It seems to me…
“Despite the previous efforts of Congresses, our addiction to foreign oil, as the President stated, is greater today than ever before. That dependency is a threat to our national security, and we must address that threat.” ~ Jim Costa.
We keep hearing about how much oil the U.S. has but I’m always a bit skeptical to believe all the hyperbole when the source for most of the claims is either petroleum companies or conservatives pursuing a questionable political agenda. However, in this case, while there probably is not as much oil as they claim, there definitely is quite a bit. The problem is we already have extracted most of which was easy to reach, safe to extract, and inexpensive. What is left will not result in consumer costs reductions and will involve significant environmental risk.
Most of the remaining U.S. oil reserves are either in what are considered either “tight oil” or “oil shale”[i]. Canada is starting to produce oil found in “oil sands” (think the Keystone Pipeline). Other oil is being pumped off the coast of Brazil from “presalt deepwater” reserves and additional oil has been located in what is called “Arctic offshore”. As stated, all of these potential reserves come with significant risk.
Tight oil, bound in relatively permeable shale requires hydraulic fracturing to break the rock in the shale layer and allow the oil to flow up the well. The primary problem is the fracking process requiring injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals deep into the ground possibly contaminating the groundwater; excess methane is burned causing air pollution. There could be as much as 300 billion barrels costing about $50/barrel to produce.
Oil shale containing a solid bituminous material called kerogen has to be mined and heated to high temperatures to separate the oil from the shale. It requires large amounts of land and water and produces toxic tailings and more greenhouse gases than conventional oil. Estimated reserves are about 800 billion barrels costing over $100/barrel to produce.
Oil sands contain a dense, viscous form of petroleum called bitumen extracted from either large open-pit mines or in situ underground wells. Open-pit mines leave large piles of toxic tailings that pollute water resources. Gasoline production releases 10 – 15 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil production. Estimated reserves are about 169 billion barrels costing from $50-$75/barrel to produce.
Presalt deepwater reserves are extracted from beneath as much as 9,000 feet under the ocean and an additional 5,000 feet of salt layers. These are some of the most technologically challenging wells to drill and a blowout would be extremely difficult to control. Estimated reserves are from 50-100 billion barrels costing $45-$65/barrel to produce.
Ironically, Arctic offshore reserves have become available due to melting ice resulting from global warming. This area remains extremely treacherous due to frequent severe storms and numerous large icebergs. Freezing temperatures and remoteness would make any oil spill very difficult if not nearly impossible to clean up. Estimated oil reserves are about 90 billion barrels probably costing over $100/barrel to produce.
The U.S. currently uses about 20 billion barrels of oil per day; about half of which is imported (primarily from Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria) though the U.S. actually is a net exporter of refined petroleum products. Global demand for oil currently is about 85 million barrels per day and increasing.
The combined total of oil reserves from the five sources listed above is about 1450 billion barrels (though this represents an upper estimate and is not considered accurate by environmentalists) or enough to last the world about 17 years at current demand and not including other resources. It also generally is agreed that actually extracting the entire reserve this represents would constitute an environmental disaster well beyond anything currently projected.
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] Walsh, Bryan. The Future of Oil, Time, 9 April 2012, pp28-35.