Oil Reserves
In the comments of one of Drew's posts, several people have discussed the finite nature of oil reserves. The fascination people have with Earth running out of oil has always interested me. Yes, oil is a finite and consumable resource. However, the known reserves of oil are larger than ever and continue to grow as we explore more of our planet. Frankly, I expect the known oil reserves to continue to grow throughout my lifetime even if almost every family in China manages to buy a car (which may indeed come to pass in the next few decades).

Bill Kovarik has been tracking this particular issue for some time. His entire report is worth the read if you have the time. For the rest of you, here are some interesting dates throughout modern history.

1857 -- Romania produces 2,000 barrels of oil, marking the beginning of the modern oil industry.

1879 -- US Geological Survey formed in part because of fear of oil shortages.

1882 -- Institute of Mining Engineers estimates 95 million barrels of oil remain. With 25 million barrels per year output, "Some day the cheque will come back indorsed no funds, and we are approaching that day very fast," Samuel Wrigley says. (Pratt, p. 124).

1906 -- Fears of an oil shortage are confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Representatives of the Detroit, Board of Commerce attended hearings in Washington and told a Senate hearing that car manufacturers worried not so much [about] cost as ... supply.

1919, Scientific American notes that the auto industry could no longer ignore the fact that only 20 years worth of U.S. oil was left. The burden falls upon the engine. It must adapt itself to less volatile fuel, and it must be made to burn the fuel with less waste.... Automotive engineers must turn their thoughts away from questions of speed and weight... and comfort and endurance, to avert what ... will turn out to be a calamity, seriously disorganizing an indispensable system of transportation.

1920 -- David White, chief geologist of USGS, estimates total oil remaining in the US at 6.7 billion barrels. "In making this estimate, which included both proved reserves and resources still remaining to be discovered, White conceded that it might well be in error by as much as 25 percent." (Pratt, p. 125. Emphasis added).

1925 -- US Commerce Dept. says that while U.S. oil production doubled between 1914 and 1921, it did not keep pace with fuel demand as the number of cars increased.

1926 -- Federal Oil Conservation Board estimates 4.5 billion barrels remain.

1932 -- Federal Oil Conservation Board estimates 10 billion barrels of oil remain.

1944 -- Petroleum Administrator for War estimates 20 billion barrels of oil remain.

1950 -- American Petroleum Institute says world oil reserves are at 100 billion barrels.

1966 - 1977 -- 19 billion barrels added to US reserves, most of which was from fields discovered before 1966. (As M.A. Adelman notes: "These fields were no gift of nature. They were a growth of knowledge, paid for by heavy investment.")

1980 -- Remaining proven oil reserves put at 648 billion barrels

1993 -- Remaining proven oil reserves put at 999 billion barrels

2000 -- Remaining proven oil reserves put at 1016 billion barrels.

Keep in mind that these proven oil reserves do not include unconventional oil reserves that require more refining than "normal" oil. If we ever need to use these (currently) more expensive sources, they will be available. I expect that there will be ample oil left in the ground when our technology comes up with a much better fuel alternative. But we shall cease using oil because of technological innovation, not because of scarcity.


(mostly devil's advocacy - as I don't really care all that much - sorry!)
Like I said earlier, I'm no economist. I'm not sure who Bill Kovarik is - the site indicates he was a journalist and is now a Professor of Media Studies?
Media Studies???
Scientists like me had names for people doing media studies! at college! 8)

Yes, Oil is a finite resource. It will run out as an economically useful resource one day. Some analyses indicate sooner, some later.

I'm not sure a purely "economic" view is useful? The "we've got loads let's burn it now" is a valid attitude?

Some other (expert???) reports?

From Scientific American (reportedly) which disputes the validity of some of the published figures?

US EIA - International Energy Outlook 2004 which is huge and I don't care to read - sorry! Perhaps you economists can find the time?

What should worry me is that if we just keep burning this stuff - we are probably in for a bad time sometime.
It doesn't worry me - coz I'll probably be dead by then anyway.

