How Much Natural Gas Is Left In The World, & When Will We Run Out?

In this guide, we discuss the world’s natural gas resources and reserves.

We outline how much we might have left, if we might run out and when, what might happen if we do, and more.

 

Summary – The World’s Natural Gas Resources

The Different Uses Of Natural Gas Across Society, & Why It’s Important

Electricity generation, and heating, are two of the main uses for natural gas across society

We list the other man uses for natural gas across society in the guide below

 

How Much Natural Gas Is Left In The World? – Resources, & Reserves

There’s currently more natural gas resources than reserves in the world

In addition to conventional resources and reserves, there’s also unconventional natural gas resources. However, they are usually harder to reach, or have issues with economic feasibility in extraction or production

We give some examples of unconventional natural gas resources in the guide below

Overall, total global natural gas reserves have been trending up over the last few decades

 

Country With The Largest Natural Gas Reserves

Currently, Russia has the largest natural gas reserves

In the guide below, we outline how natural gas reserves data can differ between different reports (and how it can be disputed), and what to be aware of when looking at different reporting data

 

Total Global Natural Production, & Production Over Time

Global natural gas production in 2020 was 4014 billion cubic meters

Production of natural gas has also generally trended up over the last few decades

 

Countries That Produce The Most Natural Gas

The United States currently produces the most natural gas 

 

Total Global Natural Gas Demand & Consumption

In 2020, global demand for natural gas was 3 970 billion cubic meters

Global demand for natural gas has also generally increased over the last few decades

 

Are We Running Out Of Natural Gas, & Will We Run Out Of Natural Gas In The Future?

It doesn’t appear as though we will run out of natural gas in the short term.

This is especially as proven natural gas reserves continue to increase, and don’t start depleting

We list some of the different factors that might impact our ability to continue to extract and use natural gas resources and reserves over the medium to long term in the guide below

 

When Will We Run Out Of Natural Gas? … How Many Years Worth Of Natural Gas Do We Have Left?

We include some estimates as potential (but not definitive) answers to this question in the guide below

Estimates vary on a global level, and also for individual countries

 

Natural Gas Shortages

Different reports have different analysis’ on natural gas shortages. 

We’ve listed a few different reports with differing information in the guide below

 

What Happens If We Start Running Out Of Natural Gas?

Factors like availability of natural gas and also the price of natural gas may start to be impacted more heavily

 

Managing Natural Gas Resources More Sustainably

We outline some of the ways natural gas might be managed more sustainably as a resource in the guide below

 

The Different Uses Of Natural Gas Across Society, & Why It’s Important

One of the main uses of natural gas is as an energy source – for electricity, heating, and cooking.

As a summary, some of main uses for natural gas include but aren’t limited to:

– Electricity generation

Natural gas is used at steam turbines and gas turbines (at natural gas power plants) to generate electricity

 

– Heating

As a fuel for space heating for buildings and homes, as well as water heating

 

– Refrigeration

Natural gas is one type of fuel used in ammonia refrigeration

 

– Air conditioning

Some air conditioning systems use a gas engine

 

– Transportation

CNG (compressed natural gas) and LNG (liquefied natural gas) can be used as alternatives to gasoline and diesel in vehicles

 

– Cooking

For food preparation for example

 

– In industry and manufacturing

As an ingredient or a feedstock to make products like inorganic fertilizer, plastics, pharmaceuticals, and so on

 

– Industries that use the most natural gas

We put together a guide here about the industries that use the most natural gas across society.

 

How Much Natural Gas Is Left In The World? – Resources, & Reserves

There’s a significant amount more natural gas resources (undiscovered, and discovered) than proven reserves in the world.

There’s also unconventional natural gas resources in addition to conventional resources.

Natural gas reserves have increased over the last few decades worldwide.

 

Total Resources

In addition to the proved natural gas reserves, large volumes of natural gas are classified as undiscovered—or unproved—technically recoverable resources (TRR) (eia.gov)

 

From doi.gov:

Excluding the United States, [and excluding] … reserves … that have been discovered, are well-defined, and are considered economically viable … the world holds an estimated … 5,606 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of undiscovered, technically recoverable conventional natural gas; and 167 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas liquids (NGL) … which are those quantities … producible using currently available technology and industry practices, regardless of economic or accessibility considerations

These estimates include resources beneath both onshore and offshore areas

These … estimates are for conventional … gas resources only. Unconventional … gas resources, such as shale gas, … tight gas, coalbed gas, … may be significant around the world, but are not included in these numbers.

