They didn’t foresee this peak coming so I’m inclined to think that their latest forecasts are probably also overly optimistic. If they’re saying it's just going to be flat from here on for the next quarter century, that’s probably too high. We’re probably looking at a decline in conventional oil production coming. 

I've definitely found a lot of reports from the military in the US and other countries that are raising concerns about peak oil or about limits to the oil that might be available to the military and the cost of that oil. They’re definitely thinking about these issues. 

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Mason Inman (38m:30s)

Transcript: 

Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson. Today we’re going to delve back into one of my favorite subjects: oil. Fracking was supposed to have been the death knell for the concept of peak oil. We saw lots of headlines saying exactly that, and of course, that was mainly slick PR masquerading as sophisticated understanding. Fracking, let’s be clear, is simply delving deeper and more expensively for what’s left…the dregs. Tasty dregs to be sure, but if we could still drill after gigantic pockets of cheap oil then that’s what we’d be doing instead. Rather than proving peak oil wrong, fracking actually exposes it as right. The idea of peak oil isn’t even really all that old by most standards but it remains controversial…as controversial as when it was introduced.

The father of peak oil was none other than M. King Hubbert, one of the 20th century’s top scientists. With us today to discuss this man’s extraordinary vision and crisp science is Mason Inman, author of the new book, The Oracle of Oil, as I understand it the first biography of M. King Hubbert if you can believe that. Welcome Mason, it’s a great pleasure to have you on the program with us today.

Mason Inman: Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Chris Martenson: Now, before we begin, why don’t you tell our listeners about your background and how you got to be interested in oil.

Mason Inman: Sure, I’ve been a science journalist for the past 12 years or so writing for a lot of science publications like Scientific American and Science and Nature and so on. For a number of years, I was covering climate change—so the science of how the weather is changing due to climate and how the ice caps are melting and things like this. In reading about this, of course energy is a huge part of what is causing climate change so I was learning about energy and I came across this idea of peak oil, which I hadn’t really heard people talking about. I started to read some more and all of a sudden a light bulb went off where I was like…this is a huge issue that is not getting enough attention. Because oil is still the world’s number one source of energy and if we start to run into limits with oil and we end up spending a lot more on oil than we had expected, that could affect the whole economy and could affect our ability and willingness to make a transition off of fossil fuels, which would require huge investments. Of course, it requires huge investments to keep going with what we’ve got but it can be difficult to make a change sometimes and if the economy is not doing well that makes it even more difficult.

Chris Martenson: Absolutely; with an economy you can do all sorts of clever, crazy things and without one things get hard to do. My listeners are pretty well versed in that idea I think but it needs to be driven home because it's really challenging to people’s belief systems to hear "Hey, the economy can’t grow forever." So interesting how that really seems to have stroked the fur the wrong way for a lot of folks. What I want to talk about is how that’s probably always been true. M. King Hubbert is somebody who, of course, I revere, but I don’t know that much about him. What prompted you to write, The Oracle of Oil? How did that come to you as an idea?

Mason Inman: In reading about this issue of peak oil this guy Hubbert kept coming up and I didn’t know who he was either. I got the impression…people said he was working at Shell Oil as a researcher and I thought maybe he was just the guy at Shell who had the job of trying to forecast the future of oil or something like that. But when I started to read more about him I realized that actually he was in a much higher position within the oil industry than I had realized. He was Head of Research at Shell Oil with their research for exploration and production of oil. And at the time…this was in the 40’s through the 60’s when he was there…Shell’s lab was the most advanced in the industry. So he was really a leader within the industry.

Also, it turned out there wasn’t a job for trying to forecast the future of oil. Basically, nobody was really doing anything rigorous. It had been growing quickly and they just kind of assumed that this would continue. He was doing this on his own and he was going against the grain in the industry to try to make forecasts that were rigorous and then when they came out with bad news where he was saying that it looks like the oil production in the US will peak around the late 60’s or early 70’s, this was not a message that the industry wanted to hear. He had to fight to try to get people to take it seriously, even though he had this really important position within the industry.

