A complete biography of Marion King Hubbert, one of the twentieth century's most influential energy experts, who was dubbed the " father of peak oil."In 1956, geophysicist and Shell Oil researcher Marion King Hubbert forecast that American oil production would peak surprisingly soon and decline steadily thereafter. Hubbert's prediction outraged the architects of the U.S. oil industry at the time, but it was largely correct. Even amid a twenty-first century shale boom, Hubbert's logic remains a source of debate and controversy.
In a richly researched narrative that surveys Hubbert's papers and correspondence for the first time, award-winning journalist Mason Inman rescues the history of a man who shocked the scientific community with his brilliance, eccentricity, and controversy. The Oracle of Oil shows Hubbert as a man of his
era: a time of great intellectual ferment and discovery tinged by dark undercurrents of intellectual witch hunts.
In its portrait of a man whose prescient ideas about sustainability still resonate today, The Oracle of Oil looks to the past to find a guiding philosophy for our energy future.
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Researching and writing The Oracle of Oil has been my obsession for more than five years, ever since I first learned of the notion of peak oil and the fascinating scientist M. King Hubbert, whose name is nearly synonymous with the concept.
For the past several years, I've focused on climate change and energy, but earlier I covered diverse subjects including cosmology, evolution, and archaeology. My articles have appeared in National Geographic News, Nature, Science, New Scientist, Economist.com, Wired.com, and other outlets.
I got started in this line of work through the excellent year-long Science Writing program at the University of California in Santa Cruz. After paying my dues with a few internships, I’ve been living the peripatetic freelance lifestyle.
This work has included stints at CERN, the physics lab in Geneva, Switzerland (which featured in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and discovered the elusive Higgs boson), as well as at Science's international office in Cambridge, England. Later I spent two years in the newer Cambridge (the one in Massachusetts). In 2008 came the biggest leap yet: two-and-a-half years in the mega-city of Karachi, Pakistan. Now I’m back in my home turf of the San Francisco area, but I do get to make occasional trips abroad.
Winning a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, which ran from mid-2008 to mid-2009, definitely helped me get going with on–the–ground reporting internationally. An article I wrote from Bangladesh, which was published in Science, won the IUCN-Reuters Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Journalism (North America region). In 2012, I received a couple of travel grants—from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and the American Heritage Center—that helped with research for The Oracle of Oil. And in 2015, I received a European Geosciences Union grant for reporting on shale gas in Poland and the UK.
I also work part-time for the non-profit Near Zero, which produces scientific assessments of energy and climate issues, drawing on input from top researchers. As part of this work, I co-authored the study, "The effect of natural gas supply on US renewable energy and CO2 emissions," published in Environmental Research Letters in 2014.
Back in college, I discovered I have a sort of savant-like ability to write backwards and upside-down, even in cursive. I still haven’t found a practical use for this, but I did get to show it off once at the Ig Nobel Prize talks at MIT—a performance that landed me on the cover of the Annual of improbable Research.