The United States is Swimming In Fossil Fuels

But our government won't let us get at them.

On April 10, 2008, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) published an article "3 to 4.3 Billion Barrels of Technically Recoverable Oil Assessed in North Dakota and Montana's Bakken Formation - 25 Times More Than 1995 Estimate" which reported:

A U.S. Geological Survey assessment, released April 10, shows a 25-fold increase in the amount of oil that can be recovered compared to the agency's 1995 estimate of 151 million barrels of oil.

Technically recoverable oil resources are those producible using currently available technology and industry practices.  USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources.

New geologic models applied to the Bakken Formation, advances in drilling and production technologies, and recent oil discoveries have resulted in these substantially larger technically recoverable oil volumes.  About 105 million barrels of oil were produced from the Bakken Formation by the end of 2007.

The USGS analyzed only a small part of the Bakken rock formation; they ignored the part of it that extends up into Canada because that's not ours, though of course the Canadians would be happy to sell us whatever oil it contains.  Just the US part of the Bakken has enough oil to entirely replace one years' worth of imports. Drilling it certainly wouldn't solve all our petroleum problems, but finding a year's worth of imports would buy us some useful time.

The article has links to a more detailed assessment of the oil deposit along with a podcast of an interview with the scientists who analyzed the rock formation.  And what the scientists had to say is worthy of some deep thought, not just for the good news about the Bakken itself, but for its further implications about American oil resources.

For many years, even Big Oil had considered the continental US to be fully explored.  As a result, America's point of "peak oil" has long been thought passed; existing American wells would slowly trickle out and die one by one, each year producing less and less with no hope of finding any more.

It appears that new technology has made a lot more oil accessible that was previously unfindable or irretrievable.  The USGS has a "National Oil and Gas Assessment" map which shows where they think oil might be found or where it has already been found.  According to this official government map, the USGS believes that there are 16.6 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas in the Powder River Basin and shows recoverable oil and gas in many other locations.

The Economist reports that enough shale gas has been discovered to supply America for 90 years.  The Wall Street Journal goes further, saying:

According to the authoritative Potential Gas Committee (administered by the Colorado School of Mines), the U.S. sits on top of massive reservoirs of natural gas-an estimated 2,000 trillion cubic feet-that contain more energy than all the oil in Saudi Arabia.

It seems that we have a great deal of accessible fossil fuel in the continental United States.  Why are we talking so much about offshore drilling - as useful as that might be?  More particularly, why are we continuing to buy so much oil from odious enemy regimes in the Middle East when we can perfectly well supply ourselves right here at home?

It appears that last summer's slogan of "Drill Here, Drill Now" was even more appropriate than we realized at the time.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments
Figures. So in addition to being the Saudi Arabia of coal, now we're finding more and more oil to drill. Once again Prices And Efficiencies prove the liberal mantra of the Energy X-Factor to be a dead issue. The question is - since liberals control more and more, will it matter? We HAVE to do what they say now.
September 25, 2009 8:48 AM
The key words in the report are "Technically Recoverable Oil". It seems that the process of removing oil from the shale makes a barrel cost around $100+ each. Also from other sources it has some environmental drawbacks because of waste water and questions about rock structure instability. Looks like this oil might not be as available as we think.
September 25, 2009 11:44 AM
A little bit of information, as always, can be mis-leading, or even dangerous. As a Registered Professional Petroleum Engineer for 34 years, here are my summary comments.

The USA uses almost 20 Million barrels per day of crude oil liquid equivalent, excluding natural gas.

Currently about 50 rigs are drilling in North Dakota for Bakken formation oil. During 2008, up to 99 rigs were active when prices were higher.

We currently produce about 200,000 barrels of crude per day from North Dakota, total, all formations. That is about 1% of USA current demand. We still need ALL the remaining USA land and offshore acreage to be available, to lessen the roughly 13 million barrels a day which we are importing.

North Dakota may reach 400,000, or even 500,000 BOPD someday, but not this year.
September 25, 2009 5:11 PM
"We" may have a lot of possible fuel, but surely we have reached a limit as to the efficiency of chemical based energy sources.. the pollution is a deterrent, as well as being non-renewable: The ownership is questionable, for I notice domestic producers neither pay the taxpayer royalties for drilling on public lands, nor do they charge less than OPEC, so the existence of more benefits me personally little to none.
September 25, 2009 11:49 PM
The NY Times agrees we've got lots of oil

Oil Industry Sets a Brisk Pace of New Discoveries
New oil discoveries have totaled about 10 billion barrels this year, on a pace to reach the highest level since 2000.
September 26, 2009 3:45 PM
there may be new discoveries, but the owners of the land will never be compensated .. nor the citizens receive royalties, nor the consumer have a choice of foreign vs domestic
September 26, 2009 6:34 PM
USA should retain its oil reserves untapped till the Middle East oil is depleted.The present consumptive society is heading towards that point very soon.
October 6, 2009 12:55 PM
USA should retain its oil reserves untapped till the Middle East oil is depleted.The present consumptive society is heading towards that point very soon.
October 6, 2009 12:57 PM
al puri.. so you feel this is a decision best left to the government [i.e., certain individuals, not necessarily elected ones], not any individuals who either own the property or the citizens if it is on public land?
October 6, 2009 1:44 PM
Well, for good or ill, that's what's being done. Conceivably we'll be glad it worked out that way someday. It would be better, though, if we were at least allowed to build nuclear power.
October 6, 2009 4:24 PM
here's a novel suggestion from Patience.. if the safeguards for disposal or recycling of nuclear power plant wastes are solved- as they may be already- then we need not auction public lands to those who don't pay dividends to the owners (the citizens) and the utilities, most of whom are publicly traded, benefit, as don't those countries who currently produce crude oil.
And places like the Arctic Refuge and others can stay pristine, and our children's children's children have a backup...
October 6, 2009 11:40 PM
@ irvn

Except that cars, boats and airplanes don't run on electricity, piped directly to them. They require some kind of mobile fuel.
October 7, 2009 7:36 AM
good point Ifon... is battery technology sufficient for land-based vehicles? not yet anyway.. and the thrill of a dirt bike [for me] is not to be lightly abandoned
clearly we're thinking still to abandon 19th century internal-combustion methods...
October 7, 2009 8:37 AM
Even the Times is getting the message...

New Way to Tap Gas May Expand Global Supplies
Huge new reserves of natural gas, especially in Europe, could alter the political landscape for energy, experts say.
October 10, 2009 8:31 AM
If we were energy independent the international banking cartel would not have the leverage it needs to ensure that we continue to be forced to be in debt to them. As a nation we could create our own debt free money and not suffer due to a collapse of its relative value. All nations are being forced to be interdependent and any competitive advantage established is systematically removed.
October 29, 2009 7:20 AM
Debt, as individuals, is voluntary- as for the politicians, who cares?c A revolution will silence their ignorance. To blame a "cartel" is to deny governments are innocent... when all are simply people in themselves, thus subject to mortality and unreasonable actions...

October 29, 2009 11:31 AM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...