Assessments of global coal, oil, and natural gas occurrences usually focus on conventional hydrocarbon reserves, i.e. those occurrences that can be exploited with current technology and present market conditions. The focus on reserves seriously underestimates long-term global hydrocarbon availability. Greenhouse gas emissions based on these estimates may convey the message that the world is running out of fossil fuels, and as a result, emissions would be reduced automatically. If the vast unconventional hydrocarbon occurrences are included in the resource estimates and historically observed rates of technology change are applied to their mobilization, the potential accessibility of fossil sources increases dramatically with long-term production costs that are not significantly higher than present market prices. Although the geographical hydrocarbon resource distribution varies significantly, a regional breakdown for 11 world regions indicates that neither hydrocarbon resource availability nor costs are likely to become forces that automatically would help wean the global energy system from the use of fossil fuel during the next century.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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