Despite increased global consumption, global reserves are not shrinking – they are getting bigger!
In 1980, Isaac Asimov wrote How Did We Find Out About Oil?, a children’s science book. He ended the book with a somber prediction. In 1980, world oil reserves stood at roughly 648 billion barrels. Since the world was consuming 23 billion barrels a year, the world would run out of oil in about 30 years.
Thirty years later, we didn’t run out of oil. There must not be too much oil left, right? Well – that’s the crazy thing. In 2010, world oil reserves stood at more than 1.3 trillion barrels! Not only hade we used up all of Asimov’s doomed 648 billion barrels of oil, but now we have over twice as much oil as what we had in 1980!
The World Oil Supply
Global proven oil reserves stood at 640 billion barrels in 1980. By 1990 they were at 1 trillion barrels. By 2010, global proven oil reserves stood at 1.35 trillion barrels. By 2013, that number had increased to 1.64 trillion barrels. That’s an increase of about 300 billion barrels – almost half of the world’s supply in 1980 – in just three years!
In 1980, Iran’s oil reserves were estimated to be 58 billion barrels, but today they stand at 158 billion barrels. In thirty years, Iran’s reserves have almost tripled! In 1980, Iraq’s oil reserves stood at 30 billion barrels. And today? Iraq’s reserves contain 140 billion barrels! Kuwait’s oil reserves have almost doubled in the last 30 years. Don't get me started about Canada!
Global supply increases despite increased oil consumption. In 1980, the world consumed 23 billion barrels annually. Today the world gobbles oil at a rate of 32 billion barrels a year.
Yet the world oil supply doesn’t get any smaller – it keeps getting bigger!
The Mystery of Oil
How does that work? We’ve been told all our lives that oil is a finite resource doomed to run dry. The clock is ticking. The end is near! But instead of oil supplies diminishing, oil supplies just keep getting bigger. The giant oil fields of legend are all declining, true. But for every giant on the way out, there are numerous new fields being discovered and tapped.
The truth is that no one is sure just how much oil the Earth has.
The most famous modern example is the oil-rich Bakken Formation, centered in North Dakota (USA). In 1995, Bakken’s oil potential was assessed at about 151 million barrels of recoverable oil.
But in 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a press release. The Bakken Formation now had potential for 3.65 billion barrels of recoverable oil! You read the word billion, all right. That’s one enormous jump! It’s not like someone just forgot to “carry the one” when they did the math. But with more thorough explorations, greater data, and newer drilling technologies, new oil is being found all the time.
In short, the more we look for oil, the more oil we find. This does not mean that oil is an infinite resource. Nothing is infinite on Earth. Nor are increasing oil supplies an excuse for wasteful consumption. Waste costs money; efficiency makes money. But the cries of a doomed oil future are far from the real picture. We’ve given pessimism enough airtime. Do we dare to be optimistic? Realistically, we have every reason to be!
Asimov, Isaac. How Did We Find Out About Oil? New York: Walker, 1980. Print
International Energy Outlook 2016. U.S. Energy Information Administration. May 2016. Web. Accessed 12 August 2017. <https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/ieo/pdf/0484(2016).pdf>
International Energy Statistics. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Web. Accessed 12 August 2017.
USGS Releases New Oil and Gas Assessment for Bakken and Three Forks Formations. U.S. Dept. of the Interior. 30 April 2013. Web. Accessed 17 Nov. 2014
Technology-Based Oil and Natural Gas Plays: Shale Shock! Could There Be Billions in the Bakken? U.S. Energy Information Administration. November 2006. Originally published on EIA site, now stored as pdf in the link below. Accessed 12 August 2017.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.