Petroleum facts for kids
Petroleum, (from Greek πέτρα - rock and έλαιο - oil) also called crude oil, is a thick and black liquid. It is a natural material mainly made of hydrocarbons. Most petroleum is found by drilling down through rocks on land or off-shore on the continental shelf. Major producers are in the Middle East, the Americas, and Russia. It is the most important world fuel source. It supplies 38% of the world's energy and is also used to make petrochemicals.
Crude oil is a mixture of many different chemicals, mostly hydrocarbons, most of which burn well. It is separated into simpler, more useful mixtures by fractional distillation in oil refineries to give separate chemicals such as gasoline (or petrol) for cars, kerosene for airplanes and bitumen for roads. The bitumen gives crude oil its dark black colour; most of the other chemicals in crude are slightly yellow or colourless.
Petroleum can be easily transported by pipeline. Treated petroleum can be used as fuels; mainly gasoline (petrol) for cars, diesel fuel for diesel engines used in trucks, trains and ships, kerosene fuel for jets and as lubricants.
- artificial rubber
- food additives
- textile fiber
Petroleum exploitation has significant negative environmental and social consequences. Most significantly, extraction, refining and burning of petroleum fuels all release large quantities of greenhouse gases, so petroleum is one of the major contributors to climate change. Furthermore, parts of the petroleum industry actively suppressed science and policy that aimed to prevent the climate crisis. Other negative environmental effects include the environmental impacts of exploration and exploitation of petroleum reserves, such as oil spills, and air and water pollution at the sites of utilization. All of these environmental impacts have direct health consequences for humans. Additionally, oil has also been a source of conflict leading to both state-led-wars and other kinds of conflicts (for example, oil revenue funded the Islamic State). Production of petroleum is expected to reach peak oil before 2035 as global economies lower dependencies on petroleum as part of climate change mitigation and a transition towards renewable energy and electrification. This is expected to have significant economic impacts that stakeholders argue need to be anticipated by a just transition and addressing the stranded assets of the petroleum industry.
The word petroleum comes from Medieval Latin petroleum (literally 'rock oil'), which comes from Latin petra 'rock' (from Greek pétra πέτρα) and oleum 'oil' (from Greek élaion ἔλαιον).
The term was used in the treatise De Natura Fossilium, published in 1546 by the German mineralogist Georg Bauer, also known as Georgius Agricola. In the 19th century, the term petroleum was often used to refer to mineral oils produced by distillation from mined organic solids such as cannel coal (and later oil shale) and refined oils produced from them; in the United Kingdom, storage (and later transport) of these oils were regulated by a series of Petroleum Acts, from the Petroleum Act 1863 onwards.
Petroleum, in one form or another, has been used since ancient times, and is now important across society, including in economy, politics and technology. The rise in importance was due to the invention of the internal combustion engine, the rise in commercial aviation, and the importance of petroleum to industrial organic chemistry, particularly the synthesis of plastics, fertilisers, solvents, adhesives and pesticides.
More than 4000 years ago, according to Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, asphalt was used in the construction of the walls and towers of Babylon; there were oil pits near Ardericca (near Babylon), and a pitch spring on Zacynthus. Great quantities of it were found on the banks of the river Issus, one of the tributaries of the Euphrates. Ancient Persian tablets indicate the medicinal and lighting uses of petroleum in the upper levels of their society.
The use of petroleum in ancient China dates back to more than 2000 years ago. The I Ching, one of the earliest Chinese writings, cites that oil in its raw state, without refining, was first discovered, extracted, and used in China in the first century BCE. In addition, the Chinese were the first to record the use of petroleum as fuel as early as the fourth century BCE. By 347 CE, oil was produced from bamboo-drilled wells in China.
