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Book reviews:
Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage
Billion-Year Earth History of Australia and Neighbours in Gondwana
Other reads :
On the shelf

New software

Book reviews

Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage by Kenneth S. Deffeyes. Princeton University Press (2002), 203 p. ISBN 0-691-09086-6. Hardcover, $24.95. $26.
Lee C. Gerhard

Scientists progress through stages, typically gathering data in their formative years, then interpreting that data later, and eventually interpreting their and others’ data in the latter portions of their careers. Finally, with retirement impending and brains full of ideas, information and memories, scientists philosophize.
Kenneth Deffeyes has reached the philosophizing stage, but is loath to relinquish his academic podium. Instead, he incorporates it into this colorful tapestry of serious warnings about the future of humankind, historical tidbits, some old-fashioned “talk to the people” rhetoric, fundamental petroleum geology and basic statistics — all interwoven with personal anecdotes drawn from a lifetime of academic and industry interaction.
Most Americans are woefully uneducated about the relationship of earth resources to their economic and social well-being. They believe that milk comes from grocery stores, and that electricity comes from switches on the wall. Biological scientists have seen their field ramped into a popular new religion, while we geologists have done a terrible job of educating the public about society’s complete dependence on earth resources. If for no other reason, I applaud Deffeyes’ book for addressing this issue.
Deffeyes has one main message: The peak world oil production is approaching rapidly, and we had better be prepared to defend ourselves from the consequences of the fast-approaching decline in global oil production.
But that is not all that he writes.
Essentially, he offers two books in one binding. The first is an educated citizen’s guide to oil occurrence, exploration and production. I found some statements that I would debate. For example, Deffeyes comments about oil being found on anticlinal topographic ridges in western Pennsylvania; many times the anticlines are in the valleys, owing to Appalachian reversed topography. Oil Creek, near Titusville where the Drake well was drilled, is an example.
Nonetheless, this section of the book is a great start for communicating with the educated public. From the origin of oil to the development of technologies that more efficiently extract the resource from the rocks, Deffeyes condenses a full course in basic petroleum geology into 112 pages. It is a model for teaching complex topics in comprehensible language — short on jargon, long on information. The analogies he uses come from our common vernacular, and are colorful, useful and precise. He employs the first person and a variety of personal experiences to maintain a reader’s interest and focus. I am very pleased when a college professor uses practical experience to construct an intellectual background about a major national and global problem. His anecdotes about the people he met and worked with, many of whom we geologists know well, bring humanity to arcane subjects.
M. King Hubbert theorized that resource production follows a bell-shaped curve: rapidly rising, reaching a peak then declining, as a consequence of the size distribution of resource occurrences. The largest deposits are found first and most easily, and new technological advances permit production to continue after the biggest deposits are depleted; but the flush production will peak and supplies gradually dwindle. In 1956, Hubbert predicted that the U.S. oil production would peak in 1972 — it peaked in 1970. It has generally declined since, although frantic exploration in the 1970s put a shoulder on the peak. Deffeyes shows that U. S. production is seriously declining today.
The “second book” (78 pages) offers the main message. Using the work of Hubbert as the theoretical base, Deffeyes lays out his certainty that the peak of global oil production will occur in the next few years. If he is correct, and there are many experts who agree with him, then the United States has a very serious economic problem. Now.
We will see a global oil production peak. Global production and consumption of oil was at about 74.5 million barrels a day in 2000. Most of the world’s oil production comes from very large fields. The number of very large fields being discovered each year has steadily declined while production has risen. As extraction technology improves, the rates of decline rise. Extrapolation of production and discovery curves argues that the global oil production peak will arrive in the next five years.
Any questions?
Several arguments against this prediction are possible: the recent discovery of oil reserves in the Caspian Sea (made after the manuscript for this book was finalized, I expect); the amount of land and continental shelves that have yet to be explored; and the potential to increase production by increasing the size and amount of infrastructure. Some of the problem may simply be lack of physical access to the resource, for climatic, political or technological reasons. But these arguments, if true, simply delay the onset of the production peak by relatively few years.
The consequence of reaching the global oil production peak is not immediately catastrophic, but when supply and demand reach equilibrium, prices will firm. And when demand reaches one more barrel than production, prices will dramatically increase (witness the price hikes of the last year, as OPEC constrained production). The U.S. economy reacted negatively to the oil price levels of 1999 and 2000. We are an oil dependent nation, and no amount of wishing that we could find a substitute obviates the fact that we currently have nothing that will substitute oil as an energy source for transportation. We burn oil in our cars and our trucks, in our trains and our airplanes.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, the cost of oil will leave the U.S., European and Japanese economies in shambles. The rest of the world will compete for the available supply, and we stand a good chance of global war over access to the remaining resources.
This prediction should be reason enough for the United States to start planning for the future, to begin methodically developing those resources that will be available, to do the research and development of whatever energy resources we can locate, and to revamp the transportation system to a less energy intensive state. As Deffeyes argues, none of the currently touted alternative or renewable energy sources has a remote chance of being the “silver bullet” that saves the country.
Such are the issues Deffeyes covers in Hubbert’s Peak. Everyone should read this book. I couldn’t put it down. It was a very enjoyable read, and it will help you answer your neighbor’s questions about energy, oil and society. It is serious writing about a serious issue.

