Oil is a non-renewable resource: eventually, the world will run out of oil. It has been said so, but what is the exact amount of oil remaining on the Earth? And when will we run out of oil? The infographic above visualized how much oil is left in the world and how much we consume every day, pulling the data from Statistical Review of World Energy 2021 by BP.
This Is How Much Oil Is Left
The infographic shows the amount of proved oil reserves in thousand million barrels by country at the end of 2020. In total, the world had 1,732.4 thousand million barrels or 1.7324 trillion barrels of oil remaining as of 2020. One barrel is, by the way, equivalent to 159 liters or 42 US gallons.
Although there are about 100 oil-producing countries in the world, five countries dominated half of the world’s oil production in 2020: the US (15%), Russia (13%), Saudi Arabia (12%), Iraq (6%), and Canada (5%). When it comes to oil reserves, different five members held about 60% of the world’s reserves: Venezuela (17.5%), Saudi Arabia (17.2%), Canada (9.7%), Iran (9.1%), and Iraq (8.4%).
By region, the Middle East had by far the largest amount of oil reserves. The region had 0.8359 trillion barrels, followed by South and Central America with 0.3234 trillion barrels.
But the good news may be that the amount of proved reserves has been increasing over the last two decades. It increased approximately by 30% from 2000 to 2020. The table below shows the oil reserves in thousand million barrels by region for 2000, 2010 and 2020.
|At end 2000||At end 2010||At end 2020|
|South & Central America||96.0||320.1||323.4|
|Commonwealth of Independent States||120.1||144.2||146.2|
This Is How Much Human Beings Consume
Ever since Edwin Drake discovered oil in Pennsylvania in 1859, oil has become indispensable to our life. Looking around ourselves, we use oil for almost everything: heating oil, fuels for vehicles and vessels, ingredients to make daily products such as plastics and clothing, and many more. Even some beauty products contain petroleum.
From our car to skin, we humans are surrounded by petroleum, which means we must be consuming an unbelievable amount of oil every day. Indeed, the global daily consumption of oil summed up to 91,297,000 barrels in 2020.
Take a look at the consumption amount in thousand barrels by region for the past five years below:
|South & Central America||6,755||6,773||6,723||6,682||6,038|
Working out the average for the five years, we consume 97,360,000 barrels of oil every day. But just seeing these numbers does not tell you much. These numbers are simply too big.
When Will We Run out of Oil?
Based on the amount worked out above, let’s calculate how long oil could last. Suppose we continue consuming oil at the same rate as of the past five years. Divide the current reserves by the annual consumption:
1.7324 trillion bbl ÷ (97,360,000 bbl × 365 days) ≈ 48.7 years.
Surprisingly, the day when the world runs out of oil could come within half a century. When today’s kids are in their 50s or 60s, they might no longer use oil as an energy source. Sooner than you thought? But what would happen if there were no oil in the world?
The Life without Oil—What Would It Be Like?
According to the same BP report, oil remained the dominant energy source in 2020. Oil accounted for about 31% of the global energy sources. Although renewable energy is at the center of transitioning the world to a more sustainable one, its share in energy source is still shockingly tiny.
|Consumption (Exajoules)||Share (%)|
If oil was to be depleted, we would have to either decrease oil consumption or increase other energy sources to sustain our lives. Cars have already started running on electricity and hydrogen, but planes and vessels would also have to replace their fuels. Since petroleum-derived energy source is used to charge those electric cars today, some other energy sources would have to substitute oil, had it been depleted, in order to keep them running.
Not only energy sources and fuels, but also materials such as plastics and polyester would look different. Since petroleum is used to produce these materials today, it would be necessary to use alternative ingredients. Plants and crops could be one of the alternatives, but at the same time we would have to recycle these products more efficiently.
Summing up Oil Depletion
At the end of 2020, the Earth had 1.7324 trillion barrels of proved oil reserves. Although this figure sounds we still have more than enough, our oil consumption is also enormous. Thus, the world could run out of oil in less than 50 years, if we continued consuming oil at the same rates as recent years and if we didn’t discover any new oil reserves.
For its versatility, many aspects of our life would change, had there been no oil remaining. Transportation would have to replace fuels from petroleum-derived to alternatives such as electricity and hydrogen. Energy mix would also shift from oil to other sources such as conventional coal or renewables. Materials that make our lives convenient—plastics, polyester, rubber, etc.—would also need alternatives.
Luckily, the proved oil reserves have been increasing. So, should we hope for the best to discover new oil in near future? This is one way of thinking but is too optimistic considering today’s climate change. As the world is getting hotter, we shouldn’t waste time and keep burning conventional energy sources until we run out of oil. The best effort is to transition from finite energy sources to renewable ones even before oil runs out.