Home > Articles > Engineering

This chapter is from the book

1.6 Peak Oil

Since oil is a finite resource in any given reservoir, it would make sense that, as soon as oil production from the first well begins in a particular reservoir, the resource of that reservoir is declining. As a reservoir is developed (i.e., more and more wells are brought into production), the total production from the reservoir will increase. Once all the wells that are going to be drilled for a given reservoir have been brought into production, the total production will begin to decline. M. King Hubbert took this concept and developed the term peak oil to describe not the decline of oil production but the point at which a reservoir reaches a maximum oil production rate. Hubbert said this would occur at the midpoint of reservoir depletion or when one-half of the initial hydrocarbon in place had been produced.28 Hubbert developed a mathematical model and from the model predicted that the United States would reach peak oil production sometime around the year 1965.28 A schematic of Hubbert’s prediction is shown in Fig. 1.6.

Figure 1.6

Figure 1.6 The Hubbert curve for the continental United States.

Figure 1.7 contains a plot of the Hubbert curve and the cumulative oil production from all US reservoirs. It would appear that Hubbert was fairly accurate with his model but a little off on the timing. However, the Hubbert timing looks more accurate when production from the Alaskan North Slope is omitted.

Figure 1.7

Figure 1.7 US crude oil production with the Hubbert curve (courtesy US Energy Information Administration).

There are many factors that go into building such a model. These factors include proven reserves, oil price, continuing exploration, continuing demand on oil resources, and so on. Many of these factors carry with them debates concerning future predictions. As a result, an argument over the concept of peak oil has developed over the years. It is not the purpose of this text to discuss this argument in detail but simply to point out some of the projections and suggest that the reader go to the literature for further information.

Hubbert predicted the total world crude oil production would reach the peak around the year 2000. Figure 1.8 is a plot of the daily world crude oil production as a function of year. As one can see, the peak has not been reached—in fact, the production is continuing to increase. Part of the discrepancy with Hubbert’s prediction has to do with the increasing amount of world reserves, as shown in Fig. 1.9. Obviously, as the world’s reserves increase, the time to reach Hubbert’s peak will shift. Just as there are several factors that affect the time of peak oil, the definition of reserves has several contributing factors, as discussed earlier in this chapter. This point was illustrated in a recent prediction by the International Energy Agency (IEA) regarding the oil and gas production of the United States.29

Figure 1.8

Figure 1.8 World crude oil production plotted as a function of year.

Figure 1.9

Figure 1.9 World crude oil reserves plotted as a function of year.

In a recent report put out by the IEA, personnel predicted that the United States will become the world’s top oil producer in a few years.29 This is in stark contrast to what they had been predicting for years. The report states the following: “The recent rebound in US oil and gas production, driven by upstream technologies that are unlocking light tight oil and shale gas resources, is spurring economic activity... and steadily changing the role of North America in global energy trade.”29

The upstream technologies that are referenced in the quote are the increased use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques. These technologies are a large reason for the increase in US reserves from 22.3 billion barrels at the end of 2009 to 25.2 at the end of 2010, while producing nearly 2 billion barrels in 2010.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking refers to the process of injecting a high-pressure fluid into a well in order to fracture the reservoir formation to release oil and natural gas. This method makes it possible to recover fuels from geologic formations that have poor flow rates. Fracking helps reinvigorate wells that otherwise would have been very costly to produce. Fracking has raised major environmental concerns, and the reservoir engineer should research this process before recommending its use.

The use of horizontal drilling has been in existence since the 1920s but only relatively recently (1980s) reached a point where it could be used on a widespread scale. Horizontal drilling is extremely effective for recovering oil and natural gas that occupy horizontal strata, because this method offers more contact area with the oil and gas than a normal vertical well. There are endless possibilities to the uses of this method in hydrocarbon recovery, making it possible to drill in places that are either literally impossible or much too expensive to do with traditional vertical drilling. These include hard-to-reach places like difficult mountain terrain or offshore areas.

Hubbert’s theory of peak oil is reasonable; however, his predictions have not been accurate due to increases in known reserves and in the development of technologies to extract the petroleum hydrocarbons economically. Reservoir engineering is the formulation of a plan to develop a particular reservoir to balance the ultimate recovery with production economics. The remainder of this text will provide the engineer with information to assist in the development of that plan.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020