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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Have we almost depleted the world oil reserves?

How much oil is left in the world oil reserves?

We all know crude oil is a diminishing resource, but have we almost depleted the world oil reserves? Economists would have us believe we’re in crisis, as would the lunatic fringe, but the truth is we’re actually quite far from this...

Oil is not the world’s only energy source — it currently accounts for about 35 percent of global demand — but it is our single largest energy source, and it fuels nearly all the world’s transportation. So, let’s take a look at some facts about our world oil reserves, as well as some historical perspective.

What are the estimated world oil reserves?

The U.S. Geological Survey, to cite just one
authority, has over time significantly increased its estimate of the recoverable world oil reserves. It now estimates that only about one-third of these resources have been produced to date.

This question has been asked many times in recent history when experts have worried that recoverable oil resources were nearing depletion, only to be proven wrong as new technologies opened up new avenues for production, both onshore and offshore.

Recently there was an interesting historical perspective on this issue in the pages of Newsweek, in an article by George Will. In the article, Will talked about various estimates for oil supplies, such as the Bureau of Mines saying in 1914 that U.S. oil reserves would be exhausted by 1924. In 1939, the Interior Department said global proven reserves would last 13 years. And, more recently: In 1970, proven world oil reserves were estimated at 612 billion barrels. By 2006, more than 767 billion barrels had been pumped, yet proven reserves had risen to 1.2 trillion barrels.

Top 15 world oil reserves by country (In barrels)

  • Saudi Arabi 262,600,000,000 
  • Venezuela 211,200,000,000 
  • Canada 175,200,000,000 
  • Iran 137,000,000,000 
  • Iraq 115,000,000,000 
  • Kuwait 104,000,000,000 
  • UAE 97,800,000,000 
  • Russia 60,000,000,000 
  • Libya 46,420,000,000 
  • Nigeria 37,200,000,000 
  • Kazakhstan 30,000,000,000 
  • Qatar 25,380,000,000 
  • United States 20,680,000,000 
  • China 14,800,000,000 
  • Brazil 12,860,000,000 
And these are only the countries with the biggest oil reserves

Global oil usage is estimated to be 82,769,370.4 bbl/day which led the EIA to conservatively predict that world oil reserves will meet demand through 3010. Even with reduced innovation and estimates, supply will meet demand through 2080 — but as we have seen, innovation in the industry is strong and estimates have been proven low.

How are world oil reserves being extended?

Even though significant world oil reserves remain, it doesn’t mean the world should not be developing other energy sources besides oil; for energy, lubrication and synthetics production.

For one, the scale of the world’s energy needs today is beyond what any one fuel could provide. And, because of expanding populations and economies, by 2030 global demand will be about 35 percent higher than it was in 2005, even with substantial gains in efficiency.

We will need to expand all economic energy sources to meet this demand. That means we’ll need natural gas, coal, nuclear and emerging alternatives such as wind and solar, to augment remaining world oil reserves.

However, the world’s remaining world oil reserves do require more complex technologies, and higher levels of investment, than they did a generation ago. For example, the world is increasingly looking to oil sands, ultra-deepwater, and arctic resources. Using technologies such as extended reach drilling, which allows wells to be drilled targeting reservoirs that are miles away from the surface location; 3D seismic and electromagnetic mapping methods that improve imaging of oil and gas reservoirs; and enhanced oil recovery techniques that significantly increase oil recovery in producing fields.

Another way of extending the world oil reserves is by replacement technologies. A good example of this is the use of synthetic lubricants, which not only outperform crude oil products but are also more energy efficient.

So back to the original question: Have we almost depleted the world oil reserves? No. Not even close.