if we deplete all the oil, when will we be able to drill again?

I’m thinking that the oil we are tapping right now was made x million years ago by natural processes. I’m thinking these natural processes took many years from beginning to end (the formation of oil). I’m thinking that those processes didn’t just start one day, but were continuous for many many years, leading to many many years of oil formation. And I don’t know if those processess, which I understand to be the decay of organic material under years of heat and pressure, have ever stopped. So - is there oil being created in the earth today? If we were to deplete all the known oil in, say, 50 years, how long would it be before we could start drilling productively again? xo C.

Ummm…roughly the next time an intelligent species evolves on the planet.

Say 200 million years or so from now.

Why? You goin’ out for lunch?

Why would it take so long? We wouldn’t be starting from scratch. Those processes must be incomplete in some portions of the earth’s surface right now.

There’s a theory (and I should stress at this point that it’s just a theory) that oil does not come from dead dinosaurs, but instead comes from a naturally occuring process in the earth’s crust. If that’s the case, then chances are we won’t run out of oil for a very long time. The only support for this theory comes from a couple of oil fields that should have been emptied, but seemed to have somehow re-filled themselves from a deeper reserve of some sort.

The dead dinosaur theory relies on decaying plants and animals being converted into oil. As long as we’re around, we seem to interfere with that process rather dramatically. Most of the earth is either farmed or paved. There’s not that much wilderness left that can just do its thing and eventually make more oil.

Actually, oil doesn’t come from dinos.

Which is a good thing, because as a friend of mine pointed out, if it did, we probably ought to start burying lizards in large numbers so that future generations will one day have oil.

Cite? Even in crowded New England, what we have mostly here is trees. Lots of trees and their attendant falling leaves. Climb a hill pretty much anywhere except in downtown Boston and you won’t see pavement. You will see trees. I won’t argue that we’ve paved a fair bit of real estate, but we haven’t reached Isaac Asimov’s “I Robot” cityscape yet by a fair margin.

I’m guessing, though, that most oil bearing deposits were once sea beds full of algae. I’m not sure that organic material on land sticks around long enough to be converted to oil – most of it decomposes and becomes loam and insect chow.

Possibly the most fruitful source for drilling for oil in a couple of million years would be our current landfills. All those nice coffee grounds and banana peels that we throw out will probably succumb very nicely to time and pressure.

One thing to keep in mind is that we’re unlikely to at some point suck the last bit of oil out of the ground and say “oops! all gone!” :smack:

A more likely scenario would be that as oil prices rise, not only do new sources become viable (like oil shale in Canada), but also people seek alternatives. As the oil becomes more and more rare, fewer processes would use oil if a substitute is available. Eventually there may be oil in the ground, but it could be too expensive to extract and the demand may not be there because oil substitutes have become so prevalent.

No way! I don’t have a cite, but I believe that only a tiny part of the Earth is farmed or paved by humans. The rest is wilderness. :slight_smile:

Yes, my hypothetical was just that. I imagine that it will not occur, for reasons wevets cites. I was really asking about the areas in the earth in which the oil-creating process (whatever it is) has occurred, or has been occurring. An assumption that seems to be inherent in the “running out of oil” discussion, is that a finite amount of oil was once made. And that’s our only source of the material. I’m wondering if there’s any reason to believe that the process has been in any ways continuous up to the present or even the near present. And if that’s the case, it may be that with enough time, more oil will be produced. Maybe - especially if it isn’t formed from decayed dinosaurs - in 100,000,000 years, we’ll have as much as we do now. Incidentally, the theory that I had read some time ago was that it was produced by the actions of time and pressure on dead diatoms, that had drifted down to the bottom of the oceans, and were compressed, each releasing a tiny droplet of oil in the process, eventually turning into petroleum.

Mankind: “…and a side of oil.”

Earth: “I’m sorry, there will be a 250 million year wait for that oil. Could you please pull ahead?”

I went looking for a cite, and found that a really good overall analysis was recently done:


The important thing is how “wilderness” is defined, since this has a rather drastic effect on the numbers.


To qualify as “wilderness,” an area has 70 percent or more of its original vegetation intact, covers at least 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles) and most have fewer than five people per square kilometer.


I was under the impression that only about 25 or 30 percent of the earth remained as wilderness, so obviously the numbers I had seen were based on a stricter definition of wilderness (i.e. less people or more vegetation). Even with the guidelines in that report, the number is less than 50 percent, which means that the part farmed and paved is over 50 percent, and certainly isn’t a “tiny part.”

This part of the report is more in line with numbers that I’ve seen previously.

Whoops, screwed up the coding. The middle paragraph in that last part is my text.

How come you guys keep hijacking this thread? The question’s about petroleum production, not a pissing contest over the percentages of the surface that are wilderness.

Because when someone spews nonsense in GQ, it’s worth correcting them. In this case, “not virgin wilderness” does not even closely approximate “paved over”.

If you buy the idea that land-based vegetation contributes to potential oil deposits, then it’s vaguely relevant to wonder whether we’re making a significant impact on the amount of vegetation. My answer would be “no”, if only because oil deposits are (probably) based on thousands of years of accumulation of organic matter and industrialized societies haven’t been around that long and may not last (particularly if the oil runs out)

To get back on track, I’d be interested in an answer here as well. If the creation of oil is a continuous process, as each new generation of dead vegetation and whatnot is laid down and begins it’s metamorphosis, shouldn’t it also be continuously produced? And shouldn’t there be beds of “proto-oil” at various states of evolution between critter and crude?

thank you. well re-phrased.

Lomborg, B; The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

The formation of coal is very closely related to the formation of oil. In the case of coal, however, it’s much easier to witness the formation of “proto-coal”. Peat is the youngest, wettest and has the lowest carbon content. Brown coal is older, but still mostly formed subsequent to the disappearance of the dinosaurs. The various grades of black coals are the oldest, driest (in terms of water content, not the content of oil and other volatiles) and have the highest carbon content.

Blake’s cite above implies that we’re using fossil fuels something like 30 million times faster than they’re being formed, i.e. we’re using up 30 million years worth of the stuff every year. That seems very high to me. I’ve seen much lower rates quoted, something like 700:1. I’ll look around for some data.

Hmm. Not easy to find reliable data. This cite (warning, .PDF) claims that the rate of consumption and the rate of formation are approximately 1:1.

The author goes on to estimate annual consumption at about the same level.

A rate of 1:1 strikes me as too low. But the 30,000,000:1 figure from Lomborg is impossibly high. The oldest coals date from around 600 million years ago. If we really were using the stuff up at a rate of 30,000,000:1, in only 20 years we’d have used up all of the fossil fuels that had ever been formed, which obviously has not occurred.

I believe that the assumption as to the yearly rate of fossil fuel formation is the key to my OP. If it is true, then at roughly the same rate of use, we should never run out. I wonder where these proto oil deposits are? Do the oil companies (cue the music from Jaws) know where these reserves are? Is there any evidence that they have procured deeds to land that doesn’t seem to be fertile drilling grounds in order to position themselves for future profits? Desmo’s post seems to indicate that there is really no danger of depletion in the first place. Hmmmm. I wonder who actually knows? The Master?