So, that was one part of it, but also I read about how he was involved during the Great Depression in starting this group called Technocracy. People talk about technocrats now…people who are supposed to use research and facts to figure out how to set policies, but that word originally came from this group Technocracy that he and a few others founded when the economy was going south. This was in the early 1930’s before Franklin Roosevelt became President. Nobody seemed to really know what was going wrong and people didn’t have particularly good ideas for how to try to turn things around and so they were trying to suggest other ways. They wanted to completely reform the economy. They wanted to have government be in control of production, they wanted to get rid of money and have everything paid for in terms of energy so you would get these energy certificates. A lot of the ideas might be naïve or just wrong but at least they were trying to think deeply about how a modern economy works and how to try to get it working again when it was clearly broken.

Chris Martenson: Now, he clearly was something of a maverick obviously in both the way he was thinking and also the things he proposed. I’m wondering, did you uncover any eccentricities about him that sort of expanded your view of him or maybe even surprised you?

Mason Inman: It’s not an eccentricity per se but he was very stubborn, which had some good sides to it and some bad sides to it. Even when people weren’t listening to him, he still kept hammering away at these issues about—that growth can’t continue forever, that we’ll run into limits with oil production and that the economy is often shaped by forces that aren’t the best for common people necessarily. Even when people weren’t listening, he still kept trying to get these messages across for decades because he believed that education and rational discussion was the best way to try to change society.

I really came to appreciate his persistence in this. It was remarkable how he never seemed to get bitter that it was difficult to get these messages across. Sometimes when other people did start to get attention for similar ideas, he wasn’t bitter that they were getting a lot of attention rather than he was. For example, in the early 1970’s there’s this report, The Limits to Growth that came out that got a lot of attention. In his talks, Hubbert pointed out this was essentially what he had been talking about for years and the people who were behind The Limits to Growth report, these MIT researchers, they actually said that they got a lot of inspiration from Hubbert. I have a letter that I ran across in Hubbert’s papers from Dennis Meadows, who was one of the leaders of The Limits to Growth report and he was suggesting a collaboration with Hubbert and it never came about, but it’s kind of amazing to think about. What if they had? [laughs]

I got to talk to Dennis Meadows about this and he said he was inspired by Hubbert’s work. But Hubbert, once The Limits to Growth report started to get a lot of traction and was being discussed in all the major newspapers and magazines and so on, Hubbert did his best to try to help people understand what that report was saying. He told a lot of people that this was one of the most important works that he had seen in a long time and could set the stage for a reevaluation of where things are going. Of course, things didn’t really turn out that way but at least he was trying to get people to take this report more seriously and to take the ideas about Limits to Growth more seriously.

Chris Martenson: That’s a very interesting collection of attributes that he seems to be having there…being stubborn, being persistent but being relatively ego-less that he was able to share the stage and say "Oh good, at least this is coming out." That’s fairly remarkable. After the fact, when I was first encountering him, he was noted as being something of a prophet, popularly celebrated that way, but I assume he must have gone through a period of being pretty widely ignored, rejected, maybe ridiculed. Didn’t he?

Mason Inman: Yeah, it was kind of a mixed bag where he was very respected for the work that he was doing in straightforward geology and in helping the industry find more oil. So for example, when he was working at Shell, the technique hydraulic fracking (or "fracking") started to be used in the late 1940’s and then started picking up speed in the early 50’s but nobody really understood how it worked and there was a big argument in the industry. Shell asked Hubbert "can you figure out how this works?" And he did, and he was the one who first explained correctly how fracking works in a paper that was published back in 1956. He was respected for these kinds of things but then when he would make these oil forecasts, people would say "I don’t know about that." [laughs] So he was able to leverage his position to get more attention than he might have otherwise, but he still really faced an upward battle to try to get people to take peak oil forecasts and ideas of limits to growth seriously.

Chris Martenson: He must have had some impact of course, because didn’t Ronald Reagan have something to say about him at one point?