Pollution in US cities increases heart disease

and whilst the US is doing a good job trying to clean up "its environmental act" some of the "figures" are quite astonishing (if true)

Clean Air Council

If we end up burning all that predicted oil reserve, are we burying enough carbon or planting enough plants to remove it again from the "system"? Perhaps you need to bury more diapers!? Oil/coal/gas are products millions of years old - that carbon has been trapped away while we evolved without it free in our atmosphere...

The larger that reserve is - the worse it could get.

Your "trust" in technology advance may be "optimistic".
Technology may be unable to find solutions - at all? We see it everywhere... it creates our "local" world -

"Teknik … Kniff, die welt so einzurichten, dass vir sie nicht erleben müssen."
(Technology… the knack of so arranging the world that we need not experience it.
Max Frisch 1911-
Swiss novelist and playwright

We're all likely to be dead in 4.5billion years when the sun burns out anyway - so who cares? 8)

Posted by: Cassivellaunus | 04/20/2004 - 03:01 PM

Glad to see those embedded URLs – good for you!

I agree that burning anything, including oil, most likely increases the odds of people contracting lung cancer. The important question is whether the benefits of living in a modern society outweigh the problems of modern society. Before the industrial age, the air was much cleaner and fewer people died of lung cancer. However, life expectancies were much lower than they are now. So all in all, I'd rather live now than a few hundred years ago. (One of the misleading things about westerns is their clean streets. The average horse produces about 25 pounds of excrement per day. Moving to horseless carriages was a tremendous step forward for public hygiene).

At some point in the future, we will move to an even better solution than burning oil. Yet we will do so because these solutions are better for us (e.g., less air pollution, less dependence on other countries), not because we ran out of oil. The Scientific American link was quite interesting. But even their pessimistic view states that there are over a trillion barrels of conventional oil left to be extracted (page 81). This is consistent with the numbers collected by Kovarik.

One of the many reasons why we consume so much oil is that it is relatively cheap. Thus, we have spent many times the resources on devices than run on oil vs. running on alternatives. If we actually ran out of oil (or if it just got relatively expensive in innovative cultures), we would have alternatives on the market in a remarkable short time-frame. However, since there is no urgency, and since oil is relatively cheap, it will take time for these alternatives to come to market. I actually work in the same building as some people researching fuel cells. In their opinion, there could be fuel cells running cars in less than 5 years (and not the hybrids either). However, they don't realistically expect this to happen for about 10 to 15 years because there is no economic reason to switch. Some businesses will also have to come up with methods for safely storing and transporting hydrogen across the country just as people had to develop an infrastructure for transporting gasoline across the nation when automobiles were developed.

I do have faith in technology, the scientific method, and in people coming up with new solutions so long as their culture fosters innovation. If that makes me an optimist, then guilty as charged. :-)

Posted by: Don Quixote | 04/20/2004 - 04:41 PM

(I still don't really care - but no-one has responded - so I guess I will?)

Oh well... I hope your faith is science is as strong as some people's faith in a divine being. I am a scientist - of sorts. If BMD and space probes count? I design complex electronics and even now I see an end to "technology" as I see it. There are no real major "breakthoughs" today - just smaller and smaller mobiles? Wow.

Oil is cheap? Perhaps.
Or is it?

I'm no Green. I just think logically. Very, very logically. I see us burning all the locked-up carbon in the world, and not burying a balanced measure. I see "the sons of Abraham" beating the wotsit out of each other for illogical reasons and I see the "great power(s)" justifying intervention when it suits political aims when they think they can win.

I see justifications for all sorts of things, like why the US is superior and why terrorism is wrong and why democracy is wonderful. I hear (obviously?) incorrect reports about the CIA recruiting Saddam to assassinate someone? US support for Iraq vs Iran. But when Oil becomes an issue? I don't really care anymore.

It's all bollocks really.

Humankind has evolved (or been created by the DB) for many many thousands of years.

Right now we are almost 60 years away from the only offensive use of The Atom Bomb - and colour television was yet to be achieved. The US experimented with atomic weapons for civil engineering tests! Television has at least gone "colour" since then...

We still burn oil/gas/coal and so on - and like the gun - nothing has really progessed for 100 years or more. There are only more guns and more people burning oil.

