Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Peak Oil Observation

Peak Oil is the theory that the world is quickly running out of oil, such that oil prices are likely to begin rising, never to lower again. You might suspect this is a hot topic when oil prices are very high, or at least when gas prices are very high, and that I'm bucking some trend.

But grabbing data on the number of searches on peak oil (Google Trends), the historical price of gasoline (DoE), and the historical price of oil (DoE), I noticed a few things:

* Searches for "peak oil" are not correlated with oil price.
* Searches for "peak oil" are not correlated with gas price.
* Searches for "peak oil" are somewhat correlated with recent rises in oil prices. (r = .144, p = .02).
* Searches for "peak oil" are very strongly correlated with recent rises in gas prices. (r = .278, p < .001).

This suggests peak oil searches may actually be a rough estimate of US anxiety about gas prices, but further:
1) The American public lacks the capacity to care about actual gas prices, because we have a very short term memory. We might easily handle $5-10/gal as long as we got there a few cents at a time. Perhaps a gas tax could be phased in slowly enough no one would notice. Maybe OPEC could start ratcheting up gas prices by very gradual adjustments in oil supply (rather than the more radical adjustments they seem to prefer).
2) Americans think sudden rises in gas prices are a sign we are running out of oil, even though gas prices have fluctuated throughout modern history, and so likely signify no such thing.
3) As gas prices now show signs of rising (even while oil prices are falling), this post on peak oil might be quite timely. Come ye frightened hordes!