 

Where Are Undiscovered Technically Recoverable Natural Gas Resources Located?

The information available online relating to the ‘world’s undiscovered natural gas’ indicates that large portion of the world’s undiscovered technically recoverable natural gas resources might be located in regions such as the northern part of the West Siberian Basin of Russia, and the Arctic Circle in general.

An online search for the ‘world’s undiscovered natural gas’ can provide more data on the world’s total natural gas resources, and also where they might be located.

 

Potential Uncertainty In Projecting Undiscovered Resources

It’s worth mentioning that estimating exactly how much natural gas is left undiscovered can contain some level of uncertainty, because of the varying levels/degrees of geologic certainty involved.

 

Unconventional Natural Gas Resources

In addition to primary natural gas resources, unconventional natural gas resources also exist.

Unconventional natural gas resources are generally harder to reach, or less economically viable to extract than conventional resources.

So, they don’t make up a large share of production of natural gas compared to primary resources in some places.

 

From sciencedirect.com:

Global unconventional natural gas resources include tight gas, coalbed methane, shale gas, and natural gas hydrate.

According to recent research, global unconventional gas resources are approximately 3922 × 1012 m3, nearly 8.3 times that of total global conventional gas …

 

Total Reserves

From eia.gov:

[In the year 2020, total world dry natural gas reserves were 7257 trillion cubic feet]

 

Are Reserves Increasing Or Decreasing Over Time?

eia.gov’s data goes back to 1980, where total world natural gas reserves were 2585 trillion cubic feet – so, world natural gas reserves have increased significantly in the last few decades from 1980 to 2020

 

Total Natural Gas Reserves vs Recoverable Natural Gas Reserves

It’s important to distinguish between total natural gas reserves and how much of that is recoverable natural gas reserves.

Recoverable natural gas reserves include ‘…. only the natural gas that can be mined with today’s mining technology after considering accessibility constraints and recovery factors’.

 

Dry Natural Gas vs Wet Natural Gas

eia.gov has a good guide explaining the difference between wet natural gas, and dry natural gas

They also have another separate guide outlining the dry natural gas and wet natural gas reserve totals for the US (dry natural gas makes up the vast majority of the US’ total natural gas reserves)

But, it’s worth being aware of this difference, and identifying if data on resource or reserve totals include dry natural gas, wet natural gas, or both in the one total

 

Which Country Has The Largest Natural Gas Reserves?

Currently, Russia has the largest natural gas reserves

 

Country With Largest Natural Gas Reserves

From wikipedia.org:

[Citing US EIA data at the start of 2021, the country with the most proven natural gas reserves in km3, is Russia at 47,798]

[Iran is second at 33,980, and Qatar third at 23,871]

[The table provided by wikipedia.org also shows data from OPEC at the start of 2018, and data from BP at the start of 2018]

 

From eia.gov:

[The country with the largest dry natural gas reserves in 2020, in trillions of cubic feet, was Russia at 1688]

Second was Iran at 1197, and third was Qatar at 843]

 

A Note About The Data On Different Countries’ Natural Gas Reserves

Something that should be noted is that different organisations can report different data on countries and their proven natural gas reserves. So, there can be a conflict of information and perhaps some debate on actual proven natural gas reserves in each country, and which country has the most.

wikipedia.org gives one example of this where the US CIA, the US EIA, and OPEC indicate Russia has the largest proven reserves of natural gas, whereas BP puts Russia slightly behind Iran.

The EIA may base its estimates of proved reserves on an annual survey of domestic oil and natural gas well operators. Other organisations may collect data differently – so this may play a role in the data presented.

Additionally, wikipedia.org indicates that due to a number of reasons ‘…  estimates are undergoing frequent updates, [and] mostly increasing’. So, this may change data sets in the future too.

Something else to consider is whether unconventional natural gas resources, such as shale gas, are included in some reserve estimates or not. wikipedia.org indicates that in the US and Canada they can be, but many other countries don’t include them at this stage.

  

How Much Natural Gas Reserves Does The United States Have?