Crude oil was often distilled by Persian chemists, with clear descriptions given in Arabic handbooks such as those of Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi (Rhazes). The streets of Baghdad were paved with tar, derived from petroleum that became accessible from natural fields in the region. In the 9th century, oil fields were exploited in the area around modern Baku, Azerbaijan. These fields were described by the Arab geographer Abu al-Hasan 'Alī al-Mas'ūdī in the 10th century, and by Marco Polo in the 13th century, who described the output of those wells as hundreds of shiploads. Arab and Persian chemists also distilled crude oil in order to produce flammable products for military purposes. Through Islamic Spain, distillation became available in Western Europe by the 12th century. It has also been present in Romania since the 13th century, being recorded as păcură.
Sophisticated oil pits, 4.5 to 6 metres (15 to 20 ft) deep, were dug by the Seneca People and other Iroquois in Western Pennsylvania as early as 1415–1450. The French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm encountered Seneca using petroleum for ceremonial fires and as a healing lotion during a visit to Fort Duquesne in 1750.
Early British explorers to Myanmar documented a flourishing oil extraction industry based in Yenangyaung that, in 1795, had hundreds of hand-dug wells under production.
Pechelbronn (Pitch fountain) is said to be the first European site where petroleum has been explored and used. The still active Erdpechquelle, a spring where petroleum appears mixed with water has been used since 1498, notably for medical purposes. Oil sands have been mined since the 18th century.
In Wietze in lower Saxony, natural asphalt/bitumen has been explored since the 18th century. Both in Pechelbronn as in Wietze, the coal industry dominated the petroleum technologies.
Chemist James Young noticed a natural petroleum seepage in the Riddings colliery at Alfreton, Derbyshire from which he distilled a light thin oil suitable for use as lamp oil, at the same time obtaining a more viscous oil suitable for lubricating machinery. In 1848, Young set up a small business refining the crude oil.
Young eventually succeeded, by distilling cannel coal at a low heat, in creating a fluid resembling petroleum, which when treated in the same way as the seep oil gave similar products. Young found that by slow distillation he could obtain a number of useful liquids from it, one of which he named "paraffine oil" because at low temperatures it congealed into a substance resembling paraffin wax.
The production of these oils and solid paraffin wax from coal formed the subject of his patent dated 17 October 1850. In 1850 Young & Meldrum and Edward William Binney entered into partnership under the title of E.W. Binney & Co. at Bathgate in West Lothian and E. Meldrum & Co. at Glasgow; their works at Bathgate were completed in 1851 and became the first truly commercial oil-works in the world with the first modern oil refinery.
The world's first oil refinery was built in 1856 by Ignacy Łukasiewicz. His achievements also included the discovery of how to distill kerosene from seep oil, the invention of the modern kerosene lamp (1853), the introduction of the first modern street lamp in Europe (1853), and the construction of the world's first modern oil well (1854).
The demand for petroleum as a fuel for lighting in North America and around the world quickly grew. Edwin Drake's 1859 well near Titusville, Pennsylvania, is popularly considered the first modern well. Already 1858 Georg Christian Konrad Hunäus had found a significant amount of petroleum while drilling for lignite 1858 in Wietze, Germany. Wietze later provided about 80% of the German consumption in the Wilhelminian Era. The production stopped in 1963, but Wietze has hosted a Petroleum Museum since 1970.
Drake's well is probably singled out because it was drilled, not dug; because it used a steam engine; because there was a company associated with it; and because it touched off a major boom. However, there was considerable activity before Drake in various parts of the world in the mid-19th century. A group directed by Major Alexeyev of the Bakinskii Corps of Mining Engineers hand-drilled a well in the Baku region of Bibi-Heybat in 1846. There were engine-drilled wells in West Virginia in the same year as Drake's well. An early commercial well was hand dug in Poland in 1853, and another in nearby Romania in 1857. At around the same time the world's first, small, oil refinery was opened at Jasło in Poland, with a larger one opened at Ploiești in Romania shortly after. Romania is the first country in the world to have had its annual crude oil output officially recorded in international statistics: 275 tonnes for 1857.
