How much oil is there left, really?

According to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy (pdf), released on wednesday, we still have 1,333 billion barrels out there to pump, enough for 40 years at current usage. Great – nothing to worry about right now… if you believe BP. According to Jeremy Leggett, BP’s chief economist literally laughed off a question about peak oil at the launch press conference.

So do we breathe a sigh of relief, or do we join Britain’s former chief scientist in saying ‘pull the other one’?

Even a cursory browse might put you in the latter camp. Consider for example, that Saudi Arabia single handedly accounts for almost 20% of the world’s oil reserves. The details of how much is in each field is a state secret, but it claims to have 264 thousand million barrels. This is a little strange, since it reported that it had 262 thousand million barrels ten years ago, and 260  in 1989. Saudi Arabia has pumped around 8 million barrels of oil a day for twenty years, but its proven oil reserves have gone up rather than down.

Since Saudi Arabia hasn’t announced any major discoveries in that time, its stated reserves are scarcely credible. When Colin Campbell attempted to work out an honest figure in 2006, he concluded that the real figure was probably closer to 159.

Kuwait claims 101 thousand million barrels, 4 more than it said it had in 1989. So where on earth have its 2 million barrels a day been coming from? The United Arab Emirates’ estimate is unchanged in a decade, still at 97.8 after ten highly productive years. Essentially, there is either something magical happening under the sands of the gulf, or somebody is telling lies.

The answers lie with OPEC, which seeks to control the global oil price by agreeing limits to oil exports. It sets quotas according to stated reserves – the more you have in the ground, the more you’re allowed to sell each year. As Matthew Simmons says in his book Twilight in the Desert, this gives member countries every incentive to overstate their reserves. They would be punished, economically, if they told the truth.

Take a look at the graph of stated oil reserves below, and see if you can tell which year OPEC switched to a quota system.

OPEC switched to quotas in 1985, and the following year its members had miraculously discovered billions more barrels that they didn’t know they had. Those figures have never been clarified or revised. The fact that Kuwait’s figures are decided by a closed session of the Kuwaiti parliament, rather than an oil company or an independent auditor, tells you everything you need to know. But there’s no need to pick on Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – looking through this year’s BP statistical review, it’s notable that not a single OPEC country has reported a fall in its reserves in the last 10 years.

In short, global oil reserve estimates are fictional. We have no idea how much we have, because it doesn’t pay to tell the truth when it comes to oil. It doesn’t serve OPEC, and it doesn’t serve politics either, which is why no government questions the figures.

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102 Comments on “How much oil is there left, really?”

  1. max June 11, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    The real non-sense is Latin America, and especially Venezuela. Venezuelan oil reserves are effectively limitless; they just have trouble certifying some of it. Whatever amount of oil is in the Middle East, we won’t run out of oil. We will destroy the planet first.

    • amirlach June 23, 2011 at 2:03 am #

      Between them, the Canadian and Venezuelan deposits contain about 3.6 trillion barrels (570×10^9 m3) of recoverable oil, compared to 1.75 trillion barrels (280×10^9 m3) of conventional oil worldwide, most of it in Saudi Arabia and other Middle-Eastern countries.

      So that’s a total of 5.35 Trillion barrels of known reserves. Then there is natural gas, shale gas and gas hydrates.

      There have been quantum leaps in discovery and recovery technology sine the 50’s.

      The questions raised about mideast reserves have some merit. No one really knows if they are reporting accurate figures for their reserves. Most likely not when they can control prices with a turn of a valve.

      • Michael February 24, 2012 at 9:11 am #

        You’re forgetting that the VAST majority of the oil in Canada is non conventional Bitumen, which is costly to extract and is not economically cheap to produce. That being said, Canada is off the grid. Venezuela is in a similar situation as Canada as the VAST MAJORITY of it’s oil is unconventional and only about 220 billion barrels is conventional and technicaly recoverable. That means that most of all this oil cannot be used and is no good.

  2. Adam June 11, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    “40 years at current usage”? Surely that’s very bad news?

    I thought the point about Peak Oil is that the world is unlikely to be able to extract much faster than at present, yet demand threatens to go thruough the roof as the BRIC economies, tigers, Middle Eaast etc develop rapidly.

    If I recall my economics classes correctly, stable or declining supply of an essential good meeting rapidly rising demand equals massive price rise. In the case of buying energy it’s surely likely to mean the west sending vast amounts of its wealth the way of the the suppliers.

    Add to the mix reductions in the use of dirty coal (EU? China?) and the impact that will have on demand for the remaining supply of other cheap energy sources.

    I’m surprised BP’s chief economist was able to laugh it off. Hysterical laughter?

    • Jeremy June 14, 2010 at 11:54 am #

      You’d think 40 years is still pretty bad news, wouldn’t you? I guess these things are relative, if the alternative view is that the crisis is pretty much already here.

      Or maybe he’s laughing because if there is a crisis and the price goes through the roof, the only people who really benefit are the oil companies. The less prepared we all are, the bigger BP’s profits are likely to be as we all panic buy oil futures.

