Viral Video Makes False Claim About Global Oil Supply

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Quick Take

Oil is formed in a process that takes millions of years, and there is a finite amount on the planet, scientists say. But a TikTok video shared on Instagram falsely claims that there is an “unlimited” supply of oil, and people are being “taught” otherwise to keep them “in a fear state.”


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Oil is a finite resource that takes millions of years to form, according to scientists, and it can’t be replenished at anywhere near the rate at which it is being used.

“There is a finite amount of oil in the world,” Andrew Kleit, professor of energy and environmental economics at Pennsylvania State University, told us in a phone interview.

“Oil is created through a geologic process that takes millions of years,” he said. “Any new oil that’s created is created very slowly, whereas we consume it fairly rapidly” in comparison, he added.

“The scarcity value of oil is reflected in the market price,” Kleit said.

Oil companies, including BP and Shell, are studying how to produce alternative fuels. They are addressing concerns that burning fossil fuels harm the environment, and they know that once the oil that exists runs out, there will be no way to replace it.

Oil refinery in Utah. Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash.

Yet, a TikTok video shared April 30 and May 1 on Instagram falsely claims there’s an endless supply of oil available on the Earth.

“There is an unlimited amount of oil,” the video says. It also misleadingly claims water is unlimited, too.

The claims on the video, which has received more than 10,000 likes, are similar to false claims made on a 2021 Facebook video that said John D. Rockefeller coined the term “fossil fuel” to “induce the idea of scarcity” and drive up oil prices.

The TikTok video also references Rockefeller. “When the Rockefellers bought out the educational system, they taught us a scarcity mindset to put us into a fear state,” says the video, posted by a TikTok account called Cultivate Elevate, which sells health-related products on its website.

The video also says workers on oil rigs have described being sent back to wells that had “supposedly” gone dry and then finding oil in them.

Crude oil and petroleum are known as fossil fuels because they were formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals into a hydrocarbon mixture.

“Oil, like natural gas and coal, is a fuel that was literally made from fossils, the dead remains of once-living things that have been slowly, through a combination of pressure and temperature, been converted into solid [coal], liquid [oil], and gas,” Michael Mann, director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania, told us in an email on May 9.

Mann noted that renowned scientist Carl Sagan referred to oil’s origin in pointing out the “absurdity” of our dependence on fossil fuels: “Our civilization runs by burning the remains of humble creatures who inhabited the Earth hundreds of millions of years before the first humans came on the scene,” Sagan said. “Like some ghastly cannibal cult, we subsist on the dead bodies of our ancestors and distant relatives.”

The video’s claim that oil is unlimited is “silly,” Mann said.

“Crude oil is the result of geological processes beneath Earth’s surface that play out over hundreds of millions of years,” he said. “We’re extracting it over a time frame of decades, more than a million times as fast as nature could in principle replace it.”

Addressing the video’s claim that oil workers were called back to rigs previously deemed dry, Mann said: “Which is more likely, that oil is magically being generated a million times faster than known geological processes can generate it? Or that some workers on oil rigs missed a spot the first time they searched it?”

Climate change, Mann said, provides a “compelling argument” against finding new ways of extracting fossil fuel, further decreasing the supply of oil.

As we’ve written before, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that climate change is occurring, largely caused by human activity, including the burning of oil, gas and coal. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessed how nations around the world are working to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels in its April 2022 report.

The video’s claim that water is unlimited is likewise wrong, Mann said. While there is a large amount of water on the planet, most of it is salt water in the oceans — and desalination is an expensive, energy-intensive process that isn’t practical, he said. Fresh water is similarly “tied up” in glaciers, leaving only about 1% of total water accessible for human use, Mann said.

Water is already in limited supply. In a 2022 report, the World Meteorological Organization, an agency of the United Nations, estimated that “3.6 billion people face inadequate access to water at least a month per year” — a figure that is expected to rise to “more than 5 billion by 2050.”

“Human beings require fresh water,” said Penn State’s Kleit. “And in many parts of the world, including the Western United States, fresh water is very scarce.”


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

National Geographic. “Petroleum.” Accessed 11 May 2023.

Miller, Richard G. and Steven R. Sorrell. “The Future of Oil Supply.” National Library of Medicine. 13 Jan 2014.

Andrew Kleit. Professor of energy and environmental economics, Pennsylvania State University. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 11 May 2023.

Clifford, Catherine. “BP Says Demand for Oil and Gas Will Drop Dramatically by 2050 in ‘Decisive Shift.’” CNBC. 30 Jan 2023.

Bousso, Ron and Shadia Nasralla. “With Oil Past Peak, Shell Sharpens 2050 Zero Emissions Goal.” Reuters. 11 Feb 2021.

Thelin, John and Richard W. Trollinger. “Effective Altruism Isn’t as Newfangled as It Seems.” Washington Post. 6 Feb 2023.

Energy Information Administration. “Oil and Petroleum Products Explained.” Accessed 10 May 2023.

Kelety, Josh. “Video Spreads False Notion of Unlimited Oil Supply.” Associated Press. 3 May 2023.

Petersen, Kate. “Fact check: False claim Earth can produce infinite supply of clean water.” USA Today. 31 Oct 2022.

Reuters Fact Check. “Fact Check-The Term ‘Fossil Fuel’ Was Not Coined by John D. Rockefeller to Trick People Into Thinking Oil is a Scarce Commodity.” 24 Sep 2001.

Michael E Mann. Director, Penn Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media, University of Pennsylvania. Email to FactCheck.org. 9 May 2023.

Keefe, Eliza. “‘Unequivocal’ Evidence that Humans Cause Climate Change, Contrary to Posts of Old Video.” FactCheck.org. 2 Aug 2022.

Fichera, Angelo. “No, Climate Change Isn’t ‘Made Up.’” FactCheck.org. 8 May 2019.

McGrath, Matt. “Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Emissions From Electricity Set to Fall – Report.” BBC. 12 Apr 2023.

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change.” Accessed 15 May 2023.

Brittanica.com. “World Distribution of Oil.” Accessed 12 May 2023.

World Meteorolgical Organization. “State of Global Water Resources report informs on rivers, land water storage and glaciers.” 29 Nov 2022.

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