World Oil Reserves and Alternate Fuel

For how long would the oil reserves last in the world, calculating the rapid growth of demand? i.e combining all exisiting and yet to be found oil reserves ( I assume somebody must have an idea about the total amount of oil which exists in the world ). Would there be a day when I wake up and find a signboard at service station saying " Petrol and Diesel finished. We are closing down" ?

On the other hand if fossil fuel were not discovered as a means to power the world , would we have found some totally revolutionary way of generating power?

Nobody really seems to have a good handle on how much oil reserves actually exist. 25 years ago, I remember my science teacher telling me tht oil reserves would be depleted…in 25 years. Part of the problem is that reserves are sometimes spontaneously replunished, presumably from deeper reserves. There are also known reserves that are simply too costly (currently) from which to extract oil, but which maybe be economically feasable to use if the price or availablility of oil becomes more critical.

The (inevitable) depletion of oil reserves will probably be a somewhat more gradual (though still shocking, shocking) event, accentuated by the increasing demand of formerly industriallly retarded nations like China and India.

Biofuels (grown from plants and processed from animal wastes) could provide a substantial amount of energy, albeit a fraction of what is provided by coal, oil, and natural gas reserves. Solar energy, the ultimate source of all non-nuclear, non-geothermal energy on the planet, is a market barely tapped; the question is how to economically collect, store, and deliver it in a convenient manner. Nuclear power, although requiring advanced technology, is the ultimate in compactness, but suffers from the need of economies of scale; you’ll never see a car running on a fission pile, and unless the cold fusion advocates have more up their sleeves than they’ve been able to produce so far, it seems that fusion requires even larger installations.

OTOH, plants get by just fine by storing and using the Sun’s provisions; they just do it much, much more slowly than we’d like.

Niven and Pournelle’s The Mote In God’s Eye and The Gripping Hand deal (albeit with massive stretches of credibility in evolutionary theory) with a civilization that arises sans fossil fuel resources (owing to their depletion by previous civilizations). The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring, also by Niven, deal somewhat similarly with a civilization that has to develop with minimal material resources.


Well, since we can produce synthetic petroleum from biological waste, and the world’s human population growth doesn’t show any signs of slowing…

Not likely. Google “peak oil”. Essentially what will happen is that it will get harder and harder to find and drill for oil. At some point (and when is still under debate) oil production will reach the highest point it will ever reach. From that point on, we will produce less and less oil but demand will continue to rise. Basic economics tells us that as demand increases and supply drops, prices will rise. Probably significantly. Eventually, it will take as much energy to drill for a barrel of oil as the oil itself is capable of producing. At that point you are better off not even drilling for it.

So short answer is we will never “run out of oil”. It will just either be too expensive or too hard for anyone to get at.

… and then we will switch to nuclear power. Do you really think that people will just meekly give up cars and electricity?

If you’re really interested, there’s an excellent (neutral) report, “Changing Oil” (2000), available from:

The conclusion: