Locked within the constant debate regarding whether oil extraction is ecologically safe (it is) is the question of whether or not our oil industry is sustainable. Many of the fears regarding the oil industry and oil supply come from an inherent misunderstanding of precisely how much oil exists and how much our technology can improve upon this amount. But, to put it short and sweet: the world has plenty of oil left. 53 years worth of oil or more, in fact.
A Finite Supply is Not a Small Supply
A significant amount of the misunderstanding regarding the oil industry is a confusion between finite and small. While we do have a finite (not everlasting) supply of oil, we don’t have a small supply. And essentially every resource on earth is finite on some level. The amount of actually extractable oil on earth is constantly growing, even if the actual amount of oil may not be replenishing at the same capacity at which we use it. New fracking processes, for instance, have made previously inaccessible oil reserves accessible, broadening our reach to a significant extent and creating the shale revolution. Better refinements to fracking have improved the efficiency of oil extraction and there is no reason to believe these improvements won’t continue. So while we may have a finite supply of oil, we are constantly gaining better access to that supply.
The Amount of Oil in the World
Oil can easily carry us into the next-generation of energy, with a current estimated surplus of 2 to 3 million barrels per day. Many of the prior estimates which have worried ecologists and economists simply do not apply, due to superior oil extraction techniques. In fact, just a few short decades ago it was thought that we would have a major shortfall in oil, and, consequently, a major oil crisis. It is this lingering fear of an oil crisis which is no longer applicable to the industry that often drives suggestions of “peak oil” and oil deficit. Even though an oil crisis was projected in the past, it is no longer a situation that carries with it any true threat.
The Future of the Energy Industry
In 100 years, will we have a different energy resource? It’s possible, but it doesn’t mean anything in the context of our modern oil industry. Go back to 1915, and our primary energy resource was coal. We are still using great amounts of coal to this day, we just aren’t relying upon it for all of our energy needs. Oil will likely have a similar fate: oil will never fully go away, because our energy needs will continue to grow. While we may ultimately shift to other energy resources, we need oil to bolster our economy until we get to that point. As with all things in history and technology, it is a constant work of smooth progress.
We will not wake up one day and no longer need oil, nor will we wake up one day and have all oil depleted from our earth. As progress continues, we will find new and better ways of oil extraction. For now, the oil industry has vastly improved our domestic economy and positioned us as a leader within the global oil market, and will likely continue to do so for a long time to come.