Submitted by football2106 t3_zlidv7 in askscience

100 years? 200? 500?

I always see pushback from people about electric cars and whatnot but nobody ever admits that we will run out of gas and oil at some point and need to have our infrastructure in position to stay afloat when that time comes.

Millions and millions of gallons are used DAILY, which surely can’t be sustainable long-term. Especially so with the population now reaching 8 billion and climbing. Is there actually a plan in place or is the “doomsday” so far out that it’s actually not a cause of concern for those in power?



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CrustalTrudger t1_j06ess3 wrote

One way to approach this is through consideration of the idea of "peak oil", i.e., the idea that at some point there will be a peak in oil production that will never again be reached. The reasoning behind this is a mixture of the finite nature of oil reserves and the economics of oil extraction. One important component of the peak oil concept, which also reflects a misconception within your question, is that we will never ever get the last drop. There will always be petroleum left behind in a reservoir because at some point the cost of extraction greatly exceeds the price to extract that oil. If you look through the linked wikipedia page, you'll see how this plays out when a new way to extract oil becomes available. Specifically, the original peak oil prediction suggested that oil production would peak sometime in the early 1970s and this basically held until about the mid 1990s (in this plot the red is the projected production based on the peak oil concept and the green is actual global production). So what happened in the 1990s that allows production to go back up? A few things, but primarily development of technologies that allowed us to start efficiently extracting petroleum from reservoirs that were previously non-viable (primarily directional/horizontal drilling coupled with hydraulic fracturing that allowed us to extract oil from "tight" reservoirs, but others as well). This highlights that it's hard to project out when we will actually effectively run out of oil because we fundamentally don't know the future in terms of development of new ways of extraction (and to a lesser extent the discovery of additional reservoirs, though both the rate of new finds and the general exploration process is a shadow of what it was in the mid 20th century).

The other important side is demand. Circling back to the beginning, oil companies are not non-profits, they only extract oil if it's economically viable (and profitable) to do so. If factors reduce demand (e.g., taxes on petroleum to reflect the huge environmental cost of continuing to burn oil/gas, decreasing prices of alternative energy sources, etc), demand for, and thus the price of, oil will drop below a point where it's economically viable to extract whatever is left in reservoirs. Analyses attempting to work in some of these ideas of changing patterns in demand and viable energy alternatives still consider the peak oil concept, with some projections now pointing to a peak in production in the mid 2030s (e.g., Delannoy et al., 2021). But again, a lot is riding on projecting out a variety of pretty hard to predict things (basically anytime one group of variables is "collective human behavior", projections are going to be a bit tricky).

The final point to consider is that if we consider some hypothetical where we really go for getting as much remaining petroleum as we possibly can and burn it all, even without considering the "what do we do now for energy" challenge, this would basically be a "let's shoot for a RCP 8.5 scenario", which would make for some pretty hellish conditions in the future, to put it mildly.


TerpenesByMS t1_j0a0rf2 wrote

Truly, the biggest variables are:

  1. The economics of green energy
  2. Geopolitical circumstances (conflict, sanctions, etc.)

Everything else is details: Returns on new petroleum recovery tech is likely diminishing. New well finding is also, as you mention, unlikely to add a large boon either.

I really hope Peak Oil is by 2040. otherwise we're boinked.


cbelt3 t1_j0a6neq wrote

“Peak Oil “ by M. King Hubbert. A brilliant man, and fun to chat with when I met him in the 70’s.


jwatt38 t1_j06n7o5 wrote

Wasn’t there something years ago about old pockets had refilled somehow and it changed how we think the oil mechanism works? We thought it was dinosaurs and swaps and bogs + time and that was part of the “we will run out some day” thinking, but then these old pockets had filled back up and scientist weren’t sure how that happened considering we got no more dinosaurs etc. and if I’m remembering right this discovery sort of shook up the whole industry and time lines.


CrustalTrudger t1_j06pp3y wrote

I'm not aware of anything like this and I've worked adjacent to the oil & gas industry for all of my career. The vast majority of petroleum is derived from photosynthetic marine organisms (algae, phytoplankton, etc). Maybe you're thinking of the theory that some amount of petroleum is produced through abiotic mechanisms, but these ideas have been thoroughly discredited and have never yielded a successful find (e.g., Glasby, 2008). Even if we ignore that, the concept of depletion and peak oil is arguably independent of the formation mechanism of oil, i.e., it's more controlled by production (in the sense of our extraction) of oil than the way in which oil is formed (e.g., Höök et al., 2010).


jwatt38 t1_j06tdec wrote

So I probably never heard the follow up to what I was talking about. It seemed wild at the time but I don’t remember anything after that. I consume a ton of articles and crap, I get stuff mixed up, I don’t follow up. I appreciate the reply and cited sources. The Glasby 2008 reference seems about right for the time I heard something about all that. Btw I also appreciate you not being a dick in your reply as so many folks can be on the ole Reddit. I live in the Texas panhandle, oil, gas, water are all pretty common topics here, but I’m most certainly on the outskirts of knowledge. Thanks again for citing sources to read later.


cejmp t1_j076det wrote

>I'm not aware of anything like this and I've worked adjacent to the oil & gas industry for all of my career.

