free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: December 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007


Amid all the year-end retrospectives, top ten lists and prediction contests, I guess it's time for one of PeakOilDebunked's favorite features: our presentation of the POD Asswipe of the Year award. This highly coveted prize is awarded to the peak oil person or persons whose predictions are judged most suitable to wipe your ass with. I've just received the envelope from POD's crack staff of dandruff-sprinkled MIT dorks and former cast members of Saturday Night Live, and this year's winner is ..... Jim Kunstler!

Congratulations Jim!

Jim got off to a rip-roaring start in April 1999 by predicting that "Y2K is real. Y2K is going to rock our world... I believe [Y2K] will deeply affect the economies-of-scale of virtually all activities in the United States, essentially requiring us to downsize and localize everything from government to retail merchandising to farming... I doubt that the WalMarts and K-Marts of the land will survive Y2K."

I know what you're thinking: "Man, I wish I had a whole roll of that stuff to wipe with." And I couldn't agree more. Kunstler is a real talent, a genuine one-in-a-million find, and he hasn't let us down in the years since Y2K. He's made shitty prediction after shitty prediction -- to the point that the only proper response is probably a standing ovation with armpit farts for his uncanny ability to not see the future.

"I'm inclined to predict a gruesome journey down for the Dow Jones into the 4000 range by the end of the year. " -- June 27, 2005 Source

"I'd called for a Dow-4000 late in 2005. I think that was just an error in timing, and still call for the Dow to sink into that range, or worse, in 2006." -- Jan. 2, 2006 Source

"Let's get this out of the way up front: the worst call I made last year was for the Dow to crumble down to 4000 when, in fact, it melted up to a new all-time record high of about 12,500." --Jan 1, 2007 Source

"The commercial airline industry is already whirling around the drain. 2006 will send it decisively down that drain. Since we cannot do without aviation in a nation as large as the US (with train service on the level with Bolivia) then the government may have to take over the crippled air routes." -- Jan. 2, 2006 Source

"But I must say, at the risk once again of sounding extreme, that the structural and systemic sickness in the finance realm is now so severe that it is hard to imagine we will get through the month of December without some major trauma in the markets. In fact, I'd go so far as to predict a thousand-point drop (or more) in the Dow just in this week after Thanksgiving." Nov. 26, 2007 Source

"For those of you concerned about my sense of pride -- yes, I sure got that eggy feeling all over my face last week after calling for a thousand-point Dow plunge, only to watch it put on the greatest two-day melt-up in five years." Dec. 3, 2007 Source

"So I would conclude by again predicting a substantial drop in the Dow and other equity markets." January 1, 2007 Source

"I can't imagine that quite a few major banks will not collapse in the first half of 2008. It is hard to escape the conclusion that many hedge funds will also blow up, given the unsoundness of their counter-parties' positions, not to mention the frailty of the bond reinsurers." Dec. 31, 2007 Source

"Okay, my final comment. After being chastised endlessly about mis-calling the DOW in 2006 (I said 4000), I have learned my lesson about making numerical predictions for the stock markets. So let's just say there is no fucking way that the DOW, the NASDAQ, and the S & P will not end the year 2008 absolutely on their asses."
Dec. 31, 2007 Source
by JD

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Buzzed over to LATOC today, and found this literature next to the cash register:

More of the huckstering pseudo-science we've come to expect from the peak oil doom cult. No evidence or data -- just faulty analogy, fluffed with fear, larded with opinion, and sold via MasterCardTM over the Internet. Apparently the ongoing credit armageddon hasn't shortcircuited Savinar's retail channels... yet.

So what really does happen when global oil production drops by 15%? Well, it turns out we know the answer to that one because it actually happened once before, in the early 1980's. Production hit a high of 66mbd in 1979, and over the course of 4 years dropped by 14% to 56.6mbd in 1983. In fact, oil production didn't surpass the 1979 high until 1993, 14 years later (Source: BP Statistical Review 2007). Let's call this event "The Big Glitch".

So what did the world look like in 1983, after oil production had collapsed by 15%? I'll tell you what. Go out to your local freeway, and look at it during rush hour, when it's totally crammed with cars. That's exactly what 1983 looked like. I was gassing up as usual, totally oblivious. The "crisis" had such a minor impact on daily life, that I didn't even realize anything out of the ordinary was happening, let alone a liquid fuels armageddon that was wholly shattering the oil dependent economy and reducing the citizenry to poverty. I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure that no one was forced by starvation to eat their Flock of Seagulls albums.