Mason Inman: It was Reagan’s Energy Advisor, this oil explorer named Michel Halbouty and he said, if I remember right, “Hubbert is one of the most pessimistic men I’ve ever heard and he gave everybody the wrong impression that we’re not going to find any more oil.” Of course, Hubbert didn’t actually say we’re not going to find any more oil, but he was saying we’re not going to find as much as people are expecting and the discoveries will probably be declining. He definitely had an impact in that he challenged people and was forcing them to grapple with these ideas.

The timeline he probably had the most influence was during the Carter Administration because they were taking these ideas of limits to oil seriously. For my research, I talked to James Schlesinger, who was the Secretary of Energy under Carter and before that he had been Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense and held a number of other positions in the central government. He told me they were taking these ideas very seriously. It wasn’t totally based on what Hubbert had said but it was definitely—they were aware of his work and Schlesinger was going to give Hubbert a national medal to honor him and to highlight these issues that Hubbert was talking about. But then, Schlesinger was a very abrasive person [laughs] and he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and wound up getting fired by Carter before he was able to give Hubbert the medal.

Chris Martenson: Oh well…this close. But still, under Carter an entire Middle East doctrine of securing access to the Middle East oil through military venturism…that all arose during Carter, as much as he wore the cardigan and was a Peace Prize winning guy, he still expanded the United States military access to that region enormously.

Mason Inman: That’s the downside. It’s one thing to take onboard the idea of peak oil but then it’s another matter what you actually do about it and so Carter was supporting a lot more domestic production of oil by any means, including oil shale that you dig up out of the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming but it's the kind of stuff that you have to cook down to actually get oil out of the rock and it's very expensive. Nobody has ever figured out how to do it commercially on any scale. Carter was in favor of these kinds of things, switching to renewables and greater efficiency but I think he also realized that these would be difficult and he created this Carter Doctrine as people called it where he said any threat to the Middle East would be considered a threat to US national security and they would take military actions in order to keep the flow of oil from the Middle East going.

He didn’t create all of this from scratch because the preceding administrations had realized that the Middle East was hugely important and had been making deals with various countries for years in order to try and insure this flow of oil. The CIA helped overthrow the Iranian Prime Minister in the mid 50’s in order to prevent his plan for nationalizing the oil company there. James Schlesinger, who I already mentioned, along with Henry Kissinger, was talking about invading Abu Dhabi at one point or possibly Saudi Arabia in order to try to help keep the flow of oil going. So yeah, Carter was just one of many who was saying this, but it’s somewhat depressing that he was saying that and saying it so openly. It seems to have been the basis of our policies in the Middle East ever since.

Chris Martenson: Indeed. Let’s turn to the present here. As I eluded to in my opening remarks, some have called for the death of peak oil and even gone so far—I’ve read some people say that Mr. Hubbert should be spinning in his grave he was so wrong. Should he be?

Mason Inman: Well, no [laughs] that’s the short answer.

Chris Martenson: I like that…I love good, short answers. What’s the longer answer?

Mason Inman: For one thing, it's important for people to realize that conventional oil production did peak a decade ago in 2006. Conventional oil makes up about 90% of the oil that we consume now and it's from the kind of fields where you drill a hole in the ground and oil comes out. The unconventional oil that we hear a lot more about, like from fracking where you have to pump all this fluid in to create fractures in the rocks in order to get any oil out, or tar sands where you have to dig things up and cook them down in order to get oil out…those unconventional sources get a lot of attention because they’re the marginal sources that have a lot of influence on what the price of oil is. But, they actually make up a very small part of what we consume, so people have generated a lot of hype around fracking but it's a relatively small player in the overall oil market but it can have a big influence on prices, as we’ve seen lately. Fracking is not the only reason why the price of oil has dropped lately. It’s also because the world economy is not doing well and the growth forecasts keep getting revised downward, but it definitely played a role that oil production in the US was able to increase so rapidly. But that’s tied up with a whole bunch of stuff…cheap credit being available to these companies so that they could boost production without really having to worry about the normal things that businesses worry about.

