Working with State, National, and Global Petroleum Data

Eileen Herrstrom
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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This activity takes place in a laboratory setting and requires ~1.5-2 hours to complete. Students work with data on oil production in Illinois, the United States, and the world, creating graphs to interpret data on production, consumption, and future projections.

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Undergraduate class on introductory physical geology or quantitative reasoning for non-majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Must know basic information about fossil fuels, especially oil, and and be able to use Microsoft Excel (create charts)

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a laboratory activity that follows lectures on fossil fuels and is the tenth laboratory exercise of the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Examine the historical data for oil production in Illinois, graph the historical data for oil production in the US, and explain the 1956 prediction by M. King Hubbert and the concept of Hubbert's peak

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Analyze a graph of US oil consumption and import data, compare changes in domestic consumption and foreign imports to the US, and relate these changes to historical events

Other skills goals for this activity

Graph and interpret the oil production curve for the world as a whole, compare and contrast various predictions for a peak in world oil production, and explain the difference between conventional and unconventional oil resources

Description of the activity/assignment

Humans have known and used various hydrocarbons for millennia: tar for waterproofing, petroleum for lubrication, natural gas for medicine. The first recorded use of natural gas in what is now the United States occurred in 1626, when French explorers observed Native Americans burning gas that seeped naturally to the surface in and around Lake Erie. American settlers in the Midwest occasionally found gas in unsuccessful water wells. Today, fossil fuels form the basis for the modern industrial economy, and oil is traded and shipped around the world as a commodity.

Many people have predicted diverse dates for the time of maximum oil production worldwide. Some say it has occurred, back in 2005, while others expect that it will come during the next decade. A smaller group maintains that the world can sustain a high output of oil for up to a century. Finally, there is a minority view that the world will never run out of oil, because hydrocarbons are continually forming in the mantle and rising into the crust.

Student materials for this exercise include a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with data on oil production in Illinois, the US, and the world and consumption and import information for the US. A separate file holds student instructions and questions. The exercise is divided into three parts.

Part I introduces the concept of oil production curves for regions illustrated by Illinois and the United States. Based on these curves, students identify peaks in production through time.

In Part II, students work with consumption and import data for the US and examine the interplay between these two variables. This section also utilizes freeform shapes in Excel to help students compare the changes in consumption with those in imports.

Part III involves creating a graph of world oil production and interpreting it in terms of a possible peak. This part of the exercise also illustrates the concept of peak oil via a set of figures (production data for deepwater oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, Hubbert's 1956 prediction of a US peak in 1970, and historical world data to 2003 and 2017).

Determining whether students have met the goals

In both the traditional face-to-face and online versions of the course, this activity is assessed based on the answers to the questions. It is also possible to have students submit their completed spreadsheets, although this option works best in a small class.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Orton, E., 1891, Report on the occurrence of petroleum, natural gas and asphalt rock in western Kentucky, based on examinations made in 1888 and 1889: Kentucky Geological Survey, Series 2, volume E, 233 p. Online resource – Accessed 17 June 2019

Illinois Department of Natural Resources, 2018, About Oil and Gas in Illinois: Online resource – Accessed 17 June 2019

US Energy Information Administration, 2018, International Energy Outlook 2018: Online resource – Accessed 17 June 2019

International Energy Agency, 2019: Online resource – Accessed 17 June 2019