News & Ideas


What's 1.67 Trillion Divided By 53?

ACE's Ron Lamberty outlines some very large numbers from BP's Statistical Review of World Energy. The number 53, in particular, caught his attention because it's the number of years the oil on planet earth will last.

We work in an industry that is measured in some very large numbers. Sometimes numbers in the billions, millions, trillions or quadrillions just meld together as we hear them or read them so that it’s difficult to put them in perspective and compare them to something familiar. Carl Sagan, the “billions and billions” guy  some of us remember, created one of the most famous solutions to this large-number challenge when he created a timeline that showed the history of planet earth as if it were one year. Most of what we know of human history happened in the final 60 seconds of Dec. 31, with Columbus discovering America one second before midnight.

I don’t have a chart like that to explain the state of the world’s energy. But there have been some large energy numbers reported in the last month and I found them, and the reaction to them, fascinating.

Last month, BP released its Statistical Review of World Energy, which is widely regarded as the oil industry’s definitive report on how much oil and gas is out there, who has it, and how long it will last. Most news reports about the oil side of the study touted the fact that BP’s estimate of proven reserves (Huh? Is it estimated or proven?) increased from 1.65 trillion barrels of oil to 1.67 trillion barrels.

That’s a lot. One trillion, 670 billion (rounded up) is a big number. The actual BP number looks like this: 1,669,000,000,000. If you convert that to gallons, it’s 70,980,000,000,000 gallons. That’s huge, right? BP’s report also increased United States’ proven reserves from 31 billion barrels to 35 billion barrels. That’s 35,000,000,000 barrels, 1,470,000,000,000 gallons or one and a half trillion gallons of oil. 

Even if you take that oil and figure out how much gas you could make for cars, it’s a big number. Utilizing 700 billion gallons of gas in the U.S., 32.5 trillion gallons of gas could be produced from the worldwide proven oil reserves.

Now, when you divide the 1.67 trillion barrels of oil among the 7 billion (7,180,000,000) inhabitants of the planet, you come up with 232 barrels of oil per person. You could make that into 4,500 gallons of gas and more than 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  And those numbers are probably low, because a lot of the people on the planet use no fossil oil at all. But think about how much gas you use. How many years would it take you to burn up 4,500 gallons?

Most responses to the article, and especially the comments below, fell into the category of “See, they’re lying. We have PLENTY of oil out there, and they’re probably underestimating that.” Ironically, the brave, “so what” comments came from Americans, who may not have realized that the 35 billion barrels we have, is roughly what we would use in five years. A commenter on one online story about the report said that there were probably 75 billion more barrels in the U.S. that we could recover. He didn’t mention cost, but I suspect those additional gallons would require the same kind of shift in recovery cost that moved us from $20 a barrel to $120 in the past 15 years. And if it’s there, it would bring the U.S. up to a total of 15 years of oil reserves. 

But then there one other number in the report that got most of my attention: 53. The report says we have enough oil left on planet Earth to last 53.3 years. That number stood out because I just celebrated my 53rd birthday. If my dad and the rest of the world had seen a report like this BP report on the day I was born, and did nothing, we would be out of oil by now. 

Fifty-three years does not feel like a long time to me. I plan to use my next 53 years to help all of you render that oil number irrelevant.

 


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