How Much Oil is Left?

exponential 7pct oil neededThe Power of Exponential Growth: Every 10 years we have burned more oil than all previous decades

[ There is a lot of oil left. The problem is, most of the remaining oil is unconventional, which needs a hell of a lot more energy and time to produce, so much so it’s like damming Niagara Falls into a trickle.  Unconventional is so deep (offshore), nasty & gunky (tar sands), distant (arctic), and difficult and expensive to transport and refine, that as we resort more and more to unconventional to fill in the gap of the 90% conventional oil in decline, so much energy (and money) will be needed that less energy will be available and there will be increasing poverty in the economy. If so much poverty occurs that a financial crash occurs, that will make it hard, and perhaps impossible, for most new oil exploration and production projects to be funded, further decreasing oil available.

Since oil is the master resource, when oil production slows down, everything slows down, including the extraction of oil itself and other energy resources (i.e. coal, natural gas), growing food, and new wind and solar contraptions.  And most importantly, the supply chains for everything, since this is a liquid fuel transportation crisis. We’ve been on a plateau since conventional oil peaked in 2005, and the downslope, which some see as a cliff due to the rate of production of unconventional oil plus exponentially increasing rate of production of conventional oil mean the slope on the other side of peaking is not a bell curve.  For the first time in 200 years, growth will stop and shrinkage begin, debts won’t be repaid, and credit will shrink.

In 2005, 60% of world oil production came from just 500 of the giant oil fields of the world, nearly all discovered over 40 years ago (the rest comes from about 49,000 smaller fields). Therefore, future world oil production depends on the fate of these giant oil fields, because they represent roughly 65% of the global ultimate recoverable conventional oil resources. Of the 331 largest fields, 261, or 79%, are declining at 6.5% per year, and every year the decline rate increases.

So by 2030, giants will be declining at a rate of 9% a year. 

Non-giant fields decline even faster, and more and more of the 239 giant fields will reach peak and begin to decline as well. For a full discussion of this, see Giant oil field decline rates and their influence on world oil production. If Hook et al are correct, conventional oil production could be as low as 19 million barrels per day in 2030 (see figure 13) versus 31.8 million barrels per day in 2015.

The Energy Returned on Invested (EROI) of unconventional oil is much less, and likely to lead to a net energy cliff rather than a bell curve. Tar sands EROI is between 6 and 1 depending on mined versus in situ, and whether the energy to move the tar sands from Canada to refineries in the USA and refine the tar sands is included or not. 

Arctic oil will take decades to find and develop — that is, if we can figure out how to do so, and requires a vast, non-existent infrastructure.  That’s where roughly 25% of all remaining undiscovered fossils exist, about 6 years of global production. An ice-free summer is so brief, 1 to 4 months, that often only 1 oil well can be put in to explore for the existence of oil.  Even if oil is found, dozens more need to be drilled, one per summer, to delineate the size of the field to see if it is worth extracting given the huge cost of doing so.  That’s why it could easily take 30 years, and longer if we can’t figure out how to do it.

The fracked oil bubble may be popping, so it is likely that Dittmar’s 7.5 mbd of world tight oil may be high.

It is possible that Saudi Arabia and Russia mismanagement of their oil fields will both cause peaking sooner than it would have otherwise, and that mismanagement will mean that a great deal of oil will never be recovered (see “Russia, Saudi Oilfield Mismanagement Will Bring Back $100 Oil“, Forbes 2016).

For all of the above reasons, the downslope of the peak oil curve may be much steeper than the rise of oil production, not a bell curve, which many refer to as an energy cliff.  In fact, “When oil turns it will be with such lightning speed that it could upend the market again” (Evans-Pritchard 2016):

  • Oil discoveries around the world are the lowest in more than 60 years, preparing the ground for a game-changing spike and raising serious questions about energy security. 
  • Oil discoveries have fallen to the lowest level since 1952 and the global economy is becoming dangerously reliant on crude supply from political hotspots, the world’s energy watchdog has warned.
  • Annual investment in oil and gas projects has crashed from US$780 billion to US$450 billion over the last two years in an unprecedented collapse, and there is no sign yet of a recovery next year.
  • The International Energy Agency said wells are depleting at an average rate of 9 per cent annually. Drillers are not finding enough oil to replace these barrels, preparing the ground for an oil price spike and raising serious questions about energy security.
  • There is evidence that cuts in exploration activities have already resulted in a dramatic decline in new oil discoveries, dropping to levels not seen in the last 60 years,” said the IEA’s World Energy Investment 2016 report. The drop is so drastic that the effects are likely to overwhelm slow gains from fuel efficiency and the switch to electric cars, at least for the rest of this decade.
  • Many of the steepest falls in spending are in stable political areas. Britain’s North Sea investment has crashed to 1 billion pounds from an average of 8 billion pounds over the last five years. Spending in Canadian fields has plummeted by 62 per cent.

