Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2013

The Carbon Contained in Global Oils

Deborah Gordon

December 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


So much has changed in the oil market and the global economy over the past year and a half. The International Energy Agency suggests that, when it comes to the current oil situation, the world is “in search of the new normal,” faced with an array of recently unlocked unconventional supplies—solid ancient bitumen adhered to sand and clay in oil sands, extra-heavy tacky oils that resist flow, dense immature kerogen fused to oil shale, and ultra-light petroleum liquids trapped in tight shale oil. Until as recently as a couple of years ago, the prevailing wisdom was that global oil reserves were reaching the point of exhaustion. An “all of the above” resource strategy was pursued to address the perceived shortfall. Renewable fuels, fuel economy standards, and vehicle electrification were advanced by public policy, and researchers were pursuing ways to convert coal and natural gas to liquid fuels economically. The oil industry drilled deeper and ventured farther afield for new oils. And deposits of unconventional hydrocarbons were considered to be of strategic importance given increasingly insufficient conventional oil supply.