  3. posconvex July 4, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    Any discussion about oil prices over the next decade must include an attempt to quantify emerging economy demand as an important driver at the margin. Here is a simple thought experiment using Chinese demand to give some idea of the magnitude of the supply issues we face:
    – China moves from 3 bbls/person/year to the South Korean per capita consumption level of 17 bbls/person/year
    – Transition takes 30 years
    – No peak in global production

    In next 10 years we must find 44 million BOPD. If you superimpose peak production on top of this demand profile using the following parameters oil prices would increase approximately 250% in real terms over next 10 years:
    – Oil demand elasticity of -0.3
    – Current production 84 million BOPD, current price US$ 80
    – Peak production 100 million BOPD
    – Post peak decline rate of 3-4%

    If you want to try the model for yourself using your own assumptions it can be found at: http://www.petrocapita.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=128&Itemid=86

  4. sam September 17, 2010 at 2:17 am #

    suuuuup 40 years seems like a long time to me but thts cos ims till in schoool.chips!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Sam (no, really.) December 10, 2013 at 2:33 am #

      FYI: at some time, within the next 40 years, not 40 years from now. what this means is that oil peak will happen within 40 years, an that’s just a guess. as the article said, we don’t really know how much oil is left, just that it’s almost certainly a lot less than what countries say. It’s probably going to all hit the fan in about 20 years or sooner, right when your’re getting out of university.
      good luck kid.

  5. Stefan Thiesen November 16, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Unless the reserve increase in the 80s can be explained by a dramatic new extraction technology or improved assessment methodology it is nothing but a lie. Pure fantasy. An increase in capital stock to become more credit worthy. A mere book keeping trick.

    Another issue is this: extraction of oil becomes ever more energy intensive as the fields are more and more depleted and the fraction of “unconventional oil” rises. What the world is looking for is not “barrels of oil” but “units of energy”. The net energy per barrel of oil will continuously decrease over time adding to peak oil stress. The expected oil production plateau of 40 years will have to be paid for with energy, pollution and large scale destruction of nature (e.g. in the case of tar sands).

  6. libertarian December 5, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    I’m not a geophysicist but I’ve read loads of reports about oil wells that replenish themselves to some extent. Bearing in mind that the deepest wells are only a couple of miles down and the Earths crust is many 100’s of miles thick, oil deposits seep up from lower levels. So the amount of extractable oil goes up slightly and new technology and more efficient tools and processes also allow more oil to be recovered. In fact I’ve heard of wells that were closed as being exhausted in the 60’s and 70’s that have been reopened and produced more oil than they did originally

    • Stefan Thiesen December 5, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

      @libertarian: Interesting and certainly worth looking into. Could you perhaps be so kind and reveal to us the peer reviewed academic paper(s) or other reliable sources from which you have obtained these facts, so we are able to evaluate these statements?

      Thanks!

      • Kyle January 23, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

        I think what he is mentioning is the capability of more efficient extraction techniques where companies go back and perform a work over on the well that was technically dead 30 years ago as the reservoir pressure fell equal to the ambient pressure no longer allowing what was then economically viable production of the reservoir, which does not mean the reservoir has been depleted their is just no pressure to push the liquid out. So we as petroleum engineers devise new strategies to look into making these wells both profitable and capable of producing hydro carbons again, often a greater recovery rate then what was seen in years past. Using a method call gas injection (re injection of methane) to build a gas cap and move the oil out of the reservoir and into the well bore.

        • Stefan Thiesen January 23, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

          Hi Kyle… I see the thread is still alive ;-). You might be right that @libertarian above referred to this fact and not (as I might have wrongly assumed too quickly) to abiotic origin of oil. Also the discussion above in part referred to the drastic and sudden increase of the reserve assessment back in the 80s. Of course some wells replenish a bit when not touched for a long time, some oil from cracks its slowly following gravity and capillary forces flowing into emptied caverns and cracks. Gas injection (and saltwater injection, if I am not mistaken – similar to fracking) are new technologies that keep mature wells and fields producing for a while – at higher costs and with possible side effects. In any case the energy balance gets worse and the costs go up, don’t they?

          • Kyle February 1, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

            I researched the abiotic theory a little. I have never heard of petroleum fluid being made from carbon stored in the earths mantle, that seams absurd. Supposing that a long time is 50 or 60 years to shut in a well, is actually a drop in the bucket compared to the time span of how long these reservoirs have supposedly been on earth for. I say supposedly because I am a young earth believer. What I see had happened was that years ago little carbon life forms had died in ancient lakes, lagoons, and other calm bodies of water. Which dried up and became the low land where deposition had then taken place and transported, assorted grains of rock and sediment end up on top, eventually burrying it thousands of feet down under immense pressure and heat upwards of 250F to around roughly 500F which is a good temp range to put it lightly “cook” the oil till it is either a liquid or gas reservoir or a combination of the both. So honestly I don’t think 50 years of a non fracked well (due to the technology being only 20 yrs old) would be any significant number larger then discovery. Now there is the possibility of other reservoirs close by that are considered the same reservoir but the permeability does not permit access to all regions of such a reservoir without multiple wells being drilled. Making such a reservoir more compartmentalized, which is the beauty in the advent of horizontal drilling which in essence does away with the compartment problem. I’ll explain fracing in a nut shell, this is the process done immediately after perforating the well bore and what is used typically is a frac fluid which is mostly comprised of cylindrical beads which improve permeability by holding the pore space open and also over 95% water as the transporter of the beads and a few thickening agents. Exert tremendous pressure on the frac fluid above the overburden pressures and rock stress fracturing pressure and you will effectively cause the rock to fissure and create new permeability to the environment effectively increasing permeability as well. But yes it does assist in greatly in mature and young wells alike, it all depends on PVT charts and things taken of the reservoirs specific characteristic and they are all different! And also again yes the energy balance is strongly reliant on fossil fuels mainly because the energy extracted is much greater from hydro carbons and easier to come by then the production of a burnable stable fuel like hydrogen, but is extremely energy ladened in order to perform electrolysis to separate the H from the O2 atoms.
            Hydroelectic is fantastic as well as nuclear power and if anyone can figure out fusion then energy would almost be free after the initial cost of a fusion reactor.

