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How soon will the planet run out of oil?
How soon will the planet run out of oil?

Compared to the topic of global warming or even a very hypothetical threat of a collision of the Earth with the asteroid Apophis, the peak oil production in Russia is not often discussed. Resting on the laurels of a great energy power, we are much less likely than Westerners to think about the fact that exhaustible resources are depleted for that, in order to dry up someday.

At the same time, "peak oil" is among the most important "horror stories" of our time, and our Russian realities do not give any particular grounds for optimism. Actually, the discussions around the peak of oil production are not about whether it will come someday or not. The question is different - the “pick-oil” has already happened, it will happen just now, or we have a couple of decades left.

Dark visions

Everyone who has read the novel "Burnt" by the German writer Andreas Eshbach, a recognized master of the European technotriller, will remember the dramatic plot of this book. A massive terrorist attack is taking place in Saudi Arabia. Oil terminals in the port, through which the main flow of Saudi oil to the West flows, have been destroyed.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil supplier, and even a small delay immediately affected the global oil situation. The tanks in the port are full, but tankers cannot be loaded. Oil prices are creeping up. Fearing continued political instability that will further delay the shipment of Arabian raw materials, the US government is sending troops to Saudi Arabia to bring the situation under control.

American tanks are fighting their way to the port, and then the military, and at the same time the whole world, is in for an unpleasant surprise. The reservoirs are empty, but the attack turned out to be a spectacle. It's just that the largest Saudi oil field, Ar-Ravar, has dried up and there is nothing to fill the tankers with.

The shocking news was no longer the rise in oil prices, but the complete collapse of modern civilization with its cheap energy, internet and cell phones, transatlantic flights and massive individual vehicles. People had to learn to drive moonshine from the tops in every yard (not for drinking pleasures, but for fuel) and to lift passenger airships into the air.

Sea giants


Drilling platforms are the most impressive structures in the entire oil industry. They are mainly used for offshore oil production, and it is in the offshore fields that most of these structures operate. However, the rise in oil prices and a possible drop in world production are forcing the development of platforms that can take oil from under the seabed from great depths.

Among the drilling platforms there are real giants holding the title of the largest man-made movable structures. There are several types of platforms (see diagram below). Among them are stationary (that is, resting on the bottom), free-standing semi-submerged drilling platforms, mobile platforms with retractable supports.

The record for the depth of the seabed, on which the installation is working, belongs to the Independence Hub (Gulf of Mexico) semi-submersible floating platform. Below it stretches a water column of 2414 m. The total height of the Petronius platform (Gulf of Mexico) is 609 m. Until recently, this structure was the tallest structure in the world.

It is possible to argue how correctly Eshbach described the dull future of mankind, but there is no doubt that the intrigue is by no means far-fetched. The question of what will happen to the industrially developed countries, when electricity and gasoline cannot be obtained as easily as money from the notorious nightstand, has long agitated minds.

There is always room for optimism in life, and, of course, we all hope that active scientific research in the field of alternative energy sources will eventually make it possible to gradually replace diminishing reserves of hydrocarbons. But does humanity have this time?

Oil rigs

Depending on the depth of the seabed in the production area, different platform designs are used: stationary, floating, as well as systems installed on the bottom.

Back in 2010, the founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, a famous scientific and technical visionary, a "hippie capitalist" who actively invests his money in high-tech transport, including space tourism, issued a warning about the impending oil crisis, to which he urged to prepare now, while there is time. He addressed his message primarily to the British government.

Why is the question so urgent? Is there very little oil left in the world? To understand what worries Branson, it is enough to turn again to the plot of the novel "Burnt." According to the scenario proposed by the author, the collapse of the industrial civilization occurs after the depletion of a single, albeit the largest, field in the world. There is still oil in Saudi Arabia, and there are other oil-producing countries - OPEC members, Russia, and the United States. But … the world has gone sharply downhill.