We can now change our planetary environment faster than we can evolve to live in what we create.

This isn't about Left/Right politics, it's not about Religeons, it's not about Nations or United Nations.

It's about Greed.

"I want" - regardless of the consequences.

How about "the human species"?

Posted by: Cassivellaunus | 04/25/2004 - 07:49 PM

I do agree much of the political discussions may not mean much. Human nature is flawed and technology has not changed this. Atheism is a depressing religion. But even assuming you are an atheist (and this is a large assumption on my part; correct me if I'm wrong), your overall outlook seems depressing to me. I hope it is not depressing to you.

No scientific breakthroughs in the last 100 (60?) years? Current advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology are quite promising and we are only at the very, very early stages of both technologies. Both have much promise. We have the technology for spaceflight (if not the will to do more than dabble with it). The invention of the internet is revolutionalizing communications and will continue to change our world in many ways (including allowing folks like us, who would have never met otherwise, to exchange views and better understand each other).

Fuel cells are still years away (perhaps a decade or so), but even if we don't find any more oil other than the trillion barrels of conventional oil (and trillions more of unconventional oil) already discovered, we will have plenty of oil left when these are operational. And if all of the estimates are wrong and we start running out early, fuel cells could go to market earlier (there is just no economic reason to bring them to market when they are expensive given plentiful and cheap oil).

We know easy and effective ways to capture and bury carbon (scroll up to top of link) and should this prove necessary, it can be easily done.

Nor do I see all of this as about Greed. Sure, that's some of it, but much of it is what I would call enlightened self interest. By almost every conceivable measure (life expectancy, availability of potable water, percentage of people not starving, etc.), we are far better off than at any time in the past and the trends continue to improve. This is a good thing.

Posted by: Don Quixote | 04/25/2004 - 10:21 PM

You are not wrong. Yes, I am an Atheist. I mentioned this on my desciption you can get if you hit my name/link below?
I was also not Christened so I may be a heathen too?

Atheism is not a "depressing religeon".

Time for a quote?
"An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support."
John Buchan 1875-1940
Scottish novelist
Governor-general of Canada 1935-40

Which I like because of the humourous wordplay rather than than any accusatory aspect?! 8)
I'm not depressed by my outlook on life. If you read my self-description you note that I don't have much respect for the "human race" as a species. It certainly hasn't exhibited much in the way of "value" - except to itself? It is merely the dominant species on this rock. Three cheers! Hmmn.

Fuel Cells: Sound great. The only problem is, is that they don't actually create energy, they merely store it for use. Like any kind of battery. The energy still has to come from somewhere, in this case, from Hydrogen. FCs are very clean when used, but how clean is the method of making the Hydrogen? There are some interesting avenues being investigated I agree.
US DoE Info

But: We still need the Energy from somewhere...
I still fall back on the basic premise that, whilst we have abundant stored energy available now (in unrenewables), at some point in the (hopefully) distant future we will run out, at that point we will have to rely on the only (important) energy input the Earth has. Solar energy. It all boils down to that in the end.
Obviously, this presupposes that we won't get our energy off other planets. That way lies other dangers.
There are also at least a couple of other long-life and relatively clean energy sources:
Nuclear Fusion. If we can use that Hydrogen in much smaller quantities to generate power we might be on the right track. We might run out of Lithium in a 1000years or so though.
Geothermal. Might last a while longer - it might save the world. Only problem is we have a population growing faster than resources can accomodate. Hence starvation and terrorism and "haves" and "have nots" and so on.

Someone asked me earlier to use my logic/electronics experience to analyse something else (?). If you look at the Earth as a "black box" it has one major input - light - and some minor ones (gravitons, rocks, solar wind) - plus the box contains a fairly large "battery" of stored energy. Outputs? Radiated/reflected energy, Hydrogen, Helium, the odd spaceship...
one day the "battery" will indeed run out...?
An analysis.
this only one viewpoint, I know, and I'm sure you can find contrary arguments. I'm not too bothered (see below).

Dumping Carbon
Dumping Iron Sulphate in the oceans sounds a lot like the Euglandina rosea story all over again. These sorts of things worry me (not much really though!). I'm not too convinced how sustainable these sorts of methods are?