The Big Glitch is also interesting because it shows us how the world economy behaves under the conditions of a long oil production plateau. To see this, connect the years 1979 and 1993 with a horizontal line, like so:

As you can see, from 1979 to 1993 the world actually used far less than the plateau condition indicated by the yellow line. And how did the world economy perform with no net gain in global oil production for 14 years? Here's the graph showing growth in world real GDP, based on figures from the World Bank's World Development Indicators Database:

The world economy didn't miss a beat. Over 14 years from 1979 to 1993, the world economy grew by 60%, despite a 0% increase in oil production.
by JD

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Peak oil analysts tend to focus on two extremes:
  1. Individual countries: These have rapid patterns of rise and fall, sometimes following the classic Hubbert curve, sometimes not.
  2. The world: Regarded as a sort of "big country" which will hit a peak, and rapidly decline shortly thereafter.
However, the evidence I presented in the previous entry (#322 below) suggests that large blocks (continents and other supranational units) will behave differently than the individual countries which make them up.

The evidence bears this out. The following chart shows liquids production for the 6 large blocks used in the BP Statistical Review 2007 (click to enlarge):

As you can see, large supranational blocks are very different from individual countries. They have a tendency to plateau for extremely long periods of time. For example, North America has been on an undulating plateau of about 14-15mbd for almost 30 years:

1979 13578kbd
1980 14063
1981 14344
1982 14790
1983 14838
1984 15226
1985 15304
1986 14792
1987 14730
1988 14642
1989 14014
1990 13856
1991 14182
1992 14050
1993 13899
1994 13807
1995 13789
1996 14052
1997 14267
1998 14182
1999 13678
2000 13904
2001 13906
2002 14069
2003 14193
2004 14137
2005 13695
2006 13700

Asia-Pacific has been on a plateau of 6-7mbd for almost 20 years. South/Central America has logged a couple of long plateaus, most recently a plateau of about 6.5mbd for 10 years.

The evidence suggests that the world (as the largest supranational unit) will plateau for a very long time -- even decades -- just like CERA says.

12/28/2007 Postscript)

More examples of long plateaus by large blocks in the BP Stat. Rev. 2007:

12-year plateau by FSU from 1978-1990 at roughly 12mbd:
1978: 11531
1979: 11805
1980: 12116
1981: 12260
1982: 12330
1983: 12403
1984: 12297
1985: 12040
1986: 12442
1987: 12655
1988: 12601
1989: 12298
1990: 11566

10-year plateau by non-Opec (excluding FSU, including Angola) from 1997-2006 at roughly 35mbd:
1997 34925
1998 35028
1999 34887
2000 35507
2001 35415
2002 35933
2003 35673
2004 35661
2005 35343
2006 35162

by JD

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


According to the familiar Hubbert Theory, world oil production will gradually increase, then peak and gradually decline, tracing out a smooth symmetrical trajectory known as Hubbert's Curve:
Hubbert's Curve

At one time, Hubbert's theory was the standard view among peak oilers. Today, however, it is being increasingly superceded by a new concept which I call the Hubbert Cliff theory. According to this theory, world oil production will not follow the Hubbert Curve. It will peak, and then fall off a cliff:
Hubbert's Cliff

Cliffers talk a lot about horizontal drilling, "watering out", "bottlebrush" drilling, and "supersucker" wells. These modern extraction technologies have, they say, already sucked up the right side of the Hubbert Curve, making a gradual decline impossible. The signs are showing up everywhere. Here's a standard rehash of the argument:
The slow decline of oil production in the United States (specifically the continental US) is aberrant and not be generalized. Rather look to Mexico and it's supergiant field Cantarell for guidance (declines of 12%), the North Slope and North Sea (8-12%) Yibel, and a host of other regions depleted with great expertise, at great expense, using the most modern technologies available. This is our future.
The argument is pretty primitive, and generally isn't any more sophisticated than that. Cliffers cherry pick the worst years, in the worst countries, wave their magic wand and say "That's how the world will perform".

The cliffer argument ignores an important fact: Small or even fairly large areas collapsing at high rates have very little effect on the world. If Yibal (at 250kbd) collapses in one year, for a decline rate of 100%, the world only drops by 0.3%. Even if Ghawar collapses at 12% a year, that will only shave 0.7% per year off the world total.

Let's look at some individual countries to see how this works.

EIA C&C stats for Mexico after its peak in 2004 look like this:

2004: 3383kbd
2005: 3334
2006: 3256
2007: 3126 (9-month average)

That's an annual decline rate of 2.8%, not 12%. Even Mexico (during the collapse of Cantarell!) doesn't collapse like Cantarell.