That’s a big reason why we’re not seeing the death of peak oil I think, because we’ve hit this limit with conventional oil production. Companies have had every reason to try to boost production of conventional oil if they could and so far it seems like they haven’t been able to. Now major forecasters like the International Energy Agency or Exxon Mobil or BP…they all say that conventional oil production isn’t going to go any higher than it is now. But, those forecasters have also generally been overly optimistic about how much conventional oil production there would be. They didn’t foresee this peak coming so I’m inclined to think that their latest forecasts are probably also overly optimistic and if they’re saying it's just going to be flat from here on for the next quarter century, that’s probably too high. We’re probably looking at a decline in conventional oil production coming.

Chris Martenson: I would certainly think that might be true especially…I’m looking at a chart here and I see that exploration and production capital expenditures by global oil concerns are down roughly 50% since 2014, now below a level that we last saw in 2010, is as far back as this chart goes. Just $379 billion being spent this year on that upstream activity as compared to $745 in 2013…so half. And of course, during 2010-11-12-13-14, we saw these vast increases in capital expenditures to get more and more oil out of the ground and we basically saw about the same amount coming out of the ground, give or take…certainly no percentage increase in oil output compared to the increase in expenditures to get that oil out of the ground. When I add all that up, I think that…and I was talking to a former Executive Director of the IEA about this just a few days ago and there was agreement that in a couple of years this becomes a very big issue for people and I think peak oil goes right back to the fore again when prices go up. So yeah, people tend to make decisions based on prices. We see people buying F150s and 350s based on the price of oil this week and things like that. This price decline has really, really crimped people’s attention around the price of oil for everybody except the people in the oil business for who this has been an absolute once in a generation sort of price disaster from their perspective.

Mason Inman: Yeah, it definitely does make it difficult to talk about issues of peak oil right now because people seem to think that the problem has been solved because we have this glut at the moment but of course the issue of peak oil is a much longer term thing than what’s happening this year, or last year, or the next few years. It is difficult to talk about but that’s interesting to hear that a former Director of the International Energy Agency is showing some concern about it. The people who work there have also shown some concern in the reports that they put out but the messages are often kind of veiled and somewhat mixed. When an agency like that, that was set up in order to be a watchdog and to warn the major consuming countries about coming shortages, and then when they aren’t very clear about where things are going and have not foreseen things like the run up in oil prices and the run up in investment that was required to meet demand, it's somewhat disappointing because it seems like they’re not really performing the watchdog function that they were set up to do.

Chris Martenson: It’s a tough political environment that I’m sure they operate in and I’m sure you have to be pretty careful where the funding comes from so they can keep operating etc. That must be tricky because the things that really count in life are really difficult to get good traction around. I’ve often joked that it's easier to find plans for sensitive military stuff on the internet than how much gold actually exists in certain vaults. It’s easier for us to determine the state of many sensitive things but what really the true state of reserves are in Saudi Arabia…hard to come by. Anyway, it’s a pretty sensitive area, I get that.

Let’s go back to shale for a second. Mason, I keep reading these really impossible reports in the media that such and so a company has found a way to make money in the shale patch at $30 a barrel. I think that’s nuts. The models are real easy to build in Excel…I do it actually, I’m that kind of geek. It doesn’t even have that many moving parts. You’ve got the cost of the well, you’ve got a little bit of overhead, cost of capital, price of oil and…and, most importantly the amount of oil you expect to get from each well. That last part is being enormously overstated in practically every case I’ve studied. I don’t think these guys are making money at $30, I don’t think they’re making money at $40. I think that just to break even we’re talking $60, $70 depending on the play. But if society wants to break even where their bridges get replaced and abandoned wells get plugged, I think we need a much higher price than that. What are your views on shale?

