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In 1956, after 96 years of petroleum exploration and production, the United States had produced 52.4 billion bbl of crude oil. Industry opinion and all available evidence were in agreement that the ultimate amount of crude oil to be produced in the lower 48 states would probably fall between 150 and 200 billion bbl, with future production from two to three times that of the past. The high estimate for natural gas was about 850 Tcf. At that time, the writer showed that if the ultimate crude oil production should be between 150 and 200 billion bbl, and if the ultimate amount of natural gas to be produced should be about 850 Tcf, the peak of crude oil production should occur during the period 1966 to 1971, and the peak of natural gas production at about 1970.
That was the end of consistency in the estimates of the ultimate amounts of crude oil and natural gas to be produced in the United States. During the next 5 years petroleum-industry estimates escalated to 400 billion bbl for crude oil and about 1,500 Tcf for natural gas, while estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey reached 590 billion bbl for crude oil and 2,630 Tcf for natural gas. Furthermore, these higher estimates persisted until well into the 1970 decade.
In the meantime, successive estimates by the writer, based on analyses of publicly available petroleum-industry data, led consistently to about 165 to 175 billion bbl as the ultimate amount of crude oil, and 1,000 to 1,100 Tcf for natural gas, with the crude oil production peak due to occur during 1967-70, and that of natural gas in the mid-1970s. These estimates were predictions of the future, and that future has now elapsed. The peak of crude oil production was reached in 1970 and that of natural gas in 1973. By the end of 1972, the evidence was consistent with 170 billion bbl for the ultimate amount of crude oil and 1,000 to 1,100 Tcf for natural gas. However, since 1972 proved reserves and discovery and production rates of both oil and gas have been declining more rapidly than ori inally estimated. Should this continue, the ultimate quantities of oil and gas may be less than those estimated in 1972.
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