          • Stefan Thiesen February 2, 2013 at 12:29 am #

            “A young Earth believer”? What is that?

          • kyle February 2, 2013 at 2:00 am #

            A young earth of some where in the neighborhood of 15 or 20 thousand years of age. I do not think our earth and solar system can date back billions of years, I find that a little extreme. I’m a christian man and I find that facts that are based on real scientific finds rather then defunct carbon dating methods show far more relevance as to the age of our earth, the reason people have to build this picture of the earth being absurdly ancient is to make relevant the process that they have devised for what made mountains and oil and the grand canyon and so on. It is what logically makes sense in a lie, once you begin you must follow it up with more and more erroneous and elaborate theories of how things came to be. It’s kind of funny really.

          • Jeremy February 2, 2013 at 9:22 am #

            Kyle, I’m a Christian too and I was taught the young earth theory by sunday school teachers and others. I don’t believe it myself – the Bible doesn’t actually teach it, and the world around us doesn’t support it. Have you ever heard of ice cores? Every winter a glacier develops another layer of ice, and if you drill down you can count back through the layers, like tree rings in a cross section of tree trunk. In the deepest glaciers, where the ice is miles thick, you can count back hundreds of thousands of years. The deepest one at Concordia Station in Antarctica goes back 740,000 years. This is no lie – you could go there and count them yourself with the right equipment.

            I appreciate that you hold a literal interpretation of Genesis, but Genesis doesn’t claim to be literal. That’s us reading back from a scientific age and looking for scientific truth. Genesis is written in verse. It’s poetic truth, and to derive scientific principles from it is to misunderstand it. It’s like hearing someone say they’re ‘feeling blue’, and to think that they’re actually turning blue. That doesn’t make it any less true. It’s a different kind of true. The important things in the Genesis story are to grasp the care and attention that our loving God put into his creation.

            If we decide to filter all science through a literal interpretation of Genesis, we end up cobbling together whatever fragments of science fit with our ideas, and ending up with a patchwork of theories that don’t work in the real world.

          • Kyle February 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

            Ok here’s the argument our dating system of the earths age relies on several employed techniques, most of which are accurate. But so far all we have effectively done is extrapolated out the earths age with known figures and rates of decay and deposit. But as we have also learned those rates fluctuate and make extrapolating an exact age extremely difficult. All Iwas trying to do in the previous post is make a point that a reservoir could not gain a significant amount of hydrocarbons over 60 years time, it’s just not going to happen unless something like a fault were to shift and introduce a new aspect to the reservoir and possibly increase permeability and reservoir gas and oil in place. I may have taken off with years and age of the Earth but that deviates from the forums discussion and I sometimes go on a tangent myself lol.

    • Jeremy December 6, 2010 at 10:10 am #

      I’d be interested to hear more about this. Can you name some of those reports or post some links?

      • Mitchell January 6, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

        poop

    • TS February 9, 2011 at 4:05 am #

      Hey Libertarian, I have heard the same. The Russians believe the theory of peak oil is bunk. Here you go Stephan.
      . http://freeenergynews.com/Directory/Theory/SustainableOil/

      • Jeremy February 9, 2011 at 10:18 am #

        No, that’s not a page of peer-reviewed science, it’s a round-up of Google links, most of which trace back to the work of astrophysicist Thomas Gold.

        The theory of abiotic oil was common in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, not today. It was abandoned because it hasn’t led to any new oil discoveries, whereas the conventional theory that oil is fossil-derived does.

        Here’s a historical review of the theory: http://static.scribd.com/docs/j79lhbgbjbqrb.pdf

        • rosemary October 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

          what is abiotic oil?

          • Jeremy Williams October 20, 2014 at 9:56 am #

            Abiotic oil is to the energy industry what the unicorn is to biology, or alchemy is to chemistry.

    • amirlach June 25, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

      The Abiotic Oil Theory had some traction years ago in Alberta. In the 90’s Larry Ryckman, pro sports team and entrepreneur spent a lot of money on trying to prove abiotic oil. He would have been better off not spending those millions, as he went bankrupt in 1996.

      Aabbax International Financial Corp., a company that claimed to have found a method for extracting crude oil from under Alberta’s tar sands. In 1993, it reached a high of $1.73 as it reported a deal to drill a deep well in Northern Alberta.

      When Aabbax finally drilled the “historic” well in November, 1994, it produced at a pressure of about 5,500 kilopascals. Unfortunately for investors, the product was salt water. They ran out of money at 1.5 miles into a 2.5 mile deep test to drill through Pre-Cambrian Granite.

      Reports varied about whether oil was found or not at the time. Larry Ryckman has a somewhat storied past in regards to stock market trades.

      Looks like the only thing usefull to come from the test well is the data for depth and temperature for possible Geo Thermal uses.

      Abiotic oil “might” exist but not there.

    • rosemary October 18, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      i hope so. that would be great

    • alex November 4, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

      seep up from where? lava? I see you know very little about how oil was created. It can mostly be recovered around 15,000 feet and up the place where it was put under the right pressure and cooked. Any lower or higher the pressure was not ample or to much to get the job done..
      read some more

  7. Will January 31, 2011 at 5:14 am #

    Oil is not a crisis, and will never be. It’s the best way we know how to make more money, our country only produces so much oil so unless we go to war with some country that no one likes and steal their oil then we will pay an obscene amount in the near future, what would you rather have happen?

