There has been a constant need for energy generation in order to enable adequate functioning of various aspects of human endeavor, and although there have been calls to explore cleaner alternatives as may be found in renewable sources of energy, one cannot underestimate the contributions of fossil fuels to global energy generation and consumption. Thus, despite the rapid growth of renewable energy over the past decade, fossil fuels still dominate global energy consumption — providing for 85 percent of global energy needs in 2018, according to BP’s recently-released Statistical Review of World Energy, making them the world’s primary energy source, with many sources indicating that they will continue to remain the world’s leading source of power (BP, 2019). According to a report from the World Energy Outlook (WEO), fossil fuels are set to meet about 84 percent of global energy demand through 2030 (International Energy Agency, 2017).
It is no wonder why there continues to be high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from extraction and consumption of fossil fuels. However, while we may share a common, general geographical landscape, it is surprising how much one or a few countries contribute to global GHG emissions. This fact is presented in several ways; the top GHG emitters contribute more than half of total global emissions, while the bottom 100 countries only account for 3.5 percent. (Johannes Friedrich, 2017). Between 1990 and 2017, China and the US were responsible for 20.8 and 20.1 percent of total global emissions, respectively. Countries are projected to produce 43 percent more oil and 47 percent more gas by 2040 than is consistent with a 2℃ pathway. Nine countries, including Australia, are responsible for more than two-thirds of fossil fuel carbon emissions – a calculation based on how much fuel nations extract, regardless of where it is burned (Climate Home News, 2019). Thus, it is usually the big emitters that naturally have more fossil fuel resources.
It is important to note that, while it is difficult to get a precise number of just how much fossil fuel a country might produce because of different methods used in arriving at statistics, – for instance, Russia’s oil production capacity is calculated with input of condensed gas generated during production (which it contends should not be the case) – it is generally the case that amongst these countries, it is not debated the significance of contributions to global fossil fuel resources.
United States of America
Fossil fuels have contributed to global economic development over the past century, and the US has tapped into harnessing fossil fuels, to satisfy both domestic and international needs. The USA is the biggest overall producer, producing just under 20 percent of all global fossil fuels (911 Metallurgist, 2018). The US leads the way with respect to almost every fossil fuel, especially in terms of production.
One major aspect of fossil fuel production which the US leads the world in is oil. Cumulatively, the United States has produced more oil than any other country. Its proven oil reserves amount to some 40 billion barrels; approximately two percent of the world total (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015). The US Energy Department reported that domestic crude output has reached a record high of 12.6 million barrels per day (b/d) (US EIA, 2019). This is in light of the fact that, since July 2018, while the total number of oil-directed rigs fell by more than 20 percent (now within the 685 range), crude production has still risen by another 1.6 million b/d. To put it in context, this is a 16-month increase equivalent almost equal to all of what Mexico is now producing. Even in the longer-term, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2019, it is reported that the U.S. will account for 85 percent of global oil production growth through 2030. Another source suggests that the US produced the most oil in 2018, with output increasing from 15,647,000 b/d in 2017 to 17,886,000 b/d in 2018 (Williams, 2019).
But that’s just oil. The US ranks highly in two other major fossil fuels – coal, and natural gas. Although the US has fallen to third place from its 2014 position as second in coal production, with levels falling by almost a third to 684mt after a brief rise in 2016-17, the country is still a big player in the generation of the resource (Power Technology, 2019). Coal is thus expected to make up 25 percent of US power generation in 2019 and 22 percent in 2020, down from 27.4 percent generated from coal in 2018 (Montgomery, 2019).
Global natural gas production increased by 190 billion cubic meters (bcm), or 5.2 percent in 2018. Almost half of this came from the US (86 bcm), which (as with oil production) recorded the largest annual growth seen by any country in history (BP, 2019). According to BP’s 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy, with a production of 734.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2017, the US is the top natural gas-producing country in the world, though it does not lead the way in terms of reserves.
Russia is the second largest gas, and the third largest oil producer, accounting for 17 percent and 12 percent of the global output, respectively. With respect to oil, Russia agreed to reduce its oil output by 228,000 b/d, but this has not significantly affected its oil production levels which stand at a rate of 11.2 m/d, accounting for 11 percent of world output (Meredith, 2018). Russia is thought to possess the best potential for new discoveries, having proven reserves of about 80 billion barrels; approximately six percent of the world total—and is one the world’s leading petroleum producers (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015).