Overall, the US has seen it’s natural gas reserves increase over the last few decades

 

From eia.gov:

[One eia.gov chart shows that in 2020, the US had 465 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas]

[eia.gov has a separate chart showing total natural gas proved reserves over time i.e. both dry and wet natural gas. US total natural gas proved reserves have increased from 172.44 trillion cubic feet in 1998, to 473.29 trillion cubic feet in 2020]

 

From wikipedia.org: [Citing US EIA data for 2020, the US’ proven natural gas reserves in km3, is 13,167]

 

Total Global Natural Gas Production

Total

From iea.org: ‘Global natural gas production in 2020 [was] 4014 billion cubic meters’

 

Trend Over Time

iea.org also has a graph showing world natural gas production from 1973 to 2020, and the trend is that production is increasing

 

Which Country Produces The Most Natural Gas?

The United States currently produces the most natural gas 

 

From wikipedia.org:

[Citing US EIA data for the year 2020, the country that produced the most natural gas in km3 per year, was the US at 947]

[Russia was second at 624, and Iran third at 238 (although this is for 2019 for Iran specifically)]

 

wikipedia.org has another table referencing ‘CIA World Factbook’ data, and the countries that produced the most natural gas in 2018, in millions of m3, were:

[The United States at 831,800, Russia at 669,500, and Qatar at 239,500]

 

Total Global Natural Gas Demand

Total Demand

From iea.org: [In 2020, global demand for natural gas was 3 970 billion cubic meters …]

 

Demand Over Time

iea.org also has a graph showing world natural gas demand from 1973 to 2020, and the trend is that demand is increasing]

 

Are We Running Out Of Natural Gas, & Will We Run Out Of Natural Gas In The Future?

There’s obviously no definitive answer to this question, but there might be some general information that has some relevancy to any potential answers.

The short answer is that the world likely won’t run out of natural gas resources in the short term.

In the medium to long term, our ability to extract and use natural gas resources (and reserves) might take into consideration some of these key factors:

– Demand for natural gas over time

Higher demand places more burden on production to meet this demand

Several global demand for natural gas charts show demand increasing over time (such as the one provided by iea.org)

 

– Production of natural gas over time

The higher production, the faster reserves are depleted, but also the greater the demand that can be met

Several global production of natural gas charts show production increasing over time (such as the one provided by iea.org)

Additionally, different countries invest in natural gas production capacity at different scales compared to other countries.

As one example of this, sciencedirect.com indicates that: ‘China [has strived] to build eight large natural gas production bases with an annual output of more than 10 billion m3  … and achieve an annual output of conventional natural gas of 185 billion m3 [in addition to speeding] up the construction of natural gas pipelines, and make the length of the main natural gas pipelines exceed 120,000 km by 2020.

 

– Whether there is new exploration for, and discovery of recoverable natural gas resources

New exploration and discovery of recoverable resources increases the potential to convert these resources to proven reserves

 

From eia.gov: ‘Proved reserves could increase each year with additional successful exploratory wells and as more is learned about fields where current wells are producing natural gas.’

 

From sciencedirect.com: ‘Although natural gas resources are abundant and widespread, they have been underutilized compared to oil resources. Only about 20% of the recoverable conventional gas resource of the world has been produced.’

 

From sciencedirect.com: ‘China [has accelerated] conventional natural gas exploration and development [and aimed] to increase its proven geological reserve of conventional natural gas by 5.5 trillion m[in the past]

 

– Whether annual proven reserves charts are trending down, trending up, or stables

Proven reserves can change year to year as more recoverable resources are converted to reserves

There are several charts that show both global natural gas reserves and individual country natural gas reserves increasing or trending up over the last few decades.

As one example, eia.gov has a chart showing total natural gas proved reserves over time. US total natural gas proved reserves have increased from 172.44 trillion cubic feet in 1998, 473.29 trillion cubic feet in 2020

It might be accurate to say that if reserves are staying stable or increasing year to year, unless there are issues in the supply chain, natural gas isn’t at risk of running out. If reserves are trend down over a period of time, the opposite might be more accurate

 

– In addition to primary natural gas resources, there are unconventional natural gas resources

Examples of unconventional natural gas resources include but aren’t limited to tight gas sands, gas shales, and coalbed methane

Unconventional natural gas resources can be more difficult to extract than conventional resources, however, if we can extract them in the future at a greater scale, they can add to current reserves

 

From sciencedirect.com: ‘According to recent research, global unconventional gas resources are approximately 3922 × 1012 m3, nearly 8.3 times that of total global conventional gas, pointing to a promising future …’

