Swimming in oil?
March 23, 2008 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to visualize the amount of oil the world has consumed since 1900 and, just for fun, how much there is left ...using bodies of water as a reference.

What would billions and billions and billions of gallons of oil look like? Lake Michigan? Lake Okeechobee? Does the planet use an Olympic size pool of oil every second?
posted by punkfloyd to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
how much there is left
This bit is difficult to determine because the answer to it depends upon 'how badly do you want it ?'. As the price goes up the available reserves go up - simply by making it economic to drill in places you wouldn't otherwise have done as well as going back to old fields that are 'dry' at $x/barrel and 'not dry' at $2x/barrel.
posted by southof40 at 5:11 PM on March 23, 2008

It also depends on what you include. As soon as you include oil shale and tar sands (as mentioned, when price rises make those competitive), the total quantity rises quite dramatically.

Right now the world is using oil at a rate of about 85 million barrels per day. Switching to metric (142 liters per barrel), that's 12 billion liters. A trillion liters make a cubic kilometer, so that's .012 cubic kilometer. In a year (365.24 days) that's 4.4 cubic kilometers.

Volume of Lake Michigan: 4900 cubic kilometers
Volume of Crater Lake: 18.7 cubic kilometers

The Athabasca tar sands (in Alberta) represent a reserve of approximately 1.7 trillion barrels of oil, of which about 10% is recoverable with current technology. 1.7 trillion barrels is about 240 cubic kilometers.

The US has oil shale reserves equivalent to about 3 trillion barrels of recoverable oil, or 426 cubic kilometers.
posted by Class Goat at 5:43 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's also liquifaction of coal. The US reserves of coal, if converted to oil using something like the Kerrick process, would yield about 4.7 trillion barrels of oil, or 663 cubic kilometers. (But that's an inefficient way to use coal. A lot of the energy is wasted.)
posted by Class Goat at 5:59 PM on March 23, 2008

Class Goat, do you mean the world has oil shale reserves equivalent to about 3 trillion barrels of oil? That's what I'm seeing on wikipedia.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 6:01 PM on March 23, 2008

You're correct; I read that statistic wrong.
posted by Class Goat at 6:07 PM on March 23, 2008

All opec countries (probably all oil producing countries) lie about how much oil they have... And it's impossible to verify. So your estimate will vary wildly. The historical information will be a lot more accurate.

P.s. - Lake Michigan is deeeeep (like 600-700 feet), so it holds a shit ton of water.
posted by zpousman at 6:39 PM on March 23, 2008

By the same token, Lake Okeechobee is a puddle, average depth of only 3 meters. Though it covers an area of 1890 square kilometers, it's only a volume of 5.7 cubic kilometers, about a third of Crater Lake.
posted by Class Goat at 7:38 PM on March 23, 2008

I know that we've only had a fifty year supply of oil for the past sixty years. Funny how that number has remained so constant that I heard again just a few weeks ago.
posted by trinity8-director at 10:20 PM on March 23, 2008

Best answer: All opec countries (probably all oil producing countries) lie about how much oil they have - zpousmam

True. OPEC quotas are set on estimated reserves - how much you can sell is governed by how much you claim to have.

Oddly, however, how much influence you have within OPEC is governed by how much the other members think you have. Saudi Arabia has an enormous amount of influence in OPEC , and the world in general, because of the vast reserves it claims to have. The precise level of Saudi reserves are a state secret though.

The above is just meant to suggest that something for something like oil you are never really going to know how much there really is - political considerations will always get in the way.

Geologically, there is as much as you want - if you are willing to pay for it. From my personal perspective, as someone involved in the off and onshore drilling industry for 18 years, it's getting harder - not $100+ a barrel harder though.

The amount available is finite and most of the easy stuff has been found and exploited.

What is left is either technically difficult to get at, in politically and economically nice areas (USA, Europe, most of the Far East), or easy to get at in places where a 30 year plus investment is hard to justify - taxes, bribes, revolutions and above all poor social infrastructure make pouring in a few billion dollars hard to do.

Much of the above was really in response to trinity8-director rather than the original poster

So, if you want to visualise the amount of oil left in the world you should think of the largest mountain range you have ever seen - imagine it made of a hard sponge and that the holes in that sponge are filled with oil. Turn that range upside down and bury it.

Then dot copies of the thing all over the earth, at varying depths and in subterranean places of greater or easier access to thin drilled holes.

Expect to get a small lake a day out of it if you can get to it and you are lucky. Expect to get a swimming pool a day if you aren't.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:51 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

« Older I'd like to learn about electronics!   |   Bar Classes? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.