Oil: In perpetuity no more

Industrial civilisation’s entire economy is based on a finite resource we treat as infinite.

No-one knows exactly how much oil remains in most OPEC countries, with reserves a closely guarded secret (Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera)
Oil touches nearly every single aspect of the lives of those in the industrialised world. Most of our food, clothing, electronics, hygiene products and transportation simply would not exist without this resource.

There is a reason why oil giants such as ExxonMobile, BP, Total and Royal Dutch Shell, year in and year out, generate more profit than most other companies on the planet.

Our current global economy is based on continual growth, and that growth depends on cheap energy.

“Fossil fuels are roughly 84 per cent of what we use, and oil is 35 per cent of the world’s primary consumption energy,” says David Hughes, a geoscientist who studied Canada’s energy resources for nearly four decades.

Given that oil plays such a critical role in the world’s economy, one would deduce it would be important to know how much is left. Otherwise, the world’s stock markets would be exposed to fossil fuels, which would pose a grave risk to investors facing down a so-called carbon bubble, which could potentially dwarf the housing bubble and current debt crisis.

But acquiring accurate figures on the oil reserves of many of the member states of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is currently impossible, as this remains one of their most highly guarded state secrets.

OPEC, which currently has 12 member countries, established a quota system 25 years ago, so that the size of a country’s oil production quota was based on the size of its reserves.

Read the full story at Al Jazeera English.