For the North Slope, stats(pdf) from the Alaska Tax Division show that liquids production dropped from a peak of 2.006mbd in 1988 to 0.74mbd in 2007. That's an annual decline rate of 5.2%. But, as we know, that was absorbed into U.S. liquids production, which has been declining at a mild rate of 1.4% per annum since 1970.

Yibal was one oil field, and it didn't cause oil production in Oman to collapse. Indeed, Yibal went off the cliff in 1997 (Source) and Oman continued to increase production for 3 more years:

1997: 904kbd
1998: 900
1999: 910
2000: 970

970kbd in 2000 was Oman's EIA C&C peak, and today it pumps 707kbd. That's an annual decline rate of 4.4%. Well short of 8-12%.

UK C&C peaked in 1999 at 2684kbd and today is at 1486kbd, for an annual decline rate of 7.2%, still below 8-12%.

Furthermore, all of these rapidly collapsing fields/regions were uneventfully absorbed into world C&C production, which has declined from a peak of 74.3mbd in May 2005 to its most recent value of 73.5mbd in Sept. 2007.

So, despite all of these collapse horror stories, world oil production has maintained a mild decline rate of 0.5% per annum since its peak in May 2005.

Personally, I see the slow decline of world C&C production since its May 2005 peak as confirmation of an important theory presented by Stuart Staniford and Jeffrey Brown of the Oil Drum. According to this theory, the decline rate of a region can be predicted from the y-intercept (k value) of its Hubbert Linearization. Here's a linearization for the UK by khebab:

In this case, k=12.66%. So the theory predicts that, over time, the UK decline rate will approach 12.6%. This means that the high decline rate of the UK is not an unexpected violation of Hubbert Theory, but rather a confirmation of it.

Here's a linearization of Norway (also by khebab), another country often cited as going over a cliff:

Note that k=16.47%. So the steep decline of Norway is, again, an expected consequence of the fact that production is following the Hubbert curve. The graph of Norway (actual drawn from BP figures, and theoretical from khebab's specs, URR=30460, k=0.1647, Peak year=2001) bears this out (click to enlarge):
Production went up steep, and it's coming back down steep. The curve is symmetrical and there is no "cliff".

In all cases I have looked at -- UK (k=12.66%), Norway (k=16.47%), US (k=5.4%) and the world (k=5%) -- the severity of the post-peak decline is indicated well by the k-value of the region's Hubbert-Linearization. In fact, I am confident enough in this method to stir the pot and make a prediction.

JD's Prediction: World C&C production will decline at an average annual rate of 1% for 15 years after the world C&C peak (whether that be May 2005, or some future date).
by JD

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


My ongoing ground-and-pound operation on peak oil agriculture scaremongering is having a salutary effect. My buddy cube over at doom central now informs me that:
I think there's a consensus here that phosphorus NOT nitrogen fertilizer is the weak link.
Yep, the doomers have thrown in the towel and moved on to the next fertilizer scare which, incidentally, has no connection whatsoever with peak oil. LOL. But let's check it out anyway.

For our purposes, the story begins with an Aug. 13, 2007 article by Patrick Déry and Bart Anderson called Peak Phosphorus. I'll give you the Cliff's Notes version here:

Phosphorus is a critical fertilizer we need to grow food, and the earth has only a finite supply. Like oil, someday phosphorus will peak, terminally decline, and run out.

Now, like all good peak oilers, Pat and Bart are ready to slap a Hubbert curve onto anything at a moment's notice to prove that everything in the world is peaking right now shriek shriek. So here's the money shot:
Fig. 1: Fasten seatbelt and brace for die-off

The article claims that worldwide production of phosphate rock (the source of phosphate; I'll call it "PR") peaked in 1989 although that is certainly a mistake because the USGS data(pdf) the authors rely on indicates a world peak in 1988 at a level of 166 million metric tons. Fixing that for them, let's evaluate the claim that PR peaked in 1988, and is now in terminal decline.

The Hubbert Linearization given by the authors shows a phosphate rock URR of 8 billion metric tons, as indicated by the green arrow:
Fig. 2: Fraudulent H-L graph

Now, let's compare that figure with phosphate rock reserves from the USGS (Phosphate Rock Mineral Commodity Summary, 2007):

World phosphate rock reserves: 18 billion metric tons
World phosphate rock reserve base: 50 billion metric tons

Current reserves are more than twice the claimed URR. So clearly this Hubbert-Linearization has been cooked for propaganda purposes. In fact, since cumulative production to date is about 6 billion metric tons, the area under the red curve in Fig. 1 is going to have to be at least three times larger than shown (6 to date + 18 reserves = 24). And that's just counting reserves -- i.e. phosphate which can be economically extracted with current technology.

