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How long before the world runs out of fossil fuels?

How long before the world runs out of fossil fuels? thumbnail

Fossil fuels are the main source of energy in the world, powering much of modern civilization as we know it, from transportation to industrial applications. But this paradigm can’t last forever.

Millions of years to make, only hundreds of years to spend

Fossil fuels have formed over an extensive period of time from the remains of plants and animal that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Humans have been using them in ample amounts since the 19th century and with our current rate of consumption, fossil fuel resources are depleting much faster than their formation. Naturally, the question arises: how long before we run out?

In the 1950s, geologist M. King Hubbert predicted that the world will experience an economically damaging scarcity of fossil fuels. This idea has remained in the collective consciousness as the Peak Oil theory, according to which the production of oil, as a finite resource, will peak at some point and ultimately decline and deplete. According to some researchers, Hubbert included, Peak Oil is already behind us, and we are now living in a decline.

So, how long before we run out of fossil fuels? In order to project how much time we have left before the world runs out of oil, gas, and coal, one method is measuring the R/P ratios — that is the ratio of reserves to current rates of production. At the current rates of production, oil will run out in 53 years, natural gas in 54, and coal in 110. This is bearing in mind a 2015 World Energy Outlook study by the International Energy Agency, which predicted fossil fuels will constitute 59% of the total primary energy demand in 2040, even despite aggressive climate action policies.

Other researchers, organizations, and governments have different deadlines for fossil fuel exhaustion, depending on the data and assumptions that they make, as well as political affiliation and interests. The American Petroleum Institute estimated in 1999 the world’s oil supply would be depleted between 2062 and 2094, assuming total world oil reserves at between 1.4 and 2 trillion barrels. In 2006, however, the Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) predicted that 3.74 trillion barrels of oil remained in the Earth — three times the number estimated by peak oil proponents.

Is Peak Oil behind us? Not clear

While we know for sure that the exploitation of fossil fuels is limited, estimates can vary wildly because new deposits are sometimes found and new technology enables access to previously untapped oil or gas fields or allows more efficient extraction. So, the challenge in estimating a timescale for fossil fuel depletion lies in the fact that new resources are added fairly regularly. Therefore, we have to keep in mind that all of these estimates are based on R/P ratios and thereby only consider proven reserves, not probable or possible reserves of resources. For instance, in 1980, the R/P ratio suggested only 32 years of oil production from existing reserves.

A 1977 report issued by the Energy Information Administration concluded that the United States could only access 32 billion barrels of oil reserves and 207 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. But from then to 2010, the country extracted 84 billion barrels of oil (2.6 times more than the initial estimate) and 610 trillion cubic feet of gas (2.9 times the initial reserve estimate). What’s more, reserves are growing. Today, the U.S. has increased the size of its reserves by a third since 2011 thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking which enable access to oil and gas trapped in underground rock formation. Previously, it wasn’t economically feasible to extract these resources.

As technology continues to improve, both governments and oil & gas companies will be able to access new reserves — some that can’t currently be exploited and others that are still unidentified.

Japan, for instance, is planning to one day extract methane from undersea hydrate deposits — these types of deposits may contain more than twice the amount of carbon as Earth’s fossil fuels. Elsewhere, climate change is opening corridors in the Arctic — ironically facilitated by the burning of fossil fuels — that enable extraction of oil that was previously logistically impossible to undertake. It was Russian company Gazprom that brought home the first barrels of oil from the Arctic in 2014, and more have followed since. Again Russia, this time in partnership with France’s Total and China’s CNPC, wants to start drilling the Arctic in 2019 for natural gas. The $27 billion plant is expected to extract 16.5 million tonnes of natural gas per year.

Keep the oil in the soil

Some might fear that we’ll run out of oil and coal before we get the chance to replace them with renewable energy, thereby triggering a planetary-wide collapse of human civilization. But that’s an unlikely scenario. First of all, if burn only 80% of the world’s reserves, we’re screwed. Forget about the prospect of not being able to turn the lights for a second, and think greater perils: runaway climate change.

