Peak Oil is You

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Page added on September 23, 2015

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How long will fossil fuels last?


It is argued that oil will run out in 53 years, natural gas in 54, and coal in 110. How likely is it?

The end, said a reincarnated Cassandra, is nigh. Abundant supplies of will end, bringing down the economic order with it. After all, she argued, at current rates of production, oil will run out in 53 years, natural gas in 54, and coal in 110. We have managed to deplete these fossil fuels – which have their origins somewhere between 541 and 66 million years ago – in less than 200 years since we started using them.
Cassandra – the Princess of Troy – had been blessed with the gift of prophesy by the Greek God, Apollo. In her modern avatar, she projected how many years these fuels would last by measuring the R/P ratios (that is the ratio of reserves to current rates of production) of fossil fuels. She juxtaposed it with the World Outlook study by the International Energy Agency, which estimated that even with aggressive climate action policies; fossil fuels will constitute 59% of the total primary energy demand in 2040.
This is partly because even though renewable sources such as wind and solar continue to become cheaper by the passing day; there are considerable roadblocks in the adoption of these sources. Among other impediments, we are yet to zero in on viable and scalable energy storage technologies that would address the intermittency issues of renewables. The sun, after all, doesn’t shine at night. Further, fossil fuel based technologies and institutions have been “locked in” to the economy: it would take decades to replace the oil, coal and gas guzzling infrastructure that continues to be added afresh today.
The link between energy poverty and human development is also strong, which has prompted nations to heavily subsidise fossil fuels. Weaning away from these subsidies will have political implications which governments will attempt to avoid or delay. To make matters trickier, developing nations, in particular India and those in Africa, will contribute to the growing thirst for energy.
Could Cassandra then possibly be correct: will we run out of fossil fuels before we make a successful transition towards other sources of energy? This has been the conventional thinking among a set of scholars over the past few decades. In the 1950s, geoscientist M. King Hubbert proposed the Peak Oil theory that has gone on to influence thinking about resource production. According to Hubbert, as oil is a finite resource, the production of oil would peak at some point and ultimately decline and deplete. Many researchers, Hubbert included, postulated that peak production is already behind us, and that we are now seeing a decline. If indeed Peak Oil has passed us by, and if the R/P ratios indicate only five decades of oil and gas, and a century of coal remaining, then an energy-crunch awaits.
Fortunately, Cassandra was not only blessed with the gift of prophesy, she had also been cursed by Apollo: the curse being that no one would believe her prophesies. Just this once, it’s probably with good reason. Firstly, the R/P ratios only consider proven reserves, not probable or possible reserves of resources. New reserves continue to be added to the pool, and the R/P ratios have actually increased over the past few decades along with rising production. For instance, in 1980, the R/P ratio suggested only 32 years of oil production from existing reserves. With technological advances, reserves that were previously deemed unviable to tap have kept coming on board. Various studies show that the total remaining recoverable oil resources would last 190 years, natural gas 230 years, and coal, a whopping 2900 years.
These numbers apply if current rates of production hold for centuries to come, which may not be the case. Rather than Peak Oil (or Gas or Coal), a ‘Peak Demand’ of these resources is likelier to occur. Even though demand from growing economies will rise in the coming decades, fossil fuel demand from the largest economies in the world is already falling due to improving efficiencies and an on-going transition away from coal, which is a part of their climate strategies. A cultural shift is also being witnessed: for instance even in a very petrolhead nation like the United States, public transport use is now at a five decade high. Vehicle aggregator apps and automated cars in the future further promise energy saving.
In all likelihood, demand for fossil fuels will ultimately peak and then begin to fall – the big question is when. Just as the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones, the Fossil Fuel Age will not end because we will run out of fossil fuels. Reserves will likely stay in the ground, far after societies have moved on from them.



26 Comments on "How long will fossil fuels last?"

  1. Plantagenet on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 2:46 pm 

    Its unlikely that NG will run out in “53 years” as this article claims, since Obama pledged in 2012 that the US has enough NG to last for 100 years.

  2. Cloud9 on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 3:42 pm 

    Cassandra like the boy who cried wolf turned out to be right. The perpetual growth machine is sputtering. When it stalls, the entire entitlement, debt, ponzi collapses. That tipping point will be reached well before the last gas and oil are sucked out of the ground.

