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Peak Oil: Trends in Energy Consumption & Oil Reserves

Oil is the main fuel of the global industrial civilization.
Its depletion is a problem that will have a
profound impact on virtually every aspect of modern human life.

Peak Oil

Fossil Fuels
There are three major forms of fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas. All three were formed many hundreds of millions of years ago before the time of the dinosaurs – hence the name fossil fuels. They were formed from the remains of dead organisms. Coal was formed from dead plant material. Crude oil and gas were formed from dead marine organisms. The age they were formed is called the Carboniferous Period, which occurred from about 360 to 286 million years ago.

Fossil fuels are non-renewable. Fossil fuels are also finite resources. They took a very long time to form and we are now using them up very fast. They are no longer being made or are being made extremely slowly. Once they have all been used up, they cannot be replaced.

How important is Oil?
Oil enables more or less all land, sea and air transport to function. The efficient movement of raw materials and goods, as well as personal mobility, is almost entirely oil-dependent. Food production also relies heavily on oil to run farm machinery and to make fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides. Oil generates about 40 percent of the world's commercial energy, provides heating fuel, and provides critical support to industry and commerce. No other existing energy source can currently match the versatility, convenience and cost of oil. Oil also supplies raw materials for many thousands of manufactured products as diverse as plastics, medicines, clothing and building materials.

The use of oil, as well as all other fossil fuels, through increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, is the major contributor to Climate Change. Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations will have many effects. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will continue to increase unless the billions of tons of our annual emissions decrease substantially. Increased concentrations are expected to:

  • Increase Earth's average temperature.
  • Influence the patterns and amounts of precipitation.
  • Reduce ice and snow cover, as well as permafrost.
  • Raise sea level.
  • Increase the acidity of the oceans.

These changes will have major impacts our food supply, water resources, infrastructure, ecosystems, and even our own health.

Climate change and Peak Oil are the two most serious threats to biodiversity, human life, and civilisation as we know it.


What is Peak Oil?

The Source of Oil - a true fossil
Trends in Crude Oil Prices
Oil Depletion
Oil Reserves:
When will oil run out?
The Discovery-Consumption Gap
Energy Security
The Olduvai Theory
Peak Oil News
Further Reading

Peak Oil is described as the point when the maximum petroleum production rate is reached. Following this point forward, the rate of production will enter terminal decline. Peak Oil can refer to an individual oil field, or more widely to global oil production.

Based on the well documented Hubbert model (Hubbert 1956), oil production follows the standard bell-shaped curve of a normal distribution. Whilst more recent studies consider this model a slight over-simplification, the underlying concept is abundantly clear. Hubbert correctly predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in about 1970 and then decline. The easiest oil is extracted first - and has now already been extracted - with the more difficult, more expensive, and lower quality, resources tackled last. All oil fields eventually reach a point where they are no longer viable.

Oil is a finite resource and eventually all oil fields will no longer be productive. Once the peak of production is passed, the rate of oil extraction begins to go down, while at the same time costs increase.

An exact date for "Peak Oil" is difficult to predict. This is due to geological complexities, measurement problems, pricing variations, and demand elasticity. There are also considerable political influences. Countries as well as companies are notoriously reticent about their stated oil reserves, and are often unwilling to divulge what can be commercially very sensitive information. Member nations of OPEC may have reason to inflate their reserve oil figures. As a result, it's difficult to say with certainty how much conventional oil is left on Earth. However, it is now widely considered that the peak has already happened. Despite occasional discoveries of new oil reserves, oil will inevitably decline to the extent that it is no longer viable. The peaking of unconventional oil reserves is will occur some time in the near future.

Conventional oil is obtained simply by pumping it out of a well with or without the use of water and/or chemicals and other advanced techniques to enhance its recovery.

In contrast Unconventional Oil is obtained in unconventional ways, for example by open cast mining, using steam or fire underground, or horizontal drilling and fracking to get it to the surface. There are six sorts of Unconventional Oil: 1. shale oil; 2. oil sands ; 3. "heavy oil", a very viscous oil similar to bitumen; 4. oil condensed out from gases emerging from oil and gas wells; 5. oil produced synthetically from coal or natural gas; and 6. Liquid biofuels including palm oil, rape oil and bioethanol.