Some of the fields in the South Delta block in the GOM were reporting increasing reserves back in like 2003, Devon Energy. I can't find anything with Google about it, but we were working for them. It could have been South Marsh Island, I don't remember.


michaelrohansmith t1_j09825i wrote

Maybe oil is slowly soaking out of other areas into the places we collect from.


fman84 t1_j07jpg7 wrote

I remember something like this as well. Oil does not come from dinosaurs but is actually from tiny sea life like plankton. It settles on the sea floor and over millions of years of heat and pressure it changes to crude oil. I recently read an article that talks about samples being taken from various places around the world showing new oil forming. Logically we know that life in water has not stopped so there is a constant supply of new organic material being deposited that will eventually convert to oil. It just takes a very long time. Likely there are layers of organic material at various stages of conversion.


Belzeturtle t1_j08kxnj wrote

>We thought it was dinosaurs

No one thought that ever. Oil was produced from marine organisms, not dinosaurs, about 300M years ago, which was about 70M years before the first dinosaurs.


horsetuna t1_j09j8o1 wrote

The term Fossil Fuel probably confuses a lot.

Plus the dinosaur on Sinclair Oil


barrycarter t1_j06foog wrote says we have 47 years left, but it only counts proven oil reserves and excludes the possibility we will discover more oil.

A Venn diagram on isn't particularly helpful, but points out there's almost certainly more oil that we can obtain economically and even more that we can obtain but will probably be too expensive to be worthwhile


robotzor t1_j08so5n wrote

Oil glut theory says we will absolutely see demand for oil critically drop well before 47 years, globally. A lot of measurements go into getting a reasonable figure. It's difficult to predict on a macro level.


electr0o84 t1_j08c8c2 wrote

>am on
> isn't particularly helpful, but points out there's almost certainly more oil that we can obtain economically and even

Proven oil also only includes economic oil as proven oil is a way to help investors know the worth of the company. So if easy-to-drill oil becomes hard to get, prices go up and what was once an uneconomical oil is now economical to drill becoming proven or probable. With the current reservoirs of heavy oil in Canada Russia Venezuela and the rest of the world, I believe we have will have transitioned to other energies way before we run out. but if we did run out there is still an abundance of coal for energy or better yet nuclear.


Jamie1897 t1_j08qa9u wrote

This simply isn't how reservoir economics works. At the start of industrial revolution, we had access to shallow reserves of high-BTU thermal and metallurgical coal, and geopressured oil and gas in highly permeable salt domes. Those days are gone. The quality of our coal, oil, and gas reserves has been declining. For example, people say "peak coal" in the USA was in 2007, but the peak thermal content of the coal was in 1996. (Also, keep in mind that coal only peaked in the USA due to an explosion of fuel-switching to natural gas). As the quality declines, the price increases, and this drives investment into much larger, but lower quality reserves. So now we are using sub-bituminous coal and lignite for power generation, and hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drill string steering, reservoir simulation, and deep water drilling for oil and gas, fracking and horizontal drilling being especially important in impermeable shale formations. As the price rises further, it would make other technologies viable. In electricity, space heating, and possibly industrial process heat, I could see nuclear fission replacing fossil fuels. Conventional nuclear fuel reserves could last 10,000 years, and seawater uranium could make that hundreds of millions of years. Liquid oil has extreme portability which makes it uniquely useful for transportation and heavy industrial equipment, which also makes it extremely difficult to see what could replace it. High prices on oil will eventually drive the conversion of coal and natural gas to liquid fuels using the Fischer-Tropsch process. The reality is that the fossil fuels could probably last a few centuries. The declining quality of the fossil fuel reserves also means that they are becoming more and more energy-intensive to extract, which also leads to declining Energy-Return-On-Energy-Invested, which has its own set of implications for industrial civilization.


[deleted] t1_j07wxe3 wrote



KindChange3300 t1_j083gyn wrote

Perhaps another way to explain your position is this: if we really needed to, we could literally create oil out of thin air and energy; that is, use CO2 and water in endothermic reactions.

The question is - are there cheaper, safer and more convenient alternatives to either extract ing or creating the hydrocarbons we want for energy storage and transportation?


BelovedOmegaMan t1_j08mifr wrote

Not just that, but most plastics can be returned back to crude oil by the pyrolosis process-it's just that it's expensive to do so. There's billions of gallons of oil out there in landfills, etc. in the form of long-chain hydrocarbons called plastic. If a nation wanted to, say, nationalize turning plastics back into oil, it could absolutely be done-it's just that there's no reason to do so on a large scale. Yet.


Jamie1897 t1_j08rnlp wrote

The reason we don't do it is because it doesn't currently make economic sense. The unsubsidized price is related to its energy intensity, so it likely doesn't make energy sense to do it. It does, however, make lots of sense to incinerate municipal solid waste in waste-to-energy plants and recover the energy as electricity and steam for space-heating and cooling.