Mason Inman: I agree generally with your picture that it does require higher prices and they’re not making money at $40 a barrel. It’s difficult to state a single number because there’s actually a big range of how the wells perform in any given play, like the Bakken or the Eagle Ford and so on. I’ve done some number crunching with this which I haven’t actually published yet but you can look at the quality of the wells, how productive they are in different locations around, and there are a few very, very small parts of each play that might produce enough to break even at $40. But, it’s so small…it's a couple of percent of the total size of the play and those areas have already been drilled a lot because they realize that those are good spots. So yeah, there’s not any scope for a big increase in production by just drilling those areas that might break even at those very low prices. If prices go up a bit it might allow you to drill a bit more profitably at $50 or $60 a barrel, but still…the number of locations you can drill at that kind of price and still turn a profit is pretty limited. If there’s going to be any kind of big revival of shale oil production I agree that prices are going to have to go back up much higher, at least to $80 a barrel.

Chris Martenson: Yeah, and that will probably be coming on the heels of some sort of a…usually price shocks and supply shocks have some sort of role with each other. You know what’s interesting, I’d love to get your view on this particularly the research you did…I’ve found that the political side in the United States is not terribly interested in the whole idea of limits, peak oil, all that kind of stuff, but the military has been fascinated with it. My view on this is that the US military…and I’ve read reports, I haven’t talked directly but I’ve read the reports out of the German military and others who also do risk modeling. The military often doesn’t care about politics or what you think; they care about what works, what doesn’t work and what the true risks are. I’ve found that the US military is pretty eyes wide open to the whole concept of peak oil, resource limits, everything from climate change to water…you name it…they’re all over it because these are actual real things and they have to deal with what is, not what they would wish to be. It’s kind of a less belief-oriented organization I guess than the political side. Did you run across that as well? How did you find that if you saw it?

Mason Inman: I definitely found a lot of reports from the military in the US and other countries that are raising concerns about peak oil or about limits to the oil that might be available to the military and the cost of that oil. They’re definitely thinking about these issues. It seems like in the last few years there has not been as much interest in this from the military but it's good that they have been following these things. I always sort of take it with a grain of salt though because it seems like a big part of their job is to try to just see whatever kind of threats there are…and there’s a lot of threats of various kinds…and I don’t really have a good read on how seriously they take it relative to other threats. Certainly, there are some people who take it very seriously. If you look through the theses that come out of the US military training programs, then there are people who have written their thesis on peak oil and those people I’m presuming are deeply concerned about it. As far as other people higher up in the military, I’m not really sure.

Chris Martenson: For the hopeful side, I’m reading a headline here that says "Tesla Motors' Elon Musk Just Killed the Petrol Car." This is the headline that Elon Musk somehow killed the petrol car. This is on the exciting news that some 275,000 people plunked down a $1,000 deposit on an electric car being made by a company that currently loses money on every car it sells. Now, without commenting on the long-term viability of that business model or the likelihood of that deposit being actually put to good use, may I politely note here that some 88 million petrol vehicles are due to be sold globally in 2016? Even if Elon Musk could produce all 275,000 of these pre-ordered cars this year, which is doubtful, that would be 0.3% of total global vehicle sales. It seems to me it's a big premature to be calling for the death of the petrol car. What do you think?

Mason Inman: Yeah, I agree it's a long way from [laughs] replacing the petrol car. It does give me hope though that there’s so many people who are interested in this. It’s always been Tesla’s strategy to get started by producing the more expensive car and figure out how to do things and scale up and then gradually produce cheaper and cheaper cars. Now that they’re producing this car that’s more of a mass market kind of price then it seems to be generating a lot of interest. And that’s coming at a time when the price of oil is low, so it does give me hope. But as you say, it is a long way from replacing conventional cars in the US, let alone in emerging markets like India, China, Brazil and so on where it might be harder to get people to switch over to these because they might not have the same kind of disposable income to be able to spend an extra $10,000 or whatever to get the electric car as opposed to a regular car.

