Since 2008, U.S. oil consumption has declined by more than 20 percent, giving peak-oil theorists their confirmation — world crude oil production is decreasing. And no matter how much U.S. production increases, everyone will feel the squeeze in the face of rising international oil prices.

It is really hard to argue against this. After all, rising oil prices and decreasing consumption could be easily explained by one of the core peak-oil theories: the export-land model.

According to the export land model, once we pass the global peak production and prices rise, oil exporters get richer and consume more oil themselves. This creates a positive feedback cycle between rising export prices and domestic consumption (especially when the exporter subsidizes fuel products on top).

As a result, production decreases even faster, and net exporters turn into net importers. This pushes up global prices even further and forces net importers like the U.S. to consume less.

In fact, some predictions show that many of the top 10 U.S. crude oil suppliers could become net importers in the foreseeable future* — squeezing U.S. oil consumption as the model suggests. A peak-oil blogger even correctly estimated in 2007 that U.S. oil consumption would decrease by 20 percent by 2013.

On top of that, Jeffrey Brown, geologist and founder of the export-land model theory, confirms in the Resource Insights blog by Kurt Cobb, that the shale revolution won't save the U.S. from its fate based on the following points:

"The EIA's estimate for the most recent four-week average crude oil production rate was 7.6 mbpd (million barrels per day). Refinery runs were 15.8 mbpd, and net crude oil imports averaged 8.0 mbpd. The numbers for total liquids are, of course, different.

"As several people have noted for some time, the primary problem with the tight[oil]/[natural gas] shale plays is the high decline rate.

"At a (probably conservative) 10 percent/year decline rate for existing U.S. crude oil production, in order to simply maintain current U.S. crude oil production, the industry would have to put online the productive equivalent of every current oil field in the U.S. over the next 10 years. In round numbers, we would need the productive equivalent of 10 new Bakken plays over 10 years, in order to maintain current crude oil production.

"Citi Research [an arm of Citigroup] puts the decline rate for existing U.S. natural gas production at about 24 percent/year, which would require the industry to replace about 100 percent of current U.S. natural gas production in four years, just to maintain current production. Or we would need the productive equivalent of 30 new Barnett Shale plays over 10 years, in order to maintain current natural gas production."

That's it, right? This is the end of oil?

No, actually decreasing oil consumption and rising oil prices can be explained by many more facts than an assumed peak in global oil production:

  • It is true that oil production decreases in countries like Saudi Arabia can be explained by dwindling oil reserves and a phenomenally high domestic demand (the second-highest energy demand per capita in the world). However, producers like Venezuela still have huge untapped reservoirs, and they just don't manage to get the stuff out of the ground or to refine it after decades of bad management and underinvestment in the sector.
  • U.S. crude oil consumption has been historically correlated to economic growth, and the decrease in consumption can be explained by the 2008 recession.
  • According to a blog by policy analyst Gail Tverberg, U.S. oil consumption declined because industrial activity waned, and the U.S. has shifted more toward a knowledge-based economy (according to her estimate, this factor made up about 51 percent of the consumption decline).
  • Cars are becoming more efficient. In the same blog, Gail argues that about 7 percent of the consumption decrease could be explained by improved mileage per gallon of gasoline.

So be careful the next time you read an article by a peak-oil theorist.

*Mexico by 2020, Saudi Arabia by 2030;Venezuela has already become a net importer of gasoline in 2012.