Colin J. Campbell, Ph.D., (born 1931) is a retired petroleum geologist who predicts that oil production will peak by 2007. The consequences of this are uncertain but drastic, due to the world's dependence on fossil fuels for the vast majority of its energy. His theories have received wide attention, but are disputed by the oil industry and have not significantly changed governmental energy policies at this time. In order to deal with those problems he has proposed the Rimini protocol.
Influential papers by Campbell include The Coming Oil Crisis, which he wrote with Jean Laherrère in 1998, and is credited with convincing the International Energy Agency of the coming peak; and The End of Cheap Oil, which was published the same year in Scientific American. He was dubbed a "doomsayer" on the front page of The Wall Street Journal in 2004.
Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas founded by Campbell is gaining recognition in the recent years. They have organized yearly international conferences since 2002. The last one was held in San Rossore, Italy (near Pisa) on July 18, 2006.
The oil industry started when Edwin Drake drilled the first commercially-successful oil well in 1859 in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States, near Titusville, Pennsylvania. The first serious prediction of an oil peak came in 1875, when the state geologist of Pennsylvania claimed that the oil would soon dry up.
The most famous oil peak theorist is M. King Hubbert, who predicted in 1956 that oil production would peak in the United States between 1965 and 1970. His theories became popular during the 1973 energy crisis, and during 1979 energy crisis when even the United States Secretary of Energy, James Schlesinger, announced that the peak had arrived.
The oil crises of the 1970s were alleviated because there were still untapped resources available for exploration. New technology like reflection seismology started the shift in oil production from the United States to Venezuela, Russia, and especially the Middle East.
In December 2000 Colin Campbell warned in a public lecture held in Clausthal University of a possible 'ill conceived military intervention in the Middle East'.
However, global oil discovery did peak in 1964, and since the early 1980s oil production has outpaced new discoveries. The world currently consumes oil at the rate of 84 million barrel per day (31 billion barrels/year, or 151 m³/s), and consumption is rising, particularly in China. None of this is particularly controversial; the oil industry itself is spending less than half as much on exploration as a decade ago.
According to Campbell:
* There are no new potential oil fields sufficiently large to reduce this future energy crisis.
* The reported oil reserves of many OPEC countries are inflated, to increase their quotas, or improve their chance of getting a loan from the World Bank.
* The practice of gradually adding new discoveries to a country's list of proven reserves, instead of all at once, artificially inflates the current rate of discovery.
Campbell has been predicting since 1989 (claimed Peak then was 1990) that this peak will cause a catastrophic world-wide economic depression.
The dominant theory, held by the oil industry and other agencies like the United States Department of Energy, is that oil production will continue to increase, due to technological advances and the geopolitical pressure caused by rising oil prices. They argue that:
* Much of the world's oil reserves come from areas that have not been fully explored because they are politically unstable, like Russia and Iraq. Nobody knows how much oil is really left in those areas, and economic pressure could result in a new exploration boom.
* New methods of extracting oil from existing fields are currently being developed. This may even expand the definition of "oil": Hydrocarbons exist in shale and tarry sands, and as a result companies like Exxon predict that there are up to 14 trillion barrels (2,200 km³) of exploitable hydrocarbons left in the world, which could fuel the oil industry for another century.
The Hirsch report done for the U.S. Department Of Energy in 2004-2005 proposes an urgent mitigation approach to deal with the possibility of oil production going into decline in the immediate future.
It states: "The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking."
Prior reports by Hirsch have also speculated on an energy crisis during the early and mid-90's which never materialized.
The current debate revolves around energy policy, and whether to shift funding to increasing fuel efficiency, and alternative energy sources like solar and nuclear power. Campbell's critics, like Michael Lynch, argue that his research data is sloppy. They point to the date of the coming peak, which was initially projected to occur by 1995, but has now been pushed back to 2007. However, Campbell and his supporters insist that when the peak occurs is not as important as the realization that the peak is coming.
Campbell has over 40 years of experience in the oil industry. He earned a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Oxford in 1957, and has worked as a petroleum geologist in the field, as a manager, and as a consultant. He has been employed by Oxford University, Texaco, British Petroleum, Amoco, Shenandoah Oil, Norsk Hydro, and Fina, and has worked with the Bulgarian and Swedish governments. His writing credits include two books and more than 150 papers.
More recently, he founded the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, is affiliated with Petroconsultants in Geneva, is a trustee of the Oil Depletion Analysis Center in London. He conducts research on the oil peak, and he also tries to build public awareness of the issue, which includes lecturing extensively. He addressed a committee of the British House of Commons, and officials from investment and automotive companies. He has appeared in two documentary films, The End of Suburbia and PEAK OIL – Imposed by Nature DVD by Amund Prestegard in Norway.