Feed on

When I graduated from grad school in 2004 and started teaching, I would start classes by showing students just how much oil was “left” for the world to use up.  When I started, there were thought to be 1.265 trillion barrels of oil left. At the world annual rate of consumption at that time (30.08 billion barrels) that would mean (using standard Malthusian analysis) that the world had 42.06 years of oil left.

In other words, we should run out of oil sometime in the year 2046 according to that data.

Putting together this data for class this year we find that (crude, pardon the pun) estimates for reserves outstanding as of the start of this year are 1.349 trillion barrels (the cupboard is fattening!) and the world consumes roughly 30.75 billion barrels of oil per year (recession brought this number down). Applying the same (incorrect) analysis as above means that we have about 43.87 years of oil left. At this rate, we should run out of oil sometime in the end of 2053.

In other words, in the 6 years I have been doing this, we’ve added 7 years to our “lives.” Incredible! Who said time machines don’t exist. Does anyone see the irony in a Doomesday Malthusian approach to measuring “resource” availability as having the ability to “invent” a time machine like this?

I’ve written dozens of times on this phenomena. It is always a useful exercise to ask just what a resource is, and how, if, we were supposed to have 42 years of oil left just 6 years ago, that here we are 6 years later we have 43 years of oil “left.” It’s quite a groovy trick isn’t it?

2 Responses to “Better Than Hot-Tub Time Machine”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    I can distinctly remember being in 3rd grade circa 1978 and being told by our social studies teacher that we would be out of oil by 2020-2030. I was terrified at the time.

  2. Harry says:

    I never thought I would get to this point, Speedmaster, but before you were born and I’m not sure about wintercow, these predictions were prevalent. It had to do, as I learned, about what the oil and gas industry defined as proven reserves.

    We have plenty of oil left to take care of us, and plenty of other carbon resources like coal and natural gas. Whether we extract it and put it to use, or use foreign sources like Canada and Mexico, or even crude from Iran, depends on price.

    I wish I could send you every research report I got from assorted brokers over the years, and the quotations of Boone Pickens, predicting the demise of the oil industry. By comparison, The Lamp, an in-house publication of Exxon, now Exxon Mobil, set my mind on course, sort of. Wish I could send you my last ten years of annual reports, but they are in the trash, having read them.

    Still have my ExxonMobil cap, sent to me as a reader of the Lamp.

Leave a Reply