The first commercial oil well in Canada became operational in 1858 at Oil Springs, Ontario (then Canada West). Businessman James Miller Williams dug several wells between 1855 and 1858 before discovering a rich reserve of oil four metres below ground. Williams extracted 1.5 million litres of crude oil by 1860, refining much of it into kerosene lamp oil. Williams's well became commercially viable a year before Drake's Pennsylvania operation and could be argued to be the first commercial oil well in North America. The discovery at Oil Springs touched off an oil boom which brought hundreds of speculators and workers to the area. Advances in drilling continued into 1862 when local driller Shaw reached a depth of 62 metres using the spring-pole drilling method. On January 16, 1862, after an explosion of natural gas, Canada's first oil gusher came into production, shooting into the air at a recorded rate of 480 cubic metres (3,000 bbl) per day. By the end of the 19th century the Russian Empire, particularly the Branobel company in Azerbaijan, had taken the lead in production.
Access to oil was and still is a major factor in several military conflicts of the twentieth century, including World War II, during which oil facilities were a major strategic asset and were extensively bombed. The German invasion of the Soviet Union included the goal to capture the Baku oilfields, as it would provide much needed oil-supplies for the German military which was suffering from blockades. Oil exploration in North America during the early 20th century later led to the US's becoming the leading producer by mid-century. As petroleum production in the US peaked during the 1960s, however, the United States was surpassed by Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.
In 1973, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations imposed an oil embargo against the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and other Western nations which supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. The embargo caused an oil crisis. This was followed by the 1979 oil crisis, which was caused by a drop in oil production in the wake of the Iranian Revolution and caused oil prices to more than double. The two oil price shocks had many short- and long-term effects on global politics and the global economy. In particular, they led to sustained reductions in demand as a result of substitution to other fuels (especially coal and nuclear) and improvements in energy efficiency, facilitated by government policies. High oil prices also induced investment in oil production by non-OPEC countries, including Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, the North Sea offshore fields of the United Kingdom and Norway, the Cantarell offshore field of Mexico, and oil sands in Canada.
Today, about 90 percent of vehicular fuel needs are met by oil. Petroleum also makes up 40 percent of total energy consumption in the United States, but is responsible for only 1 percent of electricity generation. Petroleum's worth as a portable, dense energy source powering the vast majority of vehicles and as the base of many industrial chemicals makes it one of the world's most important commodities.
The top three oil producing countries are Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States. In 2018, due in part to developments in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the United States became the world's largest producer. About 80 percent of the world's readily accessible reserves are located in the Middle East, with 62.5 percent coming from the Arab 5: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait. A large portion of the world's total oil exists as unconventional sources, such as bitumen in Athabasca oil sands and extra heavy oil in the Orinoco Belt. While significant volumes of oil are extracted from oil sands, particularly in Canada, logistical and technical hurdles remain, as oil extraction requires large amounts of heat and water, making its net energy content quite low relative to conventional crude oil. Thus, Canada's oil sands are not expected to provide more than a few million barrels per day in the foreseeable future.
Petroleum includes not only crude oil, but all liquid, gaseous and solid hydrocarbons. Under surface pressure and temperature conditions, lighter hydrocarbons methane, ethane, propane and butane exist as gases, while pentane and heavier hydrocarbons are in the form of liquids or solids. However, in an underground oil reservoir the proportions of gas, liquid, and solid depend on subsurface conditions and on the phase diagram of the petroleum mixture.
An oil well produces predominantly crude oil, with some natural gas dissolved in it. Because the pressure is lower at the surface than underground, some of the gas will come out of solution and be recovered (or burned) as associated gas or solution gas. A gas well produces predominantly natural gas. However, because the underground temperature is higher than at the surface, the gas may contain heavier hydrocarbons such as pentane, hexane, and heptane in the gaseous state. At surface conditions these will condense out of the gas to form "natural-gas condensate", often shortened to condensate. Condensate resembles gasoline in appearance and is similar in composition to some volatile light crude oils.
