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Report/Paper: Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management (the "Hirsch Report")
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Published by United States Department of Energy (original article)

Better known as the "Hirsch Report," this study was prepared for the United States Department of Energy in 2005. It examined the likelihood of imminent Peak Oil and its potential effects, and recommended a set of mitigating actions, stressing that while the problem is unlike other energy crises, it is not insoluble given timely preparation. The recommended time frame to start preparation was 20 years before peak; a 10 year rush transition with moderate impacts is possible with extraordinary efforts from governments, industry and consumers.

Published by United States Department of Energy, http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/others/pdf/Oil_Peaking_NETL.pdf

[Download this report in pdf form from the DOE or from Post Carbon Cities. -Ed.]

Important observations and conclusions from this study are as follows:

1. When world oil peaking will occur is not known with certainty. A fundamental problem in predicting oil peaking is the poor quality of and possible political biases in world oil reserves data. Some experts believe peaking may occur soon. This study indicates that "soon" is within 20 years.

2. The problems associated with world oil production peaking will not be temporary, and past "energy crisis" experience will provide relatively little guidance. The challenge of oil peaking deserves immediate, serious attention, if risks are to be fully understood and mitigation begun on a timely basis.

3. Oil peaking will create a severe liquid fuels problem for the transportation sector, not an "energy crisis" in the usual sense that term has been used.

4. Peaking will result in dramatically higher oil prices, which will cause protracted economic hardship in the United States and the world. However, the problems are not insoluble. Timely, aggressive mitigation initiatives addressing both the supply and the demand sides of the issue will be required.

5. In the developed nations, the problems will be especially serious. In the developing nations peaking problems have the potential to be much worse.

6. Mitigation will require a minimum of a decade of intense, expensive effort, because the scale of liquid fuels mitigation is inherently extremely large.

7. While greater end-use efficiency is essential, increased efficiency alone will be neither sufficient nor timely enough to solve the problem. Production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels will be required. A number of commercial or near-commercial substitute fuel production technologies are currently available for deployment, so the production of vast amounts of substitute liquid fuels is feasible with existing technology.

8. Intervention by governments will be required, because the economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic. The experiences of the 1970s and 1980s offer important guides as to government actions that are desirable and those that are undesirable, but the process will not be easy.

Mitigating the peaking of world conventional oil production presents a classic risk management problem:

  • Mitigation initiated earlier than required may turn out to be premature, if peaking is long delayed.
  • If peaking is imminent, failure to initiate timely mitigation could be extremely damaging.
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© 2009 Post Carbon Institute

Post Carbon Cities: Helping local governments understand and respond to the challenges of peak oil and global warming.
Post Carbon Cities is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization incorporated in the United States.
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