I asked Stephen M. Jasinski, the USGS phosphate rock specialist, for his opinion on this matter, and he said: "Phosphate production has likely peaked, but reserves will last about 300 years with current technology." Apparently, Mr. Jasinski sees the reserve base figure of 50 billion tons as the more credible figure in the long-term, and that would make the area under the red curve in Fig. 1 seven times bigger than shown.

In conclusion, you can press the snooze button on "Peak Phosphorus".

Note) By an interesting coincidence, it turns out that asteroids are rich in phosphorus, and may in fact have been the original source of phosphorus for life on earth (Source). This presents the future possibility of asteroid mining -- a natural part of our human destiny as we grow beyond the earth and into the solar system.
by JD

Monday, December 10, 2007


Over the last few weeks, I've shown that the peak oil threat to the food system is greatly exaggerated. Fertilizer can be made without fossil fuel (#314), pesticides can be made with natural gas, coal or bitumen (#48), agricultural machinery can be driven with electricity (#317) , and a large part of the food system (fruits, vegetables, meats) depends more on human labor than oil-fueled machinery ( #319). But this still leaves the all-important question of transport. Can food be transported electrically? The answer is yes.

First of all, it can be transported by electric train:

Numerous electric rail-lines already exist between large cities throughout the world, and busy diesel lines can be electrified with off-the-shelf technology. This is probably the best method for high-volume, long-distance transport.

What about local delivery, within a city? This is the interesting part. Electric trucks are starting to catch on. In January 2007, the British express/mail company TNT began testing "Newton" electric trucks made by Smith Electric Vehicles. These are 7-ton trucks, with a 130 mile range, top speed of 50mph, regenerative braking, faster acceleration from 0-30 than diesel, 15,800lbs payload capacity, and "Zebra" 278v Sodium Nickel Chloride batteries:

Interestingly, these vehicles were developed as "green" zero-emission vehicles, not for peak oil. Nevertheless, they are a great response to peak oil, and show that in-city transport (and commercial/maintenance vehicles) can be electrified. TNT was so impressed by tests of the Newton, that they cut testing short and ordered 50 of them in April 2007.Source And just this month, Smith announced plans to build a 10,000 truck/year facility to supply the U.S. market. Jim Fraser from the Energy Blog reports that:
Kevin Harkins, Sales Director for Smith Electric Vehicles, stated that although automobile manufacturers believe that battery technology for mass-produced electric cars is some years away, Smith believes that for larger sized commercial vehicles the technology available today is perfectly suited.

Smith Electric already has a 70,000sq ft facility in Fresno, CA, which has the capacity to produce 1,000 vehicles next year. It plans on establishing a major production facilIty in the U.S. with the capacity to produce up to 10,000 electicric vehicles per year by 2010. Source
Domino's Pizza and UPS are using Zap cars and trucks for deliveries at the tail of their distribution chains. Source

Here's a video of the Zap trucks working for UPS:

Finally, we have the next big thing in heavy trucking, the hybrid semi, brought to you by the Peak Oil's favorite retailer Walmart:

Peterbilt is also developing hybrid heavy-duty vehicles of other types:

And here's another cool species, the electric sport utility truck, developed by Phoenix Motorcars for commercial/fleet use:
The specs of this unit are amazing: top speed 95mph with 4 passengers and cargo, 100+ miles per charge, 0 to 60 in 10 sec., 250,000 mile battery pack life, 10 min. recharge to 95% capacity.

There doesn't seem to be any technical or economic impediment to electrifying suburban delivery and commercial vehicles in the U.S. In fact, there seems to be a strong incentive. It may be that EVs first make inroads into large vehicles (trucks) and small vehicles (scooters), and only later penetrate into midsize vehicles (cars).

by JD

Friday, December 07, 2007


The classic doomer soundbite: Peak oil will cause a massive worldwide die-off because modern agriculture is utterly dependent on oil for fertilizers, pesticides, agricultural machinery and transport.

