- 1.5 > The world’s 10 largest oil consumers: the United States is by far the largest user of oil. 1.6 > The US is also the world’s largest consumer of natural gas. As with oil, the 10 largest users account for a good 60 per cent of global consumption.
- However, global natural gas consumption increased by 2 per cent over the same period due to strong demand in Asia and the emerging economies. In China, for example, natural gas consumption increased by 20 per cent, while Japan’s gas imports soared by 19 per cent after the 2011 Fuku-shima Daiichi nuclear disaster. As an island nation, Japan relies heavily on liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports which are brought in by sea. As this is more expensive than transporting gas by pipeline, gas prices in Japan are relatively high. The US was the world’s largest consumer of natural gas in 2011, followed by the Russian Federation and Iran. Iran’s high consumption is due firstly to the strong demand for gas to heat buildings during the country’s cold winters and secondly to the use of gas injection to improve oil recovery in situations of declining pressure in oil wells. China is the world’s fourth-largest consumer of natural gas, with Japan in fifth place.
Conventional or unconventional? Experts differentiate between conventional and unconventional reserves and resources. Conventional deposits can be devel-oped and exploited using existing technology, whereas unconventional reserves and resources are recoverable only with new, sophisticated and therefore expensive technologies. The shale gas deposits in the US are an example of an unconventional resource.
How long will stocks last?How long will stocks of fossil fuels last? There has been much debate about this question in recent decades. Despite fears that oil in particular could become scarce, this situation has not yet arisen. At present, sufficient oil is still available worldwide to cover growing demand: thanks to more sophisticated technologies, many new on- and offshore oil fields are being discovered and offshore fields can be exploited at ever greater depth. New extraction techniques also allow more oil to be pumped out of the deposits than before. In some cases, disused wells are being reopened in order to extract the remain-ing oil which could not be recovered in the past. In order to determine the future supply situation, scientists and the oil industry are attempting to predict energy demand trends over the coming decades with the aid of energy scenarios, such as those regularly published by the IEA. The findings are then compared with current estimates of reserves and resources.
- 1.9 > LNG carriers are tanker ships specifically designed for transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). Their characteristic spherical tanks make them instantly identifiable, even at a distance.
Still enough oilThe remaining proven crude oil reserves and resources in 2011 totalled around 585 billion tonnes. Unconven-tional oil accounted for 258 billion tonnes of this total. However, the global distribution of oil fields is extremely uneven. Almost 50 per cent of oil reserves and resources are accounted for by the OPEC states such as Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, whereas only around 20 per cent are accounted for by the Australasia, Africa and Europe regions. Given the scale of the current oil reserves and resources, it is clear that from a geological perspective, sufficient oil will be available worldwide over the coming years to accommodate a moderate rise in consumption. But will it always be possible to provide sufficient quantities of this energy carrier when it is need-ed in future? That cannot be predicted with certainty. To date, however, it has been possible to calibrate oil production so that there is always enough to meet demand. Nonetheless, some critics have predicted a scenario known as “peak oil”. This refers to the point in time when the world’s annual oil production reaches an all-time high – a historic peak – and then starts to decline. But with new oil fields constantly being discovered and extraction technologies becoming ever more sophisticated, output has in fact steadily increased worldwide.
- 1.10 > The global distribution of oil reserves and resources is uneven. The most important region is the Middle East with the Arabian Peninsula. In 2011, global oil consumption reached around four billion tonnes, compared with around 585 billion tonnes of oil reserves and resources. Cumulative production is the sum of all oil that has already been produced by a specific date in a given region.
- Some experts are now predicting a “peak plateau” over the coming years: this means that oil production will be sustained at a high level over a longer period of time. However, oil prices will continue to rise, as oil production will increasingly rely on unconventional deposits whose exploitation requires significant technical effort. They include oil sands, which are being exploited on a large scale in Canada, and shale oil, which is trapped in almost impermeable layers of rock and whose extraction therefore also requires major technical effort. Offshore oil production at ever greater depths will also drive up oil prices. Experts predict that by 2015, as much as 12 per cent of oil will be extracted in deep-water projects at a depth greater than 200 metres, compared with only 2 per cent in 2001. So it is hard to predict, at this stage, exactly when global oil production will start to decline or when oil will indeed become a scarce resource. If all the various oil resources are consistently exploited, this point is unlikely to be reached before 2035. Nonetheless, some countries have already experienced peak oil in their own industries. One example is the United Kingdom: oil production in the UK peaked in 1999. >