Hands are tired

In Tanzania, among the plains of the Serengeti, a 48-kilometer long ravine with gentle walls carved the land. It bears the name Olduvai, but is also known as the "cradle of humanity". The discoveries made here in the 1930s by British archaeologists Louis and Mary Leakey allowed science to conclude that humanity comes from Africa, and not from Asia, as previously thought.

The most ancient tools of labor related to the Stone Age were also found here. The Olduvai theory is named after the famous gorge, but it has nothing to do with the origin of homo sapiens. Rather, towards its decline.

The term "Olduvai Theory" was coined in 1989 by Richard S. Duncan, an American sociologist with an engineering degree. In his works, he relied on his predecessors - in particular, on the architect Frederick Lee Ackerman (1878-1950), who viewed the development of civilization through the prism of the ratio of human energy expended to the population (he designated this ratio with the Latin letter "e").

From the era of the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia and until about the middle of the 18th century, man created his material wealth mainly with the work of his own hands. Technologies developed, the population grew a little, but the value of the "e" parameter changed very slowly, according to a very flat schedule.

However, as soon as the machines came into play, society began to change rapidly, and the "e" graph went up noticeably. Per capita of the planet's population, mankind began to spend more and more energy (even if individual inhabitants of the planet continued to live on subsistence farming and did not use cars).

The century will end soon …

However, the real revolution happened in the 20th century, with the beginning of modern industrial civilization, the starting point of which many attribute to around 1930. Then conditions appeared for a sharp, exponential growth of the "e" graph. The industrially developed countries began to consume more and more fuel, which was burned in internal combustion engines, then in jet engines, as well as in the furnaces of power plants. And the main fuel was oil and its products.


The scheme of action of the sucker rod pump. The piston in the chamber reciprocates. When the piston moves up, the pressure in the chamber decreases. Under the influence of the pressure difference, the suction valve opens and oil fills the working chamber through the perforation. When the piston moves down, the pressure in the chamber increases. The discharge valve opens and the liquid from the chamber is displaced into the discharge pipeline.

Immediately after World War II, oil production skyrocketed, but this situation could not persist for a long time, and by 1970 a slowdown was evident. The energy crises of the 1970s, with a sharp increase in oil prices and the recession of the early 1980s, at times reduced oil consumption and, along with it, production.

Taking into account the rapid population growth in the same period, the curve of the graph "e" looked something like this: from 1945 to 1979 - exponential growth with a slight slowdown in the last decade, then a period of "plateau" (with slight fluctuations, the graph moved parallel to the horizontal axis).

The essence of the "Olduvai theory" is that finding the chart in the "plateau" mode, when the value of "e" remains more or less constant, cannot last indefinitely. The world's population continues to grow rapidly, with more and more of it shifting from an agrarian to an industrial society.

The more people live in cities, use their own cars, household appliances, public transport, the more energy is required to meet their personal needs. At one not very beautiful moment, the value of the "e" parameter will inevitably begin to fall, and very sharply.

According to the calculations of Richard S. Duncan, the history of modern industrial civilization will ultimately be described by a graph in the form of a hill with almost equal slopes, between which lies a "plateau". The period of rapid growth in energy consumption per capita (1930-1979) will be replaced by an equally, and perhaps even more rapid decline.

Approximately by 2030, the value of "e" will be equal to the value of the same parameter a century ago, which will mark the end of the industrial society. Thus (if the calculations are correct), already during the lifetime of present generations, humanity will make a historical regression and set off in its historical development back to the Stone Age. This is what the Olduvai Gorge has to do with it.


According to the biological theory of the origin of oil, the starting material for it was dying plankton. Over time, organic sediments accumulated, turned into a hydrocarbon mass, more and more layers of bottom sediments covered it. Under the influence of tectonic forces, folds and cavities were formed from the overburden. The resulting oil and gas accumulated in these cavities.

The world eats oil

Supporters of the theory of energy suicide of the current civilization are only wondering when the notorious schedule will break off the "plateau". With the Earth's energy industry still heavily dependent on burning oil, all eyes are on global oil production.

