Over The Peak

Worldwatch Institute

As oil prices soared from $24 per barrel in early 2003 to a peak of $70 per barrel in September 2005, the question being asked by experts and policy makers alike was whether we’ve “entered a new era,” as Chevron Corporation CEO David O’Reilly has said, or just encountered a temporary glitch that will be corrected by market forces, as ExxonMobil President Rex Tillerson argued in a speech to the World Petroleum Congress last September.

The most intriguing thing about this raging debate over whether oil production will soon peak—and put an end to the go-go days of the petroleum age—is that it’s occurring at all. The fact that a century into the age of oil, and with the global economy dependent on $3 trillion worth of this black liquid each year, we don’t know how much is left, is extraordinary.

It turns out that most of the forecasters who are responsible for the long-term energy projections on which private and public…