  3. Bob Owens on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 8:00 pm 

    This article doesn’t even try to answer the question raised by its title. I’ll try to do that for him. We will run out of oil in 25 years. I take human optimistic guess of 53 years and reduced it by 1/2. Presto, 25 years! I suspect I will be closer to the mark than this Author.

  4. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 8:05 pm 

    Moving on from fossil fuels and leaving them in the ground because humanity has found a better thing to do than extract energy and use it is the most fucking retarded thing I’ve read all week. That’s a bold statement considering I’ve also this week been reading Plants comments on this pathetic site.

  5. makati1 on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 8:12 pm 

    Cloud9, I agree and have been saying so here for years. Peak petroleum production is past history. Peak purchasing ability is already upon us and maybe also past tense.

    Oil will last until there is no profit in it. (When it takes more energy to get it out of the ground and to the end user than it contains.) That day is fast approaching.

    Make a decision: A gallon of gas for the car or food for the table? We are fast approaching that moment. All of the oil and NG left at that point will stay in the ground, forever.

  6. Bob Tegir on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 8:55 pm 

    The author is simple minded and expects that you can pump as much as you want for as long as you want until the faucet suddenly turns off.

    More likely than not we have reached peak conventional oil production. Now, natural gas liquids get included in the total as well as biofuels (ethanol), plus shale oil.

    Yep, there’s a trillion barrels of oil in the oil rock and no one has ever figured out how to mine it successfully. So much for ‘reserves’.

    We’ll definitely be past the peak of oil production shortly, and natural gas in the US is set to peak probably in less than 7-10 years. We won’t be importing much since the price of gas on world markets is $15/mcf or about 10 times what the US pays producers here for it. Coal? peak coal by 2050 or sooner.

    The fallacy this author also fell for was that of ‘at current consumption rates’. The world uses exponentially more NG, oil, and coal each year. In the last 10 years alone, we used more oil than the previous 80.

    When oil got ‘scarce’ and hit $147, the world went into recession. It can’t afford $100/bbl oil and we won’t have all the oil we want at $50/bbl.

  7. BC on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 9:35 pm 

    “Moving on from fossil fuels and leaving them in the ground because humanity has found a better thing to do than extract energy and use it is the most fucking retarded thing I’ve read all week. That’s a bold statement considering I’ve also this week been reading Plants comments on this pathetic site.”

    Truth, you deliver a good punch line. I’m laughing even without a rimshot. 😀

  8. DMyers on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 9:49 pm 

    “Various studies show that the total remaining recoverable oil resources would last 190 years, natural gas 230 years, and coal, a whopping 2900 years.” [quoting from the article]

    Interesting presumption here, that we will be able to extract coal without having oil or natural gas to assist in that process (but only for about 2500 years).

    “Load sixteen tons, whadaya get?…..”

    “Shut up! You get on that trail, a mile and a half to the bottom and a mile and a half back, and you bring me some fockin coal!”

    “Can’t breath sir.”

    “Oh, that shit again. ‘My lungs look like pumice.’ Suck it up!”

    “Is it true what they say, they used to have machines, sir?”

    “That was two thousand fockin years ago!”

  9. BC on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 9:58 pm

  10. apneaman on Wed, 23rd Sep 2015 10:24 pm 

    DMyers, do you mean something like this?

    India’s Criminal Child Mines

    “inside the coal mines of India, children like Lapka and Bikash work in “rat holes”; tight and dirty pits. Lacking in air and light, there is a constant threat of injury, or even death.

    “His eye popped out, when he died he had one eye missing, his skull was cracked”, explains Lapka about his father’s death in a pit accident. The number of children working these mines is “estimated to be 70,000 in Meghalaya” says Hasina Karbith who works for Impulse, a charity fighting the illegal industry of trafficking and child labour in the mines. Many of them are trafficked. Known as ‘rat hole’ mining, children as young as ten are sent deep underground to dig for coal in spaces too small for adults to reach. For those Impulse can help, a new life awaits back home in Nepal. This report follows the rescue of brothers Bikash and Bishal as they experience their first hot shower and school classes. The destruction of childhood through trafficking and pit work is exposed as a horrific crime.”

    India is not the only place this type of deal goes down nor is coal the only substance mined this way today. In my dystopian visions, I foresee this future for untold numbers of N American kids, but more like in decades, not millennium.