Despite having used only a small fraction of fossil fuels, the planet’s atmosphere is already around one degree Celsius warmer on average than it was prior to the Industrial Revolution. A 2016 study published in Nature Climate Change assessed what would happen if we burned all the fossil fuels known to exist on Earth. Assuming a scenario where there are no efforts to curb global warming, by 2300 CO2 would stabilize at roughly 2,000 parts per million (ppm), five times higher than today’s level (~408ppm) — resulting in a total of 5tn tons of carbon dioxide finding its way into the atmosphere. In this nightmare scenario, global average temperatures would be pushed by 8 degrees Celsius past Industrial levels, with the Arctic bearing the grunt of warming, experiencing temperatures rising by as much as 17 degrees Celsius.

As such, the limiting factor on humans’ fossil fuel use is not the depletion of recoverable fossil fuels, but the crossing of a dangerous threshold past which the planet is no longer able to withstand the byproducts of burning fossil fuels.

Knowing oil and gas won’t ever run out in your lifetime shouldn’t be an excuse to keep using them. Rather, knowing this, we should all take action to ensure that our children and grandchildren actually have a future.

zmescience



33 Comments on "How long before the world runs out of fossil fuels?"

  1. Antius on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 3:44 am 

    Oh dear. The Chinese have decided to pull the plug on solar power industry subsidies.

    https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/China-Deals-Shocking-Blow-To-Solar-Industry.html

    Instead, they now appear to be going full speed ahead into a nuclear-natural gas future, with coal generation slowly tapering off.

  2. Sissyfuss on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 9:21 am 

    ” Japan is planning to extract methane from undersea hydrate deposits.” Yes, and Minusmind is planning to extract Taylor Swifts panties with his teeth someday. We can all dream, can we not.

  3. Dredd on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 9:35 am 

    The world will not run out, they will walk out.

    Without evidence (Is Sea Level Science Above the Law?).

  4. Frank on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 11:19 am 

    Solar and wind have taken over. Once battery/storage costs are halved in 4 year it’s game over.

    We’re clearly going to strand 50-100 years of recoverable fossil fuels.

  5. GregT on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 11:58 am 

    “Previously, it wasn’t economically feasible to extract these resources.”

    And it still isn’t. It isn’t environmentally feasible either.

  6. Cloggie on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 12:25 pm 

    https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/China-Deals-Shocking-Blow-To-Solar-Industry.html

    As for the global consequences of the change, Chinese solar makers already took a hit on their stock prices, and now solar panel prices will likely take a dive, too, although this dive would spur demand for the panels outside China. This, in turn, will likely increase international competition in solar panels, analysts cited by Reuters said.

    Good news for Europe.

  7. Jens Veldmeyer on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 1:23 pm 

    China couldn’t afford the subsidies. And neither can Germany to tell the truth, nor can the UK or California.

    Green energy fantasies will kill a lot of jurisdictions long before peak oil ever does.

  8. Cloggie on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 1:28 pm 

    Green energy fantasies will kill a lot of jurisdictions long before peak oil ever does.

    Denmark is world record holder wind energy…

    https://cleantechnica.com/2018/01/06/44-wind-denmark-smashed-already-huge-wind-energy-records-2017/

    …and is doing fine in all the feel-good rankings. Oh and has new world class industries with a lot of growth potential for years to come.

    It is a fundamental choice.

  9. Davy on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 1:42 pm 

    Denmark is the size of a large city surrounded by lots of support systems.

  10. Davy on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 1:48 pm 

    “China couldn’t afford the subsidies. And neither can Germany to tell the truth, nor can the UK or California.”

    These subsidies came at a time of quantitative easing and ultra low cost of money which makes it easy to do. Now that that cycle is running it course we are likely going to see resistance to more subsidies. They surely won’t end but they are not going to be as robust.

  11. Cloggie on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 2:21 pm 

    “Denmark is the size of a large city”

    Completely irrelevant argument.
    Denmark can’t put a man on the moon.
    But if Denmark can build large wind parks, so can the US. But the US wants empire and prefers to outspend the rest of the world on (largely obsolete) weapons.

