III.2 The Oil Age: World Oil Production 1859 to 2050

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Rob Bracken

Dave Menninger

Michael Poremba

Richard Katz

Writer Rob Bracken, graphic artist Dave Menninger, statistician Michael Poremba, and catalyst Richard Katz created The Oil Age chart to communicate the central role of fossil fuels—especially oil—in the rise and continuing existence of industrial civilization. Virtually everything we consider modern—from cars to air travel to plastics—depends on the empowering force of petroleum, the most energy-dense and versatile substance known to man. The Oil Age chart illuminates the history of oil from critical angles, charting its steady rise in production, mapping its geographical sources, and revealing its deep connection to sociopolitical events. The chart draws on a wide range of sources, including government statistics and the work of leading geologists such as Colin Campbell, whose oil depletion model forms the chart’s central image spanning most of the Oil Age, from 1859 to 2050. By displaying forecasts of oil’s peak and decline in the years ahead, the chart poses a difficult question: How will humanity deal with the inexorable depletion of one of its most valuable resources? To date, the chart has been distributed to every member of the U.S. Congress and donated to more than 2,500 teachers nationwide.


Campbell, Colin J. 2003. The Essence of Oil & Gas Depletion. Essex, UK: Multi-Science Publishing Company.

Bracken, Rob, Dave Menninger, Michael Poremba, and Richard Katz. 2006. The Oil Age: World Oil Production 1859-2050. Courtesy of San Francisco Informatics. In “3rd Iteration (2007): The Power of Forecasts,” Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, edited by Katy Börner and Julie M. Davis. http://scimaps.org.

Acknowledgements: This exhibit is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IIS-0238261, CHE-0524661, IIS-0534909 and IIS-0715303, the James S. McDonnell Foundation; Thomson Reuters; the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center, University Information Technology Services, and the School of Library and Information Science, all three at Indiana University. Some of the data used to generate the science maps is from the Web of Science by Thomson Reuters and Scopus by Elsevier. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.