The Rystad Energy consultancy has just released its new calculations of global oil reserves and estimates that the U.S. may harbor as much 264 billion barrels of oil compared to Saudi Arabia's 212 billion barrels. Overall, world oil reserves exceed 2 trillion barrels. At current production rates, this is enough oil to supply the world for 70 years.
The Rystad analysts compare their estimates with those of the closely watched annual BP Statistical Review that conservatively calculates that the U.S. has 55 billion barrels of proved reserves and that world reserves stand at just under 1.7 trillion barrels.
ExxonMobil's 2016 annual Outlook for Energy report observes:
Technology is not just expanding our daily oil production; it also continues to increase the amount of oil and liquid fuels we can count on for the future.
In 1981, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that remaining global recoverable crude and condensate resources were 1 trillion barrels; today, the IEA estimates that it is 4.5 trillion barrels – enough to meet global oil demand beyond the 21st century. By 2040, the amount of resources yet to be produced will still be far higher than total production prior to 2040, even with a 20 percent rise in global oil demand.
However, the folks at Rystad do note that …
…cumulatively produced oil up to 2015 amounts to 1300 billion barrels. Unconventional oil recovery accounts for 30% of the global recoverable oil reserves while offshore accounts for 33% of the total. The seven major oil companies hold less than 10% of the total. This data confirms that there is a relatively limited amount of recoverable oil left on the planet. With the global car-park possibly doubling from 1 billion to 2 billion cars over the next 30 years, it becomes very clear that oil alone cannot satisfy the growing need for individual transport.
Well, maybe. As I explain in my book The End of Doom:
The the advent of self-driving vehicles could provide a technological end run around such projections of a growing vehicle fleet. Instead of sitting idle for most of every day, as the vast majority of automobiles do now, cars could be rented on demand.
Researchers at the University of Texas, devising a realistic simulation of vehicle use in cities that took into account issues like congestion and rush-hour usage, found that each shared autonomous vehicle could replace eleven conventional vehicles. Notionally then, it would take only about 800 million vehicles to supply all the transportation services for 9 billion people. That figure is 200 million vehicles fewer than the current world fleet of 1 billion automobiles. …
In addition, a shift to fleets of autonomous vehicles makes the clean electrification of transportation much more feasible, since such automobiles could drive themselves off for recharging and cleaning during periods of low demand.
Back in 2000, former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Yamani famously declared, "The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil."
Given technological trends that prediction still sounds right.