The proportion of light hydrocarbons in the petroleum mixture varies greatly among different oil fields, ranging from as much as 97 percent by weight in the lighter oils to as little as 50 percent in the heavier oils and bitumens.
The hydrocarbons in crude oil are mostly alkanes, cycloalkanes and various aromatic hydrocarbons, while the other organic compounds contain nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur, and trace amounts of metals such as iron, nickel, copper and vanadium. Many oil reservoirs contain live bacteria. The exact molecular composition of crude oil varies widely from formation to formation but the proportion of chemical elements varies over fairly narrow limits as follows:
|Carbon||83 to 85%|
|Hydrogen||10 to 14%|
|Nitrogen||0.1 to 2%|
|Oxygen||0.05 to 1.5%|
|Sulfur||0.05 to 6.0%|
Four different types of hydrocarbon molecules appear in crude oil. The relative percentage of each varies from oil to oil, determining the properties of each oil.
|Alkanes (paraffins)||30%||15 to 60%|
|Naphthenes||49%||30 to 60%|
|Aromatics||15%||3 to 30%|
Crude oil varies greatly in appearance depending on its composition. It is usually black or dark brown (although it may be yellowish, reddish, or even greenish). In the reservoir it is usually found in association with natural gas, which being lighter forms a "gas cap" over the petroleum, and saline water which, being heavier than most forms of crude oil, generally sinks beneath it. Crude oil may also be found in a semi-solid form mixed with sand and water, as in the Athabasca oil sands in Canada, where it is usually referred to as crude bitumen. In Canada, bitumen is considered a sticky, black, tar-like form of crude oil which is so thick and heavy that it must be heated or diluted before it will flow. Venezuela also has large amounts of oil in the Orinoco oil sands, although the hydrocarbons trapped in them are more fluid than in Canada and are usually called extra heavy oil. These oil sands resources are called unconventional oil to distinguish them from oil which can be extracted using traditional oil well methods. Between them, Canada and Venezuela contain an estimated 3.6 trillion barrels (570×109 m3) of bitumen and extra-heavy oil, about twice the volume of the world's reserves of conventional oil.
Petroleum is used mostly, by volume, for refining into fuel oil and gasoline, both important "primary energy" sources. 84 percent by volume of the hydrocarbons present in petroleum is converted into energy-rich fuels (petroleum-based fuels), including gasoline, diesel, jet, heating, and other fuel oils, and liquefied petroleum gas. The lighter grades of crude oil produce the best yields of these products, but as the world's reserves of light and medium oil are depleted, oil refineries are increasingly having to process heavy oil and bitumen, and use more complex and expensive methods to produce the products required. Because heavier crude oils have too much carbon and not enough hydrogen, these processes generally involve removing carbon from or adding hydrogen to the molecules, and using fluid catalytic cracking to convert the longer, more complex molecules in the oil to the shorter, simpler ones in the fuels.
Due to its high energy density, easy transportability and relative abundance, oil has become the world's most important source of energy since the mid-1950s. Petroleum is also the raw material for many chemical products, including pharmaceuticals, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, and plastics; the 16 percent not used for energy production is converted into these other materials. Petroleum is found in porous rock formations in the upper strata of some areas of the Earth's crust. There is also petroleum in oil sands (tar sands). Known oil reserves are typically estimated at around 190 km3 (1.2 trillion (short scale) barrels) without oil sands, or 595 km3 (3.74 trillion barrels) with oil sands. Consumption is currently around 84 million barrels (13.4×106 m3) per day, or 4.9 km3 per year, yielding a remaining oil supply of only about 120 years, if current demand remains static. More recent studies, however, put the number at around 50 years.
