Oil Reserve Projections

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.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Arctic Offshore, Fossil Fuel, Fracking, Kerogen, Keystone XL Oil Pipeline, Oil, Oil Shale, Presalt Deepwater, Reserves, Shale, Tight Oil and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Oil Reserve Projections

  1. Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is magnificent, let alone the content!


    • lewbornmann says:

      Thank you. I began posting comment slightly over a year ago. If it looks easy, perhaps it results from only writing about what I find personally interesting and not having deadlines or supervisors looking over my shoulder. It also might help that I am interested in just about everything. There are many good writers out there and I always keep in mind that they are professionals so never am tempted to compete or consider myself in their league.


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  3. auntyuta says:

    It seems to me it is about time we, globally, should learn to reduce our oil consumption. Is the US going for solar and windpower, or geo-thermal or hydro-electric? What about electric cars?
    Did you mean the US uses about 20 million barrels of oil per day rather than 20 billion!


    • lewbornmann says:

      Thank you for the correction — 20



      Unfortunately, coal and petrochemical corporations are some of the primary contributers to political campaigns making substantial change extremely difficult. Recent advances in solar power have resulted in cost reductions to where it essentially is competative with coal, oil, and gas but current subsidies and tax benefits could indefinitely delay significant conversion in renewable energy. Plug-in hybrid vehicles are increasingly popular but cost benefits need to further improve before the majority of drivers will be willing to purchase them. As I said in https://lewbornmann.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/electric-vehicles/,
      Now that the first generation of plug-in hybrid vehicles are available, we can anticipate introduction of additional and increasingly efficient vehicles leading eventually to conversion to all-electric (hydrogen, fuel cell…) vehicles. As this conversion gains momentum, it probably will progress more rapidly than anticipated. Limited driving ranges initially restrict all-electric usage to the local vicinity. This, however, will be sufficient to reduce gasoline sales demand. Despite protests, fuel prices will increase as local gas stations are forced to close and refineries scale back production. This will escalate the vehicle conversion rate.
      Change could occur quite rapidly once a critical mass of non-petrol vehicles is achieved. How long that will take, I will not venture to guess.


  4. auntyuta says:

    As fuel prices increase people are going to work harder and harder to make non-petrol vehicles affordable. Isn’t it the same as with computers? Since a critical mass of computers has been achieved, all of us can afford them!


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