What will happen if just today we find out that no more oil left in the planet. With the current infrastructures, how would that change, affect our lives? What is the fastest replacement?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A common misconception about "peak oil" is that it means that we are "running out" of oil. The definition of peak oil is the peak in the attainable extraction rate of oil, which is something quite different. That said, may I suggest my answer to How would humanity enter a Dark Age? which discusses some of the possible implications in some detail. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jul 21 '16 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ Is this in relation to fuel only, or is this also a reference to plastics, greases/oils/lubrication, and the variety of things we refine from oil? Does this impact all hydrocarbons (natural gas would fill in for heating and we can retool vehicles to use propane or other hydrocarbons)? Should also mention there would be a geological impact...earthquakes related to cave-ins from now empty pools...and a hole the size of Texas in Canada as the oil sands disappear. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Jul 21 '16 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ I mainly asking about the crude oil and all related products, I'm more interested to know, if that change is only targeting the energy price ( by replacing oil with other more expensive alternative) or we should say goodbye to some of our everyday services as well. $\endgroup$
    – ali_kh60
    Jul 22 '16 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ You mean the fossil fuel exclusively, correct? I can still press peanuts for oil for cooking my post apocalyptic meals, right? $\endgroup$ Aug 8 '16 at 21:58

Assuming it's only oil that has ended overnight, leaving coal and gas. The major impact will be on the transport industry. Bio diesel production is fairly energy intensive, so in the short run, it's unlikely to replace diesel. Not to mention, that it takes a few months for the crops to mature, crops which need farm equipment running on oil for industrial level production.

Going by history, oil shortages in WWII Britain led to the use of water gas, generated from coal. This will probably be the immediate substitute in countries that have available coal and sufficient extracted reserve. Alternately, it's fairly trivial to convert oil vehicles to gas. In the longer run, electric vehicles may prove more economic than biodiesel, considering the logistics of farming and hydrogenation.

The above assumes that electricity supplies are not affected as they are powered by gas, coal and nuclear+renewables.

Assuming ALL fossil hydrocarbons (i.e., oil and gas) disappear, the major issue will be electricity and heating. Again, coal will be an immediate substitute, to supply coal gas and water gas to run gas based plants. Nuclear and coal plants will be run at maximum possible capacity to meet the shortage. Any renewables already completed will be installed as fast as possible to ensure the grids keep working. Nuclear plants take years to set up, so will probably see funding lost as the authorities try to solve the immediate crisis.

In both cases, electric/diesel trains will be shunted out and any steam trains available will be pressed into service.Nuclear powered military vessels will be reassigned as tugboats, especially any due for decommissioning. Given the local public disturbance, it's quite unlikely any nation will be thinking of starting trouble, as most security forces will have their hands full, but there ARE nutcases aplenty. Most likely, there will be a rise in piracy on the high seas. Air travel will stop in the short term, as electric motors are developed to replace jet engines. Hydrogen fueled jets are a possibility, but there are major safety implications at the moment; I don't see hydrogen powered ramjets in the near future.

Electronic devices will jump in price, as electricity gets rationed and prioritized. Facebook and their ilk will probably go out of business.

Country that rely on importing their food will start to see shortages and probable riots as their reserves run out as major trade comes to a halt, while food exporters will see huge surpluses rotting, some of which can be diverted to producing biomass based fuel. On the other hand, many of these countries use mechanized agriculture that will no longer be viable. In fact, the Amish will probably be the best off in North America.

Countries relying on trade to support their economy will find no buyers and no way to transport their goods. China's economy will effectively drop dead once it can no longer supply cheap manufactured goods to the west.Its economy runs on cheap oil, and produces mostly plastics, including artificial fibres and electronics. No raw materials and no market means there are suddenly millions of unemployed with no electricity, no transport and no prospects or distractions. If the government fails to feed them all, it can look forward to another Glorious Revolution; if it succeeds, it needs to find something for them to do to get the economy moving, while facing simmering discontent. Fortunately, for them, it's a command economy.

Japan will starve within weeks. South Korea's economy relies on shipbuilding for the oil industry and electronics for the most part, and will stall (confirm?). Fortunately,they have a much lower population than China and might successfully feed themselves, but, like the Chinese, will face energy shortages and unemployment. North Korea, has nothing now and will continue to do so. The only people immediately affected would be the elite, assuming they have sufficient food.

Russia + no fuel = Winter is coming. Massive death tolls through freezing, especially since they've been moving people to Siberia (free land and tax breaks, IIRC). Ukraine, self sufficient in food, and might actually stabilize since the big powers have other concerns. Europe in general, mostly CAN grow their own food, but prefer to import. Lots of people will get unemployed as the modern economy stops, but lots of new jobs in restarting agriculture, possibly returning to a pre-WWI economy. It's small enough that local shortages can be met easily and with comparative low oil dependence, after an initial bump, they'll stabilize.

