How much oil does the world really have?

“When talking about how much oil modern civilisation has left, we must, talk about the levels at which civilisation needs to sustain itself at current levels, therefore, if our largest oil provider is unable to sustain output, it’s reasonable to assume, it’ll be unable to sustain civilisation in its current form.”

The Saudi oil crunch

The Saudi oil crunch

The worlds biggest supplier of oil, Saudi Arabia probably does not have as much oil reserves as suggested by Sadad al-Husseini, a senior geologist and former head of exploration at the Saudi oil monopoly Aramco.

Is it 260bn or 550bn barrels? The figure is irrelevant, but what is interesting about this debate is the lack of future planning for a civilisation which inevitably is going to be starved of the black stuff.

The subject of Saudis oil reserves is a hot political potato from a world perspective. Saudi Arabia hasn’t declared any new oil discoveries, and yet the existing reserve levels haven’t fallen despite pumping an average of 8 million barrels per day. Either they can’t do maths, or the stated reserves are a political fiction.

It’s really impossible to know, but the best indicator is to work out what the benefit for the Saudis exaggeration or understating their reserves may be.

Oil industry insiders point out, there’s a strong incentive for OPEC members to overstate oil reserves, because this means they get a higher proportion of the quota, and hence it seems likely that all the major OPEC countries overstate their oil reserves too. The Saudis have been keen to remain top dogs in the OPEC organisation, but can only do so, if their recoverable reserves are way above everyone else.

I know there have been whispers in the oil industry for years among the drilling fraternity that the Saudis have been pumping sea water into wells to maintain their pressures. This is always a sign of a reserve running out.

Another indicator was when prices started to rocket in 2007, there was a strong incentive politically and economically for the Saudi’s to increase output capacity. Saudi oil is all easy to reach, so it should have been well within their pumping capability to do so.

Given the political power they have from the ability to turn the tap up or down, it would be amazing if they hadn’t more spare capacity available. I think the overwhelming weight of evidence points to the Saudis having significantly less capacity than they claim.

One could easily assume that the US and UK governments at least, already know that the Saudi oil claims are wildly over optimistic. Ignorance on such a subject may be bliss, but the willful withholding of such knowledge will put us all in danger of being unprepared for the massive price hikes that the near future will bring.

When Saudi starts covering the deserts with solar panels and charging us for electricity, we will know that the oil is nearly gone, jokes Stuart Lovatt from Heat my Home, however, I personally think, that the oil game was up when we began to mine expensive to process tar sands as an energy source. All the low lying fruit has already been plucked.

The focus should now be on transitioning on a governmental and personal level to other fuel sources before it’s too late. We can’t fuel a change without any fuel to do so, after all. Adds Stuart.

If it is true, that oil is running out faster than we have anticipated, then the best case scenario is that we smoothly transition to a green micro generation energy that can scale up fast, or at its worst, we and our children witness widespread chaos and ruin. I believe acting now to achieve the former is a better incentive than acting on climate change.

There has been a big debate since Wiki leaks revealed what we all suspected anyway. Governments know it is coming, business leaders know it’s coming, and you now know it is coming. The consequences of not acting now will affect day to day living for us all, maybe sooner than expected.


"Feel the pride."
February 16, 2011
Founder of Heat My Home.

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