What Is The Most Used Nonrenewable Resource?

What is the most used nonrenewable resource?

Nonrenewable resources are natural resources such as oil, coal, natural gas, and uranium that cannot be replenished at the rate they are consumed. Identifying the most used nonrenewable resource is important for understanding our energy usage and dependence, as well as the environmental impact of different resources.

Since nonrenewable resources will eventually be depleted, knowing which ones we rely on the most can inform conversations around conservation, reducing consumption, and transitioning to renewable alternatives. Tracking usage over time also provides insight into how demand changes in response to new technologies and policies.


Oil is a nonrenewable fossil fuel that comes from the remains of ancient plants and animals buried deep in the earth (1). It is the most used nonrenewable resource globally. The main uses of oil are as an energy source, as fuel for transportation, and as a raw material for many chemical products such as plastics, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals (1).

According to World Oil Statistics, the world consumes around 97 million barrels of oil per day. Global oil consumption in 2016 was over 35 billion barrels (2). The United States is the largest consumer of oil in the world. In 2021, the U.S. consumed about 18.6 million barrels per day, which is about 20% of the world’s total oil consumption (3).

With global demand for oil continuing to rise, experts estimate that the world’s oil reserves will be severely depleted within the next 50 years as it is a finite resource and takes millions of years to form naturally (1). This makes oil unsustainable long-term and necessitates transitioning to renewable energy alternatives before reserves run out.


Coal is a fossil fuel that was formed from the remains of plants that lived and died hundreds of millions of years ago. It is considered a nonrenewable resource because it cannot be replenished on a human timescale.

Coal has been used as an energy source for centuries and continues to be one of the most widely used fuels in the world today. The main uses of coal include generating electricity, producing steel and cement, and as a liquid fuel.

Global coal consumption reached 3,880 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2021. The top coal consuming countries are China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Russia [1]. Coal makes up 27% of the world’s primary energy consumption and generates over 30% of the world’s electricity [2]. While coal consumption had been declining in recent years, it rebounded in 2021 due to high natural gas prices and greater electricity demand.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is a fossil fuel that formed deep beneath the earth’s surface over millions of years from the remains of plants and animals [1]. It is considered a nonrenewable resource because it cannot be replenished on a human timescale. Natural gas is a versatile fuel used mainly for heating, cooking, electricity generation and as an industrial feedstock.

In 2022, natural gas consumption in the United States was about 32.31 trillion cubic feet, accounting for about 29% of total U.S. energy consumption [2]. Globally, natural gas consumption was around 4,100 billion cubic meters in 2021. The top natural gas consuming countries are the United States, Russia, Iran, China and Canada [3].

The main uses of natural gas include generating electricity, providing heating for residential and commercial buildings, fueling industrial operations, and use as a transportation fuel. Natural gas consumption has been increasing in recent years due to its lower carbon emissions compared to other fossil fuels.

Compare Usage

When comparing the usage of the three major nonrenewable energy sources – oil, coal, and natural gas – oil is by far the most used worldwide. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2020 total world consumption of petroleum and other liquid fuels was 95.75 million barrels per day, compared to 5.23 million short tons of coal per day and 42.19 billion cubic meters of natural gas per day (https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec1_3.pdf). This is over 18 times more oil consumed per day globally than coal.

The countries that consume the most oil are the United States, China, and India. The top coal consuming countries are China, India, and the United States. For natural gas, the leading consumers are the United States, Russia, and Iran. While coal has been declining over the past decade, natural gas consumption has been increasing. However, oil remains the dominant nonrenewable resource for energy globally across transportation, industry, and residential use (https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/nonrenewable-resources/).

Environmental Impact

The nonrenewable resource that is most used worldwide is oil. According to a study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, oil accounted for 31% of global energy consumption in 2021, making it the world’s most used fuel (Source 1). The heavy reliance on oil has significant environmental consequences.

Burning oil products like gasoline and diesel releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These emissions are a major contributor to climate change. Transportation alone accounted for 24% of direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion in 2019 (Source 2). Oil extraction and transportation can also lead to oil spills that pollute land and water. Overall, oil has a substantial negative impact on air, water, and land resources.

