Hirsch Report


Jan 5, 2022
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  • World oil peaking is going to happen, and will likely be abrupt.
    • World production of conventional oil will reach a maximum and decline thereafter.
    • Some forecasters project peaking within a decade; others contend it will occur later.
    • Peaking will happen, but the timing is uncertain.
  • Oil peaking will adversely affect global economies, particularly the U.S.
    • ⠀ the past century, the U.S. economy has been shaped by the availability of low-cost oil.
    • The economic loss to the United States could be measured on a trillion-dollar scale.
    • Aggressive fuel efficiency and substitute fuel production could provide substantial mitigation.
  • Oil peaking presents a unique challenge.
    • Without massive mitigation, the problem will be pervasive and long-term.
    • Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary.
    • Oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.
  • The problem is liquid fuels for transportation.
    • The lifetimes of transportation equipment are measured in decades.
    • Rapid changeover in transportation equipment is inherently impossible.
    • Motor vehicles, aircraft, trains, and ships have no ready alternative to liquid fuels.
  • Mitigation efforts will require substantial time.
    • Waiting until production peaks would leave the world with a liquid fuel deficit for 20 years.
    • Initiating a crash program 10 years before peaking leaves a liquid fuels shortfall of a decade.
    • Initiating a crash program 20 years before peaking could avoid a world liquid fuels shortfall.
  • Both supply and demand will require attention.
    • Sustained high oil prices will cause forced demand reduction (recession and unemployment).
    • Production of large amounts of substitute liquid fuels can and must be provided.
    • The production of substitute liquid fuels is technically and economically feasible.
  • It is a matter of risk management.
    • The peaking of world oil production is a classic risk management problem.
    • Mitigation efforts earlier than required may be premature, if peaking is long delayed.
    • On the other hand, if peaking is soon, failure to initiate mitigation could be extremely damaging.
  • Government intervention will be required.
    • The economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic.
    • Expediency may require major changes to existing administrative and regulatory procedures.
  • Economic upheaval is not inevitable.
    • Without mitigation, the peaking of world oil production will cause major economic upheaval.
    • Given enough lead-time, the problems are soluble with existing technologies.
    • New technologies will help, but on a longer time scale.
  • More information is needed.
    • Effective action to combat peaking requires better understanding of the issues.
    • Risks and possible benefits of possible mitigation actions need to be examined.
  • :)
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