Global oil reserves are, for practical purposes, limited. We're using them at a rate far exceeding the rate of deposition. At some point, we will have to spend more energy to extract remaining reserves than we get back from burning them (extraction might still be worth it, because plastics and other oil products are really useful).

When is the point at which conventional oil production peaked/will peak?

For the purposes of this question, please only consider conventional oil resources: that is, excluding shale oil, synthetic hydrocarbons, biofuels, oil sands, coal to liquids, and gas to liquids.

  • $\begingroup$ Circa 1996 or so I remember reading an article in the PESGB from someone at BP who said predicted it would occur within 10 years. He also excluded deep water fields from "Conventional oil". My understanding is that was about right - ie. about 10 years ago, although I don't have any references to back this up. $\endgroup$
    – winwaed
    Dec 10, 2014 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ The requirements for what an oil company can put on its book and call it a reserve depends on technology and economics, both of which keep changing with time so in that context peak oil is hard to define. Even in 'conventional' oil fields, most of oil is left behind, but with improvements in technology you can extract more of it. E.g., decades ago you could only extract so much oil (and that amount would have been your reserve), but then with techniques like water flooding, steam injection, detergents etc., more extraction was possible. Also, I see no reason to not include shale oil and sands. $\endgroup$
    – stali
    Dec 10, 2014 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ The answer is that we don't know. E.g., Current (i.e., last few months) US production levels are already close to those in mid-70s. Saudi reserves have been stable since late 80s. In some countries (e.g. Venezuela) reserves have risen. $\endgroup$
    – stali
    Dec 10, 2014 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ I think the International Energy Agency showed data that it was 2005. The problem is all in the definition of oil, but I like the argument used here (resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2014/04/…) that "If what you're selling cannot be sold on the world market as crude oil, then it's not crude oil." $\endgroup$
    – arkaia
    Dec 10, 2014 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @naught101 I think the problem with what you are suggesting is that the definition of "commercially viable" changes all the time. So, as others have noted, do all other figures for "reserves". Still, I'd love to hear about any up to date estimates. $\endgroup$ Dec 11, 2014 at 9:54

1 Answer 1


The answer depends a lot on what you mean by "excluding shale oil". Tight oil production, commonly referred to as "shale oil" is about 4 million barrels per day currently (2014), compare to almost none in 2005.

Canadian oil sands production is at 2 millon barrels per day, compare to about 700,000 per day in 2005.

So compare to 2005, tight oil (shale oil) and oil sands production is up about 5 million barrels per day.

Now look at total world oil production:

enter image description here

From the graph it can been seen that subtracting out the 5 million barrels/day of unconventional production, world production is somewhat below the 2005 level. (Quantitative values were 73.9 M bbl/day in 2005; 76.9 M bbl/day in first 8 months of 2014)

With the expectation that tight oil and oil sands production will increase in share of the production, it is entirely possible that the peak in conventional production has already occurred.


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