Ölkonstante (Oil constant in German) is a term describing various outdated material properties of (vegetable and mineral) oils. The term has been used as well an inside joke and pun in the German petroleum industry.
It refers to the constant estimate of available petroleum (Öl in German) resources. The estimated amount of time until the available petroleum resources are depleted has remained around 30 or 35 years since World War II. Prewar and immediately postwar estimates were sometimes lower, in 1919 as low as 9 years and in 1948 around 20 years. However, since then the value has been around 35 years for the various presents. This sort of constant move of a prediction value along time has often been used as a pun, or a rule of thumb.
One factor contributing to the apparent constancy of the "Oil Constant" is a neglect or misunderstanding of the fact that the term "Proven Reserves" does not refer to some absolute quantity of remaining oil that is thought to exist, but rather to the quantity of oil that can be economically extracted given the current price of oil and current oil-extraction technologies. Thus, either an increase in the price of oil or improvements in oil-extraction technologies can lead to an increase in the estimate of "proven reserves," since more-expensive-to-mine deposits such as tight oil become economically viable at a higher oil price, and because newer or more expensive enhanced oil recovery processes such as gas injection, steam injection, and hydraulic fracturing allow continued extraction of oil from fields that would have been considered "play out" at a lower price or using older technologies. Thus, it is possible for the "proven reserves of oil" (i.e., economically extractable reserves of oil) to keep pace with or even pull ahead of oil consumption at the current rate.
A similar joke has been used about the feasibility of fusion power: Since the 1950s, feasible technological means of using hot fusion for electricity production have constantly been predicted as being 30–40 years ahead, so the "fusion constant" exhibits a similar range to the oil constant.
- E. Matthes: Theoretische Betrachtungen über die Ölkonstanten als Maßstab für die Veränderungen von ölen während des Keimens der Samen. (Bot. Arch., 18, 1927, 269—281).
- Samuel Schubert, Peter Slominski UTB, 2010: Die Energiepolitik der EU Johannes Pollak, p. 20
- Arndt Reuning, "Energie aus Erdöl und Erdgas" Wissenschaft im Brennpunkt, Deutschlandfunk, 23 July 2006
- Wolfgang W. Merkel, "Energie aus der Tiefe", Die Welt, 3 December 2005
- Alahdal A. Hussein, "Oil Reserves And The Public Misconceptions," Oil + Gas Monitor, 15 January 2016
- Ulf von Rauchhaupt, "Sonnenfeuer am Boden", Die Zeit, 15 April 1999.