Gerhard is the principal geologist with the Kansas Geological Survey in Lawrence, Kan. Read the first chapter of Hubbert’s Peak online at

  Billion-Year Earth History of Australia and Neighbours in Gondwana, Edited by John J. Veevers. Gemoc Press (2000). U.S. $45. Atlas released in 2001, U.S. $20. Both, $U.S. $50.
John C. Crowell

This remarkable and useful book, with accompanying atlas, summarizes the geologic history of a significant part of Earth’s continental crust and its changing settings through geologic time since the beginning of the Neoproterozoic.
John Veevers, as editor and principal author, along with 12 collaborators, provides a concise review of Australia’s complex history, utilizing information from all geoscience subdisciplines including surface geology, geophysics, geochemistry, paleontology, isotopes and GPS. Huge amounts of data are presented on Veevers’s trademark “time-space diagrams,” as well as on skillfully designed maps and diagrams. The softcover book is beautifully produced and is a bargain at about U.S. $54 (shipped) for the text volume.
Figures are computer drafted and standardized, and, although often complicated, always readable. They make clear where we have dates, where we need more work now, or where gaps (lacunae) in the stratigraphic record leave us with no information.
Veevers and his collaborators employ plate-tectonics concepts to make the complexity understandable, although this approach introduces considerable interpretation.

On the shelf

Springs and Bottled Waters of the World: Ancient History, Source, Occurrence, Quality and Use. P.E. LaMoreaux and J.T. Tanner, editors. Springer Verlag (2002). ISBN 3540618414. Hardcover, $74.95.

This unique book is a review of the science and history of spring water, including present-day regulations, and offers a comprehensive global tour of famous springs and bottled water.

The Health Effects of Chrysotile Asbestos: Contribution of Science to Risk-Management Decisions. R.P. Holan, A.M. Langer, M. Ross, F.J. Wicks and R.F. Martin, editors. Mineralogical Association of Canada (2002). ISBN 0-921294-41-7. Soft cover, US $38; CDN $38.
One of the Mineralogical Association of Canada’s special publications, this book contains a series of articles derived from a 1997 conference of the same name. Contributions by mineralogists, medical researchers and risk analysts provide a broad overview of asbestos issues around the world.
Bone Wars: The Excavation and Celebrity of Andrew Carnegie’s Dinosaur by Tom Rea. University of Pittsburgh Press (2002). ISBN 0-8229-4173-2. Hardcover, $25.
Written by a science journalist, this account details the politics and power struggles that accompanied the 1899 excavation and subsequent exhibition of Diplodocus carnegii, the first large dinosaur to be widely displayed in museums.

Arthur Busbey

Continuing its long tradition of producing visually and intellectually stimulating CD-based education software for the earth sciences, TASA Graphic Arts Inc. has recently released two new titles: Earth’s Dynamic Surface, written by Frank Pazzaglia, and An Introduction to Structural Methods, written by Robert Burger and Tekla Harms. Both are standalone CDs that can easily be integrated into a lab curricula or used as self-study resources. Given that its pages can be randomly accessed, the CDs might also be used during a computer-assisted lecture. Both CDs, as is typical of Tasa CD products, have glossaries that can be evoked at any time and also have a series of interactive tests at the end of major and sub-sections. The CDs run on Macs (including Mac OsX) and Windows.
Earth’s Dynamic Surface seems to be aimed at freshman or sophomore classes in geomorphology or physical geography. It includes individual pages and animations that the instructor could access as illustrations during a lecture. The CD also includes the Physiographic Provinces Tour (the last unit on the CD), a cogent and fascinating interactive tour of 42 national parks, monuments and other points of physiographic interest. One can take the tour sequentially or jump to particular points of interest.
Sections also include Weather and Soils, Hillslopes (with interactive experiments), Rivers (one can model streams), Coastlines, Groundwater, Deserts and Winds, and Glaciers and Climate. Rendered representations are always accompanied by excellent photographic examples of the “real thing.” Movies and interactive experiments portray such events as slope failure, delta formation, and aqueous and subaerial sediment transport. This is a great product we will be using in our freshman physical geology labs.
The second new release, Structural Methods, comes on two CDs, should be extremely useful in the standard undergraduate structural class. At the same time, it delves deeply enough into aspects of structural analysis that it might be useful at the graduate level. The CD is organized around 12 sections: units on elements of lines and planes, map interpretation of planar surfaces, faults, folds, unconformities and intrusions and thrust faults, stereographic projection, construction of sections, fold analysis and stress, fracture and fault analysis, and the basic principles of strain. Each topic is lavishly illustrated with field pictures (each with provenance information and frequently a key map), and with graphic images that are either static, linear movies or virtual reality clips that can be manipulated with the mouse. The graphic representations and simulations are stunning. Our structural geologist noted that he finally has some graphic aids to help those who may be three-dimensionally challenged.
The incredibly clear, well-illustrated and animated sections on stereographic projection are worth the price of the CD alone ($79 for one user). The animations of faults, especially thrust faults, are well done, and, at each step, are represented by real field examples. This is a must in the CD collection of anyone teaching structural geology.

With the release of MacOsX (version 10.1 at this writing), the world of UNIX applications is open for Mac users. One heavy-duty application that is now available for MacOSX is GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ raster-based GIS (geographic information system) software system that has been out for years. GRASS is an open-source GIS with raster, topological vector, image processing and graphics production functionality that operates on various platforms through a graphical user interface and shell in X-Windows. This is not for the faint of heart, and in fact presumes you are familiar with UNIX. Although the software are available for download from, I recommend going to and paying the $30 for the CD that automatically installs: Grass 5.0 pre2, NVIZ, XFree86, PostgreSQL 7.1.2, Unix ODBC 2.0.7, XDarwin 1.0a3, Mesa 3.4, Tcl/Tk 8.3.2, FFTW 2.13 and the GDAL-Geospatial Data Abstraction Library.

Busbey is a professor of geology at Texas Christian University. E-mail:

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