March 01, 2006
|How Much Oil?||Peak Oil|
The world has approximately 1 trillion barrels of conventional oil left in the ground, and the nations of the world consume about 85 million barrels of that oil every day.
Here's a way to think about those numbers. 1 trillion barrels (at 42 gallons per barrel) works out to about 38 cubic miles, which is the volume of a cube about 3.4 miles on a side. That's enough to cover New York City's 300 sq. mi. land area to a depth of an eighth of a mile (a little more than the length of two football fields). That's it. That's what's left. In the world.
At present, the world's consuming almost 1.2 cubic miles per year, and demand is growing by several percent a year.
If all of that 38 cubic miles of oil could be pumped out of the ground at today's rate, and if consumption stayed constant at today's rate, the very last drop of conventional oil would be consumed 32 years from now. (If consumption were to continue to grow at current rates, the last drop of conventional oil would be consumed roughly a decade sooner.)
But 32 years from now isn't the only date that matters. Other dates that matter are 1) when the world runs out of spare oil production capacity, and 2) when world oil production passes its peak and begins its inevitable and irreversible decline. The first of those dates has already arrived, as signalled by rising prices. Many analysts believe the second date, peak oil, is either already here, too, or is imminent.
When it becomes clear that production has peaked and is on an irreversible downhill slope, when people wake up to the fact that each year the world's going to produce less oil than it did the year before — forever — it's suddenly going to feel like a very different world.