Three conditions must be present for oil reservoirs to form:
- a source rock rich in hydrocarbon material buried deeply enough for subterranean heat to cook it into oil,
- a porous and permeable reservoir rock where it can accumulate,
- a caprock (seal) or other mechanism to prevent the oil from escaping to the surface. Within these reservoirs, fluids will typically organize themselves like a three-layer cake with a layer of water below the oil layer and a layer of gas above it, although the different layers vary in size between reservoirs. Because most hydrocarbons are less dense than rock or water, they often migrate upward through adjacent rock layers until either reaching the surface or becoming trapped within porous rocks (known as reservoirs) by impermeable rocks above. However, the process is influenced by underground water flows, causing oil to migrate hundreds of kilometres horizontally or even short distances downward before becoming trapped in a reservoir. When hydrocarbons are concentrated in a trap, an oil field forms, from which the liquid can be extracted by drilling and pumping.
The reactions that produce oil and natural gas are often modeled as first order breakdown reactions, where hydrocarbons are broken down to oil and natural gas by a set of parallel reactions, and oil eventually breaks down to natural gas by another set of reactions. The latter set is regularly used in petrochemical plants and oil refineries.
Petroleum has mostly been recovered by oil drilling (natural petroleum springs are rare). Drilling is carried out after studies of structural geology (at the reservoir scale), sedimentary basin analysis, and reservoir characterisation (mainly in terms of the porosity and permeability of geologic reservoir structures). Recent improvements to technologies have also led to exploitation of other unconventional reserves such as oil sands and oil shale. Wells are drilled into oil reservoirs to extract the crude oil. "Natural lift" production methods that rely on the natural reservoir pressure to force the oil to the surface are usually sufficient for a while after reservoirs are first tapped. In some reservoirs, such as in the Middle East, the natural pressure is sufficient over a long time. The natural pressure in most reservoirs, however, eventually dissipates. Then the oil must be extracted using "artificial lift" means. Over time, these "primary" methods become less effective and "secondary" production methods may be used. A common secondary method is "waterflood" or injection of water into the reservoir to increase pressure and force the oil to the drilled shaft or "wellbore." Eventually "tertiary" or "enhanced" oil recovery methods may be used to increase the oil's flow characteristics by injecting steam, carbon dioxide and other gases or chemicals into the reservoir. In the United States, primary production methods account for less than 40 percent of the oil produced on a daily basis, secondary methods account for about half, and tertiary recovery the remaining 10 percent. Extracting oil (or "bitumen") from oil/tar sand and oil shale deposits requires mining the sand or shale and heating it in a vessel or retort, or using "in-situ" methods of injecting heated liquids into the deposit and then pumping the liquid back out saturated with oil.
Unconventional oil reservoirs
Oil-eating bacteria biodegrade oil that has escaped to the surface. Oil sands are reservoirs of partially biodegraded oil still in the process of escaping and being biodegraded, but they contain so much migrating oil that, although most of it has escaped, vast amounts are still present—more than can be found in conventional oil reservoirs. The lighter fractions of the crude oil are destroyed first, resulting in reservoirs containing an extremely heavy form of crude oil, called crude bitumen in Canada, or extra-heavy crude oil in Venezuela. These two countries have the world's largest deposits of oil sands.
On the other hand, oil shales are source rocks that have not been exposed to heat or pressure long enough to convert their trapped hydrocarbons into crude oil. Technically speaking, oil shales are not always shales and do not contain oil, but are fined-grain sedimentary rocks containing an insoluble organic solid called kerogen. The kerogen in the rock can be converted into crude oil using heat and pressure to simulate natural processes. The method has been known for centuries and was patented in 1694 under British Crown Patent No. 330 covering, "A way to extract and make great quantities of pitch, tar, and oil out of a sort of stone." Although oil shales are found in many countries, the United States has the world's largest deposits.
As of 2018[update], about a quarter of annual global greenhouse gas emissions is the carbon dioxide from burning petroleum (plus methane leaks from the industry). Along with the burning of coal, petroleum combustion is the largest contributor to the increase in atmospheric CO2. Atmospheric CO2 has risen over the last 150 years to current levels of over 415 ppmv, from the 180–300 ppmv of the prior 800 thousand years. The rise in Arctic temperature has reduced the minimum Arctic ice pack to 4,320,000 km2 (1,670,000 sq mi), a loss of almost half since satellite measurements started in 1979.