    • Jeremy January 31, 2011 at 9:18 am #

      Ok, good luck with that Will.

  8. shar February 23, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

    With all the discussion on oil reserves shouldn’t we really be looking towards other forms of energy? Maybe there isn’t as much money involved but really we should be thinking of the plant and how we are going to leave it for future generations. I vote for wind and solar!!!

    • Jeremy February 24, 2011 at 10:51 am #

      Absolutely, that’s what’s frustrating about the oil situation. It’s clearly a problem, but until the government and big business are convinced of it, the focus remains on securing future oil reserves rather than working to replace them.

    • Stefan Thiesen February 24, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      Well – I vote for solar as well – which is the reason why I work for a solar energy company (not the big money I don’t make there). But I think the situation is worse: as oil gets more scarce while demand rises, the prices will go through the ceiling. And who will profit most from that situation? The world sinks into disaster, and oil prices will rise to 200, 300, 500 US$ per barrel. What interest should the Oil companies have in a transition until the very last drop of oil will be pumped out of the ground and the very last square Kilometre of Canadian tar sand area was annihilated? As a see it, the interests of society at large and the energy giants are entirely at odds.

    • amirlach June 23, 2011 at 1:39 am #

      We might be facing Peak Litium long before Peak Oil. All these Alternatives require exotic metals and composites which create toxic wastes, the long term effects of production and disposal still to come.

      • Stefan Thiesen June 23, 2011 at 11:17 am #

        @Amirlach: you wrote “We might be facing Peak Litium long before Peak Oil”.

        This is potentially true. However, there is more than one type of battery, and new developments – such as the Sodium-Ion battery – are on their way. A main goal must be, indeed, to get rid of scarce materials. Unfortunately, though, the economic incentives encourage the opposite. Controlling scarce resources is one of the foundations of political power and financial speculation.

        Regarding the disposal of renewable energy system components: An example is the PV cycle take-back system for used photovoltaik panels. They contain toxic but also very valuable raw material, so it would be nonsense to deposit them in a landfill. So far a dozen large distributors have joined the club. See: http://www.pvcycle.org. Lead metals and other metals also are recycled, so there is no reason to assume that Lithium batteries and new forms of batteries will not be recycled as well. The Lithium situation differs from the oil situation in so far that the material is not lost, i.e. it is not burned.

  9. Femi February 27, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    Oil is such a precious and versatile resource whose cost of extraction will keep going up. Oil is and will be indispensable for the production of so many goods and we keep wasting it by burning it in 19th century technology. Up front by those who claim to be the most progressive thinkers in the world. Oil has more past than future as an energy source.

  10. Sanjiv Malkan March 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    The statement in the first paragraph of this web page should read 1,333 billion barrels and not 1,333 million barrels.

    1,333 million barrels would last less than 5 years at the current rate of consumption.

    • Jeremy March 10, 2011 at 9:40 am #

      Quite right, thank you Sanjiv. I’ve put that straight.

    • louis May 21, 2011 at 5:41 am #

      it says 1,333 billion barrels in the first paragraph, all u have to do is read

    • mitaka April 17, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

      Interesting… If 1,333 Million last less than 5 years – let’s say 3 then if we have 1,333 Billion (1 billion = 1000 x millions) left then we should stop worry about oil depletion and any other alternative because we’ll be set up for more than couple of thousands of years :) :) :). Other than that I think the oil depletion is the another “fear control” strategy as is the smoking, earth over population, food depletion, sweet water depletion, global worming (which we should not ignore of course!!!) and all of those kind of things make the people afraid and make them stupid and easy to control. I support the Abiotic oil origin because the opposite is not possible – all of the theories about the maximum possible depth where an oil can be found are broken with 5,6 and more times – read about this before you argue. And also the carbohydrates are broadly spread across the universe – even in our solar system – example a lot of methane and other carbohydrates on Titan one of the Saturn’s moons (read into the wikipedia I’m not going to copy-paste). Which proves that materials we consider to be organic don’t have to be part of a living creature first. No matter what the truth about the oil origin is if the speed of the oil consumption is higher that its synthesis then we’re again in trouble. So we should move to the alternatives. And despite what the oil companies and hollywood want make you believe the alternatives are all around us – we just haven’t leaned how to use them effectively yet – but we’re learning and I’m positive that we’ll be just fine, of course not without some suffering during the transition periods – they’re always tough – or at least this is what the history say so…..

      • Jeremy April 18, 2012 at 8:22 am #

        There isn’t a single oil company in the world using the abiotic oil theory to find new reserves. I think that tells you how credible it is. But if you agree that we should be pursuing the alternatives, then we agree on the bit that matters most. Thanks for your comments!

