Environment

We Will Not Run Out of Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are formed from the remains of plants and animals that died hundreds of millions of years ago, buried and transformed by heat and pressure. Since these fuels require millions of years to form, for human purposes, the supply of fossil fuels on Earth is effectively fixed. This has led to predictions — such as those based on the “peak oil” theory first proposed by geologist M. King Hubbert in 1956 — that the world will experience an economically damaging scarcity of fossil fuels, particularly oil.

Fossil fuel emissions

However, new technologies for oil and gas exploration and extraction have upended the notion of fossil fuel scarcity: The limiting factor on humans’ fossil fuel use will not be the exhaustion of economically recoverable fossil fuels, but the exhaustion of the Earth’s capacity to withstand the harmful byproducts of fossil fuel combustion.

For decades, energy producers have continually identified new fossil fuel reserves and developed technologies that enable people to economically recover oil and gas from deposits previously deemed too difficult to access. That has enabled cumulative fuel production to greatly exceed previous estimates of reserves.

For example, the Energy Information Administration reports that in 1977, the United States had just 32 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 207 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves. Between 1977 and 2010, the U.S. extracted 84 billion barrels of oil (2.6 times the 1977 reserve estimate) and 610 trillion cubic feet of gas (2.9 times the reserve estimate). And, large reserves remain. In fact, in recent years, the size of U.S. reserves has actually grown (by more than a third since 2011), primarily as a result of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technologies that enable economical access to oil and gas deposits trapped in underground rock formations.

Fuels production reserves

Even if no more fossil fuels were to be discovered or deemed extractable, our nations already possess far more reserves and recoverable resources worldwide than we can burn without destroying the climate. Humanity has burned just a small portion of our fossil fuels to date.

Even if no more fossil fuels were to be discovered or deemed extractable, our nations already possess far more reserves and recoverable resources worldwide than we can burn without destroying the climate. Humanity has burned just a small portion of our fossil fuels to date.

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