Friday, March 16, 2012

Mr. Obama's Misleading 2%

Mr. Obama has consistently argued that we cannot lower gas prices by increasing the oil supply, and that drilling new wells would not help us. But he's now reported to be considering opening the national petroleum reserve in order to increase the supply so gas prices will come down. There seems to be a contradiction in there somewhere.

The president has also stated that we use 20% of the world's oil but have only 2% of the world's reserves. This, it turns out, is very misleading. Here's an explanation from John Merline at Investor's Business Daily:
When he was running for the Oval Office four years ago amid $4-a-gallon gasoline prices, then-Sen. Barack Obama dismissed the idea of expanded oil production as a way to relieve the pain at the pump.

"Even if you opened up every square inch of our land and our coasts to drilling," he said. "America still has only 3% of the world's oil reserves." Which meant, he said, that the U.S. couldn't affect global oil prices.

It's the same rhetoric President Obama is using now, as gas prices hit $4 again, except now he puts the figure at 2%. "With only 2% of the world's oil reserves, we can't just drill our way to lower gas prices," he said. "Not when we consume 20% of the world's oil."

The claim makes it appear as though the U.S. is an oil-barren nation, perpetually dependent on foreign oil and high prices unless we can cut our own use and develop alternative energy sources like algae.

But the figure Obama uses — proved oil reserves — vastly undercounts how much oil the U.S. actually contains. In fact, far from being oil-poor, the country is awash in vast quantities — enough to meet all the country's oil needs for hundreds of years.

The U.S. has 22.3 billion barrels of proved reserves, a little less than 2% of the entire world's proved reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration. But as the EIA explains, proved reserves "are a small subset of recoverable resources," because they only count oil that companies are currently drilling for in existing fields.

When you look at the whole picture, it turns out that there are vast supplies of oil in the U.S., according to various government reports. Among them:
  • At least 86 billion barrels of oil in the Outer Continental Shelf yet to be discovered, according to the government's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
  • About 24 billion barrels in shale deposits in the lower 48 states, according to EIA.
  • Up to 2 billion barrels of oil in shale deposits in Alaska's North Slope, says the U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Up to 12 billion barrels in ANWR, according to the USGS.
  • As much as 19 billion barrels in the Utah tar sands, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
Then, there's the massive Green River Formation in Wyoming, which according to the USGS contains a stunning 1.4 trillion barrels of oil shale — a type of oil released from sedimentary rock after it's heated.

A separate Rand Corp. study found that about 800 billion barrels of oil shale in Wyoming and neighboring states is "technically recoverable," which means it could be extracted using existing technology. That's more than triple the known reserves in Saudi Arabia.

All told, the U.S. has access to 400 billion barrels of crude that could be recovered using existing drilling technologies, according to a 2006 Energy Department report.

When you include oil shale, the U.S. has 1.4 trillion barrels of technically recoverable oil, according to the Institute for Energy Research, enough to meet all U.S. oil needs for about the next 200 years, without any imports.

And even this number could be low, since such estimates tend to go up over time.
Merline goes on to explain why we're not utilizing these resources. There's a pyramid accompanying his article that shows all the domestic petroleum in the U.S., and the 2% the president refers to is the very tip of the pyramid:

One thing Merline doesn't mention but which should be pointed out is that when the president claims we're drilling more than ever what he omits is that the current drilling is occurring under leases granted by the Bush administration or is taking place on private land. Under Mr. Obama it has become extremely difficult to get drilling permits for federal lands where so much of the recoverable oil has been found.

The fact is that the Obama administration, despite protestations to the contrary, really does want higher gas prices because they want to force us toward acceptance of green energy alternatives. They know that if fuel is cheap green energy simply will not be economically attractive and will not be able to compete.

This is why Energy Secretary Steven Chu admitted that he wanted gas prices equal to those of Europe (about $9/gallon).

At least he was saying this until recently when he apparently got a memo from the White House to shut up about it.