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[Energy] [Column] All About Petroleum - (7) When Will Petroleum Run Out?

by Eco Generation | 30-07-2019 09:12 Comments 0 Comments recommendations 0 recommendations



When Will Petroleum Run Out?

 

 

By Science Columnist Ho-Gwan Ko

 

 

How long can we use petroleum? According to a report published by a global energy company in the UK, British Petroleum (BP) in 2018, proven oil reserves in 2017 are 1.6966 trillion barrels. If global annual petroleum consumption stays at the 2017 level, we can still use petroleum for the next 50 years.


However, if you are in your 30s or 40s, you might think that this result is strange. When the current middle-aged people were children, they also used to hear that petroleum would run out in the next 30-40 years. If that was true, it should have been exhausted by now. But we are now talking about 50 more years, so it is no wonder that they question this.


The 1.6966 trillion barrels just mentioned refer to proven reserves. Proven reserves means the quantity of petroleum that can be extracted with a high probability, usually over 90%, using existing technology under current economic and political conditions. In other words, it is not the entire amount of petroleum on Earth.


Petroleum not included in proven reserves is divided into two types. Although not certain, oil reserves calculated to be at least 50% likely to be recovered are called probable reserves. Those calculated to be as little as 10% likely to be recovered are possible reserves.


Proven oil reserves in 1985 were 770.4 billion barrels. More than 30 years later, now, proven reserves have more than doubled. This is because petroleum-drilling technology has developed. New oilfields have been discovered, and now we can recover petroleum from oilfields that in the past cost too much and were not economically viable. The amount of petroleum that can be extracted from one oilfield has also increased. Developing an oilfield does not mean that we can extract all of the petroleum in it. However, we used to recover less than 50% before, but now we can now extract more.


With new technology, including oil sands and shale oil mentioned above, unconventional petroleum resources are being developed, contributing to ever-increasing oil reserves. Shale oil is a liquid hydrocarbon that can be extracted from sedimentary rocks containing a lot of organic matter and can replace conventional petroleum. It is estimated that there are more such unconventional petroleum resources than petroleum, but we do not know exactly how much. It costs a lot because it is difficult to recover, but if the technology develops and petroleum prices rise, it will be developed more.


Of course, it is definite that either petroleum or unconventional petroleum resources will be exhausted someday, as they are not infinite. The point in time when the production of oil reaches its maximum rate, after which production only declines, is called “peak oil.” This is a concept presented by the American geologist Marion King Hubbert in the 1950s. People have different opinions in terms of when the global peak will be. Some claim that the peak is already happening, while others insist that it will be around 2020, and some say that we can know when peak oil will be only in around 2060.


On the other hand, some people say that there is no need to worry too much. They say that there is a significant amount of petroleum that we have not yet discovered, and the global petroleum demand will be fulfilled with the reserves of unconventional petroleum, which are estimated at about 9 trillion barrels, for several hundred years. It will be a problem in a few hundred years, but they say we will have a means to replace petroleum by then.


If petroleum is depleted without any prepared countermeasures, modern civilization will face a serious crisis. Therefore, we need to be prepared for peak oil which will occur sometime in the future. Research on replacing petroleum has been conducted. For example, if slowly emerging electric cars are fully used, petroleum consumption will be greatly reduced.


If things go well in the future, there will be a way to completely or almost completely replace petroleum while petroleum development technology is getting better, giving us more time to focus on a replacement technology. Then petroleum may become a resource of the past that is used a little bit only for where it is necessary, keeping modern civilization as it is now.

 

Eric Kounce TexasRaiser [Public domain]

Source: Eric Kounce TexasRaiser [Public domain]

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