Will We Run Out Of Oil Soon Enough?

With all of the problems we are currently facing due to Global Climate Change, and all of the problems we will undoubtably face within the next hundred years, with the seeming inability of the government to regulate, hinder, or even discourage the use of oil, will the world (The USA) either take a leap and stop using oil in the quantities it is now, or will we run out of it soon enough to avoid the complete economic and environmental destruction of The Earth?

A double no. We won’t run out of oil soon enough to stop global warming, if for no other reason than we can switch to coal for many purposes. Running out of oil isn’t enough to stop it.

As well, global warming won’t lead to “the complete economic and environmental destruction of The Earth”. Economic, maybe, but nature will cope better than us. Massive crop failures don’t equate to complete environmental destruction, or even a mass extinction. Of course if it takes 10 million years for Earth to recover, the ecology’s resilience won’t do us as a species much good.

Perhaps I should add an “as we know it” to the end of “the complete economic and environmental destruction of The Earth”.

Also, on Coal, a lot of the pollutants of coal can be scrubbed almost clean, wouldn’t that lend us a helping hand?

There was a Science article a few years back that estimated the level that CO2 would rise to in the atmosphere if all known (or estimated?) reserves of fossil fuels were used. It wasn’t pretty. I seem to recall numbers on the order of something like 4-8 times pre-industrial levels, depending on whether more exotic reserves (like tar sands) were included. [To some degree, the level reached would depend on how quickly they were burned…but as long as it is all done over a time scale of a few hundred years, I don’t think this makes too much difference.]

As for “scrubbing” the pollutants from coal, you have to remember that CO2 is not some sort of minor constituent of coal burning byproducts. It is one of the two essential products of the combustion of fossil fuels (the other being water). So, no matter how “cleanly” you burn coal, you are going to produce very large amounts CO2. I think there are techniques…coal gasification?..that release somewhat less CO2 but I don’t think it is a whole lot less. What you would really have to do is to sequester the CO2 released from burning the coal. Such sequestration does seem to be possible although the study of such techniques is still not that far along.

The same can be said for oil; it doesn’t stop the CO2 from getting into the air. It has to go somewhere.

Much research is currently being conducted into pumping it into the ground as a liquid. Test plants are operational and the only real questions are “How much will it cost?” and “How long will it stay there?”

But it is possible to scrub fossil fuel emmissions clean of greenhouse gases.

You guys should should check out the latest (Sept. 2006) Scientific American, a special edition dealing with ways to provide energy for the world in the next 100 years while attempting to keep the carbon emissions at safe levels. They went over the usual things like nuclear power, hydrogen, nano-tech solar, fuel cells, bio fuel, wind power, geothermal, hydro, etc. but also some interesting things I’ve never heard of like:

  1. Coal sequestration: trapping the CO2 as it leaves plants and pumping it deep underground. You can also build technologies to soak up the CO2 in the air already and then dispose of it (genetically engineered micro critters, say).

  2. High altitude wind power: engineering difficulties all over this one but it’s feasible and the jet stream contains a lot more energy than what our dinky wind farms collect on the ground.

  3. The biggest surprise to me was how increased effencies in the buildings we live in could immediately and dramatically decrease the amount of electricity needed. They cite encouraging results from Japan and Europe, where some areas have reduced their energy needs by a factor of six.

The technology is there…I just don’t know about the political will, at least in the U.S.

The obvious thing to do is start reducing our oil consumption at a rate greater than the rate of reduction of reserves. This would maintain prices over time. Chance of this happening via political will is unlikely.

On the bright side, in 10 years time when we have passed peak oil and petrol/deisel/avgas prices are becoming prohibative, there will be benefits such as increased community focus in society and reduced impact on existing ecosystems. Always an optimist.

Russian scientist predict coming global cooling. Suggest we scrap Kyoto and increase co2 emissions to counter it.

Russian scientist issues global cooling warning
Earth in for another “ice age” in mid-century – scientist

Also in the news yesterday. Two Danish glacierologist after extensive studies of the Greenlandic ice, have concluded that the ice has been melting all through the 20th century. But that it actually was melting at a greater pace in the 20’s and 30’s and that in the last decade it has slowed down.