Running on Empty
It is clear that the current level of global energy consumption based on oil is unsustainable, from both environmental and geological, as well as social points of view. Current food production techniques are also highly dependant on oil.

Production of conventional has already started to decline.
Beginning to develop alternatives now will soften the severe blows to the Global economy.

Peaking Oil Production: Sooner Rather Than Later?
by Robert L. Hirsch, Robert M. Wendling, Roger H. Bezdek
Issues in Science and Technology, Volume 21 Issue 3, Spring 2005

When resource use rises beyond the carrying capacity of its environment, or conversely the carrying capacity falls, the existing use can no longer be supported and must inevitably decline to match the carrying capacity.
In the case of oil, peaking will result in long-term economic hardship for all oil-dependant processes and societies, unless alternatives are brought into production. As peaking is approached, both fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically and, without timely mitigation, such as sufficient alternative sources of energy, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented.

Nature will provide our needs, but not our greeds

Agricultural Impacts
Oil and gas supplies are now essential to the majority of modern agricultural techniques - growing, harvesting, processing, transport and storage - in other words along the entire value chain. Reduced global oil supplies will cause high food prices and unprecedented famine in the coming decades unless serious steps are taken now to ensure that agricultural systems are based on ecological principles with minimal petrochemical inputs. Following peak oil, and as oil resources decline, the world will enter a new phase and the entire Global economy is certain to change.

The Source of Oil - a True Fossil
The world's oil supply is finite because it is no longer being naturally formed. Several hundred million years ago plankton, and bacteria feeding on the plankton, thrived in the oceans of a World with a carbon dioxide rich atmosphere. At that time, sulphur dioxide from volcanic origins lined the ocean floor, effectively preventing living creatures from inhabiting that zone, and therefore consuming the plankton and bacteria after their death. Those plankton and bacteria that settled in porous sandstone or limestone, which was later capped by shale or salt, were heated and pressurized to ultimately form oil.

It is clear, therefore, that oil as we now know it is a true fossil - and something that will not be created again. This makes the more or less total dependance on oil and oil-based products by today's societies particularly dangerous. Just try to imagine a World without Oil.

Oil Depletion
Oil depletion occurs in the second half of the production curve of an oil well, oil field, or the average of total world oil production. The Hubbert Peak Theory makes predictions of production rates based on prior discovery rates and anticipated production rates. The Hubbert Curve predicts that the production curves of non-renewing resources approximate a bell-shaped curve. Thus, when the peak of production is passed, production rates enter an exponential decline.

For more information on Peak Oil, the Energy Crisis and what we can expect ... see the "Peak oil primer" at, and at the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC), or visit the Links below.


Trends in Crude Oil Prices since 2000
Brent Crude Oil daily closing prices, with best fit trend projected forwards 5 years
Brent Oil Price Chart
Annual average Brent Crude Oil with best fit trend projected forwards 5 years

Brent Crude is a major trading classification of sweet light crude oil comprising Brent Blend, Forties Blend, Oseberg and Ekofisk crudes. Brent Crude is sourced from the North Sea. Brent is the leading global price benchmark for Atlantic basin crude oils. It is used to price two thirds of the world's internationally traded crude oil supplies.

For the Current Brent Crude Oil daily price see the adjacent chart (data provied by

World Energy Consumption

The International Energy Outlook predicts that World energy consumption will continue to increase. World energy consumption is predicted to increase significantly, from 540.5 quadrillion Btu in 2011 to 815 quadrillion Btu in 2040 (International Energy Outlook 2016), see

One BTU is about equal to the amount of energy in 45 million tons of coal,
or 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or 170 million barrels of crude oil.

In the near term, the effects of the global recession of 2008-2009 curtailed world energy consumption. However, as nations have recovered from the downturn, World energy demand has risen and is predicted to rebound and increase strongly as a result of the combination of economic growth and expanding populations in the world's developing countries.

