How Much Oil Do We Actually Have?

When President Obama said he would expand offshore drilling on March 31st, he qualified his announcement by saying domestic supplies could never provide all the oil the country needs.

A little remarked study (PDF) released in February begs to differ. The study, commissioned by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), concludes that if all drilling restrictions were lifted — both offshore and on land — there may be 229 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the United States, 37 billion more than previous estimates.

The US consumes about 7 billion barrels of oil a year, so that represents about 30 years of consumption, at current levels. The study also raises the amount of recoverable natural gas from 1748 trillion cubic feet to 2034 Tcf.

229 billion barrels, with a catch

Those 229 billion barrels includes 15 billion in Alaska, 6 of which are under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It also includes 30 billion off the west coast. Expanded drilling off California, Oregon and Washington is considered politically unacceptable given the left-leaning, environmentally conscious populations of all three states, and was not included in Obama’s plan. Some expanded drilling in Alaska was included — but certainly not in the ANWR.

Still, the report shows why some Republicans think Obama’s recent decision did not go far enough. It details a laundry list of dire economic impacts of continued moratoriums on offshore drilling (keeping in mind it was issued before Obama’s announcement), including a loss of 13 million jobs in energy intensive industries and $607 billion more handed over to OPEC for oil. In all, the report warns America could suffer a $2.4 trillion loss because of the moratoria, according to Reuters.

The dire predictions, if not the figures for recoverable oil, have me questioning the objectivity of the report’s authors. NARUC is a non-profit representing the state commission responsible for regulating utilities. The report was prepared by SAIC, which does work for the Defense Department, according to Forbes, (thanks to them for pointing out the study) and the Gas Technology Institute (GTI), a research firm that seems to be fully saturated by the natural gas industry.

It sounds like they’re biased toward fossil fuels. Does anyone know if their estimates are legit?

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.