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When Will Fossil Fuels Run Out?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 20 Oct 2020 | comments*Discuss
Fossil Fuels What Are Fossil Fuels

The three fossil fuels, oil, natural gas and coal, were formed millions of years ago when dead plants and animals were trapped under deposits and became buried underneath land. Compression over time fossilised the remains, creating carbon-rich fuel sources. All fossil fuels are finite - the deposits that exist cannot be replenished when they are used. With further use, all are in danger of running out.

The question of when each one will actually run out, however, is a tricky one. There are many different opinions and calculations and none really agree on the exact timing. Many different factors need to be considered including how much of each deposit is left in the Earth, how fast we are using each fossil fuel at the moment, and how this is likely to change in the future. If we start switching to alternative fuel sources that are renewable rather than non-renewable, the reserves that we have will obvious last longer.

Natural Gas

Some experts believe that current natural gas deposits fill around 6000 trillion cubic feet that could, with the current level of usage, last for about 50 years. This assumes that there are still no new sources of natural gas still to find. The difficulties in transporting natural gas (because of its explosive nature) mean that it tends to be used fairly locally to its source. The gas fields of the North Sea have been a rich resource for the UK but other countries in Europe obtain their supplies through long underground pipelines from Russia, which are hundreds of miles long. As the pipeline runs through several countries, the continuity of the supply can be compromised by political disputes.


The world could still have oil reserves that would fill 800 million barrels, with about half of that in the Middle East. Because we use oil to manufacture many materials, including plastics, we use oil at a much faster rate than either natural gas or coal. People have been expecting oil to run out within the next few years since at least the 1990s. No doubt it is currently getting scarcer, and as a result more expensive, but current estimates suggest we will not actually run out until between 2025 and 2070.


Coal is the fossil fuel with the greatest reserves and coal reserves are spread all over the Earth. It is very labour intensive to recover as it lies deep below the surface, usually around 300 feet below land level and deposits can only be a few centimetres thick.

Most of the coal deposits have not been tapped yet and the decline of the coal mining industry in the UK means that the coal seams still there are currently lying undisturbed. If we carry on using coal at the same rate as we do today, we could have enough coal to last well over a thousand years. However, as other fossil fuels run out, particularly oil, the use of coal may increase, reducing that time span considerably.


Shale gas and oil are natural sources of energy trapped in rocks (formed millions of years ago from decaying plants trapped in clay etc) and are extracted by a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing (or fracking). Why controversial? To extract the gas a well is drilled vertically and then horizontally along the lie of the rock. A high pressure mix of water and sand is pumped through, fracturing the rocks and releasing the gas into the cracks that are opened up. It is then brought back to the surface to be captured/piped. A similar process is used to extract shale oil. It's believed this process affects wildlife, pollutes water and can lead to earth tremors, but there are many studies that show it as a safe energy extraction method (it's already widely done in the US and some other countries) so there is also a strong argument in its favour as a solution to our energy problems here in the UK.

How much recoverable shale gas/oil is there? This seems to be relatively unknown as estimates are constantly changing, here in the UK it's thought that there are more than 5 trillion cubic metres in the North West of England alone.

Global Warming

Governments around the world realise that we are approaching the ultimate crisis in terms of oil supply and there is a global movement to reduce the amount of fossil fuels that we use. If we can find alternative energy sources, it would not matter if oil, gas or coal ran out or not. The issue of global warming and climate change is also an important reason why fossil fuels have really fallen out of favour. Carbon dioxide emissions from burning and using fossil fuels could be contributing to global warming and causing disruption to the weather patterns all over the world.

Alternatives to Fossil Fuels

There are plenty of alternative energy sources that are renewable or in constant supply such as wind power and solar power. Most people are now realising that a massive switch to these types of power source will be required in the future but, it seems to be human nature that the urgency to make this happen will not be great enough until the prospect of running out of fossil fuels is much closer.