Admittedly, it's a great soundbite. Very scary and plausible if you take it at face value. But -- to quote Baudrillard -- no truth can withstand being verified, and this truth is no exception. It falls apart under pressure. As we have seen:
Part of the power of the soundbite derives from the image it conjures in the mind. When the peak oilers say "agriculture is utterly dependent on oil", I bet you imagine something like this:

Heavy machinery spewing diesel exhaust. The big harvester-combine, mowing through the fields, blowing a stream of kernels into a transport truck. The operation definitely is oil-intensive. But there are ways of massaging that problem too, although I won't go into them today.

Today, I want to focus on another face of agriculture, one we are all familiar with, although we tend to forget when worrying about our "utter dependence on oil". It looks like this:

Remember these people? Yes, of course you do. In the U.S., they're called migrant farm workers, or illegal immigrants. It makes you wonder: Why does the U.S. need so many of them if their agriculture is utterly dependent on oil (i.e. mechanization)?

It turns out that, aside from grains (wheat, rice, corn), most of the fresh food you get at the supermarket is processed/harvested by human hands, not oil-burning heavy machinery.

The Center for Immigration Studies has compiled some interesting USDA-NASS stats on this phenomenon. In 1997, for example,
  • 2,775 farms covering 203,000 acres produced 7.5 billion lbs. of head lettuce at a rate of 50 man-hours/acre using 11,000 harvest workers.
  • 22,805 farms covering 236,000 acres produced 2.4 billion lbs. of fresh sweet corn at a rate of 30 man-hours/acre using 15,000 harvest workers.
  • 28,100 farms covering 454,000 acres produced 10.2 billion lbs. of apples at a rate of 50 man-hours/acre using 57,000 harvest workers
Check the stats for yourself. It's clear that many, if not most, fruit and vegetable crops have only a minor dependence on fossil fuel because most of the field work is done by people, not engines.

You could say the same thing for many meat and dairy products as well. Do you recognize this scene?:
Not much oil being consumed there. We certainly aren't mowing chickens into chicken parts with big oil-fueled combines. In fact, aside from transport and the oil inputs to chicken feed, most of the work on chickens is done in electric factories, or by human hand.

This is a fertile area of inquiry, and I've only scratched the surface. The take-home message: There are two segments of the modern agricultural system -- foods which are highly dependent on oil-powered machinery, and foods which aren't.
by JD

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


We're all familiar with The Long Emergency and Jim Kunstler's rants against suburbia. Apparently peak oil is going to drive gasoline prices through the roof, causing a Katrina-style evacuation to the cities, and making the American suburbs into the slums of the future.

I don't buy this, first of all because the source is so obviously biased. I think Kunstler is having a lurid fantasy more than making a sober forecast of the likely future.

Second of all, I will prove to you that suburbia can be saved. I could do it with an electric bicycle (my favorite solution), but today I think I'll use a moped because mopeds are cool, and I like the idea of Kunstler tossing and turning in his sleep at the very idea that mopeds -- do you hear me?!! f*cking MOPEDs!! arggghhhh!! -- saved suburbia.

So... first we need some stats on commuting. According to an ABC News poll:
[American commuters] report an average one-way commute time of 26 minutes (over an average distance of 16 miles). But the variance is huge: On the best days, the average commute is 19 minutes; on the worst days, 46 minutes.
Recklessly calculating, it appears that Joe Sixpack commutes at a speed of about 37mph, dropping to 21mph in congestion, and rising to 50mph in smooth periods. YMMV.

Now, let's look at the moped Joe is going to be driving. I picked it at random after about a minute of searching:
50cc Ninja Moped

Black... looks cool. Not too dorky. That's important. Don't want to turn off the ladies.

The relevant specs:
£649 = $1323

Now, I don't see any good reason why Joe Sixpack can't, under pressure, commute using this type of vehicle. Price isn't an issue. He already owns 1 or 2 cars which cost 10-20 times as much. If necessary, he can sell the car(s), to raise money for the moped. He'll have a bunch of money left over, and also save money on each commute. (Average fuel economy in the U.S. was 24.7mpg in 2004, and the moped gets 100mpg, for savings of about $.10/mile. At 45mph, the pay-off for driving the moped is $4.50/hr tax-free, almost like a second job.)

Schedules won't change much. Even in smooth traffic, the car only edges the moped by about 2 minutes over the average commute of 16 miles. In congestion the moped will be far superior.