Perhaps I expressed myself badly. I was referring to energy production specifically - not nano-tech and biotech. Rather dodgy areas for some in any case? Either one of these could easily exterminate our species if badly controlled.
Anyway -
Energy production - like the gun - hasn't progressed much recently. The only real innovation in energy production is Nuclear Fusion/Fission. We've been burning "stuff" for hundreds of years, we've used wind energy almost as long, solar power has gone a bit more "techno" but not much else. Tide power might be considered new-ish, but isn't really very viable IMO. Geothermal - OK - that's newish too, although some nations have used them for hot baths for quite a while? 8)

Basically we can argue energy issues 'til the sun turns cold. What we have isn't an energy problem - it's an energy demand problem - ultimately - a population increase problem. We have an overriding faith in the concept of "growth". That is what is ultimately unsustainable.

When a dominant species gets too widespread, the less dominant ones "learn" to exploit that. Viruses and bacteria in particular.
I personally suspect we will all die out through using up all our anti-biotic solutions. One day one of those bugs'll get us! 8)

I'm not too bothered?
Inevitably, I think, the human species will either become extinct, in loneliness, on this rock, or spread itself like a virus itself across the Universe leaving the expiring remnants of its profligacy on used-up and overpopulated worlds in its wake.

Depressing? Not really - just think of it as "evolution in action". If you accept that the human species as "just another animal" and "blaspheme" by accepting that there is no Divine Being - you just sit down and enjoy things while you're here, accept that you're gonna die and try to live without stress, aggravation and hatreds.
On the species level - the same thing applies.

Posted by: Cassivellaunus | 04/27/2004 - 03:18 PM

Thanks for both the reminder and your description. I read it on your first post and then forgot all about it when I wrote my last post.

No insult taken nor intended on our exchanges. I'm glad you don't find your worldview depressing. I find atheism to be a depressing religion because IMO it takes more faith to believe life was a chance accident than it does to believe in intelligent design, but I am glad the fact you think all human endeavor is eventually futile is not depressing for you.

It may interest you that the Christian view of man is similar to your own; Man is a fallen sinful creature who, as a species, will never overcome his sinful nature without help. But this is digressing quite a bit from our original topic.

Yes, fuel cells do not solve every problem, but it is certainly an improvement over our current situation. I have every confidence that we will produce a better solution over time; but I also expect to use fuel cells for a large portion of my life.

Your black box analogy is pretty good, but we have other inputs other than solar energy. The amount of space debris that impacts Earth (or, more accurately, impacts our atmosphere and rains down to Earth) is quite large. Also, current fission reactors can produce more energy than they consume, although they do have problems with nuclear waste. But I mostly agree with your points, I just have more faith that we will find better and better solutions with them.

I did misunderstand your point about new technologies, but biotechnology may resolve some fuel problems too; fuel cells do not have to burn hydrogen; there may be fuel cells that "burn" a special type of bacteria that grows in sewage sludge. These fuel cells would take the place of current sewers and also power your home. True, this is mostly theoretical right now, but it could easily come to pass in another hundred years or so.

I don't understand your Euglandina rosea reference. What does a land snail have to do with a process for burying carbon?

Our main disagreement seems to be how we see people and how we are progressing. Despite all our flaws, I see people as a great resource. With more people than ever before, a greater percentage of people have access to clean water and sufficient food than ever before. You called this a an overriding faith in the concept of "growth". That is what is ultimately unsustainable. I do not agree it is unsustainable (or more precisely, I believe we have plenty of room to grow and that as a nation's wealth increases, society will naturally check it's own growth). People are an asset, not a liability.

As parts of Europe are expecting to dramatically decrease their population over the next 30 to 50 years, I think one of their main problems will be finding ways to increase their growth instead of worrying about hypothetical problems about too much growth.

Posted by: Don Quixote | 04/27/2004 - 04:10 PM

Having done with chainsaws for the moment, let's cut through this a bit.

Frankly, it's all about convenience. To change over to any other source of energy than reprocessed Dino Juice would require a complete change in the energy infrastructure.