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GGGGGGlobal warning is made up by the BIRDS to sell more JESUS/1245789876567!!!!!!!!!!!!
jesus - 19-May-20 @ 12:09 AM
hey, don't worry, if enough people fart into a pipe will have tonnes of methane.
sssss - 29-Apr-19 @ 3:13 PM
I am sure of one thing. Whenever it does happen,it will be an unprecedented event, making almost every historical time of anarchy, chaos, and disorder seem like a great time to live. I'm saying that we need to be honest about this issue.
Wayne - 23-Dec-18 @ 9:31 PM
@morons - you're being rather aggressive in your tone which isn't necessary. I imagine you are one of the people who is in support of fracking and anything else that will strip our beautiful earth of its natural resources. Isn't it better that we find an alternative anyway?
KK - 14-Jun-18 @ 11:21 AM
The whole lot of you are morons. Do you really think that in 50 years, when we supposedly 'run out of oil' that we would not find other oil reserves??? like, how many new oil reserves have been discovered in the past 50 years?? in the 10's of thousands. anyway, it's stupid to think that we would ever run out of the resources that God has provided us on this earth. A question i would like to ask you, in the history of the earth, have we EVER run out of a natural resource? Just do a quick google search and find out for yourself. And stop worrying. Duh!!
morons - 13-Jun-18 @ 3:14 AM
In what situation would 'current levels of usage' obtain for 50 years? A lot of Africans (among millions of others) would like to have electricity thankyouverymuch, not to mention cars, air travel, fast fashion etc... Not using even the most conservative estimate of increased consumption rate gives us a useless estimate. " ...current natural gas deposits fill around 6000 trillion cubic feet that could, with the current level of usage, last for about 50 years...
Sully - 2-Aug-17 @ 1:03 AM
hi, i am writing an research argument essay and i think this article can support my opinion, but i am not sure how to write the MLA format citation of this article, can you show me if it is possible, thank you
maxxxxx - 9-Nov-16 @ 4:07 AM
I was looking for when the fuels will run out. I didn't get that answer for my homework but I used that to make anestimated guess.
Ayme - 10-Jan-16 @ 12:37 PM
This article was great cause my teacher said I have toshow global warming is a fact or else I will fail class.
Lukester - 10-Jan-16 @ 10:26 AM
Sources? You either plagiarized or fabricated all of this information and I'm not sure what is worse.
artemis - 19-Jul-15 @ 7:04 PM
Fossil fuels, natural gasses, and coal are running out. In that case, we must use alternatives, such as solar and wind.
Fast Learner - 18-Mar-15 @ 9:51 PM
Great webpage. very useful and helpful information. thanks. Everyone. help everyone ...
bez - 28-Jan-15 @ 6:47 PM
This was great I finished my homework now!
junkysmile - 22-Jan-15 @ 11:08 PM
I still don't get it for my homework I need to know what will happen when coal,oil and gas run out.
Soft - 18-Nov-14 @ 7:47 PM
Actually, there is no savior in renewable resources. Such technologies are merely derivative of fossil fuels. Solar power is renewable but solar panels are not; comprised of toxic hard metals that are terrible for the environment. Like-wise with wind. Wind power is renewable but wind turbines are not. Furthermore all such technologies rely heavily on fossil fuels for manufacturing and upkeep. We do not have hydrogen fuel cranes, for example, to erect turbines. Green solutions are an illusion--simply fossil fuels repackaged.
think again - 15-Sep-14 @ 10:09 PM
I personally think fossil fuels are the most lovlyst madness our god jhony regga has put above our holly earth of Poseidon and Jesus the zombie
Professor farnsworth - 6-Jul-14 @ 11:22 AM
aha! my homework is being completed! Grasias! cake mcbacon signing off!
TAL29000 - 22-Oct-13 @ 9:19 AM
this website was very helpfuol because i need to know this for my homework
yoshi - 7-Mar-13 @ 3:43 PM
I love this article these are some true hardcore facts awsome man keep up good work awsome
tanka - 18-Dec-12 @ 5:21 PM
you need to no when fossils fuels will run out because we have homework to do
laura - 7-Sep-12 @ 12:45 PM
This is amazing, I teach the things on this website at my church.
andyytomlinson - 23-Apr-12 @ 4:17 PM
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