Ocean acidification is the increase in the acidity of the Earth's oceans caused by the uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. This increase in acidity inhibits all marine life—having a greater impact on smaller organisms as well as shelled organisms (see scallops).
Oil extraction is simply the removal of oil from the reservoir (oil pool). Oil is often recovered as a water-in-oil emulsion, and specialty chemicals called demulsifiers are used to separate the oil from water. Oil extraction is costly and often environmentally damaging. Offshore exploration and extraction of oil disturb the surrounding marine environment.
Crude oil and refined fuel spills from tanker ship accidents have damaged natural ecosystems and human livelihoods in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, the Galápagos Islands, France and many other places.
The quantity of oil spilled during accidents has ranged from a few hundred tons to several hundred thousand tons (e.g., Deepwater Horizon oil spill, SS Atlantic Empress, Amoco Cadiz). Smaller spills have already proven to have a great impact on ecosystems, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Oil spills at sea are generally much more damaging than those on land, since they can spread for hundreds of nautical miles in a thin oil slick which can cover beaches with a thin coating of oil. This can kill sea birds, mammals, shellfish and other organisms it coats. Oil spills on land are more readily containable if a makeshift earth dam can be rapidly bulldozed around the spill site before most of the oil escapes, and land animals can avoid the oil more easily.
Control of oil spills is difficult, requires ad hoc methods, and often a large amount of manpower. The dropping of bombs and incendiary devices from aircraft on the SS Torrey Canyon wreck produced poor results; modern techniques would include pumping the oil from the wreck, like in the Prestige oil spill or the Erika oil spill.
Though crude oil is predominantly composed of various hydrocarbons, certain nitrogen heterocyclic compounds, such as pyridine, picoline, and quinoline are reported as contaminants associated with crude oil, as well as facilities processing oil shale or coal, and have also been found at legacy wood treatment sites. These compounds have a very high water solubility, and thus tend to dissolve and move with water. Certain naturally occurring bacteria, such as Micrococcus, Arthrobacter, and Rhodococcus have been shown to degrade these contaminants.
Because petroleum is a naturally occurring substance, its presence in the environment need not be the result of human causes such as accidents and routine activities (seismic exploration, drilling, extraction, refining and combustion). Phenomena such as seeps and tar pits are examples of areas that petroleum affects without man's involvement.
A tarball is a blob of crude oil (not to be confused with tar, which is a man-made product derived from pine trees or refined from petroleum) which has been weathered after floating in the ocean. Tarballs are an aquatic pollutant in most environments, although they can occur naturally, for example in the Santa Barbara Channel of California or in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas. Their concentration and features have been used to assess the extent of oil spills. Their composition can be used to identify their sources of origin, and tarballs themselves may be dispersed over long distances by deep sea currents. They are slowly decomposed by bacteria, including Chromobacterium violaceum, Cladosporium resinae, Bacillus submarinus, Micrococcus varians, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida marina and Saccharomyces estuari.
James S. Robbins has argued that the advent of petroleum-refined kerosene saved some species of great whales from extinction by providing an inexpensive substitute for whale oil, thus eliminating the economic imperative for open-boat whaling, but others say that fossil fuels increased whaling with most whales being killed in the 20th century.
In 2018 road transport used 49% of petroleum, aviation 8%, and uses other than energy 17%. Electric vehicles are the main alternative for road transport and biojet for aviation. Single-use plastics have a high carbon footprint and may pollute the sea, but as of 2022 the best alternatives are unclear.
Control of petroleum production has been a significant driver of international relations during much of the 20th and 21st centuries. Organizations like OPEC have played an outsized role in international politics. Some historians and commentators have called this the "Age of Oil" With the rise of renewable energy and addressing climate change some commentators expect a realignment of international power away from petrostates.