Oil is finite, duh. Petroleum discovery follows a predictable path and rules:

  1. Most petroleum in a given area lies within a few large fields
  2. These large fields are usually discovered first
  3. For several decades now very few giant oil fields have been discovered
  4. For over 30 years consumption of oil has exceeded discovery of new reserves

In 2012, the USGS made an estimate of “Undiscovered CONVENTIONAL oil and gas resources of the world“, and came up with 565 billion barrels of oil.  That sounds like a lot, but the world burns 30 billion barrels a year, so that is 18 years at current rates of use, but given that population is exponentially growing at 1.3% per year, adding 75 million new people annually, even if every drop of this hoped for oil is discovered, there may be less than 18 years left.  Exponential growth is a key concept to understanding why the crisis is so extreme and why a fast, rather than a slow collapse is likely.

The July 7, July 2016 “Peak Oil Review” reports “Analysts are once again questioning just how big Saudi oil reserves are. They note that after the Saudis took full control of Aramco in 1980, they stopped publishing detailed data and announced that their reserves had climbed from 170 billion to circa 260 billion barrels where they have remained ever since, despite the production of nearly 100 billion barrels of crude in the intervening years.  Last week, the respected consultancy Rystad Energy put the Saudi reserves around 70 to 120 billion barrels. As the Saudis attempt to sell off parts of their oil industry, these questions become more important.”

The actual work of society is done by heavy-duty diesel engines in trucks (tractors, harvesters, long-haul, delivery, logging, mining, cranes, forklifts, construction, etc), locomotives, and ships, the oil that actually matter is diesel fuel, which can only come from a fraction of the 60+ products made from crude oil (i.e. asphalt, propane, etc).  Diesel engines can’t burn ethanol, and 85% of natural gas liquids are used to make plastics and other petrochemicals, not transportation fuel.  See my book “When Trucks Stop Running” for details.

Below are excerpts or links to articles about how much oil is left.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity]

“When will oil, natural gas, and coal peak?” G. Maggio, G. Cacciola, Fuel vol. 98, pp. 111–123 (2012)

“When will oil, natural gas, and coal peak?” G. Maggio, G. Cacciola, Fuel vol. 98, pp. 111–123 (2012)

Dittmar, M. January 29, 2016. Regional Oil Extraction and Consumption: A simple production model for the next 35 years Part I.  25 pages.

Conventional oil production was 71 million barrels per day (mbd) in 2014, and likely to decline to 66 mbd in 2020, 50 mbd in 2030 and 33 mbd in 2050.

Adding all unconventional oil and oil-equivalent liquids, and 2014 refinery gains of about 2.5 mbd, the upper production limit for all liquids will be 93.5 mbd in 2015, declining to 92.5 mbd in 2020, 79.5 mbd in 2030 and less than 62 mbd in 2050.

Laherrere predicts a global conventional crude oil peak at about 73 mbd around 2015-2018, declining to 72 mbd in 2020, 65 mbd in 2030, and 35 mbd in 2050. 

Laherrere’s ALL-LIQUIDS global production peak (including refinery gains) is 94 mbd in 2020, 88 mbd in 2030, 60 mbd in 2050.

[ If Hook et al are correct that the decline rate of conventional oil fields will exponentially increase over time, conventional oil production could be as low as 19 mbd in 2050, not 33 to 35 mbd as Dittmar and Laherrere propose above. As far as all-liquids go, I don’t see how there can be 25 (Laherrere) to 29 mbd (Dittmar) of unconventional oil produced in 2050.  It will be coming from very low EROEI, likely unprofitable sources that the financial system may not be able to lend to in a depression (credit will dry up). Worse yet, these projects will be increasingly using more  conventional oil, so these figures of all-liquids being 60 to 62 mbd, even if realized, don’t reflect that not all of that energy will be available to society at large, as the energy industry consumes increasingly larger shares to produce less and less oil. ]

Russia: March 17, 2016 Running on empty: Russia has less than three decades of oil remaining and March 9, 2016 Russia may be running out of oil.


ASPO Oil Production overview based on BP statistic Review of World Energy 2015 (using 2014 data) by Steve Andrews

Andrews predicts an 80% chance of peak oil before 2020.