    Denmark decided in the seventies it wanted wind rather than nuclear power (“Atomkraft nej tak”):

    http://www.smilingsun.org

    It is a matter of national choice.

  12. Davy on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 3:21 pm 

    Denmark is the size of a large city surrounded by lots of support systems. Repeating reality to the reality challenged

  13. Cloggie on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 4:18 pm 

    Germany (36% wind in 2017) is 15 times Denmark.

    Germany has no carriers, the US 10.

    All a matter of choice, not size.

  14. Davy on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 4:34 pm 

    36% wind??? Primary power? If electricity is that a yearly average? Explain yourself and quit the blather. If you are going to sport large numbers then be precise.

  15. Davy on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 4:36 pm 

    Well, sure Germany has no carriers. The US protects Germany and carriers are part of the protection. Get real neder.

  16. Boat on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 4:42 pm 

    Clog

    Trump might let Germany have a carrier is they are willing to balance their trade deficit. Trust has to be learned.

  17. Boat on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 4:45 pm 

    Frank… is the first to talk stranded FF assets other than coal.

  18. Boat on Fri, 8th Jun 2018 4:47 pm 

    Clog

    Your right. Hillary was gonna push solar while Trump pushes coal. Choices.

  19. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 12:02 am 

    “Well, sure Germany has no carriers. The US protects Germany and carriers are part of the protection. Get real neder.”

    “Protection” against who? They exist to keep us down and if necessary destroy us. It is the sort of protection the maffia has on offer.

    “36% wind??? Primary power? If electricity is that a yearly average? ”

    That’s yearly average as you know all too well. Don’t play stupid. Your “Denmark is a city” non-argument is just blown out of the water.

    Now that both China and the US seem to retreat from the renewable energy transition, Europe is all that is left.

  20. Boat on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 12:19 am 

    Clog

    After WWII the US left bases around the world in countries like Germany to protect them from themselves. No offensive capabilities allowed. Don’t play dumb…..you knew that.

  21. Boat on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 12:22 am 

    Clog

    Renewables will be fine without governments. Capitalism at it’s best.

  22. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 3:27 am 

    After WWII the US left bases around the world in countries like Germany to protect them from themselves. No offensive capabilities allowed. Don’t play dumb…..you knew that.

    Yeah, Europeans had world-wide empires to protect the darkies from themselves for centuries. We even had America for 3 centuries to protect Americans against themselves. Don’t play dumb…..you knew that.

    Europeans no longer lust after third world colonies, been there done that. I gladly leave it to you as an exercise to figure out what exception (hint, hint) we are going to make though, namely setting ourselves up as the protector of the only country in the world that can’t govern itself, because it can’t develop an elite strong enough to defend itself against (((the only people))) who are able to colonize white folks, in America (1913-202x) and Russia (1917-1938)…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6p1zxKnDeM

    In this sense Russians are way ahead of Americans. Reason: they are a real nation, in contrast to “nation of immigrants” North-America.

  23. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 3:37 am 

    Denmark is the size of a large city surrounded by lots of support systems.

    America and Taiwan unfortunately are not “of city-side”, like Denmark, so they need a little help from Danes (and Germans) to help wind energy going in America and Taiwan:

    https://cleantechnica.com/2018/06/08/vestas-secures-two-north-american-wind-supply-orders-worth-406-megawatts/

    https://cleantechnica.com/2018/06/08/siemens-gamesa-wpd-to-partner-on-640-megawatt-yunlin-offshore-wind-project-in-taiwan/

    I’m upbeat about the prospect of Europeans helping “energy third world nations” through the transition.

    Open your wallet, the European village people are coming!

  24. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 3:46 am 

    Bloomberg upbeat about solar:

    https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-06-05/chinese-burn-only-makes-the-solar-industry-stronger

    “Bloomberg New Energy Finance is now predicting that solar module prices in China will fall around 35% in 2018, and another 10% to 15% in 2019. Yvonne Liu, Yali Jiang, and Xiaoting Wang of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) wrote in a note on Monday that they do not believe China will get close to their record 2017 numbers, and analysts around the world are taking note, cutting their forecasts for China and the global sector. This will result in manufacturing overcapacity which is driving the talk of module price cuts.”

    https://cleantechnica.com/2018/06/07/chinese-solar-shift-rewrites-2018-forecasts-prices-expected-to-fall-by-35/

    Got that? Solar panels under a 2019 Christmas tree will cost 45-50% less than under the 2017 one.