        • mitaka April 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

          How come you can make a statement like that “There isn’t a single oil company in the world using the abiotic oil theory to find new reserves” ??? Are you familiar with all of those companies and their strategies, technologies and secrets? – I guess NOT! In future please don’t make a statement which you obviously cannot prove. I’m saying this since when a discussion goes in a direction where everyone makes statements like the one above this debate loses its meaning. Here is an example: “Every single oil company in the world knows that abiotic oil origin is a fact and uses it for oil hunting today”. Should I continue explaining why your statement is ridiculous? No matter who agrees with what – there is a FACT that you CANNOT IGNORE – carbohydrates as the methane considered as ORGANIC materials are present in HUGE amounts outside our planet. So how credible is the theory – well its a FACT!!! You want me to become stupid and ignorant and forget about those FACTS so you can sleep tight again believing in a statement made 100 years ago that the oil is unquestionable fossil fuel??? Are you out of your mind??? Is all of the oil abiotic – NO!!! How much is fossil origin and how much abiotic – I don’t know! Does abiotic oil and fossil ones can coexist? – of course they can. I don’t care who says what. The cycle of abiotic oil forming is described and recreated in many labs so get over it – read the chemistry and so many examples of the oil synthesis since you obviously have an access to a computer and internet and if you have some chemistry knowledge (which I doubt) you may understand those equations. Plus your statement is a LIE. The companies know that according the fossil origin theory we should’ve never found any oil bellow 18000 feet and we find it under 30000 (and this is an also questionable statement this time it’s mine I admit…). People wake up and open your minds. AGAIN don’t forget about the HUGE amount of carbohydrates outside our planet. And dear Jeremy, if you don’t come up with a fact disproving the carbohydrates presence outside the Earth, please don’t bother to write any response. If you do it anyway it will only prove how tiny your idea bout the universe is, and you’re not dignified to write comments on scientific theme plus it will mean that you again ignore facts which will prove that you’re not intelligent person.

          • Stefan Thiesen April 19, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

            @mitaka: Methane and other carbo hydrates exist everywhere in space. Quite simply because Hydrogen has been around since just after the big bang and carbon is a normal by-product (like all other elements up to iron) forming during the normal evolution of every ordinary star. The fact that iron exists everywhere in the universe also does not prove the abiotic existence of forged steel. Calling those hydrocarbons “organic” is thinking backwards. Historically we call them “organic” because within the Earth’s biosphere they are by-products of living organisms. Methane on Earth was discovered before Methane in outer space on comets, on Titan, in super cooled states. Stable. Unperturbed by an oxidizing atmosphere.

            Can I imagine that there is abiotic oil formation somewhere, somehow? I can. Was any oil so far discovered that has a proven abiotic origin? I am not aware of it. Please see my comment at the end of this thread. What I potentially find more plausible is the abiotic formation of natural gas – technically all it takes is water, high pressure, high temperature and carbon. All present in the Earth’s mantle. But – I am not overly curious to experiment with potentially existing humungous amounts of Propane, Methane and Butane sources pressurized to technologically uncontrollable levels. I do not know if that really exists, but I presume it’s geochemically conceivable. And it could be very dangerous to “unplug” such a reserve.

            On top of it all, let us assume the most extreme case: that all oil is abiotic and it is abundant enough to fuel an ever growing fossil fuel based economy for all times. It is clear where that will lead. But in reality even optimistic estimates assume that at current production and consumption levels all conventional oil will be gone within the next 60 years. And it is not likely to be replaced by abiotic oil – but by very biotic oil from agricultural products, leading to an increased direct competition of fuel and food. And if those for whom profit justifies any risk get desperate and insane enough to tap into potentially existing deep mantle natural gas sources… well… As you keep pointing out: There is lots of carbon in outer space, but I shall add: there is very little life.

          • mitaka April 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

            Reply to the comments bellow from Stefan.

            I liked your response since it was logical at some level although you started playing with the “organic” word’s meaning although that was the first argument >100 years ago to promote the petrolum as a fossil product – even before finding the bio markers. There are two things to add:
            First:
            CH4 – the methane formula.
            CnH2n+2 (n is from 5 – 40) – the Alkane’s formula which is just one of the hydrocarbons in the oil mixture. Why do you find the first one plausible to be created abiotic and the second one not? Is there any specific threshold of “n” where you start getting suspicious about it? The cycles of synthesis are very well defined as are also (in case you ask) the synthesis of the more complex aromatic hydrocarbons. Don’t make me copy-paste next time it is getting ridiculous to copy paste all of the chemistry textbooks or wikipedia into this page.
            Second:
            Please read my first comment on this page and you’ll find out what do I think about getting the energy by “burning” fuels. Or if you don’t fill I’ve put enough accent on that – let me clarify – I vote with my both hands (and legs if that will count) to not use oil or gas burning for getting energy and start using solar wind and any kind of geotermal or even lightening energy – whatever is possible without destroying the Earth and ourselves. I saw one interesting proposal (SciFi style :) :) :) ) by building huge capacitors which can catch lightening energy and discharge it on small portion latter on. So NO – I don’t want to dig deeper and deeper into our planet no matter if the oil is infinite (which as I said in my first comment “if the speed of consumption is higher than the speed of synthesis we’re in trouble” not to mention the CO2 and other emissions we produce as a result of burning it!)!

          • Stefan Thiesen April 20, 2012 at 11:35 am #

            @Mitaka: For me your vote is more important than your hypothesis (over the years I became inherently practical). I cannot rule out much because none of this is an area of my active work. I was involved with comet simulation experiments as a student in the early nineties, though, and we were able to show that complex organic compounds can form on carbonaceous chondrites. So – who knows? The universe is large and mysterious. Yet more importantly: are you aware of any proven abiotic oil discovery?

          • Jeremy April 20, 2012 at 9:51 am #

            True, that’s an assumption on my part and you’re probably right. I read about an oil company that was looking for oil based on Old Testament prophecies. They were somehow able to get financial backing, so clearly nothing is impossible.

            However, I say what I say because the theory of abiotic oil has been popular in the past, but it has never been pursued because it cannot predict where oil reserves might be found. Those using the fossil theory can look at geological conditions and rock types and make a pretty good guess. Abiotic oil theory doesn’t give you any clues as to where oil might be found. Even if there is such a thing as abiotic oil, it’s a useless theory for exploration.

