The concept of 'peak oil' has a long and inaccurate history. According to prominent economist and oil analyst David Yergin, the first predictions of peak oil production go way back to the 1880s when some American experts believed the exhaustion of Pennsylvania's oil fields would spell doom for the U.S. oil sector . After World War 1, there was yet another onset of imminent 'peak oil' predictions in the 1920s, with more to come right through the rest of the 1900s and into the 2000s .
Fast forward to today, and the world is still far from reaching peak oil production largely in part because as energy technologies advance (many of which are fossil-fuel-dependent), we have tapped into new petroleum reserves that were previously unreachable. Meanwhile, emerging market economies in Asia, Africa and elsewhere abroad are gaining better access to cheap, abundant and reliable fossil fuel energy, offsetting any usage reductions of coal, oil and natural gas in developed nations.
In other words, global energy demand is growing and will continue to grow for decades yet. The world will consume anywhere from 15% to 23% more energy as the global population balloons to 9.7 billion by 2050 , with oil expected to remain a huge part of global energy supplies by then.
Below are several examples of past, present and future 'peak oil' predictions made by various academics and organizations throughout recent history, showing how elusive this concept really is. Also see:
- When Will Tales of 'Peak Oil' Finally Come True?
- DEBATE: Oil & Gas Divestment in Canada
- Canada Could Displace Half of Russian Energy on Global Markets: SURVEY
Between 1999 and 2008 - Scientific American
In 1998, Scientific American stated, "Predicting when oil production will stop rising is relatively straightforward once one has a good estimate of how much oil there is left to produce." The popular science magazine suggested that this would be within ten years of when that article was published .
2000 – M. King Hubbert
In 1956, geologist M. King Hubbert famously predicted that U.S. domestic oil production in the lower 48 states would peak around 1970. Then, more than a decade later, in 1969, Hubbert predicted that 'peak oil' would be seen globally around 2000. Hubbert's theories drew the attention of many peak oil disciples such as Ken Deffeyes .
2005 – Ken Deffeyes
Ken Deffeyes, Princeton University emeritus professor and renowned oil analyst, thought 'peak oil' would arrive by the end of 2005. Deffeyes spent a lifetime in the oil sector and the academic study of petroleum. He was a colleague of M. King Hubbert, the first person to predict that oil production peaks were possible .
2019 – British Petroleum
During the last global pandemic, BP provided three scenarios showing how global oil and natural gas demand was severely affected by current events. In one particular scenario, the British energy major said that global oil demand may had already peaked in 2019 .
2021 – Shell
Former Shell CEO Ben van Beurden commented that the pandemic may have already brought a peak in oil, saying: "Demand will take a long time to recover if it recovers at all," according to reporting by Reuters .
"Energy demand, and certainty mobility demand, will be lower even when this crisis is more or less behind us. Will it mean that it will never recover? It is probably too early to say, but it will have a permanent knock for years," said Beurden when he was still the CEO of the Dutch energy major .
2025 to 2030 – Bernstein Energy
Consultancy group Bernstein Energy predicted the last pandemic that global oil demand would return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023 (which it did) and reach a peak sometime between 2025 and 2030. The company's analysts suggested that while oil has not yet peaked, it likely isn't far off either .
2026 – Rystad Energy
Rystad Energy is a European consultancy firm that during the pandemic predicted global oil production peaking at 101.6 million bpd in 2026 in its base case scenario. The same analysis provided a "low demand" scenario that saw peak oil in 2024, while a high demand scenario saw that happening in 2029 .
2027 to 2028 – Equinor
Norway's oil and gas major also predicted peak demand from 2027 to 2028 due to the pandemic, two to three years earlier than it previously said. However, it also shared scenarios where it saw oil demand grow to 99.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2030 and drop to 84 million bpd in 2050 .
2029 – McKinsey & Company
Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company expects peak oil to happen sometime in the early 2030s, according to its latest oil supply and demand outlook . Another more recent report by the firm predicted that oil demand growth will slow in the late 2020s, finally peaking in 2029 .
McKinsey also noted that various energy transition drivers could cause peak demand to occur anywhere from six to ten years earlier than that, adjusting their peak prediction from 2020 to 2023 .