BelovedOmegaMan t1_j08ueaa wrote

>The reason we don't do it is because it doesn't currently make economic sense.

Yes, that's what I said, thank you.


Jamie1897 t1_j08ntx6 wrote

No, transportation and mobile industrial equipment are why oil, compared to coal or natural gas, is uniquely valuable. There is no replacement for it, especially in heavy transportation, freight, aviation, maritime, and mobile industrial equipment.


KindChange3300 t1_j08wuhk wrote

Given the current state of technology, yes. But we must, for example, not allow an environment that sabotages potentially disruptive innovation.

What if, for example, portable fusion reactors become financially viable? Or other energy storage technologies emerge which make current generation battery technologies obsolete. For example, gyroscopic energy storage has been explored. What does happen, however is that industry-sponsored regulations and subsidies stifle development of other avenues in favor of incumbent interests.


abensfw t1_j08f4uk wrote

Using an economic argument to explain how a finite resource will magically last forever is always amusing.


dscottj t1_j08j53n wrote

Tell me you don't understand basic economics without saying you don't understand basic economics.


EBD510 t1_j0870av wrote

I don't think you're wrong - and I think your response highlights why OP's question is not the right one to be asking. More relevant is what the climate impacts of burning different amounts of these fuels will be. This is more likely to drive the relevant impacts and economics in the long term than some sort of hard availability constraint.


5J7XM33IXN4XCQI6B2BB t1_j09667e wrote

I love when economists join a conversation to remind everyone that the free market can solve any problem, even physical reality.


dscottj t1_j09c0ji wrote

Show me you've not properly understood the Simon-Ehrlich wager without saying it out loud.


EcchiOli t1_j08qwzl wrote

There's one little thing I want to add, the (currently) 30 comments don't directly address this specific aspect, but my apologies if that was, actually already said, and I simply missed it.

We got the idea that oil prices would be pushed up as the difficulty of extraction surges, to cover extraction costs and give oil companies a profit margin, sure.

But another limiting factor is that oil prices cannot rise towards stratospheric levels: oil prices will only rise as high as the economy is able to sustain them.

A thriving blossoming economy can afford higher prices than a depressed, half-crumbling, incertain and threatening economy. In a grim context of not just peak oil, but peak everything (several resources are past their peak and extraction may fail to meet demand within the current century, for instance for copper, europium, terbium, yttrium, antimony, helium, uranium, gold, indium, zinc), there will be this additional challenge, even if we want oil, we can't afford to pay it at the cost it would require.


Indemnity4 t1_j09dg3v wrote

Not yet mentioned, we can make gas and oil from coal reserves or even from biomass. It does make the pool of resources bigger than you think it is.

Those processes cost more than oil/gas extraction does right now. However, if demand was ever high enough, those can be tapped into.

For instance, during WW2 Germany was cut off from oil supplies. But Germany has lots of cheap brown coal, just massive reserves. They built a factory to convert coal -> fuel that was only economical in their wartime economy. That factory was of such important that is was protected by more defenses than Berlin. It has it's own army and airforce just to protect the fuel production.


FrischZisch t1_j0959ei wrote

I just want to point out that we have two limited reservoirs.

The capacity of the oil reservoirs around the globe and the capacity of our atmosphere to store the CO2 produced with it. It’s known for some years now, that the second capacity is reached earlier twisting the question from „how much can we get“ to „how much can we burn without ruining the climate“.

The estimates are that we need to let a lot of the obtainable oil to stay buried.


thejimshep t1_j09df08 wrote

The honest truth is that we will ruin our planet before we run out of oil or suitable replacements for oil. Gasoline has had a suitable replacement for years, and it is sustainable. Diesel can be replaced or supplemented with so many other substances that it could continue to be used for another century at least before it hit crisis levels. This is especially true considering gasoline production/refining directly affects the supply of crude for diesel production.

In all reality, we could “indefinitely” rely on oil based off of supply. The advancement in oil technology has almost entirely been focused in extraction and refining efficiency measures. Synthetic fuels and oils could continue the mass availability of modern petro fuels if and when the demand deems the R&D profitable.

So the concern shouldn’t so much be “how much longer will oil last for mankind?”. The concern should be, “In spite of the destructiveness of petro fuels to our environment, how long will we be able to deem oils a profitable energy source.”


timrichardson t1_j09tvfw wrote

We are already rationing. Oil has a price. This makes it too expensive for some things, that is, the supply of oil is already limited. Sometimes demand is managed (reduced) by a government limiting how much someone can buy rather than letting the price rise to exclude some buyers, but if by rationing you mean people can't get all the oil they want, it has always been rationed like anything of less than infinite supply. And as oil gets more expensive alternatives become more attractive. Even worse for oil, those alternatives are becoming dramatically cheaper.

Based on precedent we will shift from oil for economic reasons before we run out of it. A lot of oil will be left in the ground.