          • mitaka April 20, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

            Stefan, the popular criteria to determine if the oil is fossil or abiotic is the content of the bio markers. Which is extremely stupid since those are simple molecule where you cannot get rid of it even in a lab, the bio markers are everywhere – the rocks the air…. The water is full of bio markers does that mean it has been created from former living matter? I’m sure some portion of it was “returned” from the living creatures but…. should I continue further. The bio markers are less and less present the deeper the oil is extracted from which can be also true even if the oil is fossil since (i guess) this can mean it’s older, staying on high pressure and temperature and the bio markers got dissolved with the time. Since the abiotic theory is a theory and is not accepted from most of the people (and I rejected it at first since it was conflicting with what my teacher told me when I was at third grade, or fourth if that matters) but when I started using my brain and look at the facts I just couldn’t go back. As far as a proven abiotic oil apart from the labs…. the one thing is for sure – I cannot prove it :) I cannot even convince couple of guys to look at this angle not to mention to convince the scientific society…. The same way the fossil theory cannot be proven since – here is the beauty of it – “how do you want us to prove it – it took 100 million years you know, so look at the bio markers – isn’t it obvious it is coming from forming leaving creatures?.. plus when a living matter got dissolved we see oil compound in there so again – isn’t it obvious?” Which proves nothing again since there is a more than one way to put sugar in a coffee. The link posted above – http://freeenergynews.com/Directory/Theory/SustainableOil/ is an example of links and you can read more on a lot of wiki pages if you want. Keep in mind that there are a lot of speculations from the people supporting that theory as on the sites where the people supporting the fossil theory. So stay open mind and don’t let random people (including me) to mess up with your brain :).
            Jeremy – oil hunting based on what you say – geological condition and rock types is a one way of hunting oil – this may not apply for ocean’s shell oil reserves so there are a lot of oil hunting techniques. Hunting under 30000 feet cannot be made based on surface rock types or even samples taken from under 10000 feet. I’m sure if we didn’t see methane outside our planet the oil companies would still insist that is coming from former living matter. I thinks I said enough. For a software engineer I think I’ve done enough research and I’ve given enough thoughts and time on this topic. Just when someone ignores facts, says the half of the truth, and makes wrong assumption and even more wrong conclusion based on those wrong assumptions and deny to see any other angle of the theme he/she discusses – this is a time where I cannot ignore and not comment out. As for me – I’m an open mind and I can think in different angles although I didn’t make that clear in my first comment when I said that fossil theory is not possible – I was referring mostly the under 30000 feet of oil discovery which is a fact.

          • Femi May 5, 2014 at 7:58 am #

            The abiotic oil theory on planet Earth has been thoroughly debunked. It remains what it always was. A theory perpetrated by industry protectionism and reactionaries addicted to petrol guzzlers.

            Even if the theory had any serious scientific leg to stand on, what sense does it make to keep burning oil and its derivatives in outdated technology?

  11. cmils April 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    America, this is your fault. Keep turning a blind eye.

  12. Greg April 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I think localization with a globalized safety net should be implemented. Also I don’t think any one green energy solution is the answer, rather all of them could be utilized in conjunction with one another. They all have their pros and cons. All new homes could be geothermal with wind and solar energy as well. A combination of all 3 could create suffice power with the ability to put back into the grid. As oil is a finite resource we do need to start moving away from our dependance on the substance as our entire world is dominated by it. Oil is finite, our existence does not have to be.

  13. myguitarface@yahoo.com July 5, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    This is a good article. There are many things that don’t add up about the entire oil business and it’s tough to believe that there is still a bunch of oil in the ground after all we have used. Here’s a good complimentary article http://oil-tothelastdrop.blogspot.com/2011/07/oil-to-last-drop.html that talks about different aspects of the oil game.

  14. Chris August 7, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    has everyone forgotten about plastic? Think about how many of our everyday things are made of the stuff. I’m no scientist so if i’m wrong please correct me, but doesn’t that mean all types of plastic are going to be like gold dust in 40 years or so? Without oil you can’t make plastic. like i say i’m no scientist so if there is aother way please enlighten me.

    • Jeremy August 7, 2011 at 11:42 am #

      At the moment about 4% of oil production is used in manufacturing, so it’s a small percentage. We’ll have oil supplies for a long time to come, and I expect plastics and the chemical industry will continue to use oil long after we’ve all stopped using it for transport. The price will rise however, so expect less packaging and more paper bags, and plant-based plastics.

  15. Scop September 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    The reality is consumption will increase as world population increases.

  16. Mikel Catface September 12, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Why don’t we….
    take all the oil from mars…
    And bring it here? :3

    • Aaron November 2, 2011 at 1:26 am #

      Unfortunately there probably isn’t any oil in mars. Oil is a type of fossil that is created from living organisms after decomposition. If Mars had life before, there’s a chance it has oil but there’s no proof of life so I there probably isn’t any oil either.

      • mitaka April 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

        Read one of my comments above – if no oil then we can bring some methane from Titan. I wonder how a carbohydrates which are considered to be organic materials appear on the Saturn’s moon (and forming 0,4% of Saturn itself) and a lot other place into the universe where there was no life. So the people should break this prejudices and stop promoting the oil and the other organic fuels unconditionally as a fossil fuels!!!

  17. cherryjjv November 3, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    Do you know how much oil there is left in the state of Wyoming?