Before 2030 – TotalEnergies
The French oil major adjusted its peak oil prediction at around 2030 downward to before 2030 and suggested global demand would decrease to between 40 to 64 million bpd by 2050 .
Before 2030 – International Energy Agency
The International Energy Agency's (IEA) World Outlook 2022 showed three different scenarios, the first with oil peaking in 2035 in its "business as usual" scenario (STEPS), the second with oil peaking in 2024 under its "APS" scenario, and a third prediction that oil had already peaked in 2021 in its "SDS" scenario .
Since the IEA WEO 2022 was released, the Paris-based organization has come out with another peak oil prediction "before the end of the decade." Its June 2023 Oil Report estimated global oil demand rising 6% between 2022 and 2028, up to 105.7 million bpd with annual growth slowing significantly to just 0.4 million bpd by then .
2030 – Vitol
Vitol, an energy and commodities trading company, has predicted 'peak' oil to arrive in 2030.
"We got it peaking in about 2030 and a gradual decline out to 2040 … And then [a] rapid decline thereafter as the EV fleet and energy transition takes over," Vitol CEO, Russell Hardy, said according to reporting by CNBC .
After 2030 – Goldman Sachs
Goldman Sachs, a leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm, also predicted amid the pandemic that oil demand would peak beyond 2030 due to developing market economies despite the rise in electric cars, renewables and plastics recycling .
2031 – S&P Global
S&P Global predicts oil demand to peak at around 111 million barrels per day in 2031, but be sustained at around that level for most of the 2030s only to see a substantial decline from 2039 onward . By 2028, Commodity Insights forecasts demand to reach 109.5 million bpd versus the IEA's 105.7 million bpd.
2045 or beyond - OPEC
As always, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is bullish with its predictions on global oil. Its latest prediction sees global energy demand levels growing 23% by 2050, bringing daily oil consumption up to 110 million barrels per day .
″Oil is irreplaceable for the foreseeable future," OPEC's Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais said at the inaugural Energy Asia conference held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia .
"In our worldwide outlook, we see global oil demand rising to 110 million barrels a day by 2045," he said, adding that oil will still comprise about 29% of the world's energy mix by then .
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2. Bailey, R. (2015, June 10). Hubbert's Peak Refuted: Peak Oil Theory Wr. Reason. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://reason.com/2015/06/10/hubberts-peak-refuted-peak-oil-theory-wr/
3. Reuters. (2021, October 18). Pandemic Brings Forward Predictions for Peak Oil Demand. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/pandemic-brings-forward-predictions-peak-oil-demand-2021-10-18/
4. International Energy Agency. (2022). World Energy Outlook 2022. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/830fe099-5530-48f2-a7c1-11f35d510983/WorldEnergyOutlook2022.pdf
5. International Energy Agency. (2023). Growth in Global Oil Demand is Set to Slow Significantly by 2028. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://www.iea.org/news/growth-in-global-oil-demand-is-set-to-slow-significantly-by-2028
6. Wikipedia. (2023). Predicting the Timing of Peak Oil. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predicting_the_timing_of_peak_oil
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8. McKinsey & Company. (202 Global Oil Supply and Demand Outlook to 2040: Online Summary. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/oil%20and%20gas/our%20insights/global%20oil%20supply%20and%20demand%20outlook%20to%202040/global-oil-supply-and-demand-outlook-to-2040-online-summary.pdf
9. ExxonMobil. (2023). Outlook for Energy. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/what-we-do/energy-supply/outlook-for-energy
10. S&P Global. (2023, June 14). IEA Raises 2023 Demand Growth Forecast by 200,000 bd, Sees Demand Peak This Decade. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://www.spglobal.com/commodityinsights/en/market-insights/latest-news/oil/061423-iea-raises-2023-demand-growth-forecast-by-200000-bd-sees-demand-peak-this-decade
11. CNBC. (2023, June 30). Energy Transition is Lagging, Oil Demand Will Stay: Industry Players. Retrieved June 28, 2023, from https://www.cnbc.com/2023/06/30/energy-transition-is-lagging-oil-demand-will-stay-industry-players.html
12. Lynch, M. (2018, June 29). What Ever Happened to Peak Oil? Forbes. Retrieved June 28, 2023,://www.forbes.com/sites/michaellynch/2018/06/29/what-ever-happened-to-peak-oil/?sh=39107625731a
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