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Beyond petroleum

The Peak Oil Preacher

Author: Vera Häggblom

With an oil price that stands at about USD 50 per barrel, it may be easy to dismiss Peak Oil as a myth. But author and Peak Oil expert Johan Landgren argues that we have to prepare now for an era in which cheap oil will be a part of history. If not, the transition will be harsh.

"This has nothing to do with apocalyptic thoughts. These are just facts that we have to relate to," Johan Landgren says.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Peak Oil is The hypothetical point in time when the global production of oil reaches its maximum rate, after which production will gradually decline.

"It is important to stress that we will not suddenly run out of oil, which is a common misconception. That will actually never happen, because it will take more energy to extract the oil than the energy the oil will give back long before that scenario becomes a reality," Mr. Landgren says.

Johan Landgren’s interest in the Peak Oil debate started off in 2010 when he visited a conference in Washington DC. Since then he has written the book Olja för Blåbär (Oil for Blueberries) on the topic, authored several articles and runs an active blog on the subject (

Johan Landgren


One can tell he is passionate about Peak Oil, and Mr. Landgren has chosen a lifestyle in which he lives what he preaches, trying to minimize his own dependence on fossil fuels. He is one of the first owners of the electric car Tesla Model S in Sweden, he has left the university town of Uppsala for a rural part of the country, and he is a beekeeper since a few years back.

"No one would be happier than me if the Peak Oil happens in 15 years instead of 5, because that would give us more time for the transition. But it is better to use the time that we have now to adapt our lifestyles, instead of sitting back and wait for technological solutions that will provide cheap energy - because that will not happen", he says.

Conventional vs. unconventional oil

Critics of the Peak Oil phenomenon argue that new techniques, such as the extraction of shale oil - which has increased the oil production dramatically in the United States during the last years - if needed could be exported to the rest of the world. But Johan Landgren argues that it is crucial to make a distinction between conventional oil – that is petroleum extracted through traditional oil well methods - and unconventional oil, such as shale oil and oil sand: "Any geologist in the world knows that the unconventional oil is a completely different thing. It costs much more in terms of both energy and investments to extract. In order to replace the conventional oil with the unconventional oil, we need a brand new kind of economy which is not fueled by cheap energy, but on expensive energy."

Mr. Landgren believes that the shale oil findings have bought the US some time, but that the conventional oil production – which according to him constitutes 85 percent of the total crude oil production in the world – is likely to peak within the next few years, and thereafter decrease by approximately 6 percent each year.

But if fossil fuels are not a sustainable option for keeping the wheels of our cars, economies and lifestyles spinning, what about alternative energy sources such as wind power and solar energy?

Johan Landgren argues that the oil is harder to substitute than some may think, due to its unique qualities, such as the incredible energy content and the fact that oil is liquid and therefore suitable for the production of plastics, medicines and so on.

"People tend to forget this when they talk about renewable energy. Sure, we should invest a lot in renewable energy sources, but it is not equivalent to liquid fuel. Renewable energy sources lack some important qualities of the oil, which are qualities that we have built our economy upon."

He continues: "We can’t become naïve and believe that if we just set up a large amount of wind turbines and solar cells the issue of peak oil will be solved. I sometimes think that people have become so used to advanced technology that they forget that the prerequisite of the fast technological development has been the availability of cheap energy."

Instead, in order to cope with a decreased access to cheap, fossil fuels, Johan Landgren puts his hopes to a system which is less dependent on transportations by being more locally based and where more people are involved in the food production.

Oil Dependence around the World

While the industrial countries have reaped the benefits of the fossil fuels during the last couple of centuries, there is a different story in other parts of the world.

Is it fair to say that some countries won’t be able to experience the same development as the West since the resources are limited?

"That is a really difficult question. Countries like China or Nigeria won’t buy the argument that they shouldn’t consume a lot of oil now, because it may lead to a bad scenario in the future. But China has actually already prepared their infrastructure for a future in which the access to oil is more restricted, so they will probably cope with the situation better than many other countries, so Landgren.

He also believes that so called developing countries in Africa and Asia have the advantage of being less dependent on food import than the West, which will make their transition easier.

"The western countries have a lot to learn from other countries in the future. Just because we have been able to make our economies grow due to the access to cheap energy for the last 200 years, our system may not necessarily be the way forward."