The theory of “peak oil demand” was a techno-utopian response to the supposed debunking of the peak oil theory first set out by M. King Hubbert in the 1950s. Hubbert’s simple observation was that oil fields tend to reach peak production roughly 40 years after they are discovered. Since most of the oil in the USA had been discovered in the 1930s, this suggested that US oil production would peak around 1970. When 1970 came and went without a production peak, the few journalists who remembered Hubbert took the opportunity to ridicule him. Then, in 1971, US oil production peaked and fell into decline. What followed was a massive panic about oil shortages after the OPEC states cut the supply of oil to the USA and its allies in 1973.
Peak oil in the USA was, however, more an economic than a geological issue. The 1974 deal between the USA and Saudi Arabia to make the US dollar the sole currency for trading oil, allowed the US state to maintain its privileged market position. Moreover, cheaper oil deposits could be exploited overseas far more profitably than attempting to boost domestic extraction. And so, US oil fields were left to gradually decline.
Unfortunately, the other part of Hubbert’s forecast was based on the fact that the peak of global oil discoveries came in the mid-1960s. As a result, global oil production could be expected to peak sometime in the first decade of the twenty-first century. This prompted renewed interest in peak oil in 2005, when several retired oil industry insiders such as Matthew Simmons, Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère published books and papers warning of a coming age of oil shortages. By this time, of course, anyone who was paying attention understood that the American invasion of Iraq had very little to do with bringing freedom and democracy, but everything to do with controlling the USA’s last accessible reserves (Russian and Iranian reserves requiring all-out war to liberate) of conventional oil.