    Repeat after me: we are all going to die! Peak oil will destroy us, it is going to be terrible, you will eat your own children.

    /millimind

    [insert thundering laughter here]

    Seriously, the Chinese are inserting a buying pause, good opportunity for Europeans to absorb production surpluses at fire-sale prices.

  25. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 4:37 am 

    100% solar car on the road by 2020:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/lightyear-solar-car-update/

    The Lightyear One, a 5-student initiative from the university of Eindhoven in Holland, has secured sufficient funds to complete a prototype of a professional looking car, powered by the sun via solar cells mounted on the car. The car has 4 motors, each in one wheel. Initial price tag: 119,000 euro ex VAT. Over the year the car will produce more energy than it consumes, following an average usage pattern of ca. 13,000 km/year.

  26. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 4:39 am 

    New Europese Cross Border Intraday (XBID)-platform for the intraday-market.

    Inner-European electricity trading has become more stream-lined, an important milestone in the renewable energy transition.

    https://www.epexspot.com/en/

    https://www.nu.nl/economie/5304194/nieuw-europees-platform-handel-in-elektriciteit.html?redirect=1

  27. Davy on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 5:20 am 

    “Yeah, Europeans had world-wide empires to protect the darkies from themselves for centuries. We even had America for 3 centuries to protect Americans against themselves. Don’t play dumb…..you knew that.”
    Europe destroyed culture after culture then themselves and you call this protection and saving?

    “In this sense Russians are way ahead of Americans. Reason: they are a real nation, in contrast to “nation of immigrants” North-America.”
    Nedernazi, you can’t determine what a nation consists of based on racism.

    “America and Taiwan unfortunately are not “of city-side”, like Denmark, so they need a little help from Danes (and Germans) to help wind energy going in America and Taiwan:”
    The US is an open economy you should be glad European companies get so much access here helping to make you richer but instead you hate us.

    “I’m upbeat about the prospect of Europeans helping “energy third world nations” through the transition.”
    The US has a more diversified energy economy than Europe. We are still a leading fossil fuel producer as well as a significant renewable producer. What is you point. How far ahead is Europe with renewables? Not very far. You can break down regions in the US into little Denmarks then make better comparisons too. You are a agendist hack.

    “Open your wallet, the European village people are coming!”
    I am not seeing anything to crow about neder. You are just a lonely old man dreaming of a Euro glory of times that are no longer. You are becoming more and more irrelevant as you descend into your mental extremism.

  28. Davy on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 5:26 am 

    “Got that? Solar panels under a 2019 Christmas tree will cost 45-50% less than under the 2017 one.”
    Neder, while this is great news for further renewable penetration the cost of panels alone is only part of the total cost of renewables. Where is storage at and a corresponding 45-50% price drop. You are crowing about a half baked pie.

    “The Lightyear One, a 5-student initiative from the university of Eindhoven in Holland, has secured sufficient funds to complete a prototype of a professional looking car, powered by the sun via solar cells mounted on the car. “
    Play toy

    “Inner-European electricity trading has become more stream-lined, an important milestone in the renewable energy transition.”
    About time

  29. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 6:12 am 

    Europe destroyed culture after culture then themselves and you call this protection and saving?

    I was obviously joking about “protection”.

    What culture? We got them out of the trees, cannibalism and stone age. Now they are missing us so much, they flee towards us in rickety boats, defying death.

    http://static.dnaindia.com/sites/default/files/styles/full/public/2016/09/02/497508-refugees-eritrea-mediterranean-sea-pti.jpg

    The US is an open economy you should be glad European companies get so much access here helping to make you richer but instead you hate us.

    Nobody is forcing you to trade. Trade is mutual beneficial, so spare me your “we are doing you favors” drivel.