Africa failed to develop because too many interests were jockeying for influence for the past 200 years. With these interests otherwise occupied, it can start to grow. Expect civil wars and massacres as the people in power try to hold on without the support of their patrons.

The middle east: no oil, the governments in power are of no interest to anyone, and the people have a LOT of festering resentment. Expect fireworks for the next 50 years.

Afghanistan may stabilise. Pakistan, with the military's movement limited, will splinter, as will India. With the rest of the subcontinent, it depends on whether the governments can continue to provide the basics; otherwise, the entire subcontinent will break into small city states, ruled over by strongmen.

Australia will suffer badly in the short term, New Zealand will fare better--less dependence on mining, self sufficient in food. Indochina is self sufficient(?) in terms of food, the manufacturing economy will collapse--no exports.

South America: Brazil's rainforests will be saved. Economies dependent on oil and manufacturing will stop, civil unrest, etc. etc., see above. Outside the major cities however, there may be little change to people's lifestyles.

You know, until I started writing this, I had no clue how many people would NOT be affected by the end of fossil fuel. Amazing, when you consider that it drives over 90% of the economy. Economic disparity means some people are living their lives like it's 1880. If anything, their lives will actually improve: less pollution from upstream; expensive travel making it less economically attractive to bother them.

Political economics aside, crude oil derivatives are used everywhere, plastics, medicine, food additives, insulation (both electrical and thermal), pesticides, chemically inert packaging, perfumes and solvents, fertilizers and plenty of other things I can't think of off the top of my head. For most of these, there is no ready substitute. Shortages will lead to black markets and rent-seeking as people try to prioritise their needs, e.g., should you use your existing stock of LDPE for making food packaging or medicine packaging? Should you buy acetone from a nail polish factory at high rates for your pharmaceutical factory producing cancer medicine? Please note, I'm not a chemist or pharmacist, and not familiar with chemical manufacturing techniques.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow you added a lot of content ! I completely missed the import/export of goods part, but it's actually so important. Great answer. Did you do reaserach on every countries/continents to add to your answer ? $\endgroup$
    – Asoub
    Jul 25 '16 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Asoub: A lot of this is based on a quick look on Google and Wikipedia. I wouldn't use it as a reference, without actual research $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Jul 25 '16 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, this makes me glad I live in central Kansas. At least I'm close to the food. Deer are plentiful, wild pig populations are growing (unfortunately for the current farmers). There is also a plentiful supply of Hedge trees to make longbows from $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Jan 10 '20 at 21:27

Point on the situation

First of all, one should realise, that there's quite some prospection done today. This allows to evaluate the amount of oil we have left.

Furthermore, not all the reserves are being exploited. Some because they are more costly than others (so we leave it for until the price make it worthwhile), some due to political debates (China's See, Arctic, etc.), and some because of ethic/technology barriers (fracking).

So if we were making some mistakes in our estimation, we'd still have alternative places to go to.

Now there are some debates as of how long can we run with what we have right now. This is due to, to a large extend, uncertainty on the consumptions of various countries (China).

Where do we use it?

We'll simplify greatly, but the main uses of oil are

  • transport,
  • energy (producing electricity),
  • plastic,
  • roads

Magic spell gone wrong

Let's imagine that one wizzard was passing in the vicinity of the Earth, and one of its spell went astray and made the whole oil disappear.

I'll let aside the whole sociological and political issues (wars, inflation, putting down the economy, etc.) to concentrate on the technical point.

I don't claim they can be used one to one (amount, price, etc.) but they are likely to be used.

  • energy: more gas, more coal, more nuclear fission... and more of the others. In a way that's the easiest. It would be more expensive, but I think that would not be too complex to set up.
  • roads: I have no idea, to be honnest. But with the oil already extracted and the roads already built, we would probably have a few years to find some new alternative.
  • transport: electric cars running on batteries, cars running on hydrogen fuel cells (that's a rising technology, and believe me, I know what I'm talking about), but also bio-oil. Some diesel engines have been known to run on vegetal-oil (coming from farming). So road transports would not be a too difficult problem after a time to adjust. People would probably walk, take public transport, ride, etc. more to compensate. Planes and ships are more complex. Ships may start sailing again. Solar energy and electro-motors might make it faster. But I think people would have to find ways around using the large container-ships. You'd probably have less bananas to eat. Planes, maybe airships would come back into fashion.
  • plastic: there are some bio-plastics developped. I know that it's also an expanding technology. We would probably reduce the consumption drastically, and that would allow for those alternative plastics to take the spot.


It's very unlikely that all the oil disappear from one day to the other. And there are many alternatives being developped. So oil would be replaced by different technologies in different applications.

But you can probably write a book on all the sociological and/or political implications.

