We’ll Run Out of Oil in 40 Years and We Have No Plan

We use oil – crude, fossilised sunlight, at an obscene rate and there is no way we can support seven billion people on this planet without it.

We are on track to burn through all our currently accessible reserves in less than two hundred years of production, while it has taken those reserves hundreds of millions of years to form.

This is not front page news, you are not being offered nightly updates and the political establishment does not appear to have or be working on a plan to deal with the serious implications of the end of abundant oil. These things should all be happening, but they are not.

Fossilised Sunlight Hundreds of Millions of Years in The Making

The sun gives our planet all the energy it could ever need. The heat it emits drives climate patterns around our planet and creates ocean currents.

The light spectrum is used by plants to create sugars driving growth which is responsible for feeding the animals that call earth home. The process of converting light into energy (photosynthesis) also converts carbon dioxide into oxygen, allowing the animals of earth to breath.

Without the sun all life as we know it on this planet would cease to exist and of course one day in the very distant future that will happen. However for the time being we have the sun and its constant flow of energy.

When plants and animals on our planet die they decay back into the earth and with them goes the sun’s energy stored as carbon. Hundreds of millions of years ago animal and plant microorganisms which died descended through the ocean’s water columns[1] coming to rest on the seafloor where they were covered by sediment new plants and bacteria. Buried deeper and deeper into the earth’s surface pressure and heat rose, dependant upon the type of biomass, amount of pressure and degree of heat these organisms experienced is what would lead to the formation of coal, oil and or natural gas.

Extracting Ancient Sunlight

Oil reserves are not large lakes under the ground, they are made up of rock in which oil droplets have become trapped in tiny open spaces in the rock called pores.[2] When a well strikes a reserve the vast pressure underground pushes the crude oil out of the pores of the rock and up the well. As crude is pushed out of the well pressure under the ground decreases and over time there is not enough to continue pushing it up the well.

Drilling companies pump natural gas found with the oil back into the reserve to maintain pressure in the well in order to drive more oil out. Eventually pumping gas back into the well fails to maintain the immense pressures needed to drive the oil out and a method of water flooding may be used to extract further fossil fuel from the reserve.

The oil which can be expected to be recovered from a reserve is classified as Proved Reserves[3], while crude present in the reserve which companies can not currently extract are classified as Unproved Reserves.[3]

The current technical ability of oil companies allows for approximately thirty percent of the crude in a known reserve to be extracted, which means when the well dries up there is still seventy percent of the oil in the reserve.[2] After more than 100 years of extracting oil from the ground at an industrial scale we haven’t managed to do better than recovering thirty percent of what we can find. There is little reason to suspect that will change in a dramatic way in the near term. That matters because of data published by OPEC and BP in June of 2017.

OPEC Data (2016)[4]

  • Global Proved Oil Reserves – 1,492,164,000,000 barrels
  • Global Oil Demand   –  95,115,100 barrels per day.

Approximately 42 years 358 days at current rate of demand until known Global Proved Reserves are exhausted.

BP Data (2016)[5]

  • Global Proved Oil Reserves – 1,706,700,000,000 barrels
  • Global Oil Demand – 96,558,000 barrels a day.

Approximately 48 years 156 days at current rate of demand until known Global Proved Reserves are exhausted.

Using the above data it is fair to express that without a significant decline in demand, major advances in extraction technology or the finding of vast new reserves our species is on track to live in a post oil world by 2067, if not sooner.

In fact on March 6th of 2017 the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that demand will outpace supply by 2020 and that global demand will hit 100 million barrels a day by 2022.[6]

A World Without Cheap Abundant Oil Impacts Everyone

It is important to properly comprehend what running out of cheap abundant oil means to our advanced society. Everything we have has a connection to oil.[7] Food for billions is grown using oil based fertilizers and pesticides, everything you have was transported from somewhere using petroleum products.

OilAlmost all plastics are produced using oil, how many items do you own that are made using plastics? You can kiss all those plastic fidget spinners goodbye.

Air travel, sea travel, trips in the family car, tyres and asphalt all rely on readily available oil. So you are probably going to want to get really excited about where you live or buy a bike and a rowboat, because without petroleum your transportation options will be somewhat limited. Yes electric cars are on the way, however they have their own impacts on society and extracting and shipping lithium for battery production will be problematic without petroleum products.

Your furniture, carpets, tiles, linoleum, plumbing, heating, refrigeration and cooking, there are a few more things that will be impacted by an oil shortage. Mind you, being driven back into the stone age will mean we can hunt and gather food as we need it so we won’t need refrigerators and of course we can cook everything over a fire as we tell stories to our grandchildren about how it used to be.

Metals, tins, glass, blankets, clothing, it is all widely available thanks to abundant flowing crude. Kind of puts a downer on buying a bike, when it is not likely there will be an abundance of bikes around. No need to worry about the blankets or clothing, we can just wear and sleep under animal skins.

Of course it will be interesting to see what happens once all the cows are dead, billions of humans hunting for meat probably won’t take too long to decimate wildlife populations.

Think about all the equipment we use in society which uses petroleum products as a lubricant or fuel, without those products machine labour grinds to a near halt. Without the widespread use of industrial machines everything we have becomes limited in availability, mineral resources used to make anything with a computer chip (like your phone, fridge, oven, television) are going to be impacted. It is difficult to overstate the importance of oil in modern society, it uses are so ubiquitous that they have become unseen.

We are all surrounded by the benefits of oil, all day, everyday.

Life changes for all of us when oil dries up, many millions will likely perish. Our grandchildren and their children will not experience the lavish lifestyles of abundance we have enjoyed.

There will be no new satellites for telecommunications or collecting data about our planet. Everything we take for granted will either decline significantly in availability or simply be gone.

Our planet will not support seven billion people without oil.

[1] Society, N. (2017). petroleum. [online] National Geographic Society. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/petroleum/ [Accessed 29 Jun. 2017].
[2] Fossil.energy.gov. (2017). DOE – Fossil Energy: How Fossil Fuels Were Formed. [online] Available at: https://fossil.energy.gov/education/energylessons/oil/index.html [Accessed 26 Jun. 2017].
[3] Spe.org. (2017). Petroleum Reserves Definitions | Society of Petroleum Engineers. [online] Available at: http://www.spe.org/industry/petroleum-reserves-definitions.php [Accessed 29 Jun. 2017].
[4] OPEC. (2017). OPEC Annual Statistical Bulletin. [online] Available at: http://www.opec.org/opec_web/static_files_project/media/downloads/publications/ASB2017_13062017.pdf [Accessed 29 Jun. 2017].
Page 28 Table 3.1, Page 50 Table 4.8
[5] BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2017. [online] Available at: http://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/en/corporate/pdf/energy-economics/statistical-review-2017/bp-statistical-review-of-world-energy-2017-full-report.pdf [Accessed 29 Jun. 2017].
Page 12 Total Proved Reserves, Page 15 Oil Consumption in Thousands of Barrels per Day
[6] Iea.org. (2017). Global oil supply to lag demand after 2020 unless new investments are approved soon. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2017/march/global-oil-supply-to-lag-demand-after-2020-unless-new-investments-are-approved-so.html [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017].
[7] Ranken-energy.com. (2017). A partial list of products made from petroleum. [online] Available at: http://www.ranken-energy.com/Products%20from%20Petroleum.htm [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017].

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About Sean Hurley

Sean views society as changeable, and seeks to investigate, challenge and bring into question our current social system of organisation, treating nothing as taboo or unchangeable. Twitter Facebook G+