Russia is also big on coal production, and along with four other countries, accounted for over 75 percent of worldwide coal consumption. Over the last ten years, Russia has boosted its annual coal production by more than 30 percent to a total of 440 million tons (The Moscow Times, 2019). The minister of energy, Alexander Valentinovich, has said that Russia’s current coal production was nearly 10 percent higher than the initial plan for Russian coal through to 2030, and this has been met with the country revising its coal development program through to 2035, from current 440 million mt/year to 550 million mt/year, and as high as 670 million mt/year. With respect to production of natural gas, Russia was able to grow by 33 bcm (+5.3 percent) to 669 bcm in 2018.
Third on the list would be China, with its massive coal production capacity. Despite reducing coal as part of its energy mix from 68.5 percent in 2012 to 59 percent in 2018, with a concurrent goal to increase its share of non-fossils from 14.3 percent to 15 percent by 2020 and 20 percent by 2030, today China is the world’s biggest consumer of energy, with a majority of its consumption coming from burning coal mined in China itself (Unwin, 2019). This status quo has made China dominate global coal production, accounting for nearly half of total output. This growth has been rapid since the 1960-70s.
Given China’s large manufacturing-based economy, there has been a reliance on fuel generated from coal. From 1990 to 2015, China increased its coal consumption more than two- fold, from 1.05 billion tons to 3.97 billion tons. In 2016, coal accounted for 62 percent of China’s energy use; and for almost a decade now, China has consumed more coal than the rest of the world combined (Chinapower).
According to China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), 141 million tonnes of new coal production capacity was authorized for the period January to June 2019, compared to 25 million tonnes for the whole of 2018. In total, China’s coal output has risen by 2.6 percent in the first six months of 2019 to 1.76 billion tonnes from its 2018 estimates (Unwin, 2019). China is also big in oil production, ranked as the sixth largest oil producing country. China produces about 3,823,000 barrels of oil per day (World Population Review, 2019).
But there seems to be a change in attitude by China. Over the last decade, China’s investment in renewable energy and natural gas has surged. In 2017, almost half of global renewable energy investment came from China, totaling $125.9 billion. This is more than double the $53.3 billion that China invested in renewables in 2013. China is becoming the largest market in the world for renewable energy. It is estimated that one in every four gigawatts of global renewable energy will be generated by China through 2040.
Ranking fourth on the list, almost surprisingly, is Iran. Iran holds some of the world’s largest deposits of proved oil and natural gas reserves, ranking as the world’s fourth–largest and second–largest reserve holder of oil and natural, respectively gas (EIA, 2019). Despite its abundant reserves, Iran’s crude oil production has undergone years of underinvestment and effects of international sanctions. Iran is one of the founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), signifying its relevance in global oil sector. Around that time, Iran’s production averaged more than 5.5 million b/d of oil, in 1976 and 1977, with production topping 6.0 million b/d for most of the period. Since 1979, however, a combination of various factors, including war, underinvestment, and especially, sanctions, has affected Iran’s output. Thus, despite Iran’s abundant reserves, crude oil production stagnated and even declined particularly between 2012 and 2016, with impactful international sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector. These sanctions targeted the Iranian energy sector and impeded Iran’s ability to sell oil, resulting in a significant drop in crude oil and condensate exports in 2012 compared with the previous year. Within that period, Iran was producing around 2.5 million b/d. Iran has however slightly recovered reproducing 4.7 million b/d of petroleum and other liquids in 2017, of which 3.8 million b/d was crude oil and the remainder was condensate and hydrocarbon gas liquids (EIA, 2019).
Iran is also rich in coal, but, just as with oil and natural gas, it has issues with respect to fully utilizing them well enough. Just as the deputy head of Middle East Mines and Mining Industries Development Holding Company, Ali Palizdar, stated “Iran produces only 1.1 million tons of coal per year while it has 1.15 billion tons of proven reserves. This means Iran is missing out on a huge potential of job, wealth and energy creation” (Financial Tribune, 2017)
Canada is the fourth largest producer as well as the fourth largest exporter of oil in the world. As much as 96 percent of Canada’s oil exports go to the United States. Canada’s production of oil on the global scale is as much as five percent, inclusive of crude oil, NGL, additives, as well as hydrocarbons. The last known established oil reserves in Canada under current technological and economic conditions were recorded at 166.7 billion barrels of crude oil. The oil sands accounted for 64 percent of Canada’s oil production in 2018, or 2.9 million barrels per day. The oil sands have an estimated $313 billion of capital investment till date, including about $10.4 billion in 2018 (Garnet T. Page, 2006).