Now, here is my argument: Since suburbia is so popular, and is such a massive sunk cost, it will only "die" if there is absolutely no way at all to save it in the face of peak oil -- i.e. if it is physically/financially impossible for people to remain in suburbia in the face of peak oil. I believe this moped solution shows that not to be the case. In fact, it is very feasible -- even easy -- for commuters to economically get to work, even with gasoline prices 4 times higher than they are today. No exotic solutions necessary. Therefore, suburbia will survive.
by JD

Monday, December 03, 2007


During his time in power Pol Pot imposed a version of agrarian collectivization whereby city dwellers were relocated to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labour projects, conceived as a restarting of civilization in "Year Zero."
--Wikipedia article, Pol Pot

In the Dec. 2007 issue of his Museletter, Richard Heinberg* channels Pol Pot, and gives us his new-age version of the "Year Zero":
Because ecological organic farming methods are often dramatically more labor- and knowledge-intensive than industrial agriculture, their adoption will require an economic transformation of societies. The transition to a non-fossil-fuel food system will take time. Nearly every aspect of the process by which we feed ourselves must be redesigned. And, given the likelihood that global oil peak will occur soon, this transition must occur at a forced pace, backed by the full resources of national governments.


Without cheap transportation fuels we will have to reduce the amount of food transportation that occurs, and make necessary transportation more efficient. This implies increased local food self-sufficiency. It also implies problems for large cities that have been built in arid regions capable of supporting only small populations from their regional resource base. In some cases, relocation of people on a large scale may be necessary.


It will be necessary as well to break up the corporate mega-farms that produce so much of today's cheap food. Industrial agriculture implies an economy of scale that will be utterly inappropriate and unworkable for post-industrial food systems. Thus land reform will be required in order to enable smallholders and farming co-ops to work their own plots.Source

*) For those of you just tuning in to the peak oil issue, Richard Heinberg is author of "The Party's Over" -- a popular peak oil primer. Like a number of others, Heinberg is a fearmonger attempting to advance an extremist agenda under the pretext of peak oil.
by JD

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I have conclusively demonstrated that peak oil does not threaten the fertilizer supply ( #314). That doesn't stop the doomers, however. They say: We're still screwed because agriculture is utterly dependent on oil to drive agricultural machinery. It can't be driven with electricity.

Here's "bandits" over at The Oil Drum:
I say to all the electric jackasses to get off and come back when the first commercial electric combine harvester, crop duster, bull dozer or fertilizer plant is constructed. Oh yeah and make sure that they are completely manufactured using "renewable" electric power.
We can now respond to bandits on the electric fertilizer plant. As referenced in 314. PEAK OIL AND FERTILIZER: NO PROBLEM, the first commercial electric fertilizer plant began operation around 1905, in Norway, and was a huge success.

How about that electric bulldozer? Well, here's a fully electric loader/backhoe, the ET-400 from Venieri:

It's interesting that the ET-400 was designed primarily as "green" construction equipment to reduce emissions and noise.

Here's a video of an electric plow prototype, the ET-7 built by Steve Heckeroth:

More photos and information on the ET-7 are available here and here.

The argument that electricity cannot handle farm work tends to focus on the most brutal farm tasks, like plowing. Can we develop an electric plow? The answer turns out to be yes. It was being done as early as 1937 in the USSR (see the source article for a photo):
The large hydroelectric plan on the Dneiper River in Russia's Dnepropetrovsk province makes it possible for them to use electric farm equipment like the two-way plow shown on the front cover of this week's Science News Letter.

No tractor is attached to the plow, which can reverse and travel in either direction. It is particularly useful on large areas of flat ground without rock like that on which the implement is pictured. (Science News Letter, October 23, 1937)Source
Apparently electric agriculture was all the rage as far back as 1879:
Already -- by 1879 in fact -- French engineers were plowing with electricity, adapting that power to the well-established British steam cable plowing system, utilizing two motors, one on each side of the field, to power windlasses alternately winding up steel cable and drawing a two-way plow to and fro between them."[from "Early Uses of Electricity in American Agriculture", Clark C. Spence, Technology and Culture, Vol. 3, No. 2. (Spring, 1962), p. 143.]
Spence cites an estimate that 1600 electric plows were operating in Germany at the end of WWI. It's a clever idea, isn't it? Plowing with just the blade/implement, and no tractor. Here's a slick variation from 116 years ago:
A novel cable approach was suggested in 1891 by an imaginative reader of the Rural New Yorker, who urged that an electric motor be located on a revolvable platfrom in the center of a field to draw in plows on radial lines by means of cable.[op.cit., p. 145]
Wow! That could be more than just an agricultural machine -- it could be a thrill ride. Put a pair of handlebars on the plow, and drag people at high speed through the soil for $3 a pop.
-- by JD