Can the world's oil reserves be used up?

The future of the oil industry

Published on 07-09-2020, by Stefanie Schöneberger

Although fossil fuels have a negative impact on the global climate and global warming, oil, i.e. crude oil or crude oil, is one of the most important energy resources. In the past it was speculated that oil reserves would run out before the turn of the millennium. We can of course be sure that these forecasts have not come true. But how long will the world's oil reserves be able to withstand our consumer behavior? What happens when these are used up? Find out everything you need to know about the future of the oil industry below.

How is oil obtained?

Crude oil is the term used to refer to the petroleum that has been brought to the surface, which has been cleaned and treated. Crude oil is often extracted in conventional oil fields by drilling into rock layers between which oil has accumulated. In these rock layers, animals and plants that have died over the course of several million years have been transformed into deposits containing petroleum and gas with the help of bacteria, high pressure and high temperatures. As soon as these oil-rich deposits are drilled, the oil shoots to the surface of the earth due to the pressure difference. As soon as this pressure drops, gas is usually forced into the intermediate layer. This ensures that the decreasing pressure due to the additional gas is maintained and so the oil deposit can be brought to the surface even more efficiently. A complete emptying of the oil deposits in the intermediate layers is not possible in this way. Instead, the oil reserve is considered exhausted at a certain point when around 40% of the actual reserve is still present. The world's largest deposit, which satisfies our global hunger for oil, is by the way in Saudi Arabia. The Ghawar field there contains an impressive 70 billion barrels of oil. This may sound like a large amount, but that amount of oil would only cover two years of global oil needs.

Fracking: Solution or Problem?

In the meantime, however, oil is not only obtained in this conventional way, there are also other methods. One method that has been particularly criticized is so-called fracking. In this method, a mixture of water, quartz sand and other chemicals is pressed into underground rock. This happens with such high pressure that the shale rock there breaks apart and small spaces form, which fill with oil and gas. This is then reduced accordingly. Fracking has ensured that, for example, oil production in the USA has almost doubled since 2007. A similar increase was noted in gas production. Due to the increased production, the prices for gas could be reduced accordingly, which in turn meant that many coal-fired power plants could be replaced with gas-fired power plants. Nevertheless, fracking is under strong criticism: The mixture that is pressed into the ground is enriched with many chemicals that not only contaminate the groundwater and the soil, but can also trigger earthquakes. Although the replacement of coal to gas power plants should result in a positive balance in terms of CO2 emissions, this is not the case: Because a lot of methane escapes through the wells, so that the climate balance of fracking is not particularly good. According to a statement by the Max Planck Society, the escaping methane is 21 times more harmful to the climate than CO2.

How long will our oil reserves last?

The assumption that our oil reserves will be exhausted before the turn of the millennium has not come true. Instead, thanks to technical progress, oil reserves have increased almost fivefold since 1960. Previously seemingly inaccessible resources can now be developed, such as the Libra field, which is located around 7000 meters below the Brazilian coast. Therefore, the further our technologies develop, the longer our global oil reserves will last. By the way, only those oil deposits are referred to as reserves, which, based on the current state of technology, can actually be tapped. Any other oil deposits that cannot be developed at the moment are referred to as oil resources.

What happens when the oil reserves are used up?

The big oil companies will try to develop as many resources as possible, but these are not inexhaustible either. More and more money has to be invested in order to be able to develop even more remote oil wells with ever better technologies.

So it is not surprising that one of the global oil giants is now not only specializing in the production of oil, but is also involved in other energy sectors. For example, Saudi Aramco already participated in an investment of 500 million US dollars in 2012, which was used, among other things, to promote sustainable start-up companies. A similar investment in sustainable energy generation is planned for this year. The group emphasizes that it wants to invest in sustainable energy generation in the long term. On the one hand, this may be due to the fact that Saudi Aramco will try to postpone the depletion of the existing oil reserves for as long as possible. On the other hand, it is also due to the fact that the group is also aware that the exploitable oil resources are not inexhaustible.


The resources of our earth are not inexhaustible. Although oil is one of the most important resources for generating energy, it is becoming increasingly difficult to develop new oil wells. Which oil resources can be developed in the future will depend heavily on how quickly the required technology develops. In the long term, however, energy companies will have to say goodbye to oil and focus on renewable energy sources.

Stefanie Schöneberger

In order to provide our customers with comprehensive information on what is happening in the German and international service market, my colleagues and I research tirelessly and then present critical analyzes and articles on our website. We also appreciate the personal contact and exchange with our customers. To get in touch with us, you can of course contact us directly via email and phone or contact us via our social media profiles.