This means that some fairly large percentage of the existing investment on infrastructure would become useless. Big money does not like waste. Do some research and see who holds the restricting patents - globally - on the "emerging" alternative technologies - the answer is, the current enregy companies....aka Big Oil. True, they are doing further research, but what is the goal of that research? to provide us with something new that does not pollute as much? No, to continue to be ableto hold those restrictive patents.

Why is it so cheap to produce a Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon chip in comparrison to a high efficiency solar cell? The technology required for hte solar cell is much cheaper than that of the CPU (okay, the cpus are more expensive, but the Northgate nad SouthGate chips, the sound controllers, the memory chips - the blasted circuit board they are mounted on are not)

I was watching an episode of NOVA 20+ years ago in whcih they were going on about fuel cells and alternative fuel sources. I am sorry to say that the available tech for us consumers is not much advanced over that (bearly at all) and I fid it hard to believe that the worl wide scientific community would not be at all attracked to the study of such things.

As for Hydrogen generation being dirty - bah! - there are tons of ways to generate Hydrogen that are compeltely clean, or that serve to clean up some other waste stream that is decidedly unclean (sewage is a prime example - tons (literally) of hydrogen there) the really nasty big of this clean energy is that each of us can in fact supply a bit of our own needs completely cost free (once the equipment is in place) and that is what Big Oil is most concerned with - imagine if everyone out there was able to supply say even 2% of their overall energy needs themselves...what would that do to the revenue stream.

Imagine our man in charge Mr. President in say 8 months if the overall demand for energy was cut by 2%, by 10% ??? What would he do then? What about his #2 man? what would he do?

So gentlemen, and any others, let cut right to the bottom. The current view on energy and the fosil fuel reserves and the effect that these reserves have on cost is folly. We know how to make lots of enregy that is perfectly clean and thus preserving of the earth's ecosystems for millenia to come, certianly the cost to do so is high - right now - but as much of the basic tech is ancient, it must be argued that the cost is held artificially high, much of that due to licensing costs, and regardless economies of scale would rule and the cost would fall. The ironic part is that much of the "clean" energy souces have no on going fuel cost, so this means no residual income from feeding the thing...busniess is not interested in one-offs, they want regular, steady, continuious income streams so that they can project just how many martinis they can have with lunch in 2010.

Now, this all being said, we can go back to the corbon balance discusion - a very real one - and pick that up where we left off.

Posted by: Adn. Tronthor | 04/28/2004 - 12:28 PM

Other than my disbelief in the conspiracy theory about big oil owning all the alternative energy patents, I agree with your points.

The conspiracy theory never made much sense to me and I've been hearing how the evil oil companies have all the patents tied up for close to thirty years now. And I suspect these theories go back farther than my memories of them. Since the lifetime of a patent is now 20 years (up from 17 years), something does not hold water...

I 100% agree there are clean ways to obtain hydrogen. We will have to develop safe ways to transmit it to every town just as we had to do this for gasoline a century ago.

Posted by: Don Quixote | 04/28/2004 - 02:29 PM

Hiya Adn. Trontor!

I almost thought Don and I were on our own here! 8)

Don - no insult inferred in any way! However - I prefer to avoid religeous discussion as I neither want to change your views nor wish you to try and change mine. If "sin" is equivalent to "ecological folly" - we might agree! 8)

I will gladly "have faith" that clean Hydrogen may be producable even in the near future.
The basic premise is still that FCs need energy and I suspect we'll burn all those fossils until we run out, then we'll run out of the next unrenewable "solution" until one day, possibly way too late we'll be back to beeswax candles and bedtime when it gets dark again.

We are talking entropy management here, and current politics/ enonomics/ population growth etc are just shoving harder - in the wrong direction?

At the end of the day our "planetary battery" will run out - we will become energy "hunter gatherers" only, perhaps.

I'm no prophet of our future! - I just consider that the human species seems to be exhibiting much the same properties as a bacterium in a petri dish. It grows 'til it reaches the edges, and if it can't get out, will eat all the agar solution until it runs out and dies. A perspective only?

