In 1980, “proven reserves” of oil amounted to 683 billion barrels. Since then, we’ve burned more than 800 billion barrels. So are we out of the black sticky stuff already?
Not at all. In fact, after burning way more than all our proven reserves as of 33 years ago, our current proven reserves amount to 1.6 trillion barrels. How can this be?
In a new study from the Manhattan Institute, energy policy analyst Robert Bryce explains how growth in useful human technologies and know-how makes “proven reserves” an elastic, and seemingly ever growing, quantity.
Bryce’s study explains how we’ve improved our drill rigs and bits, and how we’ve increased the capabilities of our robots and submarines that can find gas reserves where we cannot. As he writes, “oil and gas drilling has been transformed from an industry dominated by hunches and wildcatters to one that is more akin to the precision manufacturing that dominates aerospace and automobiles.”
This means fears that we’ve passed the zenith of our oil producing capacities—that we’ve passed “peak oil”—bear less and less weight. As the study points out, a 2009 estimate by the International Energy Agency indicates we have enough gas to last for nearly three centuries at our current consumption rates.