The increased demand for energy will continue to increase the demand for, and consumption of remaining oil sources. This will be particularly important in the transport sector, and rising oil prices can be expected to have significant impacts on all transport costs.


U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook

Total World Oil Consumption: 1965-2016 (million tonnes per annum)
(Consumption in 2016 was 4418.2 million tonnes)

(Source: BP Statistical Review of world energy 2017)

Oil Reserves: When will oil run out?

The published figures for the 2013 Proved Oil Reserves (BP Statistical Review of world energy 2014), stated to be 238.2 thousand million tonnes, and the 2013 figures for Total Annual World Oil Consuption at 4185.07 million tonnes mean that the remaining known and declared oil reserves may last for about 57 years, or until about 2070. However, as can be seen in the above chart, the World's annual oil consumption is increasing significantly, rising from 1,914 million tonnes in 1968 to 4,185 million tonnes in 2013, an average increase of 50.46 million tonnes per annum. Oil consumption is predicted to reach 109 Mb/d by 2035 (BP Energy Outlook 2035), equivalent to approximately 5,809 million tonnes Annual World Oil Consuption. This is an average annual increase of 73.815 million tonnes per annum over this period. The proved oil reserves are therefore likely to last significantly less than 57 years, and are very likely to more or less run out after 40 years. It is likely by then that the world's population will be significantly larger, and more industrialised - and therefore more dependent on those resources that are currently provided by oil.

Using the current and predicted oil consumption figures, this means that there will be practically no oil left before about the year 2054. Although discoveries of and extractions from new conventional oil reserves may extend this period slightly, the period is also likely to be reduced by increased consumption.

In the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2014, energy demand grows by 37% to 2040, an average annual rate of growth of 1.1%, and energy demand growth shifts decisively away from OECD countries.

Unless alternative sources of energy and raw materials are developed and widely used as standard practice well before that date, the current lifestyles enjoyed by people the World over will no longer be possible, and the way of life as we currently know it will come to an end. Important sources of Renewable Energy include: Wind, Solar, Hydroelectric energy, Tidal power, and Geothermal energy.


"Oil companies spent $8 billion on exploration in 2003, but discovered only
$4 billion of commercially useful oil."
(New York Times 25 March 2005)

The cost and availability of oil have profound impacts on many aspects of modern civilization.

All aspects of modern civilization are likely to be severely affected by the reduced availability and increased cost of oil production.
In particular, modern agricultural methods are heavily dependant on oil, as is transport.

At the same time, there is a constantly increasing demand for energy.

See the International Energy Outlook at

The Discovery-Consumption Gap:

With the world now finding less than one barrel for every four it consumes, the pressure on capacity can only increase in the future. The gap is growing wider. (Aleklett and Campbell, 2003). What is clear is that oil is getting harder to find and extract.

The 21st century will be the era of declines - in the availability of oil, natural gas, and coal.

  • We now consume six barrels of oil for every new barrel we discover.
  • Worldwide discovery of oil peaked in 1964 and has followed a steady decline since.
  • Oil production is already falling in 60 countries.

In addition,

  • An effective fall in capital efficiency means that more funds are being spent to recover the same amount of oil. Each new barrel of oil costs more to bring into production than its predecessor.
    At some point, most probably before 2020,
    global oil production will start to fall ... FOR EVER

The Net Difference Between Annual World Oil
Reserves Additions and Annual Consumption

Source: Aleklett and Campbell, 2003

As we use up the easily accessible oil supplies, the amount of energy required to extract energy increases, so not only are we facing a rapid decline in reserves, we’re also facing decreasing extraction efficiency.

Energy Security

The provision of a sustainable energy future will require a dramatic transformation of the world’s energy supplies and consumption patterns. The current global financial crisis and accompanying economic downturn has made meeting this challenge significantly much more difficult. Despite the current softening of energy demand, the world is facing a long-term tightening of conventional energy supplies and a need to address increasing environmental concerns that will require international cooperation on an unprecedented scale. ... More: Energy Security: Transatlantic Cooperation and Sustainability.