The black box analogue still holds true in the ultimate analysis I think. I covered the aspect of space debris under the term "rocks". If we have to rely on vacuuming the Earth's surface for this material - we'd be too poor to do it?
You can't "make energy". Only extract it. Even the Sun is just another "battery" - it too will run flat one day. The only basic truism I can see on our macroscopic view is Entropy.

I like Entropy - it doesn't pretend to be anything other than it is! 8)

Euglandina rosea
An ecological microcosm issue. Some islands/locations introduced this snail eating snail to "ecologically" control the intrusion/introduction of Achatina fulica - which as a result has lead in some places to the near extinction of other indigenous snail species. "Ecological solutions" often only make things worse. The best way to avoid these issues is not to "play" with the ecology in the first place. Most nations now realise this. Indigenous NZ wildlife is threatened by the cute looking Possum, Australia is riddled with Rabbits, in the UK we have a minor problem with escaped/freed Mink. These are just examples. We're now more fightened of the imported Potato or Brazil Nut than we are of guns and drugs - I think.
Anyway - the snail thing... links
Euglandina rosea
Achatina fulica

No. I don't have any solutions. Dumping megatons of Iron Sulphate in the oceans might just trigger off other events. No idea what, but like generating energy from the Gulf Stream might divert it and bugger up the UK's climate patterns... no thanks. I like my climate. (I live 5 degrees north of Montreal - but if we get 1" of snow the country virtually collapses - it takes hours to get home for some. Snow is rare - we get maybe one or two days a year (where I live).)

"Big money does not like waste."
What Big Money also does not like is losing profit by being Clean. What big money likes is more money. This leaks into the "person in charge" issue. Who decides? Who signs Kyoto? etc

The basics as far as I can see is that whilst "enlightened self interest" operates (and I doubt the "enlightened" bit - a lot) we are spiralling out of control towards a future misery of "haves" and "have nots".
The modern perspective is that the "poor" and "uneducated" can field 10 year old boys with Kalashnikovs to fight against "unjust wrongs" and population growth is still rampant. The "have nots" can now hijack planes and kill thousands.

We're on a very very slippery slope. I suspect we will not find a way to stop in time.

In the mean time - enjoy yourself. I do

Posted by: Cassivellaunus | 04/28/2004 - 05:27 PM

I've been thinking about how to oblige your request to avoid religious discussion while still talking about our original subject. I think we'll have to keep the discussion to the relatively near future (not the billions of years you mentioned). Not only meet your request, it also makes more sense. Assuming mankind is still around even a thousand years from now (let alone a million), we have less understanding of what their technological capabilities will be than an educated nobleman in the year 1004 AD could have imagined about life in 2004.

In the relatively short-term - "just" a century or two - you seem to believe we will have major energy problems because of two key reasons.

1) We will run out of non-renewable solutions in this time frame and
2) our population continues to grow "too much".

Is this a fair assessment of your position?

Posted by: Don Quixote | 05/06/2004 - 12:55 PM

Regarding "We are about to run out of Oil":

I would refer you to:

The Real Oil Problem.

This is a publication by M.A. Adelman of MIT. He notes that Jimmy Carter (a brilliant mind, one of our most profoundly intelligent presidents per The Economist) stated in 1979 we would run out of oil by 1990, and that John Strong Newberry stated in 1875 (EIGHTEEN Seventy five) we would run "soon" (129 years and counting) but, more to the point of "we are about to run out of lots of stuff" is the concern in 1800 that "we are about to run out of coal". In fact, coal production for Europe peaked in 1913. There is still lots of coal in the ground. It is relatively expensive to extract relative to the costs of other energy sources, but it is still there and if is should, at some point, become less expensive then people will start digging it up again. The coal didn't run out. It became "uneconomical" to use. Note that "uneconomical" does not mean "I am so smart I know it will someday be expensive" but "it is expensive in a market economy."

We use what is the cheapest, simplest resource to get the job done. When that resource becomes more expensive, we make other plans - use another source of energy in this case.

But we didn't run out shortly after 1977, shortly after 1875, nor shortly after 1800.

Posted by: Drew | 06/14/2004 - 03:37 PM
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