Colin Campbell obituary

Other lives: Exploration geologist for companies including BP and Amoco concerned with the energy constraints posed by ‘peak oil’

My friend and colleague Colin Campbell, who has died aged 91, was an exploration geologist concerned with the energy constraints posed by “peak oil”.

I first met Colin in 1995 at a lecture on peak oil at Reading University, where he showed that the world would soon face maximum production of its conventional oil. An academic in the audience dismissed this, so colleagues and I talked to oil experts and to Petroconsultants SA (who held the world’s best oil data): they said they thought that Colin was right.

In 2005 the world indeed reached its resource-limited maximum of conventional oil production. This led to a sharp rise in the price of oil, which contributed to the 2008 financial crisis and is a significant contributor to today’s cost of living crisis.

An only child, Colin was born in Berlin, to Frances (nee Dagley), a furniture designer, and John Campbell, an architect. In the Depression the family moved to Chapel Point in Cornwall, where Colin recalled an isolated but happy life. There, he read Arthur Ransome’s Pigeon Post, which sparked his interest in geology. In 1951, after St Paul’s school in London, he went to Wadham College, Oxford, to study a geology degree and later a DPhil. The latter included fieldwork in Ireland and central Borneo.

Colin’s first job was as a field geologist with Texaco in Trinidad in 1958. There, he met his future wife, Bobbins Ludford, and, following a transfer to Colombia, they married in Bogotá in 1959.

In subsequent posts Colin rose through the ranks of a variety of oil companies, including BP and Amoco. His final post came as executive vice-president of Fina’s Norwegian operations.

Like most oil geologists, Colin initially thought that finding more oil was only a matter of looking; and his fieldwork in Colombia had indeed discovered the oil-prolific Llanos basin. But over time, as he undertook ever-wider studies of oil availability, first of Colombia, then South America, then the world, he came to understand peak oil. He persuaded Fina to fund a Norwegian Petroleum Directorate study of global oil availability, leading to the book The Golden Century of Oil (1991). Petroconsultants’ George Leckie read it, and persuaded Colin, with petroleum consultant Jean Laherrère, to carry out a similar study, but using oil-industry data. This resulted in the landmark 1998 Scientific American article The End of Cheap Oil.

After retirement in 1990, Colin strove to get the peak oil message across: supporting a small research centre in London; writing several more books and a monthly newsletter; with Professor Kjell Aleklett setting up the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas; and starting The Oil Age journal, of which I was editor.

A kind, humorous and generous man, Colin was willing to share his hard-won knowledge with all who asked. In 2000, he and Bobbins moved from France, where they had been living since Colin’s retirement, to Ballydehob in County Cork.

Bobbins survives him, along with their children, Simon and Julia, five grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Roger Bentley

The GuardianTramp

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