    • Jeremy November 4, 2011 at 10:59 am #

      Sure, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming estimates that it has reserves of just under 600 million barrels. That’s enough oil to keep the world running for about a week, at current global consumption rates.

  18. Hunter November 15, 2011 at 2:48 am #

    Wow, you obviously do not check your facts, the Bakken Oil field in North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Montana is reported with yields of 3.4-4 billion barrels of uptapped recoverable oil, but there could be 24-25 billion barrels if we could find ways to recover oil in shale deposits. (incredibly hard to get and not very cost effective for shale that is), also I live where the oil boom is happening in my little northeast corner of rural montana and I have seen a huge increase in population, infrastructure, and city sizes. Our area has the best economy in America right now and we have so many job openings its crazy. So no, north america should not be ranked 2nd to last, we should be ranked behind the middle east or even higher, if we could attain and recover the oil through the shale deposits. So please get your facts straight before you post nonsense information like this.

    • Jeremy November 15, 2011 at 9:22 am #

      My figures, as I say in the first sentence, are from BP. Where are yours from?

    • Stefan Thiesen November 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

      To put things into perspective: The proven Bakken reserves would fuel the US for half a year. If we include the unproven/as yet unrecoverable reserves we arrive at a highly theoretical 3 years. That doesn’t save the oil world – and it would be a hellishly dirty affair in any case. None of such arguments can prove the principle of peak oil wrong. The only argument that could would be abiotic oil. But there doesn’t seem to be serious evidence in that direction.

  19. elflaugavisindi December 4, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    Don’t worry, oil will run out, but it was only a storage of energy, not a source. Oil is basically just a stored energy of a sun, without warmth of a sun those reactions wouldn’t occur. In fact i would dare say that all energy known to us had originated from sun at some point, except nuclear, that happened much earlier. Oil is like a chemical battery with anaerobic bacteria being the charger unit. No matter what happens to oil supplies we still got the sun, that’s a practically eternal energy source and it can be used to synthesize any fuel we want. Our civilization is using oil reserves incorrectly, they should be used as a bonus, as a time allowance to establish synthesizing facilities, which can be very resource intensive, since the only way to effectively gather solar energy in quantities sufficient to sustain fuel demands of entire god damn planet is to build solar arrays right in space. This will be enormously expensive and may even deplete the little we have left. The government should start taking initiative with this before it’s too late or recovery will be very slow(but still possible).

    • Jeremy December 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

      A good point not made often enough – the sun’s energy is the only external input into the earth’s systems. All life is solar-powered, through photosynthesis or eating the results thereof. If our industry and civilisation are to last, they need to eventually be solar powered too, the more directly the better.

      • Stefan Thiesen December 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

        rearging the sun as only external energy source: Almost right. There also is geothermal and tidal energy, which both are gravity driven. But of course the problem with the oil and coal “batteries” is that they were “charged over eons and used up within just a few centuries. When it comes to solar energy “energy density” is the key word. And technologically energy storage is a key problem (we are working on it…).

        But I totally agree: oil is an enormous gift. It should have been used with care.

        In any case energy – be it fossil, solar or otherwise – and perpetual exponential growth are obviously at odds. There simply is now way to talk this point away, and whether peak oil arleady occurred or is 50 years ahead doesn’t change a yota about its reality.

        • Jeremy December 5, 2011 at 9:52 am #

          of course, easy to forget that there are external gravitational forces as well as the earth’s own. I’m looking forward to the day our government and energy sector remembers we’re an island, and starts funding some serious research into tidal power. Lots of prototypes out there awaiting a proper trial.

  20. Stefan Thiesen December 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    I was in Finistére, Brittany for three weeks in August, and the tidal range is really dramatic there – an enormous energy potential. On the other hand: it would be such a shame to clutter that beautiful wild coast with powerplants. The most intellient energy is the energy we don’t use. Passive houses, LED lighting, public transportation instead of gas guzzlers, local food – the usual stuff. All pretty straight forward. But all really bad for GROWTH.

  21. THE MONSTER WHO LIVES UNDER UR BED December 20, 2011 at 3:37 am #

    i have to do a essay about the anwr oil problem and i need to know how much oil did we have in 1996 and how much we have now im so tired of going to website to website trying to find what im looking for can some 1 answer my question and fast

    • Jeremy December 20, 2011 at 10:13 am #

      You could try looking up the International Energy Agency’s report for 1996, and the one for this year, which is on their website.

      1996: http://iea.org/weo/docs/weo1996.pdf

      Or Google BP statistical review of world energy, and you’ll get an industry figure – although that will tell you that we have more oil now than we did in 1996.

  22. Mitchell January 6, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    lets make energy out of our own waste…

    • Jeremy January 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

      Yes, there are limited possibilities for that. But nothing that can possibly replace oil.

  23. Fortunet January 19, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    OK the thought of today, how do you write “262 thousand million:” as a number? I did not get to that part of my math class. I love your site but, you have to explain how you get this number.

    • Jeremy January 19, 2012 at 9:17 am #

      Sure, that’s 262 billion barrels, 262,000,000,000. BP’s statistical review uses ‘thousand millions’ to avoid the confusion around the word ‘billion’, which means different things in different parts of the world.

      • Stefan Thiesen January 19, 2012 at 9:41 am #

        In science nobody uses the words. 2.62 E11 is a way to put it. Or 2.62*10^11. Words can be so… fuzzy. :-).