The critical importance of fossil fuel resources in modern agricultural practice is
well illustrated by the following extract from Vandana Shiva and Ingunn Moser (1995),
where the use of labour-replacing energy and equipment in modern agriculture is emphasized.

The fragmentation of components of the farm ecosystem, and their integration with distant markets and industries, is a characteristic of modern 'scientific' agriculture. The most common justification of this system of food production is that it raises agricultural productivity. The high productivity of modern agriculture is however a myth when total resource inputs are taken into account. The social and ecological costs with respect to the manufacture and use of fertilizers, pesticides and labour-replacing energy and equipment are never taken into account, thus rendering the system artificially productive. If the energy used to provide all inputs to modern farming is deducted from the food calories produced, modern agricultural technologies are found to be counter-productive. Wheras at the turn of the century (i.e. 1900), even in the countires of the north, one calorie of food value was produced by the input of less than one calorie of energy, so that there was a net gain, today 10 calories of energy are used to produce the same one calorie of food value.

See also: Fossil Fuel and Energy Use (PDF), and
10 Calories in, 1 Calorie Out - The Energy We Spend on Food.

The Olduvai Theory of Industrial Civilization

The Olduvai theory states that industrial civilization (as defined by per capita energy consumption) will have a lifetime of less than or equal to 100 years (1930-2030). The theory provides a quantitative basis of the transient-pulse theory of modern civilization. The name is a reference to the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

A useful introduciton to the Olduvai theory can be seen at Olduvai Revisited 2008 (TheOilDrum)

Duncan: The Olduvai Theory of Industrial Civilization

Energy production per capita (e) defines it.
The exponential growth of world energy production ended in 1970. Average e will show no growth from 1979 through circa 2008 ... The rate of change of e will go steeply negative circa 2008. World population will decline to about two billion circa 2050. A growing number of independent studies concur...."

More details see
Richard C. Duncan
The Olduvai Theory. Energy, Population, and Industrial Civilization.

See also:

Peak Oil News:

Why has the price of oil been dropping?

This a complicated question, but it boils down to the simple economics of supply and demand.

United States domestic production has nearly doubled over the last six years, pushing out oil imports that need to find another home. Saudi, Nigerian and Algerian oil that once was sold in the United States is suddenly competing for Asian markets, and the producers are forced to drop prices. Canadian and Iraqi oil production and exports are rising year after year. Even the Russians, with all their economic problems, manage to keep pumping.

There are signs, however, that production is falling in the United States and some other oil-producing countries because of the drop in exploration investments. On the demand side, the economies of Europe and developing countries are currently relatively weak and vehicles are also becoming more energy-efficient. So demand for fuel is lagging a bit.

World Energy Outlook 2015

(Scheduled to be released 10 November 2015, (

The precipitous fall in oil prices, continued geopolitical instability and the ongoing global climate negotiations are witness to the increasingly dynamic nature of energy markets. In a time of so much uncertainty, understanding the implications of the shifting energy landscape for economic, environmental and security priorities is vital. The World Energy Outlook 2015 (WEO-2015) will present projections through 2040 based on the latest data and market developments; insights on the trajectories of fossil fuels, renewables, the power sector and energy efficiency; and analysis on trends in Carbon Dioxide emissions, fossil-fuel and renewable energy subsidies, and on universal access to modern energy services.

In addition, the WEO-2015 will be informed by in-depth analysis on several topical issues:

  • Special Report on Energy and Climate (to be released 15 June)
  • Focus on India
  • A lower oil price future?
  • Unconventional gas in China
  • Special Report on Southeast Asia


World Energy Outlook 2014 (International Energy Agency, WEO_2014)

By 2040, the world's energy supply mix divides into four almost-equal parts: oil, gas, coal and low-carbon sources. Resources are not a constraint over this period, but each of these four pillars faces a distinct set of challenges. Policy choices and market developments that bring the share of fossil fuels in primary energy demand down to just under three-quarters in 2040 are not enough to stem the rise in energy-related Carbon Dioxide emissions, which grow by one-fifth. This puts the world on a path consistent with a long-term global average temperature increase of 3.6°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that in order to limit this temperature increase to 2°C – the internationally agreed goal to avert the most severe and widespread implications of climate change – the world cannot emit more than around 1,000 gigatonnes of Carbon Dioxide from 2014 onwards. This entire budget will be used up by 2040 in our central scenario. Since emissions are not going to drop suddenly to zero once this point is reached, it is clear that the 2°C objective requires urgent action to steer the energy system on to a safer path. This will be the focus of a WEO Special Report, to be released in mid-2015 in advance of the critical UN climate talks in Paris.


