When will production of oil and coal peak?  After the peak, production will decline because supplies are being depleted and no new sources are to be found.  Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.  Optimistic estimations of peak production forecast the global decline will begin by 2020 or later, and assume major investments in alternatives will occur before a crisis, without requiring major changes in the lifestyle of heavily oil-consuming nations. These models show the price of oil at first escalating and then retreating as other types of fuel and energy sources are used. Pessimistic predictions of future oil production operate on the thesis that either the peak has already occurred, that oil production is on the cusp of the peak, or that it will occur shortly.  The most recent edition of the respected science journal Nature contemplates the end of cheap coal with an analysis of the decline of global coal supplies by Post Carbon Institute Fellows David Fridley and Richard Heinberg.  The estimates for global peak coal production vary wildly. Many coal associations suggest the peak could occur in 200 years or more, while scholarly estimates predict the peak to occur as early as 2010. Research in 2009 by the University of Newcastle in Australia concluded that global coal production could peak sometime between 2010 and 2048.

Nature is far from alone in sounding the alarm on the potential impact of the coal crisis. The WallStreet Journal also reports that Beijing is considering capping domestic coal output in the 2011-2015 period, partly because officials worry miners are running down reserves too quickly to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding economy. National Geographic has suggested that the world could face peak coal as soon as 2011.

As of 2005, the top coal-producing countries were China (44% of world production), United States (20%), India (8%), and Australia (7%). Each of these four largest coal-producing countries are experiencing significant increases in coal production. Each nation willhave a different peak production date.

Canada, for example seems to have peaked in 1997. The United Kingdom peaked in 1913!

In 1956, Hubbert estimated that US coal production would peak in about the year 2150. In 2004, Gregson Vaux used the Hubbert model to predict peak US coal production in 2032.

The People’s Republic of China is the world’s largest coal extractor and has the third largest reserves after Russia and the United States. The Energy Watch Group predicts that the Chinese reserves will peak around 2015. The EWG also predicts that the recent steep rise in production will be followed by a steep decline after 2020. The US Energy Information Administration projects that China coal production will continue to rise through 2030.

Unconventional sources, such as heavy crude oil, oil sands, and oil shale are not counted as part of the formal oil reserves. However, with rule changes by the SEC, oil companies can now book them as proven reserves after opening a strip mine or thermal facility for extraction. These unconventional sources are more labor and resource intensive to produce, however, requiring extra energy to refine, resulting in higher production costs and up to three times more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel (or barrel equivalent) on a “well to tank” basis or 10 to 45% more on a “well to wheels” basis, which includes the carbon emitted from combustion of the final product.

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