    Furthermore, we don’t hate Americans, only self-styled 1-percenter imperialists like you.

    “Nedernazi, you can’t determine what a nation consists of based on racism.”

    “Racism” is a kosher invented word with the intention to conquer the entire planet and ram it into a single power structure, owned by the koshers, a murderous “exceptionalist” agenda you support whole-heartedly…

    https://documents1940.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/berlin-1900-in-colour/

    … but the undertaking is going to fail big-time. Soon you will find yourself in the position every Soviet/Eastern-European communist 1-percenter found himself in after 1989-1991: “where to flee to”? Populist-governed Italy would be a bad choice, unless of course you sew a Canadian flag to your silly MAGA-hat.

    A real nation is a nation with a homogeneous population, with a single religion and language that exists for at least 1000 years. America does not qualify. America is an enterprise, not a nation.

    “The US has a more diversified energy economy than Europe.”

    Complete BS. Europe is less dependent on imports than America.

    “Play toy”

    Sure. Where are the America “play toys”?

    Oops, the Dutchies already have competition from the Germans, who produce a much cheaper solar car:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq8psDc181Q

    Only 16,000 euro, 35 kWh, 250 km range.

    https://www.groen7.nl/sono-sion-moet-zonnewagen-voor-alledag-zijn/

    A sunny day means 30 km “free driving”. Average Dutch commuting distance: 34 km/day.

    Australians and Californians and similar sunny types would be well-served with such a car.

  30. MASTERMIND on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 6:47 am 

    Clogg

    Solar has been the on its way since the 1950’s..Its never going to happen..Its just a scam being pushed by big tech..You just can’t handle the truth because you a gutless coward..

  31. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 6:59 am 

    Cowards are those who sit on their own hands, so they can smell their own farts. Natural born losers like you and meathead come to mind.

    The Soviet empire fell flat on its face in 1991.

    Now the US empire is next.

  32. Davy on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 6:59 am 

    “What culture? We got them out of the trees, cannibalism and stone age. Now they are missing us so much, they flee towards us in rickety boats, defying death.”
    Ugly Euro Chauvinist

    “Nobody is forcing you to trade. Trade is mutual beneficial, so spare me your “we are doing you favors” drivel.”
    You are the one saying how wonderful you are because you are doing some US projects.

    Furthermore, we don’t hate Americans, only self-styled 1-percenter imperialists like you.
    You hate the US because you are so ashamed of your past hence the constant history revisions and half backed fantasy futures. BTW, you suck the big one nedernazi. You are the one attacking me daily. I love proving you the extremist and neutering you exaggerations and embellishments. Obviously if you hate me it is mission accomplished.

    “Racism” is a kosher invented word with the intention to conquer the entire planet and ram it into a single power structure, owned by the koshers, a murderous “exceptionalist” agenda you support whole-heartedly…”
    Racist bigot pig who can’t live with his national failures of the 20th century.

    “where to flee to”? Populist-governed Italy would be a bad choice, unless of course you sew a Canadian flag to your silly MAGA-hat.”
    Unfortunately you have nowhere to go and no family so I think you are one lonely old man looking at little in your twilight. All you do if spread hate and discontent with your Eurotardism and white racism.

    “A real nation is a nation with a homogeneous population, with a single religion and language that exists for at least 1000 years. America does not qualify. America is an enterprise, not a nation.”
    Where is that written? Europe has no common language????

    “Complete BS. Europe is less dependent on imports than America.”
    Sure you are neder. We are getting close to energy independence and you can’t stand that. I believe we are energy independent if you take all of NA.

  33. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Jun 2018 10:57 am 

    Summer of discontent, not only in London but in Berlin as well:

    http://www.pi-news.net/2018/06/jetzt-live-frauenmarsch-aufs-kanzleramt/

    “Women’s march on the chancellor office”

    Occasion, a 14 year old girl Susanne Feldman (yes, Jewish) has been brutally murdered by an Iraqi “refuge”, who immediately has fled back to Eyerack.lol… but was detained by the Kurdish police.

    Meanwhile London rally goes on:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfQqdg-2fmw

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