"Hubbert's Peak" is at the top of the bell-shaped curve of world oil production, just at the spot where production starts to decline. Geologist Kenneth Deffeyes sets a likely date: Thanksgiving Day, 2005. I have read other sources and they agree that half the oil in the ground will be out of the ground by a similar date or not later than about 2010. True, there are others who give it another decade or so, but they are in the minority. At any rate, Deffeyes has his old mentor's curve to support his view. M. King Hubbert was the guy who predicted with startling accuracy when US oil production would peak (early 1970s). Deffeyes uses the same methodology to predict the peak for world oil production.
The bugaboo here of course is that world oil demand will not decrease, but with the rapid industrialization of places like China and India, it will increase, perhaps dramatically. The result? Higher oil prices, of course. In fact, Deffeyes's book, written last year, effectively predicted the current spike in oil prices! Clearly he is a man to listen to. But the salient point is in his title: "Beyond Oil."
Metaphorically, he sees us gazing down from Hubbert's peak (which is exactly where we are) looking back and looking forward and asking, just what will the world be like "beyond oil"? Ah, yes, like the baby suckling the bottle, we will soon or late, abruptly or with planned gradualness (but always with some kind of real discomfort), have to give up our dependence on cheap oil and switch to something else.
What Deffeyes does so very well in this intriguing and thoroughly enjoyable book is first give us the background on oil, where it came from, and explain in detail why it's clear that production is about to decline. It is interesting to note that the Hubbert/Deffeyes method allows us to chart how much oil is left simply by gauging past and current production. I was surprised at this, because who is to say how much is left in the ground; but Deffeyes's point is that oil exploration and production has been so extensive world-wide that just by reading the production we can realize what is left. In other words, if the oil were there, it would have been discovered and drilled for. This is not to say that there are not some (small) fields left undiscovered. There are a few, no doubt, but like puddles added to a great lake, they won't affect the overall picture.
Then he explores the extent to which we can switch to natural gas and/or coal to create electricity and to run our transportation systems. The US has some of the largest coal reserves in the world along with China and Russia. But the problem with coal is pollution and toxins and the cost of filtering them out at the smokestack. China right now uses coal for almost everything, including cooking family meals, and the clouds, reminiscent of those that choked London during the Industrial Revolution, are gathering thickly over Chinese cities. But Deffeyes notes, "...we likely will be forced to choose either increased pollution from coal or doing without a significant portion of our present-day energy supply." (p. 98)
Next he looks into the possibility of greater production from tar sand, heavy oil and oil shade. Canada has huge reserves, we have substantial ones, but the question is cost of extraction and refinement. Deffeyes delineates the difficulties.
Finally he comes to nuclear power. His expression strongly suggests that we need to rethink our attitude toward the nuke (and possibly learn to love it!).
There is also a chapter on the so-called "hydrogen economy." I have read a couple of books on the prospects for fuel cells using hydrogen as a "clean air" replacement for gasoline and I can tell you that for several reasons we are long, long way from that reality. Deffeyes succinctly reiterates that view.
The final chapter, "The Big Picture" is most interesting. Deffeyes, who is a gifted teacher as well as being a seasoned geologist, points to another, perhaps more acute shortage (albeit many years in the future): mineable phosphate. He brings this up to make the point that the coming oil shortage is just another obstacle along the way that we clever humans will have to negotiate. He also notes that global per capita oil production peaked long ago in 1979! (p. 177) We are producing people faster than oil. Another topical point: world oil consumption is about 25 billion barrels a year; US consumption about a fourth of that. The reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge equal about 5 billion barrels, or as Deffeyes puts it, the equivalent of world use for two or three months.
"Trade in your Hummer or Porsche Cayenne; find some other way of publicizing your testosterone." (p. 8)
On his discovery of "queueing theory" (well-known to phone companies and others who have to regulate traffic): "All I knew about queueing was that the word had five consecutive vowels." (p. 31) (Actually "queuing" is an acceptable spelling.)
Commenting on freshmen studying environmental issues "through literary, philosophical, ethical, spiritual, or other humanistic perspectives" (instead of getting out in the field): "We've elevated scientific ignorance to an art form." (p. 169)
"All policy wonks and all futurologists need to keep a geologist around." The implication being, somebody who isn't afraid to get his or her hands dirty, and somebody who knows that the oil peak "is just one of the geological constraints on our future society." (p. 141)
On a very efficient oil drilling site: "The crew on site will consist of a driller and a dog. The driller is there to feed the dog. The dog is there to bite the driller if he touches anything." (p. 26)