Gosh, and I found a random cite indicatiing that Cold Fusion is back on the table. See?

If you’d like, I can also whip out a cite (From the Internets! Wow!) that makes it clear that JFK was actually assassinated by aliens.


Well this one was actually fairly widely reported a few days ago. But I guess if you start from the premise that all Russian scientist should be assumed to be crackpots, then you’ve got a point.

No, I’m assuming that a mountain of evidence outweighs a shrinking glacier worth of evidence.

You could always start chain smoking, too. I’ll bet I can find one study that says it’s actually beneficial to your health - I hear it’s good for your T-Zone. You going to believe that study or the thousands that say that smoking may not be the best idea for your health?


Haha! Haha! Haha! Priceless!

Yeah, I hate puns. I feel dirty but I couldn’t resist.


The SF novel Fallen Angels by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn was based on that premise: The Earth as of the '90s is actually headed towards the next ice age, and those dumbass environmentalists gain power, clamp down controls on CO2 emissions, and put a stop to global warming just when it would have come in useful. With the result that Canada is now covered by an ice shield and completely uinhabitable, and the U.S. isn’t much better off.

And then there’s real life, of course . . .

Assuming for the sake of arguement that Global Warming is both real, and further assuming that we won’t be at the breaking point for, lets say, a decade, then the answer to this question is…no, of course we won’t run out of oil in that time frame. Even if we assume that the GW breaking point is a century we won’t run out of oil in THAT time frame either.

Its possible though that we also won’t still be using oil the way we do today in a century, that we will have found some alternative (or combination of alternatives) in that time. I don’t think the question is answerable though in this form. The debate points would be…how long at the present rate until we hit the GW breaking point? What will the effects be? How long will we be at the present rate of CO2 production? Will this rate continue to rise, level off, or decrease?

As for the oil though…there is plenty out there. It won’t be cheap, it won’t be easy to get, but its out there…in both Canada and the US there are reserves of oil that are more than what was in the entire ME to begin with. Venezuela also. And probably as much again in other places. Difficult, costly to get at, more expensive to refine, these resources will eventually be economically feasible to exploit. Perhaps though, when things get to that point costs wise, other alternatives that are waiting in the wings because they aren’t economically sound with the current price of cheap oil will come on line.


I never hear pepole talk about carbon monoxide’s effect on global warming. If we burned coal such as to produce CO would it be any better? I assume it would be diluted by the atmosphere enough to not be toxic.

I think from the greenhouse perspective, CO would likely be much better than CO2 since I believe that a molecule has to be at least tri-atomic in order to have the low-energy bending states that absorb in the infrared part of the spectrum.

On the other hand, I could imagine all sorts of potential issues with burning to produce CO instead of CO2:

(1) I am not sure how easy, or even possible, it is to produce mainly CO instead of CO2. At the very least, I imagine you need a pretty oxygen-starved environment for the combustion.

(2) I am not sure how much energy is released in this reaction compared to combusting to CO2.

(3) I think toxicity would be a really big problem. Even if you could dilute it enough in the atmosphere on a global scale (which I have my doubts about), I could imagine it being a big problem on more local levels.

If I lived in Russia, I’d be saying the same thing.

Yep, that’s about it. You need to burn in anoxygen deficient environment.

A LOT less. There is usually about enough energy produced to keep the reaction running and very little extra. The fact that CO was pumped into people’s homes to provide fuel for cooking and heating tells you how much energy is being lost in CO production. The waste products, both solid and gas, of CO production are almost as energy rich as the starting product.

This at least probably isn’t a significant problem, but only because CO is so reactive that it oxidises spontanously in contact with air. Of course that isn’t a selling point for your scheme because oxidised CO is CO2. And that puts us right back where we started.

I’m not sure how long CO lasts in the atmosphere but probably less than a year. For this scheme to have any benefit at all it would need to last at least a couple of hundred years.