Why we are at Peak Oil Right Now

First of all, Peak Oil is not a theory. The claim that Peak Oil is a theory is more than a little absurd. Fossil hydrocarbons were created from buried alga millions of years ago and they are finite in quantity. And as long as we keep extracting them in the millions of barrels per day, it is only common sense that one day we will reach a point where their extraction starts to decline. In fact most countries where oil is extracted are already in decline. So obviously if individual countries can experience peak oil then the world as a whole can also experience peak oil.

Once again, we are at peak oil right now. The peak will straddle the 2014 and 2015 time line. 2016 will be the first full post peak calendar year. It really doesn’t matter how many barrels of oil is left in the ground. The point is we will never again pull it out of the ground at the same rate we are pulling it out right now. (February 2015)


BP Energy Outlook 2035

The BP Energy Outlook 2035 indicates that project that global energy consumption will rise by 41% by 2035, with 95% of that growth coming from rapidly growing emerging economies. That growth rate is slower than what we have seen in previous decades, largely as a result of increasing energy efficiency. Trends in global technology, investment and policy leave us confident that production will be able to keep pace. New energy forms such as shale gas, tight oil, and renewables will account for a significant share of the growth in global supply. Energy efficiency promises to improve unabatedly, driven by globalization and competition.

  • Primary energy demand increases by 41% between 2012 and 2035, with growth averaging 1.5% per annum (p.a.). Growth slows, from 2.2% p.a. for 2005-15, to 1.7% p.a. 2015-25 and just 1.1% p.a. in the final decade.

  • There is a clear long-run shift in energy growth from the OECD to the non-OECD. Virtually all (95%) of the projected growth is in the non-OECD, with energy consumption growing at 2.3% p.a. 2012-35. OECD energy consumption, by contrast, grows at just 0.2% p.a. over the whole period and is actually falling from 2030 onwards.


The Peak Oil Crisis: 2011 – a pivotal year?

The IEA says that during 2010 global demand for oil grew by 2.5 million barrels a day. Rates of growth in consumption this fast cannot go on much longer in the face of very slow to flat increases in production. However, financial markets continue to ignore the fact that global oil production has reached a plateau after 150 years of steady growth. Nevertheless, chane is inevitable and while some new form of an economic system will evolve, the transition is likely to be long and painful.

See article by Tom Whipple at

Warning over Global Oil Decline.

There is a "significant risk" that global production of conventional oil could "peak" and decline by 2020, a report has warned. The UK Energy Research Council study says there is a consensus that the era of cheap oil is at an end. But it warns that most governments, including the UK's, exhibit little concern about oil depletion. The report's authors also state that the 10 largest oil producing fields in the world are all in decline.

For more go to ... BBC News article, or visit the UK Energy Research Council page on The Global Oil Depletion Report where the report is available.

The International Energy Agency reports the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace calculated just two years ago.

The world is heading for a catastrophic energy crunch that could cripple a global economic recovery because most of the major oil fields in the world have passed their peak production, a leading energy economist has warned.

The first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves, has found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace as calculated just two years ago. On top of this, there is a problem of chronic under-investment by oil-producing countries, a feature that is set to result in an oil crunch within the next five years which will jeopardise any hope of a recovery from the present global economic recession. ...more. The Independent

The Outlook for Oil Supply:  
Global oil supply will peak in 2020, says energy agency
Don't kill the planet in the name of saving the economy. The collision of the credit crunch and the climate crunch ...
International Energy Outlook 2008 report by the US EIA, predicts steady rises in both global energy consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions.