Chris Martenson: I totally agree. I think Elon’s brilliant and I think he’s visionary and actually I really loved the Tesla I drove around in one day. It’s a fantastic piece of equipment. I consider him a little bit like the artist who is out there pushing social change with their visionary artistry. The most hopeful thing I read, which was just an idea floated, came out just this last week from the Head of the National Grid in China saying that the world needs to get serious about this and invest 50 trillion in creating a world-wide network where wind energy could be produced say in the arctic and somehow piped down to where it's actually needed, and solar output could be taken from desert or more high insulation areas and again, piped to where it's needed. I thought that was kind of a realistic number…50 trillion. Whether it's off by a factor of two or not I don’t know but at least that to me was in the right order of magnitude where if we did that as a society or species I think then I could start writing this more hyperbolic headline saying this is the scale needed to really change the dynamic. That to me was realistic somehow even though it may be impossible to achieve.

Mason Inman: That’s the—energy generation is the other side of this whole electric car story where if you want to have electric cars that actually do something about climate change then you need to have them powered by some form of cleaner energy and not just powered by coal-burning power plants. You have to get busy with installing a lot of renewable energy and expanding the grid like that would definitely help.

There was an interesting study—it was just about the US, not about the whole world, but it was in this general nature of climate change, maybe two months ago, looking at if you’re able to build out a high voltage electric grid across the US in order to connect the places that have really good resources for solar like Arizona and places with really good wind resources like Iowa or somewhere with the places where most of the people live. The study found that it would actually make renewable energy a lot more affordable if you were able to do that and would enable cutting emissions a lot and expanding renewable energy a lot without having to use a lot of batteries, which are currently expensive, in order to store energy when the sun isn’t shining or when the wind isn’t blowing. If electric cars really catch on with the batteries in them, that could become an important part of the grid as well in order to store energy from renewable sources and feed it back into the grid when it’s needed. We’re a very long way from that having any kind of real impact but I know there are smart people who are thinking about this and trying to figure out how it would work, so that’s great to hear that the Chinese grid operators are also trying to raise attention about it. It’s not a new idea. Buckminster Fuller back in the '60s I think was talking about building some kind of worldwide grid to send electricity around, so the basic concept has been around for a long time but any actual action on it has been nonexistent as far as I know.

Chris Martenson: Well indeed, and that would be…I think you’re revealing what I consider to be the great mistake, which is for humans to not be visionary, for us to basically say "We’ve get time. That’s a good idea but maybe in 10 years or another 15 we’ll get to building that sort of super grid and alternative energy infrastructure when it's more clear that we actually have to do that." My view is that when peak oil finally arrives—and it will because we have all these little stop gap last ditch efforts that we’re doing to sort of forestall it—but when it does arrive we are faced with such an enormous economic, and social, and probably political crisis just trying to manage the chaos that results from that as our financial market models sort of break down in all of that. I think we find it kind of difficult to hold hands and do mega projects and to really do all of that. So that’s why I do what I do and that’s why I want to thank you for doing what you do, which is to get out there and try and be persistent like Hubbert and just be stubborn getting the message out [laughs] because we have to. I don’t want to be Hubbert in another 30 years looking back going "I told you so. Really you guys I’m glad you’re talking about it now but we kind of knew this back then." We really need this change now.

Mason Inman: I’m hoping that with Hubbert’s story where people can see how a lot of these ideas and warnings were around decades ago then it can help break people out of the idea that "Oh, we can wait and deal with it later" because they can see how people don’t necessarily act on these warnings. There were good reasons to act a long time ago and people didn’t and now time is running out and so I’m hoping it will help change some people’s minds and make them feel more urgency about these issues right now.

Chris Martenson: Well, fantastic, and all the best with that. Where can people find your book and also follow your work?

Mason Inman: The book is available through all major bookstores. You can buy it online at Amazon or if you like independent bookstores, Pal’s Books in Portland where I used to work, or other online sellers. If they want to see what I’m writing, I have a website for the book. It’s just the same as the title, oracleofoil.com…no "the" in front. Or they can also Google me to try and find some of the articles that I’ve written in the past and are in various news websites, because I’ve written a number of things about oil issues, I’ve written about fracking and about climate science and so on. They can sign up for a mailing list on my website if they want to get more information about the book.

