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oil wellAlthough today "big oil" is responsible for most of the world's energy resources, its history is a relatively short one.

Up until modern times, petroleum oil was used only occasionally - including the 8th century when petroleum was used to create tar, which was used to pave the streets of ancient Baghdad.

It wasn't until the rise of the 19th century industrial revolution, however, when demand increased and the mass production of refined oil for energy generation really began. Today, that industry powers most of the world, and funds the economies of entire nations. Little wonder, then, that oil is often referred to as "black gold."

Oil, however, is a finite resource and in time will surely run out. Studies of the potential lifespan of the world's oil reserves predict that they will effectively be depleted in just over 40 years, sometime around the halfway mark of the 21st century.

Big Oil vs the environment

Add to that the current controversy over global warming that hinges on worldwide use of oil, coal and natural gas. which releases heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The widespread use of these fossil fuels, scientists say, is a major reason for higher temperatures currently being recorded around the world including longer heat waves, droughts, and worsening wildfires.

As reserves dwindle, there are of course ways to artificially produce oil, the end product of which is typically referred to as biodiesel. It is very unlikely, however, that artificially produced biofuels will ever fully replace the world's oil consumption needs. Instead, it is inevitable that some form of alternative energy will have to be found to replace the energy needs of a rapidly growing industrialized world.

As sources of land oil drilling become more scarce, oil companies are more often looking to tap into hidden reserves in the world's oceans. The hazardous practice has gained worldwide attention recently as the Deep Horizon oil spoil effectively puts in jeopardy fishing and the tourism economy throughout the Gulf coast which is now experiencing the worst oil spill in US history.

Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
The Deep Horizon oil spill in the
Gulf of Mexico as seen from
space on May 24, 2010.

Oil alternatives

There is another wrinkle in the dwindling supply of oil, and that is the concept of "peak oil." Oil supplies will run out a long time from now, but as we get to that point, the world's capacity of oil production will fall gradually.

Once we reach the peak of production, which is predicted to happen sometime before the year 2020, the amount of oil being produced and refined will begin to fall, while the global demand for energy will continue to rise.

What this means is that a viable replacement for oil must be found much sooner than many people anticipate. The world does not have a long time to find another, more sustainable source of energy that will fill the energy needs of the global population after oil supplies have begun to decline in the not-too-distant future.


More oil energy information & opinion around the Web:


Petroleum industry - Wikipedia - The grand sweep of information including its history, current production and distribution, environmental impact and predictions on future shortages, with related resources and references.

Energy 2050 - Insights from the ground up - McKinsey report on the future of oil and gas with predictions on growth and demand, plus related studies on renewable energy.

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