Friday, 5 September 2008

Drilling in America - six numbers you should know

Prudhoe Bay, near Alaska National Wildlife Refuge: photo by PeterThe 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 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 closing back in on $120 still above $100/barrel as of this writing, I'd say that's not much of an issue.

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.

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?

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 downhil 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?

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.

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?
9.3 billion. 68,000,000. 55,000 53,000. 1970. 62%. $0. Memorize these numbers. Use them.

(reprinted from DailyKos (4 Sept 08). For updates see Jack Moynihan`s NDN (15 Sep 08).

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