In reviewing BP’s latest Statistic Review of World Energy, the big story for world oil last year was obvious: the USA’s third straight record-breaking increase in average annual production. Just over 75% of the net increase in world oil production during 2014 came from the USA; add in Canada and 90% of the total increase came from North America.  Throw in Brazil’s first significant increase in 3 years and you have all the world’s net gain in world oil production accounted for by 3 non-OPEC playersProduction from all other producers combined was flat.   Peak oil appears close but is not yet here, delayed rather than dead (as widely written in the media since 2012), and disguised by the inclusion of natural gas liquids in BP’s accounting.

Despite all the happy talk about “American energy independence,” our petroleum future includes a peaking in world oil production, and the adjustments that is likely to require.

Ron Patterson. May 5, 2015Peak Russia + Peak USA means Peak World

Ron Patterson. July 14, 2014. World Crude Oil Production by Geographical Area.

Check out the graph “World Less North America” at Peak Oil Barrel which shows world oil production minus North American production is down by 2 million barrels.  Are we starting to see the petticoats of the net energy cliff?  As David Hughes wrote in Drilling Deeper. A reality check on U.S. government forecasts for a lasting tight oil & Shale gas boom, both peak tight (fracked) oil and gas are likely to happen before 2020 in North America.  Powers has also documented this in great detail in his book “Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth” and Arthur Berman discusses peaking oil and gas in the November 12, 2014 James Howard Kunstler podcast #260).


Robert Rapier. Jun 25, 2012. How Much Oil Does the World Produce?

Cornucopians keep coming up with rosy predictions.  This article: Don’t worry, be happy, there’s plenty of oil, natural gas, & coal left has a list of articles that rebut their arguments, good summaries of how much oil is left and why peak oil is nearly upon us.

Finding More Oil

Deffeyes dismisses proposals to simply explore more or drill deeper. Oil was created by specific circumstances, and there just isn’t that much of it. First there had to be, in the dinosaur era, a shallow part of the sea where oxygen was low and prehistoric dead fish and fish poop could not completely decompose. Then the organic matter had to “cook” for 100 million years at the right depth, with the right temperature to break down the hydrocarbons into liquid without breaking them too far into natural gas. Almost all oil, he said, comes from between the hot-coffee warmth of 7,000 feet down and the turkey-basting scald of 15,000 feet down – a thin layer under the surface, and then only in limited areas. We could drill the deepest oil, he said, back in the 1940s.

“More than 70% of remaining oil reserves are in five countries in the Middle East: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman,” said Dean Abrahamson, professor emeritus of environment and energy policy at the University of Minnesota. “The expectation is that, within the next 10 years, the world will become almost completely dependent on those countries.”

“In 2000, there were 16 discoveries of oil ‘mega-fields,'” Aaron Naparstek noted in the New York Press earlier this year. “In 2001, we found 8, and in 2002 only 3 such discoveries were made. Today, we consume about 6 barrels of oil for every 1 new barrel discovered.”













Shale Oil (aka Light Tight Oil) peak 2019, World Oil Peak 2014More David Archibald on LTO plus Net Imports by Ron Patterson September 24, 2014

Tom Whipple. 11 August 2014.  1. Oil and the Global Economy.   Peak Oil Review (ASPO-USA).

How long before US shale oil production peaks and starts what will likely be a rapid decline? Outside analysts using different techniques have been providing estimates as to how long what is termed the “shale oil bubble” will last. The most pessimistic of these estimates have been running around 2016-2017 giving the shale or light tight oil industry another two or three years to grow.  Last week a new study based on Hubbert linearization was released. This study crunched the last seven years of US tight oil production and concluded that the US shale industry will ultimately produce a total of 7.7 billion barrels of oil with peak production reaching 3.9 million b/d in mid-2015. If these projections turn out to be reasonably correct, then US tight oil production could be down to circa 1 million b/d by the end of the decade which is considerably less than the EIA and the financial press has been projecting

The world faces an oil supply crunch within the next five years, British business leaders led by Virgin tycoon Richard Branson warned on Wednesday.

Chris Skrebowski on Peak Oil Phase 1   Nov 9, 2013

2015-2016 and then a recession

Additional reading: Brecha, R. J. 2013. Ten reasons to take peak oil seriously. Sustainability, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 664-694.

This entry was posted in How Much Left, Oil, Peak Oil and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How Much Oil is Left?

  1. I agree and my short documentary film, “The sat Drop of Oil” (Youtube: says it in a very concise way.