Oil rents are often seen as connected with corruption in political literature. A 2011 study found that oil rents increased corruption in countries with heavy government involvement in the production of oil. The study found "an increase in oil rents significantly increases corruption" and "significantly deteriorates political rights". The researchers noted oil exploitation gave politicians "an incentive to extend civil liberties but reduce political rights in the presence of oil windfalls to evade redistribution and conflict".
Petroleum production is tightly linked with conflict: whether through direct aggression such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq, trade wars such as the 2020 Russia–Saudi Arabia oil price war, or by fueling conflict in regions such as funding Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the Syrian civil war.
Consumption in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been abundantly pushed by automobile sector growth. The 1985–2003 oil glut even fueled the sales of low fuel economy vehicles in OECD countries. The 2008 economic crisis seems to have had some impact on the sales of such vehicles; still, in 2008 oil consumption showed a small increase.
In 2016 Goldman Sachs predicted lower demand for oil due to emerging economies concerns, especially China. The BRICS (Brasil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries might also kick in, as China briefly had the largest automobile market in December 2009. In the long term, uncertainties linger; the OPEC believes that the OECD countries will push low consumption policies at some point in the future; when that happens, it will definitely curb oil sales, and both OPEC and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) kept lowering their 2020 consumption estimates during the past five years. A detailed review of International Energy Agency oil projections have revealed that revisions of world oil production, price and investments have been motivated by a combination of demand and supply factors. All together, Non-OPEC conventional projections have been fairly stable the last 15 years, while downward revisions were mainly allocated to OPEC. Recent upward revisions are primarily a result of US tight oil.
Production will also face an increasingly complex situation; while OPEC countries still have large reserves at low production prices, newly found reservoirs often lead to higher prices; offshore giants such as Tupi, Guara and Tiber demand high investments and ever-increasing technological abilities. Subsalt reservoirs such as Tupi were unknown in the twentieth century, mainly because the industry was unable to probe them. Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) techniques (example: DaQing, China) will continue to play a major role in increasing the world's recoverable oil.
The expected availability of petroleum resources has always been around 35 years or even less since the start of the modern exploration. The oil constant, an insider pun in the German industry, refers to that effect.
A growing number of divestment campaigns from major funds pushed by newer generations who question the sustainability of petroleum may hinder the financing of future oil prospection and production.
Peak oil is a term applied to the projection that future petroleum production (whether for individual oil wells, entire oil fields, whole countries, or worldwide production) will eventually peak and then decline at a similar rate to the rate of increase before the peak as these reserves are exhausted. The peak of oil discoveries was in 1965, and oil production per year has surpassed oil discoveries every year since 1980. However, this does not mean that potential oil production has surpassed oil demand.
It is difficult to predict the oil peak in any given region, due to the lack of knowledge and/or transparency in accounting of global oil reserves. Based on available production data, proponents have previously predicted the peak for the world to be in years 1989, 1995, or 1995–2000. Some of these predictions date from before the recession of the early 1980s, and the consequent lowering in global consumption, the effect of which was to delay the date of any peak by several years. Just as the 1971 U.S. peak in oil production was only clearly recognized after the fact, a peak in world production will be difficult to discern until production clearly drops off.
In 2020, according to BP's Energy Outlook 2020, peak oil had been reached, due to the changing energy landscape coupled with the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there has been much focus historically on peak oil supply, focus is increasingly shifting to peak demand as more countries seek to transition to renewable energy. The GeGaLo index of geopolitical gains and losses assesses how the geopolitical position of 156 countries may change if the world fully transitions to renewable energy resources. Former oil exporters are expected to lose power, while the positions of former oil importers and countries rich in renewable energy resources is expected to strengthen.
Images for kids
Octane, a hydrocarbon found in petroleum. Lines represent single bonds; black spheres represent carbon; white spheres represent hydrogen.
Some marker crudes with their sulfur content (horizontal) and API gravity (vertical) and relative production quantity.