- Mar 30, 2010
- Key facts
- It's a stretch, but imagine you're an Eskimo living 1,500 years ago
- Where does petroleum come from?
- How much energy does petroleum provide?
- How much petroleum is there, and how long will it last?
- Geography is against us
- Where might new oil reserves be found?
- Two unconventional sources of oil: oil shales and tar sands
- Growing worldwide competition for a dwindling resource
- If supplies are dwindling, why watch petroleum go up in smoke?
- Environmental effects of petroleum
- Petroleum exploration versus conservation of endangered species
- The bottom line
Geography Is against us
Unfortunately for most of us, petroleum reserves are not distributed evenly around the world. Quite the opposite; they are highly concentrated (Figure 1.4) and, worse yet, concentrated in parts of the world that, on the whole, are not the ones that use the most petroleum today but will likely require more in the future (Figure 1.5). The Middle East has 62% of the world's oil reserves (Figure 1.6); the rest of Africa 9.7%; South and Central America 8.6% (most of it in Venezuela and Brazil); the Russian Federation 6.6%. North America has just 5%, half of it in the United States.14 So, as Figure 1.4 makes clear, oil reserves are extraordinarily concentrated geographically.
(Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2007; London, British Petroleum Company)
Figure 1.5 Oil consumption per capita (metric tonnes, 2006). Compare the consumption with known reserves.
(Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2007; London, British Petroleum Company)
It would be naive to think that the lopsided geographic distribution of petroleum will not continue to create international conflicts. As long as the United States and other countries without vast oil reserves continue to depend so heavily on petroleum, these conflicts are likely to increase, which is all the more reason to turn to other sources of energy as soon as possible.
Although the Middle East dominates world oil reserves, most of that oil goes to Europe, Japan, and Southeast Asia, whereas the United States imports a lot of oil from Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela (Figure 1.7). Obviously, the more oil the United States imports, the more vulnerable its economy is to the reserves in other nations and to political and environmental events that limit or prevent this importation. Given the importance of abundant energy for a vibrant economy and society, greater energy independence is an important goal, but for petroleum this is not and will not be possible for the United States.