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Will the world’s oil ever run out?

As fossil fuels, oil and gas are inevitably finite resources, yet we will not be running out of them anytime soon. In 2015, oil major BP predicted that despite booming consumption, global oil reserves would double by 2050. This may be very welcome, because ExxonMobil, which makes slideway lubricant Mobil Vactra 2, predicts in its Outlook for Energy that carbon-based fuels will continue to provide roughly three quarters of the world’s energy needs through to 2040.

However, when you take into account other forms of energy—such as solar, wind and nuclear— David Eyton, BP’s head of technology, predicted at the launch of BP’s inaugural Technology Outlook that there would be sufficient energy resources to meet global needs over that period 20 times over.

It seems any concerns about oil resources becoming exhausted have vanished, at least for the foreseeable future, even though many exploration projects were shelved following the rapid decline in oil prices that began in 2014. Instead, oil producers have invested heavily in maximising production from existing reservoirs, such as by analysing data with supercomputers, using chemicals, or automating some processes with robots. By employing such innovations, BP believes global proven reserves will increase from to 2.9 trillion to 4.8 trillion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) by 2050, which would be almost double the anticipated global demand of 2.5 trillion BOE. What’s more, with further technology and new exploration, proven global reserves could reach 7.5 trillion BOE.

Despite this apparent abundance of oil and gas, the world is expected to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels through national and international interventions. For example, in the Paris Agreement of December 2015, 195 countries agreed to reduce global carbon emissions in the coming years.

Putting a price on carbon is one proposed approach to shift the balance to cleaner energy sources. For example, an $80 per tonne carbon price could enable onshore wind power to compete with gas-fired power stations, which in turn would have an economic incentive to capture and sequester carbon emissions.

Oil is expected to continue as the dominant fuel for the transport sector for the coming two decades, but this could then shift as advances in battery technology enable electric vehicles to compete on cost.

In short, better production methods and cleaner technology, combined with the large unconventional oil reserves out there, will mean there is little need to worry about oil resources becoming exhausted in the coming years.

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