  24. Alan Bentley January 26, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    It strikes me that global leaders cannot be trusted, they are after all politicians! We are led to believe there is much less oil left, which has to be true also we are led to believe oil these days has to be pumped as mostly it no longer gushes, I have to ask myself why then do certain countries completely ignore this, China to name but one. I mean if energy was such a problem then why don’t governments give away free solar panels to all houses and businesses or give massive concessions on hybrid cars. No I’m afraid I have no confidence in the so called people in power!

    • Stefan Thiesen December 17, 2012 at 9:47 am #

      I know the post is old, but nonetheless relevant. For one: why governments (or other groups of humans) do this and that we have to ask the respective efforts. Humans are strange. But re. China: They are actually doing that! Solar energy is heavily subsidized in China, China is well ahead in terms of RE based rural electrification and storage technology, China became the world’s largest manuafacturer of Wind turbines (now home to three of the top ten makers world wide), China is now the undisputed leader in Photovoltaic production, gives state secured interest free credit to RE companies and last but not least China is and has long been, by far the biggest producer as well as the largest market of solar thermal equipment in the world (which really saves a lot of oil otherwise wasted for heating and DHW). So, if anything, China IS doing a lot. Here in my country I attended a WOrkshop this fall where lots of regional planners, engineers and scientists presented their cities plans for 100% (sic) renewable energy scenarios over the next 30 years – some aim at that goal by the mid 2020s. And a few small towns, indeed, already are there! So there is a lot going on in the field in many countries, often on regional levels, and often driven by pretty profane economic and regional planning incentives.

  25. JosephCool February 22, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    The latest news on oil states that it is not fossil fuel remains. There are no biological traces of DNA at all in oil of any kind that the Earth naturally makes the oil. Both in Texas and now Ohio they are finding old wells now showing new signs of oil them. This is good news. Some think the old fossil fuel theory was to control oil prices back in the day and to try to get people to sell the land cheaply only to repump more oil at a later day off that same site. Scamming was a big problem in the American history for oil tycoons.

    • Jeremy February 22, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

      Can you prove that assertion? I’ve heard it more than once and have yet to see a remotely credible source cited for it.

      If you’re referring to the theory of abiotic oil, you’ve been misinformed that this is the ‘latest news’. It was a theory that was disproved in the 1950s, and there’s a link about it in the comments above.

    • Stefan Thiesen February 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

      DNA? Put a meat-and-veggie-stew into a pressure cooker – and cook for several million years. How much DNA would you expect to find? It is not about DNA. It is about isotopes and biochemical markers. I borrow some text:

      “The molecular structure of the hydrocarbons and other compounds present in fossil fuels can be linked to the leaf waxes and other plant molecules of
      marine and terrestrial plants believed to exist during that era. There are various biogenic marker chemicals ( such as isoprenoids from terpenes, porphyrins and aromatics from natural pigments, pristane and phytane from the hydrolysis of chlorophyll, and normal alkanes from waxes ), whose size and shape can not be explained by known geological processes. The presence of optical activity and the carbon isotopic ratios also indicate a biological origin.”

      from: http://stason.org/TULARC/vehicles/gasoline-faq/index.html

  26. You'll Never Nnow December 16, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    “40 years AT CURRENT USAGE” Too bad our use is growing exponenitally.

    • Jeremy December 17, 2012 at 7:24 am #

      exactly.

    • Stefan Thiesen December 17, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      It might even still be 40 years, figuring in the recent “optimism” surrounding unconventional oil. Lot’s of talk in mainstream media that peak oil was debunked. The more I looked into it, the more I felt like witnessing a conversation akin to:
      Boy: “Dad – we’re running out of firewood. What will we cook with? What will keep us warm!?”
      Dad (with saw in his hand): “Don’t worry son. I found plenty of fuel.” (starting to cut away on the dining table).

  27. nitesh January 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    The root cause of this inflation,crime,hustle -bustle in the market is due to, this ,easy supply of ,precious,oil. We say it modernisation,but in fact ,is the trouvle for all of us. We have lost our ease and comfort. And danger for the nature is free.

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  30. John Doe March 6, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    Floppy oil is the best kind of oil for consumption currently

  31. jim marshjal January 3, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    its all bullshit oil is being created all the time naturally, in the second world war the nazi’s had synthetic oil why havent we expanded more on that front, all they need do is drill deeper and further out to sea and in the archtic, the methods must become more advanced and more dangerious but we havent scratched the surface… you think bp or shell are jsut going to accept that in 40 years time there no longer going to have a product no they are researching all the time they know theres plently of oil and ways and means to find it its all scare tactics to drive up the prices they did a test run about ten years ago with the “oil crysis” a good excuse to jack up the prices and make people think were runing out.. and panic buy… we must reduce or dependance on oil yes that has to happen., when the diesel engine was created it was meant to run on peanut oil but the oil companys said no no to our government engines and diesel fuel was created from oil as not to get in the way of the oil companys power, funy thing is my uncle has a van and he fueled it with vegatable oil and it was more economical more powerful and smoother running than diesel… bio ethonol made from rape seed oil obviously it could never be used to the same extent as petrol because you would need to cover to much land with it but the land that isnt donig anything it should be accounting for a bigger percentage than it is…, also lpg the stuff they burn off whilst drilling for gas its a perfectly fine fuel why arlnt we using it for heat or even again powering cars we are to a very small extent but most of it as burned off… we are so waistful its unreal plasic is a product of oil how much unnessacary packaging does everything we buy contain… if we were more economical with and used everything to its full potentail and reduced usage at the same time oil usage would drop at least 15 percent which is a huge saving

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