 

wikipedia.org indicates that ‘[Some shale gas recoverable reserves [are increasing across the world alongside deepwater drilling and other practices,] and … Since 2000, some countries, notably the US and Canada, have seen large increases in proved gas reserves due to development of shale gas, but shale gas deposits in most countries are yet to be added to reserve calculations’

 

– New technology and mining/extraction processes, and whether prices for natural gas change

New technologies and extraction processes might help access resources that were previously not accessible, or extract resources in a more economically feasible way

Likewise, higher prices can allow previously unprofitable resources to be extracted and brought to market

 

From eia.gov:

New technologies and increases in prices for natural gas can change previously uneconomic natural gas resources into proved reserves. Because they depend on economic factors, proved reserves shrink or grow with changes in wholesale (spot) natural gas prices and production costs.

U.S. proved reserves of natural gas increased nearly every year since 2000. Major advances in natural gas exploration and production technologies, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in shale, sandstone, carbonate, and other tight geologic formations, contributed to increases in natural gas production and reserves.

 

… researchers are working on ways to extract the potentially vast amounts of natural gas reserves trapped beneath the ocean in gas hydrates (environmentalscience.org, and renewableresourcescoalition.org)

 

Running Out Of Resources Is Different Than Individual Countries & Regions Not Having Access To Resources, Or Not Having Enough Supply To Meet Demand

There’s a difference between there being natural gas resources available to extract, being able to physically access them and mine them in an economically feasible way, producing natural gas resources and bring them to market, and different countries have access to enough of these resources to meet their demand.

It’s possible that globally there can be enough natural gas being produced to meet demand, but individual countries can experience supply deficits for a range of reasons.

As one example of this, sciencedirect.com indicates that ‘China is relatively lacking in conventional natural gas resources, relies heavily on the import of gas, and for this faces great uncertainties in gas supply and price.’

This may or may not impact certain aspects of natural gas supply and demand for China.

So, access to adequate natural gas supplies can differ based on geography/different countries.

 

Why We Might Never Run Out Of Some Mined Resources

We put together this guide which explains why we might never run out of some resources:

We Might Never Run Out Of Mined Resources (Minerals, Metals, Fossil Fuels etc) – Here’s Why

One of the general points we make is that once easily/cheaply extractable deposits of resources like natural gas are exhausted, natural gas may simply become more expensive as new extraction activities become more costly.

 

When Will We Run Out Of Natural Gas? … How Many Years Worth Of Natural Gas Do We Have Left?

Estimates of the number of years worth of natural gas remaining are not definitive.

New exploration and discovery of resources, along with changing reserves, production and demand on a year to year basis, means that estimates can also change year to year.

However, we’ve included estimates below, both on a global scale, and also for individual countries.

 

wikipedia.org has a table that shows the years of production each country has in reserve, based on EIA reserves and production data:

[As a few examples of some of the countries with the most proven natural gas reserves, Russia has 77 years, Iran 143 years, Qatar 143 years, Saudi Arabia 140 years, and the United States 14 years]

 

Some general global estimates are …

 

[Taking into consideration the current rate of natural gas production and current known natural gas reserves, we have about 52.8 years worth of natural gas reserves left] (ourworldindata.org)

 

… proven … [natural] gas reserves are equivalent to around … 52 years at current production levels (worldcoal.org)

 

From ecotricity.co.uk:

We’ll still have gas and coal left by the time oil runs out in 2052.

But if we increase gas production to fill the energy gap left by oil, then those reserves will only give us an additional eight years, taking us to 2060

 

Natural Gas Shortages

An analysis of shortages on a global level and also in specific countries is outside the scope of this guide, because of how conditions can change, and the number of variables involved.

As one example, over the same time period, one country may have an abundance of affordable natural gas domestically (or access it via imports), but, other countries may struggle to get enough supply domestically or via international trade for a number of reasons, and may experience significant price increases.

We have referred generally to what several recent reports have indicated about past, present and future natural gas demand and supply, and also shortages.

 

brookings.edu indicates that: ‘Past global supply crises have typically been limited to oil, but fast-changing natural gas markets are in crisis as well.’