  11. Banjo on Thu, 24th Sep 2015 12:53 am 

    8 years of QE and ZIRP et el with a woeful global economic situation.

    Resources are telling you the growth game is over.

    Wait you mean we can’t keep doubling and growing forever and ever. Shocked i am truly shocked.

  12. makati1 on Thu, 24th Sep 2015 3:01 am 

    Ap, I visited a coal mine near my old home in PA on my last visit to the States. The Us had child labor in the mines as late as the 1920s. They often had some of the most dangerous jobs and could be as young as 9 or 10.

    Coal mining is about over without machines. They have to remove mountains now to get at the veins.

    Stupid article written for uneducated sheeple.

  13. Kenz300 on Thu, 24th Sep 2015 9:05 am 

    The sooner we transition away from fossil fuels the better for the planet and the people….

  14. rockman on Thu, 24th Sep 2015 10:38 am 

    Of course we’ll never run out of producible oil/NG. So the question then becomes: when do we run out of oil/NG consumers can pay for? But that’s not an easy answer either. Millions of consumers ran out of affordable oil when the price went above $20/bbl. But there were still many tens of millions that could afford $147/bbl oil.

    In that sense there is no answer because the question itself isn’t defined in a viable format. We can’t answer because the question lacks enough specificity.

  15. energyskeptic on Thu, 24th Sep 2015 11:20 am 

    If stability and order can be maintained despite a shrinking middle class and ever growing impoverishment, then lowered demand will allow the top ten? five? one? percent to continue to fly, drive, and so on for longer than you’d expect, though with greater and greater difficulty as the infrastructure falls apart. There is a long tail on oil production, it doesn’t drop to zero. On the other hand, since the EROI keeps getting lower, it may drop off a net energy “cliff” faster than can be coped with. And the military factor is interesting, they are totally aware of the situation, and likely to commandeer scarce supplies to maintain access to Middle Eastern oil. Meanwhile, the electric grid is getting ever more dependent on natural gas as coal and nuclear plants retire — and civilization depends just as much on electricity to run the internet, financial systems, gasoline and diesel pumps, and so on – we are facing a double energy and electricity whammy, with rising sea levels, drought, corrosion, and crumbling concrete eating away at remaining power plants and refineries in roughly 35 years… too many parameters to say WHEN collapse will occur for EVERYONE – plenty who never recovered from 2008 and can’t afford a car and barely pay the rent would say it has already happened for them…

  16. Baptised on Thu, 24th Sep 2015 12:11 pm 

    That is the way I see it also Rockman @10:38.

  17. Mike989 on Thu, 24th Sep 2015 11:35 pm 

    My household of 2 cars will be ZERO Gas in 3 years.

  18. GregT on Fri, 25th Sep 2015 12:57 am 

    Even if you quit driving all together Mikey, your “household” would still not be ZERO gas.

    As pointed out before, nearly 70% of all electric power generated in the US is from fossil fuels, your electric car is manufactured with fossil fuels, and the transportation infrastructure that you drive your car on is built and maintained with fossil fuels. Your food comes from fossil fuels, your clothing comes from fossil fuels, your house was built with fossil fuels, and your employment requires fossil fuels as does your financial and monetary systems.

    Every single one of which would no longer be viable without oil, including your electric car.

  19. Kenz300 on Fri, 25th Sep 2015 9:03 am 

    Adoption of bicycles as a primary transportation option can be done. It is a safe, clean and inexpensive way to travel. Cities needs to become more bicycle friendly.

    Groningen: The World’s Cycling City – YouTube

  20. Yourightwingerkuklkla on Sat, 2nd Apr 2016 11:03 am 

    All you dum peo ppl one word “tesla”

  21. niggerfag on Sun, 8th Apr 2018 10:59 pm 

    send bobs and vagene

  22. Your_local_iliterate on Sun, 8th Apr 2018 11:01 pm 

    fak meh dadi

  23. kapish bhatia on Sun, 8th Apr 2018 11:01 pm 

    some fossil fuels are coming out from my pants.

  24. vansh jain on Sun, 8th Apr 2018 11:07 pm 

    very nice article!

  25. yogesh sindwani on Mon, 9th Apr 2018 10:27 pm 

    sexy article

  26. Alabama nigger on Thu, 7th Feb 2019 2:05 am 

    This made me fuck my sistet

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