A report "The Impact of Peak Oil on International Development", by APPGOPO with RESET and Practical Action, 21 July 08, indicates that sustainable, non-fossil fuel dependent energy generation, construction and farming methods will be essential if communities are to become resilient to energy price rises. The report also concludes that a shift from an industrialised agriculture system to one based on ecologically sound principles free from petrochemical inputs is essential.

Links to More Information on Peak Oil and Related Issues

For more information and discussions about Peak Oil and related topics, visit the following web sites and reports:

Oil, Agriculture, Food & Economy
Vandana Shiva and Ingunn Moser (eds.). (1995). Biopolitics: A Feminist and Ecological Reader on Biotechnology. Zed Books.
Non Renewable Resources: An overview of the differences between renewable and non renewable resources. Even though it is a well known fact that non renewable resources will, one day, be depleted, there is insufficient focus on alternative, renewable resources.
Why Our Food is So Dependent on Oil
Growing Food After Peak Oil, by Richard Heinberg
Energy and Human Evolution, by David Price
Peak Oil: Web sites
Energy Bulletin: Peak Oil Primer
ASPO: Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas
ODAC: The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre
The Oil Drum
Peak Oil News
PowerSwitch: Peak Oil Awareness & Media Coverage
Hubbert Peak of Oil Production with a link to Hubbert's original 1956 publication
Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS).
GIEWS Food Outlook, and GIEWS Crop Prospects and Food Situation. Forecasting Oil and Gas Produciton, Consumption and Activity
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas (APPGOPO)
M. King Hubbert (Wikipedia article).
Peak Oil: Reports, Journal Articles and Books
Knight, D. (2012). Climate Change and Peak Oil two sides of the same coin.
Robert L. Hirsch, Robert M. Wendling, Roger H. Bezdek (2005). Peaking Oil Production: Sooner Rather Than Later? Issues in Science and Technology, Volume 21 Issue 3, Spring 2005.
Kramer, F and Lyman, J. (2009). Energy Security: Transatlantic Cooperation and Sustainability. A Report of the Global Dialogue between the European Union and the United States. February 2009. CSIS. Center for Strategic and International Studies. ISBN 978-0-89206-569-1. Online
The peak and decline of world oil and gas production. K. Aleklett and C.J.Campbell. Uppsala University, Sweden. ASPO Web site 2003.
The Impact of Peak Oil on International Development, The All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil (APPGOPO) with RESET and Practical Action, 2008.
The Coming Oil Supply Crunch, by Paul Stevens. A Chatham House Report, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2008.
Higher-order Hubbert Models for World Oil Production by P. Berg & S. Korte. Petroleum Science and Technology, 26(2) 2008.
David Strahan. The Last Oil Shock: A survival guide to the imminent extinction of petroleum man (John Murray, 2007).

Oil Use and Economic Development in Sub-Saharan Africa, by Kristofer Jakobsson, 2007.

Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot: Population, the Elephant in the Room, by Paul Chefurka, 2007.
The Impact of High Oil Prices on African Economies. African Development Bank, Economic Research Working Paper No 93, December 2007.
The Olduvai Theory: Energy, Population, and Industrial Civilization, by Richard C. Duncan. The Social Contract, Winter 2005-2006.
See also: Olduvai Theory Revisited: 2008 Assessment. Video and corresponding web article.
What You Need to Know about Peak Oil. Article by Rapier on 17 May 2006.
Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak, by Kenneth S. Deffeyes. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005
Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management, by Robert L. Hirsch et al., 2005.
Also at
Peaking of World Oil Production and Its Mitigation. Robert L. Hirsch, Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling. AIChE Journal, January 2006 Vol. 52, No. 1.
Jake Gordon (April 2004), No Jobs & No Oil: the unsustainability of full employment and cheap energy, online:
Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage, by Kenneth S. Deffeyes. Princeton University Press, 2003.
Plus over 50 reports available at the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre: Reports and Resources.
Biodiesel: web page with links to articles and references on Biodiesel and related energy sources


Page last updated January 2, 2018