  • $\begingroup$ "Let's imagine that one wizzard was passing in the vicinity" Is Rincewind passing through on one of his multidimensional misadventures ;) $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Jan 10 '20 at 21:30

Economically and socially it would be catastrophic.

Most countries in Europe have only a few month of oil reserves (3 month normally), and they can buy it from one another (for some). The USA would last a few month with their reserves too (they might have more, but they consume a lot more)

Reserves available per country

Consumption per country per habitant

I suppose these number are calculated with a "with normal daily consumption for everyone". Because of the scarcity of oil, buying or using it would probably be restricted in most country. (a few available to citizen, and the rest for miltary/police/hospitals/etc.)

Of course, oil prices would rise terribly, and people would take everything they can the day they learn that it has disappeared, either to keep it or to resell it later at higher price.

Governments will have to react quick, promote car pooling and public transportation, etc (tax reduction, or even by law). Some countries already have pretty good public transportation systems, but that mostly concern big cities anyway. Activity in more rural areas will be seriously injured. If they don't, a country that can't go to work and consume would probably die. If they do and it works, they might survive long enough for alternative energy to come to the rescue (bio energies or electricity) or for the system to adapt.

I am quite surprises about how much oil taxes are important for most country. (oil revenue % per gdp) So it wouldn't be that bad in that sense

As a side note, there was a strike at an oil company, recently in France, forcing most gas station to shut down or to restrict how much you can buy. Some people went to take only a few liters of fuel, and the queue would be incredibly big and a lot more stressful. I guess psychologically, that wouldn't be a good thing too, but I'm not really sure how any society would react well ... http://www.thelocal.fr/20160525/latest-where-in-france-the-petrol-shortage-is-biting

Of course, most of this answer is based on oil usage for transportation. Oil isn't used a lot for electricity. (oil usage for electricity) And plastic won't be really important when this happens (maybe for electric cars) compared to the rest.

And of course the more a country needs transportation, the more its direct effects would be important. I say "direct" because if a country falls because of this oil shortage, it will impact every country that does business with it. With dominos effect this might destroy the whole economy. Because of that, a lot of country will have to help each other to prevent anyone strong to fall.


Electricity and synthetic hydrocarbons would be our only choices

most of the small-sized transport vehicles would shift to electric power instead of gas. This includes cars and motorcycles. Larger vehicles would run on either dextrose (sugar), alcohol or synthetically prepared hydrocarbons (aka petrol and diesel). This includes things such as buses, airplanes and medium sized boats.

Gas stoves etc would have to be abandoned initially in favor of firewood until a method is discovered to conveniently break down large hydrocarbons into small ones.



Biodiesel is an alternative fuel similar to conventional or 'fossil' diesel. Biodiesel can be produced from straight vegetable oil, animal oil/fats, tallow and waste cooking oil. The process used to convert these oils to Biodiesel is called transesterification.



The main sources of sugar required to produce ethanol come from fuel or energy crops. These crops are grown specifically for energy use and include corn, maize and wheat crops, waste straw, willow and popular trees, sawdust, reed canary grass, cord grasses, jerusalem artichoke, myscanthus and sorghum plants. There is also ongoing research and development into the use of municipal solid wastes to produce ethanol fuel.

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol (C2H5OH) is a clear colourless liquid, it is biodegradable, low in toxicity and causes little environmental pollution if spilt. Ethanol burns to produce carbon dioxide and water. Ethanol is a high octane fuel and has replaced lead as an octane enhancer in petrol. By blending ethanol with gasoline we can also oxygenate the fuel mixture so it burns more completely and reduces polluting emissions. Ethanol fuel blends are widely sold in the United States. The most common blend is 10% ethanol and 90% petrol (E10). Vehicle engines require no modifications to run on E10 and vehicle warranties are unaffected also. Only flexible fuel vehicles can run on up to 85% ethanol and 15% petrol blends (E85).


These are already in use in many areas, but it's not good for biodiversity to start creating them on massively industrial scales. It tends to lead to forest clearance, monocultures etc. but given a sudden removal of oil supplies they're the quickest and easiest source of light fuels as the infrastructure is mostly already in place and no new technologies or distribution systems are needed.


Flywheels, flywheels and..flywheels with really good batteries. I think localized electrical power will take off with a focus on ablilty to get power from multiple sources: Wind, Solar, Human/Animal kinetic energy, grid.. but this speaks mostly of fuel for generators and vehicles.

Plastics on the other hand will rely more heavily on material science. Some may be bioplastics but if we find ourselves in an oil-scarce world it may well be a biology scarce world as well. We may start beefing up our production of CO2 type plastics.

We may speed up the nanomaterials race to reduce friction in enines, gears, etc where lubricant would generally exist. Without certain oil-based products, we'll also need specialized surfaces.


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