Achieving the peak of oil production, after which an irreversible decline will follow, may become the beginning of the slide of civilization, if not to the Stone Age, then to life without many of the available pleasures enjoyed by the inhabitants of the most developed countries or territories. After all, the dependence of literally all aspects of modern human life on a huge amount of still relatively cheap fossil fuels is difficult to imagine.

For example, making a modern automobile (including energy and petroleum-derived synthetic materials) requires the use of oil twice the mass of the automobile itself. Microchips - the brain of the modern world, its machines and communications - are tiny and almost weightless.

But the production of one gram of an integrated microcircuit requires 630 g of oil. The Internet, which is so energetically burdensome for a single user, "gobbles" on a global scale, the amount of energy, which is 10% of the electricity consumed in the United States. And this is again, to a large extent, oil consumption. A vegetable or fruit grown in the subsistence farming of an African or Indian peasant is a low-energy product, which cannot be said about industrial agricultural technologies.

It is estimated that one calorie of a food eaten by an American consumer comes from burning or refining fossil fuels containing 10 calories. Even the production of equipment for alternative energy, such as solar panels, requires a large energy consumption, which cannot yet be reimbursed by green sources of generation.

Energy, synthetic materials, fertilizers, pharmacology - a trace of oil is visible everywhere, this type of fossil raw material, unique in its energy density and versatility, is used.

Rocking machine

One of the main symbols of the oil industry is the rocking machine. It is used for mechanical drive to oil well sucker rod (plunger) pumps. By design, it is the simplest device that converts reciprocating movements into an air stream.

The sucker rod pump itself is located at the bottom of the well, and energy is transmitted to it through the rods, which have a prefabricated structure. The electric motor rotates the mechanisms of the pumping unit so that the rocker beam of the machine starts to move like a swing and the suspension of the wellhead rod receives reciprocating movements.

That is why there are fears that the shortage of oil will have a multiplying effect and will cause the rapid and global degradation of modern civilization. Just one sensitive impulse is enough - for example, the news of a serious drop in oil production in the same Saudi Arabia. Simply put, there is no need to wait for the world to run out of oil - there will be enough news that from now on it will be less and less and less …

Waiting for the peak

The term peak oil came into use thanks to the American geophysicist King Hubbert, who created a mathematical model of the life cycle of an oil field.

The expression of this model is a graph called the "Hubbert curve". The graph looks like a bell, which implies an exponential increase in production at the initial stage, then a short-term stabilization and, finally, an equally sharp decline in production until the moment when it is necessary to spend energy equivalent to the same barrel to obtain a barrel of oil.

That is, to the point where further exploitation of the field does not make commercial sense. Hubbert tried to apply his method to analyze phenomena of a larger scale - for example, the life cycle of production in entire oil-producing countries. As a result, Hubbert was able to predict the onset of the peak of oil production in the United States in 1971.

Now supporters of the theory of an imminent onset of "peak-oil" around the world operate on the "Hubbert curve" in an attempt to predict the fate of world production. The scientist himself, now deceased, believed that the "peak oil" would be in 2000, but this did not happen.

Dirty alternatives

In view of a possible drop in oil production in the world, both technologies are being developed for a more complete extraction of oil from already developed fields, as well as methods for extracting oil from unconventional sources. Bituminous sandstones can become one of such sources. They are a mixture of sand, clay, water and petroleum bitumen. The main proven reserves of petroleum bitumen are today in the USA, Canada and Venezuela.

While commercial oil extraction from bituminous sandstones is carried out only in Canada, however, according to some forecasts, as early as 2015, world production will exceed 2.7 million barrels per day. From three tons of tar sand, you can get 2 barrels of liquid hydrocarbons, but at the current oil prices, such production is unprofitable. Oil shale is cited as another major source of unconventional oil.

