Why More Offshore (and ANWR) Drilling is Pointless
One of the hot and heavy issues people are mentioning during this election season in the United States is whether or not to lift a 1981 federal ban on offshore oil drilling. With the average price of gasoline going for well over $4 a gallon in the United States, it’s become a centerpiece of both Presidential campaigns as to what should be done.
I don’t like to often get into politics on this blog (my personal blog is a completely different manner), I believe it is a completely relevant topic to discuss.
At the end of August, a contributor on Daily Kos posted an article called “Drilling in America: 6 Numbers You Should Know.” It offered a very insightful look into six variables of oil drilling and energy policy that no one is talking about (I wasn’t aware of them myself). I will repost them below, along with further analysis and commentary on each point.
The first number: 9.3 billion.
That’s the United States Geological Survey estimate for “technically recoverable, undiscovered oil” in NPR. What’s that, you say? That’s the National Petroleum Reserve (not to be confused with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve). If you look this up you will discover that it is a large chunk of Alaskan real estate with a lot of oil under it. Kind of like ANWR – except that the NPR is DESIGNATED for oil exploration and production, and hundreds of thousands of acres have already been leased out by the Federal government for that purpose, and exploration has already taken place, and oil has been discovered. Here’s the USGS document providing the details. NPR has as much or more oil than ANWR, according to the USGS. However, they do also say that the oil in ANWR is more economical to recover, as long as prices stay below $30-$35 per barrel. With oil still above $100/barrel as of this writing, I’d say that’s not much of an issue.
When was the last time you heard anyone mention the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR)? Certainly not during this election cycle, especially with a Vice Presidential candidate from Alaska and ties to Big Oil. The NPR even has an official web page. And where might you find the NPR? This handy graphic from a Department of Energy report shows the location.
The second number: 68,000,000.
That’s the number of acres currently leased for oil and gas exploration and production in the U.S., that are NOT being explored and put into production by oil and gas companies. Here is just one of the many articles you can find on this issue with a quick Google search. About half of the unused leases are offshore, and almost all of that is in the Gulf of Mexico, which is in fact where almost all of our offshore oil is believed to be. So don’t listen to wacky right-wingers who try to say “But they’re unused because they don’t have any oil!” Does anyone believe that companies would buy up these leases unless they thought they might be profitable? That would certainly go against the profit motive.
68 million acres! That’s incredible. Where might you find a lot of this land? The map below is from the Sierra Club.
The third number: 53,558.
That’s the number of oil and gas wells drilled in the United States (onshore and offshore) in 2007. Again: more than fifty thousand wells drilled last year. See this document from the Energy Information Agency of the Department of Energy. The only times when we were drilling similar or larger numbers of wells were in the early 80’s (Alaskan oil exploration) and in the 50’s (before the EPA and the modern environmental movement even existed). Think about it: we are drilling just as many wells as we did before the EPA even existed. Those evil environmentalists sure are effective at blocking domestic energy exploration, aren’t they?
For emphasis, here is a graph and table from the Department of Energy report linked above.
The fourth number: 1970.
That is the year in which United States oil production peaked. The ever-helpful Energy Information Agency provides this data on annual oil production. Note that our oil production at home has gone relentlessly downhill since then, DESPITE the fact that we drilled in Alaska and produced billions of barrels, and drilled in the Gulf of Mexico and produced billions of barrels. The truth is, there is simply not much oil left to find in the U.S. The big fields that are easy to find have all been found and drilled. Does anyone think we would even be talking about drilling through miles of rock that is underneath thousands of feet of water, if there were big pools of easdy-to-reach oil lying around untapped all over the place?
And another sign of things getting desperate on the oil exploration front is the endless talk about oil shales, such as the Bakken Formation. For more information on peak oil, read here. The following handy graph is courtesy of Wikipedia.
The fifth number: 62%.
That is about the percentage of our oil consumption that we import from other countries today. Here is a brief article and nifty graphic from the Center for American Progress on this issue. If you’ve stuck with me this long, you’ve probably realized that there is no way any amount of oil exploration and drilling here in the U.S. can eliminate our need for imports. None. It is impossible – at least at current levels of consumption. And that is why we need an energy policy that is not obsessed with drilling, but instead focused on the development and promotion of any and all alternatives, from solar to wind to (yes) nuclear to stricter energy efficiency standards and gas mileage standards to plug-in hybrids and electric cars. Obama offers that; McCain and Palin don’t. Take a minute to research the multiple votes on alternative energy that McCain missed.
Not only do we import most of our oil, we have an insatiable appetite for it. The following graph shows imports in billions of barrels a day. Click the image to see a large version on Wikipedia.
The sixth number: $0.
That is the cost of sun and wind (and tides and flowing water); the energy inputs for the solar cells and wind turbines and hydropower plants and wave energy plants now being built. $0, forever. Yes, there is investment money – and environmental impact – to build and ship and install the solar cells and wind turbines. But once you do, the sun is going to shine and the wind is going to blow until (literally) the end of the world, and it is free. Always. Compare that to oil: you have the up-front investment – and environmental impact – of building the drilling rigs and tankers and oil refineries and pipelines, and then you still have to pay for your input material, oil. At more than $100 a barrel. And this will only get worse over time as population grows, energy demand grows, and oil reservoirs are depleted.
Yes, I know that oil is our primary transportation fuel. But with more and more hybrids and all-electric cars set to come on the market in coming years, the need for oil as fuel can be greatly reduced, gradually supplanted by electricity. Ethanol and natural gas are not long-term solutions, but they can help supplant some oil use, and increased mileage standards for the U.S. vehicle fleet can help. Why is it, exactly that right-wingers hate the idea of getting more miles per gallon so much?
So the key points to take away from this article are:
- 1.) The NPR is already technically open for drilling and every bit as large as the ANWR. Drill there first if you must.
- 2.) There is no need to lift the offshore drilling ban since there is a lot of land already leased and approved for oil and gas exploration / production.
- 3.) We’re drilling almost as many wells per year as we did during the oil exploration boom in the 1970’s. It hasn’t brought prices of gasoline and crude oil down.
- 4.) The United States is already past “peak oil.” There is going to be less and less oil for us to drill as we do more and more work trying to get it. It’s a zero-sum game in the end.
- 5.) We import way too much oil from other nations for any domestic drilling to have any sort of effect on prices.
- 6.) We are inundated with solar and wind every single day. Let’s act on it, build infrastructure and invest. Some companies already are. Do you know what one of the largest solar companies in the world is? BP. That’s right, former British Petroleum. Now it stands for Beyond Petroleum.
[Via Daily Kos]
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- Significant Gas Resource Discovered in U.S. Gulf of Mexico
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