Half of U.S. Oil is Off Limits to Drilling

According to CNS News, a report on the United States’ oil reserves has been prepared for congress.

The good news: we have LOTS of oil. The bad news: myopic energy policy prevents us from using about half of it.

The report, which was produced at the request of Congress by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), said there are 279 million acres under federal management where oil and gas could potentially could be extracted.

More than half of it is totally off-limits to drillers.

“The total onshore resource is 31 billion barrels,” said BLM’s lead scientist Richard Watson, who authored the report. “Of that, 19 billion barrels are currently inaccessible or 62 percent. A little over 2 billion barrels, or 8 percent, is accessible under what we call standard lease terms.”

If you add in the 85.9 billion barrels of oil that lie offshore, as determined by the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, there are 117 billion barrels of oil on lands owned or managed by the U.S. government.

But all expansion of offshore oil recovery is currently off-limits.

Adding in what’s available on privately held land, the figure rises to 139 billion barrels of oil, according to the government – more than the known oil reserves of Iran, Iraq, Russia, Nigeria or Venezuela, respectively.

When you consider the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, throw in another 7.7 billion barrels.

So we have huge amounts of oil here in the United States; we could likely have gas for a dollar a gallon or less, if we simply ignored environmental extremists and tapped our resources.

It isn’t just that huge areas are off limits for drilling. Many others are hindered by regulation and permitting.

“The permitting process is very slow, very cumbersome,” he said. “What happens is that the window of opportunity to operate on some lands is very limited. Usually you are talking about areas where they have winter-use restrictions, where there can be no activity, to allow for migratory birds or animals.”

With horizontal drilling, a lot of oil can be tapped with a very small presence on the land surface.

With directional drilling, producers obtain the rights to drill on land adjacent to the forbidden turf, drill down a short way, then drill horizontally – if they are allowed to.

“Directional drilling has revolutionized the industry,” he said. “You don’t ever want to tap into other areas that are not your property, but directional drilling has allowed the industry to reduce its footprint. From one well-pad, you can get a number of wells drilled.”

This is why the huge reserves in ANWR in Alaska could be tapped with a very small drilling facility (2,000 acres out of millions of acres). But no; even that isn’t good enough for environmental and animal rights extremists.

Environmentalists are probably quite happy having you pay $4.00 a gallon for gas; they’re of the “spread the misery” lobby, not the “lift everyone up” lobby.

But if you’re unhappy paying $4.00 a gallon for gas, maybe it’s time to put the heat on your elected representatives.

5 Responses to “Half of U.S. Oil is Off Limits to Drilling”

  1. The consumption of oil in the United States is approximately 21 million barrels per day which works out to 7 – 8 billion barrels per year. Approximately 4/7, or significantly more than half of that is imported from outside the country.

    The most wildly optimistic estimate of potential oil reserves in Alaska is 36 billion barrels. The Bakken reserves in Montana and North Dakota are puny in comparison to that, maybe 4 billion barrels.

    If the United States is using 7.5 billion barrels per year, and we’re importing 4.5 billion barrels of that, and the Alaska oil fields might hold 36 billion barrels, well, you can do the math on how long that will last. Even if we use Alaska oil to replace only our IMPORTS that’s not very long. Eight years. And that figure for Alaska is an estimate, not proven reserves.

    If U.S. oil reserves (Alaska, Bakken, offshore and everywhere on U.S. territory) total an optimistic 150 Billion recoverable barrels that would replace our imports — only our IMPORTS — for approximately thirty five years.

    Then what?

    I remember the oil embargo and gas rationing of ’73 – ’74. That was thirty five years ago and what have we done since then to eliminate petroleum as our primary energy source? Virtually nothing.
    In fact we’re using MORE oil today than we were in 1977.

    The Apollo moon project was primarily a vanity program to increase our national prestige and assign ourselves bragging rights over the old Soviet Union. Putting a man on the moon wasn’t particulary important to the continued functioning of the country. What IS critical to maintaining a functioning country is a similar crash program to develop energy sources not involving petroleum. Starting that crash program today or at the very latest tomorrow is crucial to the destiny of the United States.

    – – – – – – –


    United States – Oil Consumption by year

    United States – Oil imports by year

    United States Yearly Oil Consumption – Table, 1973-2004

    Oil Imports – Ranking by Country
    (USA is the #1 importer of oil in the world, without even any close competition)

    Alaska North Slope may hold 36 bln bbl oil – US Department of Energy – 29 Jan 2008

    Bakken Formation oil field has up to 4.3 billion barrels – 11 April 2008


  2. The estimates of oil reserves are arguable as new deposits are being reported almost every week. There is also evidence that there are deep sources of oil below the earth’s mantle that may be replenishing the known deposits (some of which we thought would be depleted years ago). (http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=38645)

    We have to begin developing our own energy resources immediately. This includes nuclear reactors, clean coal and oil. The hope for an alternative non-petroleum energy source in the future is laudable, but will take some time. Additionally, there is not currently any known technology that could even begin to replace oil and coal as our primary energy source.

    Our need is now. Enough from the enviro-whackos. Let’s get to work and start fixing this problem.

  3. “While the U.S. Geological Survey has reported the Bakken Formation could hold more than 400 billion barrels of recoverable oil, a new report offering an accurate assessment of the Bakken Formation will be released over the next 30 days, finishing the work started by scientist Leigh Price.

    Price had estimated that the Bakken Formation held as many as 900 billion barrels of oil, but died before the work could be published or reviewed.”


  4. That 400 billion figure was flying around the internet a few months ago. Somebody got it completely wrong and a hundred other people ran with it, as often happens on the internet. This is directly from the U.S. Geological Survey website from 10 April 2008:

    3 to 4.3 Billion Barrels of Technically Recoverable Oil Assessed in North Dakota and Montana’s Bakken Formation

    Released: 4/10/2008

    Reston, VA – North Dakota and Montana have an estimated 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in an area known as the Bakken Formation.

    Full piece Here.

    Most oil companies consider a “large” oil field discovery to be 100 million barrels or more. That’s five days worth of total U.S. consumption, eight days worth if it’s used to replace what we import. The American oil companies would have to hit a new, “large” field every week just to keep us even. There are not nearly that many 100 million barrel fields being discovered.