Peak Oil in the US: Light Duty Vehicle Consumption

I often see discussions, calculations, estimates etc. of when we will reach peak oil. Originally peak oil was related to when we will run out of oil, i.e. when production will not keep up with consumption. Currently, however, it seems that we will reach peak demand first. Estimates for global peak oil demand vary wildly ranging from 2025 to never, most often being in 2040.

With electric vehicles on the rise, it is easy to assume that when lots of EVs are on the road we will reach peak oil at some point in the future. With electric buses and now multiple electric semi truck efforts that future might be sooner. However, as far as light duty vehicles like passenger cars and pickup trucks are concerned, we have possibly already crossed peak oil.

Luckily for me, this data to prove this is easily available from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Here is a chart showing the number of registered Light Duty vehicles and the average fuel efficiency (mpg) of the entire fleet:

The calculation is simple. Let’s take the numbers above and and divide the total number of light duty vehicles on the road by the fleet average fuel efficiency. As soon as this number hits the peak, we have peak oil for light duty vehicles. Here is a chart of that number:

Woah, looks like we passed the peak a few years ago! Of course this assumes that the average miles driven stay roughly the same. Just as a sanity check, here are motor gasoline supply numbers from the EIA superimposed on the chart:

So it is easy to see that these numbers are roughly aligned. So did we hit peak already in 2006? Well, unfortunately not. EIA 2016 data shows gasoline supply over the 2006 peak. However, considering that in the last few years the supply and demand curves are off more than usual, maybe this supply is not being consumed? Other explanations would be more heavy duty consumption, mpg numbers being manipulated by manufacturers, people driving more or more people moving to larger less fuel efficient vehicles.

I’ll leave you with total oil supply in the US, not just gasoline:

Maybe peak oil has come and gone already. I’ll add more details and projections in my next post on peak oil. Subscribe to stay updated.



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