Chris Martenson: Thank you so much for that. We’ve been talking to Mason Inman, author of the newly released biography of M. King Hubbert, The Oracle of Oil. Mason, thank you so much for your time today.

Mason Inman: And thank you. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

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8 Comments

Waterdog14's picture
Waterdog14
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 18 2014
Posts: 112
M.King Hubbert story in a cartoon/comic

Stuart McMillen created an excellent comic that describes the career and message of M. King Hubbert:

http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/peak-oil/

It's not a comic story.  M King Hubbert was a brave, ethical, and prescient geologist.  He is one of my heroes.

Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: May 29 2009
Posts: 136
Not to try and upstage Adam's interview...

... but there was an excellent interview of Mr. Inman concerning his book on Marion King Hubbert on The Energy Transition Show with Chris Nelder.  Well worth a listen.

FWIW, I'll be certain to listen to this interview as soon as it pops up on my iPhone podcast feed.

http://energytransitionshow.com/episode-13-the-oracle-of-oil/

SailAway's picture
SailAway
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 11 2010
Posts: 400
podcast feed

Christopher H wrote:

FWIW, I'll be certain to listen to this interview as soon as it pops up on my iPhone podcast feed.

...which unfortunately takes a few days usually... :-(

debu's picture
debu
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 17 2009
Posts: 208
Little Birdies

Liked the chirping birds in the background which served to somehow ground the discussion of but one aspect of our worldly woes...

pyranablade's picture
pyranablade
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 8 2010
Posts: 182
Great "Comic"

I suppose we could call it a graphic biography.

The generally inoffensive nature of comics makes that link something I can actually share with people who disagree with me.

Thanks Waterdog!

btw I may be checking out Inman's book soon.

Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: May 29 2009
Posts: 136
Very good interview

I finally had the chance to listen to this on my way home from work yesterday, and it was an excellent interview.  Even after having heard the "spoilers" from Chris Nelder's interview of Mason Inman.

One of the things that really hits about how brilliant Hubbert was is how almost every criticism that is leveled against him -- "He didn't account for new technology to get additional oil out..."  "He said we would run out of oil by now...."  "He didn't foresee fracking saving the day...." -- all of those are completely false.  He foresaw ALL of these things long before they were even on anyone else's radar.

Cornucopians will continue to insist that fracking will save the day, low prices will spur demand, and higher prices will spur innovation/substitution.  Extreme doomers will continue to insist that prices will spike to $200/bbl or higher, that production is about to fall off a cliff never to recover, and the quick crash of industrial civilization is at hand.  Meanwhile, the mathematical and physical realities will continue to chug along, grinding things down with fits and starts but in a general downward trendline.  Math and physics always win out in the end, and Hubbert understood (and personified) this perhaps better than anyone. 

We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for the work he kept at for decades, even in the face of unremitting criticism.

pyranablade's picture
pyranablade
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 8 2010
Posts: 182
Hubbert and Beyond

Good comment Christopher H. Yes Hubbert was way ahead of his time and the cornucopians' miss the mark in criticizing him. 

We Americans though might have a steeper downside coming, however, because the oil exporting nations are starting to become more and more dependent on their own product. They're selling it cheap to their own citizens. Dubai - an oil-exporting desert country - has an indoor ski slope... Not only will it continue to cost more and more to "produce" the oil, but the nations that we're getting it from will have a smaller percentage of it to share.

Meanwhile, we've constructed a landscape that is more sprawled out than ever.
Overall the USA refused to listen to Hubbert and continued/continues to be dismissive of people like Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, and all the contributors to The Oil Drum. I think we will have hell to pay for that denial.

pyranablade's picture
pyranablade
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 8 2010
Posts: 182
rafadel's easy solutions

OK rafadel, so there is no need to be concerned about Peak Oil? As long as all of us purchase those shiny, sporty-looking cars that get good gas mileage everything will be OK?

Or maybe you meant something else by your comment?

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