Crude oil: powerful & indispensable
Crude oil will be an an indispensable raw material for years to come - mainly for the chemical industry, since it's too precious to be consumed for heating or as fuel.
The immense global economic growth in recent decades would not have been possible without crude oil. It was and continues to be the fuel for progress and prosperity. The rate of global consumption is currently around 90 million barrels per day. And the age of oil is not even close to coming to an end. But in times of climate change, this valuable resource must be used wisely. Instead of burning it in the boiler room or power plants, it should be used where it has no alternatives: In the chemical industry, for example, crude oil is an indispensable raw material. While we know that oil reserves are finite, they can be developed increasingly effectively thanks to technical innovations. As a result, it will be possible to produce crude oil economically for decades to come.
To halt climate change, energy supply must be switched in the long term to renewable energies. However, they will not be able to meet demand for decades to come. In the electricity and heating market, climate-friendly natural gas can fill the gap. But there are still applications where only crude oil can supply the required energy. In the transport sector, for example, oil will remain the most important energy source in the long term, especially for heavy transport where large loads have to be carried over long distances. Only powerful, oil-based fuels with a high range can accomplish that, such as diesel, gasoline, kerosene, and heavy oil. Although work is underway on alternatives with lower CO2 emissions, the much-discussed electromobility, in particular, will soon reach its limits. The supply networks would be unable to handle the huge amounts of additional power needed to electrify transport. Oil on the other hand is flexible to transport: in pipelines, by rail and road, or by ship.
Crude oil is mainly used as a fuel and combustible, but is also indispensable as a chemical raw material. It is the foundation of modern life and in virtually every product around us – from smartphones and vehicle parts to wind turbines. Almost 90 per cent of chemical products contain oil as a raw material, most of all plastics. Polyethylene, for example, is the basis for mobile phone casings, cling wrap and beverage bottles. Transparent polycarbonate is used, for example, to make CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. But oil is not just in plastic: In the production of aspirin and other medicines, cosmetics, fertilizers, paints and varnishes, crude oil is a raw material for which there is no suitable alternative. The less oil is burned to generate heat and power, the more is available for the production of important materials and substances. After all, only 6 to 7 per cent of global oil production is currently used for the chemical industry.
The oil reserves deep below the earth’s surface are finite. Nevertheless, the volume of proven reserves that are considered exploitable continues to increase. Estimated at 683 billion barrels in 1980, they are estimated today at 1,700 billion barrels. There are various reasons for this. For example, as exploration methods continue to improve, more reservoirs will be discovered. In addition, production costs are reduced thanks to innovative technologies. As a result, reservoirs can be developed that would previously have been uneconomical, including smaller and unconventional reservoirs. Another reason is increasingly efficient exploitation. For example, Wintershall Dea uses special techniques like steam flooding to improve the oil recovery rate from reservoirs. With all these improvements, reserve life is not expected to decline for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, an end to economical oil production is still a long way off.