Thursday, May 19, 2011

When Will The Oil Run Out?

I haven’t found an adequate answer for this question on the net (just a lot of silliness and/or propaganda) so I’ve had to do the sums myself. Current world consumption is about 26 billion barrels per year. World Oil Consumption has been falling for the last two years but I think an average growth rate of 1.5% - 2% per year seems reasonable based on the expected continuing industrialisation of China, India and the Third World. That means that world oil consumption will have doubled to about 50 billion barrels per year in around 2045 when oil consumption may level off due to energy conservation measures and plateauing populations and industrialisation. There is - approximately - (no one really knows for sure) 1.3 trillion barrels of proven oil reserves across the world. If we use, say, 1 trillion barrels over the next 34 years that will leave us with only 300 billion barrels when world oil consumption hopefully(!) levels off at 50 billion barrels a year in 2045. That means that post 2045 there will only be a six years supply left. By this metric all the oil in the world will run out in 2051.
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However, there are many unexplored regions of the world and it wouldn’t be outrageous (but it would generous) to suggest that there could be another 1 trillion barrels of oil in the Arctic, in the Antarctic, off Greenland, in Russia and in other inhospitable regions. But one trillion only buys us another twenty years or so at the 50 billion per year consumption rate so the oil runs out in 2071 (and thats assuming a levelling off of oil consumption after 2045). But what about the Bakken formation in N. Dakota and the oil sands of Alberta and Venezuela as well as other places around the globe? Well now we’re talking big numbers. At the moment most of those massive deposits are uneconomic but if we’re running out of oil fast then by golly they will quickly become economic. In Canada and Venezuela alone there could be as much as 4 trillion barrels of oil that may be recoverable with advanced technologies. This will buy us another 80 years. Let’s throw in the remaining world oil sands fields for good measure and that brings us up to an even 100 years.
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So when does all the oil run out? Add this all together and I reckon the answer is August 6th 2171 at 7.15 pm British Summer Time. If no one’s invented a fusion reactor by then it’ll be back to the glorious days of clipper ships and steam trains. Hurrah!
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(And please don’t get me started on the topic of world coal reserves).