Peak Oil as a Function of Earth's Volume

Includes: DBA, DBO, OIL, USO, XLE
by: Chris Uhlir

I've been thinking about geological scales of magnitude with respect to peak oil. Within the mother sphere, there is approximately 1 trillion square kilometers of stuff. That's 1,000,000,000,000. And the fraction of a trillion that I estimated away is no small matter either.

And then estimating known reserves of oil here

Known reserves of petroleum are typically estimated at around 190 km3 (1.2 trillion (short scale) barrels) without oil sands,[9] or 595 km3 (3.74 trillion barrels) with oil sands.[10] Consumption is currently around 84 million barrels (13.4×10^6 m3) per day, or 4.9 km3 per year. Because the energy return over energy invested (EROEI) ratio of oil is constantly falling (due to physical phenomena such as residual oil saturation, and the economic factor of rising marginal extraction costs), recoverable oil reserves are significantly less than total oil in place. At current consumption levels, and assuming that oil will be consumed only from reservoirs, known recoverable reserves would be gone around 2039, potentially leading to a global energy crisis. However, there are factors which may extend or reduce this estimate, including the rapidly increasing demand for petroleum in China, India, and other developing nations; new discoveries; energy conservation and use of alternative energy sources; and new economically viable exploitation of non-conventional oil sources.

Ok so lets go with the biggest estimate of roughly 600 km3.

Let's also remove the obvious volume of the oceans which is given again from Wikipedia as approximately 1.3 billion cubic kilometer.

So the fraction then of the stuff we kind of know about is ~0.1% of the earth's volume if my decimals are correct. Even if my math is bad, I think the conclusion is sound that we basically have very little idea what all is down there. There could be huge reserves of black gold just waiting for the right technology. Even just the "black smokers" discovered so far emit 17,000 million watts of energy roughly equivalent of the amount of energy that humans consume each year. (As quoted on the Discovery channel anyway).

Agreed that China and India represent huge increases in demand and America is just plain gluttonous (on so many levels). And I understand the consumption vs. production ratios are gloomy. But just as the computer was a hugely disruptive technology to business and communications, so is the electric car. No gas, no oil changes, no oil filters, no spark plugs, no transmission fluid, no maintenance of any kind really! (Why do you think GM killed the EV1!) Imagine plugging your hybrid into your solar panels. Slick! Once solar conversion rates improve a couple more orders of magnitude we will probably all be surprised by how much oil consumption may be displaced.

I guess the bottom line is I believe in human creativity and our ability to evolve. To me it seems obvious that evolution is real since if we didn't change we wouldn't have survived this long as a species and we won't survive much longer given our exponential growth in population. Malthusians are right. You can't go from addition to multiplication to exponential growth (thats 3 orders of magnitude, scales, paradigms, whatever you want to call them) without a subsequent down wave, just as the stock market is showing us now. So sure we may reach a peak oil phenomenom that may put our population into a long term decline, but it also could be a virus.

Short term fluctuations may cause much higher oil prices from two main effects. One being the flood of dollars flowing out of real estate to T bills to oil. The second being obvious supply and demand factors. Profits will certainly be made on the long oil bet sooner rather than later. But long term I think we will find ways to expoit all kinds of energy sources that will support our insatiable demands for ipods and electronic binary data.

Disclosure: Author is long DBA and oil.