The oil sand production in Canada has exceeded what is known to be the conventional oil production since 2010. In 2018, oil sands production had increased to 2.91 million barrels per day, as opposed to the 1.64 million barrels a day of conventional oil production, inclusive of tight oil. In 2018, Alberta alone produced more crude oil than could be shipped for export by rail or pipeline. Canada Crude Oil production is down from a level of 4.24M last month to a current level of 4.39M, which is a change of -0.77 percent.
Canada has also maintained a steady production of coal in recent years, largely through exports. The mines in the country produced 69 million tonnes of coal during 2014. Over the past ten years, Canada’s coal production has maintained a steady level of about 67 to 69 million tonnes of coal per year. Their proven coal reserves are the 16th largest in the world, representing 0.6 percent of global deposits. In 2017, Canada extracted and processed approximately 61 million tonnes of coal, making it the world’s 13th largest producer globally (Science and Data).
Canada is also the fourth largest producer and fifth largest exporter of natural gas in the world. The synergy of the U.S. and Canadian natural gas markets is quite high, with 20 percent of the Canadian natural gas consumption coming from the U.S. There is currently great potential for oil, coal, and natural gas production and exportation in Canada, with resources being largely found in a belt ranging from Central Alberta, to Southern Texas.
911 Metallurgist (2018). Retrieved from Fossil fuel production by country, mapped: https://www.911metallurgist.com/fossil-fuel-production-by-country-mapped/
BP (2019). BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
Chinapower Retrieved from How is China’s energy footprint changing?: https://chinapower.csis.org/energy-footprint/
Climate Home News (2019). Retrieved from The world is awash with fossil fuels – it’s time to cut off supply: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2019/11/21/world-awash-fossil-fuels-time-cut-off-supply/?__cf_chl_captcha_tk__=291c49492dfc7dfa565a4f49704e6a389c6e5a92-1577456578-0-AcwD2yxucI5yL9kRoWsOB1DpR8Xw0njlZlTA_Eg7NGXwNauDOFrK5UKhCEGVZXkWAiL-wuJ1ymjz7ymEf7Ut8UXh
EIA (2019). Retrieved from Iran: https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/analysis.php?iso=IRN
Encyclopaedia Britannica (2015). Retrieved from Major oil-producing countries: https://www.britannica.com/science/petroleum/Major-oil-producing-countries
Financial Tribune (2017). Retrieved from Iranian Coal potential Untapped: https://financialtribune.com/articles/economy-domestic-economy/78574/iranian-coal-potential-untapped
Garnet T. Page, L. S. (2006, February 6). Coal Article. Retrieved from The Canadian Encyclopedia: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/coal
INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AGENCY (2017). Retrieved from World Energy Outlook Special Report: https://www.gogla.org/sites/default/files/resource_docs/weo2017specialreport_energyaccessoutlook.pdf
Johannes Friedrich, M. G. (2017). Retrieved from World’s Top 10 Emitters, and How They’ve Changed: https://www.wri.org/blog/2017/04/interactive-chart-explains-worlds-top-10-emitters-and-how-theyve-changed
Meredith, T. D. (2018). Retrieved from OPEC and allies agree to cut oil production by 1.2 million barrels per day: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/07/opec-meeting-saudi-arabia-and-russia-look-to-impose-production-cuts.html
Montgomery, T. G. (2019). Retrieved from US 2019 coal production expected to fall 7.4 percent on year: EIA: https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/coal/111319-us-2019-coal-production-expected-to-fall-74-on-year-eia
Power Technology (2019). Retrieved from The top five coal producing countries in the world: https://www.power-technology.com/features/top-five-coal-producing-countries-world/
Science and Data Retrieved from NRCAN: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/science-data/data-analysis/energy-data-analysis/energy-facts/crude-oil-facts/20064
The Moscow Times (2019). Retrieved from Russia Announces Plans for Coal-Digging Surge: https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/08/26/russia-announces-plans-for-coal-digging-surge-a67011
Unwin, J. (2019). Retrieved from Chinese coal mine approvals rise despite climate targets: https://www.power-technology.com/news/china-coal-production/
US EIA. (2019). Retrieved from Weekly US Field Production of Crude Oil: https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=WCRFPUS2&f=W
Williams, G. (2019). Retrieved from Top 10 Oil-producing Countries: https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/energy-investing/oil-and-gas-investing/top-oil-producing-countries/
World Population Review (2019). Retrieved from Oil Producing Countries 2019: http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/oil-producing-countries/