A Buzzfeed attack on Peak Oil deserves a Buzzfeed response


Like everyone else, I love Buzzfeed. My facebook feed is full of clever GIF-filled Buzzlead links with catchy headlines. That's really the "point" of Buzzfeed - catchy headlines, highly linkable and sharable posts that bring in as many clicks, tweets, and eyeballs as possible.

So while I was a little surprised to see a Peak Oil post on Buzzfeed, I wasn't surprised by the title of Matthew Zeitlin's article "Here's Why "Peak Oil" Peaked" - that little bit of alliteration in repeating "peak" makes the headline more catchy, which is why so many people use it - regardless of what the article is actually talking about.

Buzzfeed is masterful at what it does, but an energy analysis site it isn't.

Like most stories in this latest cycle of "Peak Oil is dead" mania, Zeitlin's article focuses on the closing of the Oil Drum website. I already responded to that point in two earlier articles "Newsflash: We Measure Peak Oil In Production Rates... Not Websites Or Google Trends" and "No, tell us how you REALLY feel about the Oil Drum closing" so I won't completely repeat myself here. But for kicks, I will take a few minutes to respond to Zeitlin's other points, the ones that Buzzfeed editor-and-chief Ben Smith claims Zeitlin used to "cleverly prove" the end of Peak Oil, and since it's Buzzfeed... I'll do it in Buzzfeed style.

"Mentions of “peak oil” in news publications peaked between July 2007 and July 2008, according to Nexis" and "Web search interest in “peak oil” peaked in August 2005 and spiked again in May 2008."

I spoke on this a little before, but I continue to be amazed by how many very smart people just don't understand how silly they look when they use THIS as evidence of Peak Oil's demise.

If "internet popularity" was the true measure of importance, we'd have given the keys of the world to Justin Bieber a long time ago. And if you looked at how many people were talking and writing about terrorism in August of 2001, those guys would probably conclude that topic peaked forever in the early '90s.

I'm shocked I have to keep repeating this, but "We judge Peak Oil by oil production rates, if you're looking at anything else, you're doing it wrong."


"Oil prices also peaked around then, hitting $145 per barrel in July 2008."

It's like Zeitlin forgets to include the second half of that sentence. His own chart shows that oil hit $145, retreated, and then resumed its march back up. RIGHT NOW as people are falling over themselves proclaiming the death of Peak Oil, oil is back in the triple digits and at 15-month highs. Over the past decade-plus, the price of oil has more than tripled.

Peak Oil can never really die, because oil is a finite resource and any finite resource peaks in production. But you can kill it in the court of public opinion, and for that to happen you'd need two things:

1) You need daily production rates to continue to skyrocket, leaving far behind any peaks of the past. But you also need something more difficult.

2) You need what AEI's James Pethokoukis called the "wonder-working power of technological innovation" to actually reduce oil prices, much like Moore's Law for computers has made memory cheaper year after year. If you're in a production boom, but you then have to turn around and tell the people of the economy that they'll have to keep paying a larger share of their income for gasoline... is that really a net win?

In oil production, you access the easy and cheap oil first, then move on to the more difficult and more expensive oil later when prices allow. That's why conventional crude oil production has already peaked, and the only thing keeping total oil production from declining are gains from much more expensive unconventional sources.

Anyone seriously telling people that Peak Oil is dead, really needs to have a strong answer when regular people ask why prices are still so high.


"U.S. crude production also bottomed out in 2008 and has been climbing ever since."

I tease people often about selectively choosing which years to chart US oil production, but Zeitlin chooses to start his chart at 2004 for reasons no one knows. They rarely bother to chart the full history of US oil production, which shows an incredibly obvious peak in 1970. Why? Well, it blows a hole in the argument. If you put the full chart in front of somebody and then tell them "Peak Oil is dead", the first thing they're going to do is point to 1970 and say "Ok, but what's that?"

You would think the first order of business for the guys desperate to give Peak Oil it's eulogy would be to... actually get oil production past the previous peak...