Oil shale is similar in appearance to coal, but has a higher flammability due to the content of the bituminous substance kerogen. The main resources of oil shale - up to 70% - are concentrated in the United States, about 9% are in Russia.From 0.5 to 2 barrels of oil is obtained from a ton of shale, with over 700 kg of waste rock remaining. As with the production of liquid fuels from coal, the production of oil from shale is very energy intensive and extremely environmentally friendly.

At the same time, there is a rather authoritative organization in the world that calls itself the "Association for the Study of Peaks of Oil and Gas" (ASPO). Its representatives consider it their task both to forecast peaks and to disseminate information about possible threats that will bring with them an irreversible drop in the production of the world's most demanded fossil fuels.

The map is partly confused by the fact that data on oil and gas reserves and production in different countries of the world are often of an estimate nature, so that peak oil is easy to overlook. For example, according to some estimates, 2005 could have been a “peak” year.

Fortune-telling on the coffee grounds, which ASPO is engaged in ("maybe there was already a" pick-oil ", and maybe it will be in the coming year …"), sometimes it creates a temptation to classify this organization as a millennial sect that regularly postpone the dates of the offensive the end of the world for a little more.

But there are two considerations that keep you from this temptation. Firstly, the increasing demand for oil, and the growing population, and the decrease in proven reserves are the objective realities of our world. And secondly, since oil is the most serious factor in the existence of civilization, then any technocratic forecasts will necessarily be corrected by the "human factor", well, or more simply, by politics.

Hubbert was not interested in politics - he operated exclusively with geophysical and industrial data. However, the decline in oil consumption in the 1970s and 1980s was caused not by the depletion of resources, but by the actions of the oil cartel and the economic recession.

That is why many believe that Hubbert's 2000 peak has moved in time, but not much, by ten years. On the other hand, the powerful industrial breakthrough of China and India at the beginning of the 21st century made oil prices soar to the seemingly incredible one and a half hundred dollars per barrel today. After the financial crisis dropped prices, oil prices started to rise again.

Russia at the finish line

Ultimately, the global “peak-oil” will be formed from the production peaks passed by the largest oil-producing countries. And it seems that the peak of production in Russia can already be spoken of as a reality. In any case, back in 2018, this was stated by the vice-president of Lukoil, Leonid Fedun, saying that, in his opinion, oil production in the coming years will stabilize at the level of 460-470 million tons per year, and in the future “in the best the case will be a slow decline, in the worst - quite significant."

The leadership of Gazprom spoke in the same spirit. As Boris Soloviev, head of the department for assessing the prospects of oil and gas potential and licensing of the European part of the Russian Federation of VNIGNI, Boris Soloviev, explained in an interview with PM, the main problem that the oil industry faces today is a gradual decline in the productivity of giant oil fields developed back in the Soviet era, despite the fact that again the fields put into operation are not comparable in scale with the same Samotlor.

If the Samotlor field has 2.7 billion tons of explored and recoverable reserves, then one of the most promising for today Vankor field (Krasnoyarsk Territory) has such reserves in the amount of 260 million tons. The exploration of new fields is currently in the hands of large oil companies and is not carried out intensively enough, since, apparently, this is not a priority of their business interests.

On the other hand, a number of potentially interesting areas from the point of view of oil exploration, such as the shelf of the northern seas, at the current oil prices cannot be profitable due to difficult natural conditions.

Oil production

Peak Oil and Its Enemies

The theory of a rapid decline in oil production after peak production has many critics.They believe that the inevitable drop in oil consumption can be offset by other sources of raw materials and energy, smoothly reducing the current global demand for oil from 80-90 megabarrels per day to 40.

After all, there are alternatives to oil, but … all of them tend to be more expensive. The era of cheap hydrocarbons, if it really comes to an end, will make alternative energy projects more competitive. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the extraction of oil from unconventional sources, for example, from oil shale (despite the fact that such production is very energy intensive).

One thing is clear - even if humanity does not make a tragic turn towards the Stone Age, Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev's phrase that burning oil is like burning a stove with banknotes will become closer and understandable for all of us.

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