Environmental Engineering Reference
crease oil production to meet the growing world demand in highly popu-
U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 and the peak of world oil pro-
duction has been predicted to occur from 2005 to 2036. For 100 years
Americans have enjoyed relatively inexpensive gas, diesel fuel and petro-
leum products. As recently as the 1990s, gas prices were below one dollar
per a gallon. Now, prices seem to be rising most of the time along with the
cost of a barrel of oil.
When prices do drop, they never seem to return to the previous low
price. As prices rise and fall, the trend is still upwards. There are even ru-
mors that oil production in Saudi Arabia has already peaked and output
may soon decline as worldwide demand increases.
Many believe in a simple solution: increase exploration and drill-
ing in other areas. There may be as much as 270 billion barrels of oil in
the Caspian Sea region, a part of the former Soviet Union. To use this oil
we would have to deal with countries in an unstable area. The U.S. would
also compete against other nations of the world, all of which are thirsty
for oil which is also essential for the production of food and the manufac-
ture of many products. Beyond these problems is a rapidly growing world
population and an area with contested borders and conflicting political
and religious ideologies.
In 1956 a well-known geophysicist, M. King Hubbert predicted that
U.S. oil production would peak in 1970 as it did. In 1969 Hubbert predict-
ed that world oil production would peak in 2000. Some suggest that the
peak is occurring now. Official USGS studies place the peak in 2036.
No new U.S. oil refineries have been built since 1970 for a variety of
reasons, and giant oil tankers are being retired without replacement. The
oil companies have not been investing in refineries because of environ-
mental regulations, and they have been able to increase refinery capaci-
ties, but that is nearing its end.
The environmental restrictions of the EPA have limited the construc-
tion of new refineries. These restrictions are now being relaxed and the
construction of new refineries may begin.
The present refining and delivery system for gasoline is stretched thin.
Sudden events, such as Hurricane Katrina, can result in shortages causing
price jumps around the country. Hubbert's prediction is frequently chal-
lenged. The world seems so vast that there must be more oil, but oil is a
finite resource that will run out some time. If we prepare for other forms
of energy, that transition will be smoother. If we are unprepared there may