The environmental impacts of oil demonstrate why it is critical to shift to renewable energy sources that have much lower emissions. Conservation efforts and improved vehicle fuel efficiency are other important ways to reduce oil consumption and its associated environmental damage (Source 3).


There are several renewable and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and other nonrenewable energy sources that are gaining momentum. Some of the most promising alternatives include:

  • Solar power – Using photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight into electricity. Solar energy is clean, renewable, and the panels can be installed on rooftops or large solar farms. The cost of solar has dropped dramatically in recent years.[1]

  • Wind power – Large wind turbines in windy areas generate electricity. Wind power production is growing rapidly worldwide as bigger and more efficient turbines are developed.[2]

  • Hydropower – Generating electricity from flowing water, such as dams and run-of-river systems. Hydropower supplies about 7% of U.S. electricity.[3]

  • Geothermal – Tapping into underground reservoirs of steam or hot water to produce energy. Geothermal plants provide constant baseload power.[1]

  • Biofuels – Fuels derived from plants like corn and soybeans. Biofuels can replace gasoline and diesel in vehicles.[2]

  • Nuclear power – Very high energy density, but safety concerns remain. Supplies about 20% of U.S. electricity.[3]

Transitioning to renewable energy sources will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on finite fossil fuel supplies. Costs are declining while efficiency is improving for many alternatives.

[1] https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/07/us/renewable-energy-options-climate/index.html

[2] https://www.geoengineer.org/news/best-alternatives-for-fossil-fuels

[3] https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/hydropower/


Conserving nonrenewable resources is crucial to extend their availability and reduce environmental damage. As the name implies, nonrenewable resources like oil, natural gas, and coal cannot be replenished once they are extracted and used up (National Geographic, 2023). With continuing high rates of consumption, many experts estimate nonrenewable fossil fuel reserves may be significantly depleted within the next 50-150 years (Rubicon, 2019).

Since nonrenewable resources are finite, conservation helps preserve them for future generations. Simple habits like turning lights off, driving less, and recycling can reduce individual energy use. On a societal level, governments can encourage conservation through incentives for renewable energy, public transit, and efficient technologies. Some policies like fuel taxes also deter waste by making nonrenewables more expensive to consume (Penn State Extension, 2006).

In addition to prolonging supply, reduced usage of nonrenewable resources limits environmental damage. Mining and drilling emit greenhouse gases and pollutants. Burning fossil fuels releases further emissions contributing to climate change and health issues. Conservation diminishes these impacts and facilitates a transition to cleaner energy alternatives (Penn State Extension, 2006). Overall, judicious use of irreplaceable resources now allows us to reap long-term economic, social, and environmental benefits.


Government policies regulate nonrenewable resource usage and aim to balance economic priorities and environmental sustainability. Key policies include:

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – An international treaty drafted in 1992 with the goal of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.” Signatories meet regularly at Conferences of the Parties (COP) to negotiate emission reductions.

The Kyoto Protocol – Adopted in 1997 as a supplement to the UNFCCC with legally binding emission targets. As of 2022, 192 countries have ratified it.

The Paris Agreement – Drafted in 2015 with a long-term goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels through setting Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). As of 2022, 194 countries have signed it.

Fossil fuel subsidies – Many governments directly subsidize the production or consumption of oil, coal, and natural gas. According to the IMF, global fossil fuel subsidies amounted to $5.9 trillion in 2020.

Carbon pricing – Mechanisms that put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems. Carbon pricing aims to account for externalities from burning fossil fuels.


In summary, nonrenewable resources like oil, coal, and natural gas are most widely used to meet our energy demands today. Although oil is currently the most consumed, coal and natural gas play major roles in electricity generation and other sectors. The usage of nonrenewables provides many benefits but also raises environmental concerns. There is a growing need to transition to renewable energy alternatives while also conserving existing resources more efficiently. Policymakers face the challenge of balancing energy security, affordability, and sustainability. With thoughtful strategy, investment, and public-private partnerships, a cleaner energy mix may be within reach. The path forward requires factoring in economic, social, and environmental considerations.

In conclusion, while nonrenewables currently dominate, energy systems are dynamic and hold potential for greater integration of renewables. With smart policy and technological innovation, there is hope for a more sustainable future. But it will require collective action and difficult tradeoffs. True progress demands a holistic view and spirit of public service from leaders and citizens alike.

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