Earth Policy Institute: Drilling for Oil is Not the Answer

An oil derrickBy Jonathan G. Dorn


• The United States consumes nearly 21 million barrels of petroleum per day (7.5 billion barrels per year), one fourth the world total.
• Of the crude oil consumed in the U.S., 66 percent is imported.
• The U.S. is on pace to spend over $500 billion on petroleum imports in 2008.
• U.S. oil production currently occurs onshore in the lower 48 states (2.9 million barrels per day (mbd)), offshore (1.4 mbd, primarily in the Gulf of Mexico), and in Alaska (0.7 mbd).

More Drilling Cannot Make the U.S. Energy Independent

• The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 10.4 billion barrels of oil are technically recoverable in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)—less than one and a half years of consumption.
• The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that of the 59 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) of the lower 48 states, only 18 billion are off limits under the federal moratorium.
• DOE projects that lifting the OCS moratorium would not increase production before 2017 and that by 2030 production would only amount to 0.2 million barrels per day—less than 1 percent of current consumption.
• Total U.S. proved oil reserves are estimated at 21 billion barrels—less than a 3 year supply at the current rate of consumption.
• Since peaking in 1970, U.S. crude oil production has declined 47 percent. World production could be peaking now.

More Drilling Will Not Reduce Oil or Gasoline Prices

• DOE projects that opening ANWR would lower gasoline prices at the pump by a mere 2 cents per gallon.
• Lifting the moratoria on drilling in ANWR and the OCS would reduce the price of a gallon of gasoline by at most 6 cents—and this would not be seen for at least another decade.
• Oil is traded as a global commodity and its price is set on the world market. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could simply reduce exports to negate even the nominal potential price reduction, a fact acknowledged by DOE.

We Can Move Beyond Oil

• The increase in U.S. automobile fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon of gasoline mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is projected to save more than 1.1 million barrels of oil per day in 2020—roughly half of current U.S. imports from the Persian Gulf. Technology exists to raise standards higher faster.
• Electrifying the U.S. transportation system and restructuring urban transport could reduce petroleum consumption by over 50 percent, nearly eliminating the need for imports.
• Wind-generated electricity could power plug-in hybrid cars, such as GM’s prototype Chevy Volt, at the equivalent of less than $1 per gallon of gasoline.

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Visit http://www.earthpolicy.org/Bulletins/2008/Bulletin3.htm for full data.

For information on Earth Policy Institute’s plan to restructure transportation systems and move away from oil, see Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, available at www.earthpolicy.org for free downloading.

  1. Head in the sand

    Let Russia get the Arctic and they will show you how to find enormous new oil deposits.

    Tell the Saudis to quit drilling and record the laughter – or Dubi building a huge new metropolis

    Just raise the price of gasoline to $10 per gallon and conservation will prevail.

    Don’t drill? You have to be kidding.

  2. Bobby B.

    Three questions:

    1. If we do nothing now because production will not be online for a decade, what will be the argument against drilling after that decade passes and none of the “green” energies prove themselves capable of making up the difference?

    2. How much did T. Boone Pickens (et al) contribute to The Earth Policy Institute to get this message in print?

    3. Do you realize that electrifying the transportation grid without increased drilling requires an immediate increase in nuclear and coal-based power generation, which you guys also fear?

    Also, Head In The Sand is dead on with the Russia comment.

  3. Chris Schille

    I have to ask: is the reference to Russian drilling an oblique one to the non-mainstream theory of the abiotic origins of oil? (This theory says that oil is not fossil fuel at all, but a natural form of carbon created when the planet was formed, and therefore hugely more abundant if we drill deep enough.)

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