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Oil as a finite resource


Fossil fuels are finite and nonrenewable. In due course, they will become scarce and costly. Their role in powering modern economies is so vital as to warrant a review of ultimately recoverable reserves and of plausible future consumption patterns. Over the past 50 years, many oil companies, geologists, governments, and private corporations have performed scores of studies of Estimated Ultimately Recoverable (EUR) global oil. Taken together, the great majority of these studies reflect a consensus that EUR oil reserves lie within the range of 1800 to 2200 billion barrels. Given this range, a simple model is used to calculate that world oil production is likely to peak sometime between 2007 and 2019. The global transportation sector, almost totally dependent on oil, could be especially hard hit unless vehicles fueled by sources other than petroleum are developed and rapidly deployed.

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Correspondence to James J. MacKenzie.

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This paper is based in part on a World Resources Institute report by the author entitled “Oil as a finite resource when is global production likely to peak?” The full report is available from WRI’s web site (, or from WRI directly: WRI, 1709 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20006.

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MacKenzie, J.J. Oil as a finite resource. Nat Resour Res 7, 97–100 (1998).

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Key Words

  • Oil
  • finite resource
  • ultimately recoverable crude oil
  • future crude oil production