When Will Fossil Fuels Run Out And What Will We Do About It?

By August 29, 2018Green Energy
fossil fuel

In a world that is changing and facing technological advancements, one might ask why we are still so dependent on fossil fuels for energy.

Humanity is dependent on fossil fuels, particularly, coal, natural gas, and oil.

But what are fossil fuels exactly and will fossil fuels run out? And if so, are there any viable alternatives?

In this article, we will be expanding on these questions and looking at the future of energy production and where that may take humanity.

gas factory 

What are fossil fuels?


Fossil fuels are an energy source take can take different forms, such as coal, natural gas, and oil.

Fossil fuels have taken millions and millions of years to form through the remains of dead plants and animals.

So all the fossil fuels we use today begun their formation before the time of dinosaurs. All those millions of years ago, the Earth was covered in marsh and swamplands.

The swamp lands were occupied by trees, plants, marine organisms, and lots of other types of microorganisms.

These organisms then sink to the bottom of the swamps once they died and formed a layer called peat.

Over time the layer of peat was covered by layers of sand, clay and other minerals. This turned the peat into sedimentary rock.

The different types of fossil fuels were formed by the different fusions of the organisms present and the conditions they were in.

For example, the length of time they buried and the temperate at which they are kept. This will be a factor in deciding what becomes oil, natural gas, and coal. 

So let’s take a step back for a moment. These organisms have taken millions of years to form into fossil fuels under different conditions. These forms of fuel are what we use for energy.

It is safe to assume that this is why fossil fuels are a limited resource.

We can take it for granted that we won’t be around by the time the next organisms go through the process to create more fossil fuels.

fossil fuel formationImage Source: onlyzerocarbon.org 

When will fossil fuels run out?


In 1956, M King Hubbert published his hypothesis on fossil fuel production which showed a bell curve for the “life cycle” of a fossil fuel.

The lifecycle starts from the moment the fossil fuel had begun extraction to reaching peak extraction.

It then goes on until the resource has depleted. Hubbert was right in predicting that the USA would reach ‘peak oil’ production in 1970.

But he was incorrect in his hypothesis that the world would reach ‘peak oil’ in the year 2000.

There isn’t any clear way of predicting when oil production or any other fossil fuel will run out. So it’s a bit of a guessing game.


3 different fossil fuels and when will they run out


It’s a tricky task pinpointing how long until fossil fuels run out but it can be more or less predicted when this will happen.

There are a few factors that decide how much longer we have till all the fossil fuels will run out.

These factors include how much of each fuel is actually still left in the Earth and how much of these fuels are currently being used up and at what rate.

It also depends on whether other types of natural resources are being used instead of these finite resources.

Let’s take a look at three of these fossil fuels:


Natural Gas


Scientists believe that there are around 6000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas deposits left on the Earth.

These gas deposits would last around 50 years at the current rate of usage. Due to its combustible nature, natural gas can difficult to transport.

It is usually transported through long underground pipelines which run through several countries.




It’s estimated that there are around 800 million barrels worth of oil still left. Around half of that reserve being in the Middle East.

Oil tends to be used at a much faster rate than other fossil fuels due to its role in manufacturing other products, such as plastic.

Oil is definitely becoming a scarce resource and is expecting to run out within the next 30 to 40 years.




Coal reserves are plentiful around the Earth but there is much debate as to how many years of coal is left.

Some argue that there is enough coal to last 50 years whilst others say that there is enough coal to last over 300 years.

The mining of coal also does a considerable amount of damage to the surrounding natural environment.

This happens mostly when it is being mined from the surface as opposed to mining it deep underground.


What will we do when we run out of fossil fuels?


There are already alternatives present to replace fossil fuels, these being renewable types of energy.

Unfortunately, the use of renewable energy is not yet used widespread.

Renewable energy is known as such because it can be continuously used as an energy source without risk of running out.

One of the main reasons why we don’t use these alternative sources of energy us much as fossil fuels are because it is costly to do so in the short run.

Renewable energy, such as solar, hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal are still at a stage where the technology to harness them is being developed.

Thus making it extremely costly and unattractive to an industry looking to make a profit.

It’s far cheaper to use a system that is already in place and has the technology already created.

This is more attractive as opposed to forking out money to create new and expensive technology for cleaner energy.

This is a very shortsighted way of seeing things. As we can see, there is an expiration date on fossil fuels and it might creep up on us unexpectedly.

In the long run, it would be of more value to humanity to invest in renewable energy, like solar energy.

These forms of energy are clean and do little to no harm to the planet and it’s an infinite resource.

We are already seeing solar energy implemented in countries that have plenty of sunlight.

This is done through means of photovoltaic solar panels. The way they work is that they absorb the sun’s rays and convert the particles into energy.

The energy produced can generate electricity and heat water. There will be high costs at first in the advancing of technology for renewable energy.

But in the future, we will reap the benefits of such an investment.

So why wait till fossil fuels run out instead of developing the necessary technology for the future now?

Over the past 50 years, scientists have been working on creating a revolutionary type of energy, known as nuclear energy. Nuclear energy could potentially produce a limitless supply of clean energy.

Nuclear fusion goes through the same process that fuels a star and has little to no impact on the environment.

The major issue with this form of energy is that scientists are still working on creating the technology to harness it.

Scientists would need to heat up hydrogen atoms to around 150 million Degrees Celsius and then they need to maintain that temperature for fusion reactions to continue.

There are nuclear reactors being built, such as ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor).

This reactor is being built in Southern France but will not be ready for quite a number of years to come.




It can be concluded that fossil fuels are a limited resource but that we don’t know for certain when they will run out.

Each type of fossil fuel has a countdown timer till eventually, humanity will be unable to sustain itself on that resource.

So the answer is clear, we must find an alternative, viable options that can take the place of fossil fuels.

Technological advancements are already being made in renewable energy but not yet enough that the Earth can be sustained through them alone.

So more investment and effort must be made on this front to ensure that the world won’t spin in a downward spiral once fossil fuels run out.


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