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How Many Empire State Buildings Does It Take to Equal the Global Crude Oil Consumption?

April 22, 2011

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A day does not go by without hearing about concerns for petroleum demand, prices and eventual shortages, both domestically and globally. The same applies with coal and natural gas. Nations have gathered together to control and reduce consumption of fossil fuels. The world has struggled to adopt clean and renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal. Note, conventional hydroelectric (dams) is not considered a “true” renewable source of energy due to the need to store and release water to generate electricity.

In the U.S. alone, renewables only accounted for 3.7% of the net electrical generation in the U.S. Demand by the transportation industry was primarily supplied by petroleum (94%) and to a much lesser extent by renewables (3%).

Globally the situation is not much different. While energy demand is projected to show a sharp increase by 2035, “fossil fuels are still set to meet more than three-fourths of total energy needs in 2035, assuming current policies are unchanged” Richard Newell, EIA administrator said.

Notwithstanding major concerns for fossil fuel’s effect on the environment, climate change and erratic pricing behavior, a rather sophomoric but practical question is “how long before fossil fuels reserves run out.” Nothing new about this question! It’s been discussed ad nauseum for at least the last 50 years. Reports generated during the oil crisis of 1973 projected petroleum would be depleted by the 1990’s.  This became one of the key drivers by almost every nation to find the magic renewable energy source(s).

Determining an exact answer to this question is well beyond the reach of the scientific community. New technologies keep finding ways to pinpoint reserves, drill deeper, extract horizontally, liquefy coal, excavate tar sand, and clean up environmental unfriendly deposits. Estimates of depleting reserves seem as erratic as the crude futures market.

Using crude oil as an example, a superficially unscientific analysis may be helpful to envision the life of liquid fuels. As a point of reference, refining of crude oil yields several common fuels and other carbon based products (see chart below). About 65% of which is petroleum and distillate fuel oil (home heating oil and diesel fuel) at 44% and 21%, respectfully. Thus, the inextricable relationship between at-the-pump petroleum and crude oil prices.

Now for the fun part! According to the EIA the world oil consumption in 2010 was about 86.7 million barrels per day (“bpd”). Needless to say this is a relatively large quantity of oil converted into work, heat, slag and emissions each day. Add to this, the coal deposits and natural gas reserves and one can soon see the mass quantities of raw materials needed to support an ever growing population. Furthermore, multiple these values by 365 days per year, 10 years per decade, 10 decades per 100 years and so on and the number soon gets out of hand.

At least for crude oil, it is possible to conceptualize the amount used rather easily. Using conventional math and conversion factors:

• multiplying
86.7 million bpd of crude oil a day, by
42 gallons per barrel of crude oil, gives
 3,641 million gallons of crude oil a day.

• multiplying
3,641 million gallons of crude oil a day, by
1 barrel of crude = 5.61458 cubic feet (cu.ft.), gives
 487 million cu ft. of crude oil per day.

• dividing
487 million cu ft. of crude oil per day, by
the volume of Empire State Building = 37 million cu.ft., gives
 13.2 equivalent Empire State Buildings per day.

• multiplying
13.2 equivalent Empire State Buildings per day, by
365 days per year, gives
 4,802 equivalent Empire State Buildings per year.

• multiplying
4,802 equivalent Empire State Buildings per year, by
the area of Empire State Building’s site = 83,860 square feet (sq.ft.), gives
 402.7 million sq.ft. of land per year.

• dividing
402.7 million sq.ft. of land per year, by
27,878,400 sq.ft. = 1 sq. mile, gives
 14,445 sq. miles per year.

• dividing
14,445 sq. miles per year, by
268,580 sq. miles = State of Texas, gives
 18,593 years to cover the State of Texas.

• given
the height of Empire State Building = 1,250 feet to 102nd floor observatory (less antennae), then
18,593 years of oil consumption would fill the State of Texas to a height of 1,250 feet.

Well there you have, mitigating any changes in the global consumption of oil, usage is equivalent to:
• 13 Empire State Buildings per day.
• 4,802 Empire State Buildings per year.
• a volume 14,445 sq. miles by 1,250 feet high per year.
• After 18,000 years, a volume the size of the State of Texas to a height of 1,250

In closing and jokingly stated, there is nothing to worry about except carbon and other harmful emissions from the continued use of fossil fuels. For the surface area of the earth is about 197 million square miles, and making a wild guess that oil, coal and natural gas can be found on 10% of the world’s surface, it will take about 1.4 million years for all fossil fuel sources to go bye bye.

Hey by that time, either man will no longer roam the earth or be so technologically advanced that making carbon atoms from hydrogen will be a snap. Wall Street needs to take stock of this opportunity by selling mining on the surface of the sun; one could get wealthy in a million or so years.

One Comment leave one →
  1. David T permalink
    April 25, 2011 11:36 AM

    Hi Barry,

    Your point is very well put. The increase in renewable energy (like wind) is being reported in year to year percentage increases. Like 50% increase from last year. But when you put it into the perspective of the total energy use in the world or the U.S. it still amounts to so little of the total energy mix.

    If we take a closer look at the “cost” of this energy form, how much would it really cost to get to a decent percentage of 20% of the electrical energy mix say in 20 years?

    I’m not against any energy form, Lord knows we’ll need them all to be productive to support economic growth and life in general. Its just that if we put so much emphasis on one versus another there are true technological breakthroughs that will be suppressed.

    Natural gas is here now, so lets take advantage of the technology. If people have issues with frac process, get on board and investigate, come up with solution and then lets do it under those guidelines (albeit reasonable guidelines, remember cars still kill people every day and we still drive them).

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