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2,780 reasons why coal isn’t finished quite yet

When oilmen joke about the view of some that the world is running out of fossil fuels, they sometimes note that the Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stones. A lack of fossil fuels might similarly not be the biggest worry facing the modern world, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. The IEA’s latest estimates say the world has 189 years of oil remaining at current consumption rates, 241 years of natural gas and (have a seat) 2,780 years of coal.

Stone Age lesson International Energy Agency

These are notional numbers in the sense that the economics, politics and technology have to be right to extract all of it, which is a huge caveat. Environmental politics in particular could cut consumption short substantially before anywhere near all of it runs out.

A second big takeaway from the report is detail on a growing perception that the US could double back and become a new economic challenge to China’s larger presence. The report says that natural gas prices will continue to be far lower in the US than in China or Europe, a result of the shale gas boom.

But the IEA also says that, by 2035, US oil imports will drop to one-third of its total consumption, down from about half today—dropping to 3.4 million barrels a day from 9.5 million barrels a day in 2011. Much or all those imports come from Canada and Mexico.

Among the impacts will be to punch a hole in the US fossil fuel import bill, which will be $135 billion in 2035, just 37% of the $364 billion tab in 2011. Meanwhile, Europe’s fossil fuel import bill will rise from just over $500 billion in 2011 to just over $600 billion in 2035. China takes the biggest hit of all, according to the IEA. Its fossil fuel imports will almost triple to $700 billion in 2035, up from $234 billion in 2011.

US import cost drops International Energy Agency

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