 

iea.org in 2022 indicates that: ‘[Europe and some major Asian markets are having issues with their natural gas markets, with some claims that the clean energy transition is one cause, but other claims indicate that an] exceptionally rapid global economic rebound, outages and maintenance of key gas infrastructure, and a lack of sufficient supply from Russia [are all major causes]

 

bloomberg.com in 2022 indicates that: ‘[Countries and companies may face energy shortages and natural gas shortages, or high competition to secure enough natural gas. Some of the current factors tightening supply at the moment might include] War, the energy transition, severe weather and surging demand …

 

What Happens If We Run Out Of Natural Gas?

Running out of any resource may impact things such as:

– The availability of that resource for the key things we use it for across society

Specifically for natural gas in the area of energy generation, we may start looking at other forms of energy generation as an alternative

 

– The price of that resource as it becomes more scarce, and consequently, the affordability of the things we use that resource for 

The price of resources increasing as reserves are depleted is something we mentioned in our guide about why we may not run out of mined resources anytime soon.

 

Is Natural Gas A Renewable Resource?

No. Natural gas is a non-renewable hydrocarbon.

 

Managing Natural Gas Resources More Sustainably

There might be a range of ways to manage natural gas more sustainably, including but not limited to:

– Reducing consumption and demand for natural gas, and using natural gas more efficiently

– Substituting natural gas as an energy source for other energy sources where possible

 

These options and others might place less of a burden on extracting new natural gas in the future.

 

Reducing Natural Gas Consumption & Demand

A few examples of reducing natural gas consumption and demand might be:

– Increasing the efficiency of gas based fuels (such as LPG, LNG and CNG), and also the vehicles that use them

– Increasing the efficiency of gas fired power plants 

 

Substitutes For Natural Gas

Natural gas used for energy generation can be substituted with other resources used for energy generation (fully, or partially)

We already do this now, and it can both help reduce emissions, as well as reduce the consumption/demand for natural gas (which may also help in the future if natural gas starts to become more scarce, and/or more expensive to extract and use)

Renewable energy sources and alternative energy sources like solar, wind, water, nuclear energy and others offer energy sources for the future separate to natural gas.

 

How Much Gasoline Is Left In The World?

Most gasoline might be made by the fractional distillation of petroleum (crude oil), and adding a variety of additives.

We’ve put together a separate guide about how much oil might be left in the world here.

However, as technologyreview.com points out: ‘Natural gas [can be] broken down under high temperatures [and undergo other steps to eventually] be converted into a number of fuel products, including high-octane gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

In that case, the information we’ve provided above might be relevant to this type of gasoline.

Various reports indicate though that breaking down natural gas which eventually gets converted into gasoline can be an expensive and energy intensive process.

 

Burning The Remaining Natural Gas Reserves – Potential Impact On A Changing Climate

It is perhaps worth consideration what impact burning the remaining natural gas reserves might have on a changing climate.

Some reports indicate majority of the remaining reserves have to left in the ground to achieve climate goals.

 

… we will have to leave between 65 to 80 percent of current known reserves untouched if we are to stand a chance of keeping average global temperature rise below our two-degrees global target (ourworldindata.org)

 

 

Sources 

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_natural_gas_proven_reserves

2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/natural-gas-resource

3. https://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/USGS-Releases-Global-Estimate-for-Undiscovered-Technically-Recoverable-Conventional-Oil-and-Gas-Resources

4. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/how-much-gas-is-left.php

5. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/

6. https://www.eia.gov/international/data/world/natural-gas/dry-natural-gas-reserves

7. https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-emerging-global-natural-gas-market-and-the-energy-crisis-of-2021-2022/

8. https://www.iea.org/commentaries/europe-and-the-world-need-to-draw-the-right-lessons-from-today-s-natural-gas-crisis

9. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-06/global-energy-upheaval-threatens-years-of-natural-gas-shortages

10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_natural_gas_production

11. https://www.iea.org/reports/natural-gas-information-overview/production

12. https://www.iea.org/reports/natural-gas-information-overview/demand

13. https://www.environmentalscience.org/natural-gas

14. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/alternative-energy-sources/

15. https://ourworldindata.org/how-long-before-we-run-out-of-fossil-fuels

16. https://www.worldcoal.org/coal/where-coal-found

17. https://www.ecotricity.co.uk/our-green-energy/energy-independence/the-end-of-fossil-fuels

18. https://www.technologyreview.com/2008/08/15/219289/natural-gas-to-gasoline/

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