So How Much Oil is Really Out There? Yes, we can drill ourselves out of it.

Written by Paul Zannucci on 4:40 PM

We hear every day from people who say that we cannot drill our way out of high oil prices. They say there is not enough oil to go around. They say that OPEC will merely reduce their output. They say that increasing demands from emerging markets are going to swallow up the rest of our oil in the next 50 years. In fact, this is just a politically motivated misrepresentation of the truth.

Let's begin with a figure, 20 million. That's how many barrels of oil the U.S. consumes in a day.

Now let's move to a small, readily available source of oil: The Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

So how much oil is in ANWR? We've done extensive studies and yet the range is still fairly large between the low and high estimates. Given recent advances in oil extraction, we'll tip to the high end (which I've seen agreed upon at some environmental sites) and guess that there are about 10 billion barrels of oil that can be extracted at ANWR (for a full, scientific look at how these numbers are arrived at, go to

Vinay Jain, a spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federation, is quoted by EcoWorld as saying, "The amount of oil in the refuge is marginal at best. It is not going to make a difference. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge is symbolic of a larger effort. It's about getting into one protected area and using the momentum to get into another."

Forgetting the slippery slope garbage, on the surface of it, his dismissive statements regarding the totality of oil available in ANWR seem to make sense. After all, if you divide the 10 billion barrels in ANWR by the 20 million barrels we use every day, we'd only have enough fuel for 500 days. Hardly seems worth the effort, huh? Less than two years?

But that is pumping all the oil out in 500 days, which is not the way things work in the real world. What if the oil is pumped out in the usual manner? What if ANWR produces 1.5 million barrels a day? Now the equation is different. Now ANWR is producing 7.5% of our oil needs for the next 20 years. That is, in fact, a huge amount of new oil coming on the market and a dramatic reduction in the amount of foreign oil we would be using.

Now consider this. ANWR is a mere fraction of what is available.

Off-shore and Rocky Mountains

So how much oil is there? Republicans recently (second week of June, 2008) attempted to lift the ban against oil exploration between 50 and 200 miles off the U.S. shores. Most offshore exploration has been banned since 1981, and Democrats managed to stop this most recent attempt to open this area to drilling. Estimates say that there are 420 TRILLION cubic feet of natural gas (remember your last heating bill?) and 86 billion barrels of oil that could be mined off our shores. This could supply some 11.8 million barrels of oil a day, or 59% of our oil needs, for the next twenty years.

For those of you keeping score at home, combining the offshore totals with the ANWR totals and the amount of oil we already produce means that we would need ZERO foreign oil over the next 20 years if these sources were opened.

And we haven't even talked about the Rocky Mountains yet.

On May 14th, 2008, The Senate Appropriations Committee defeated Republican Senator Wayne Allard's attempt to end a moratorium related to oil shale development in Colorado. Estimates are that there are 800 billion barrels of oil ready to be extracted from oil shale. That's three times more than the rosy estimates of Saudi Arabia's current oil reserves. If you extract the 20 million barrels of oil we use every day, that will last us 110 years.

You may have heard people say that shale extraction was too expensive. In fact, at one time, people were saying that oil would have to go to $30 a barrel for shale extraction to be worth it. Ooops. With oil at over $130 per barrel, I think it might be worth it now.

What is really behind the idea that "we can't drill our way out of it".

Sadly, as is often the case, the truth is not as important as a goal. Those who say that there is not enough oil out there are simply feeding us false information to make sure we buy their eco-agenda. It's all about the idea of anthropogenic global warming and gaining more control over a world economy. It certainly isn't about oil reserves. The oil reserves are out there. They just won't let us at them. So the next time someone is dismissive about the idea that we can "drill our way out of it", just remember these figures:

U.S. Consumption: 20 million barrels a day.

ANWR: 1.5 million barrels a day.

Offshore drilling: 11.8 million barrels a day.

Colorado oil shale: 20 million barrels a day for 110 years.

Sure. We need to gradually move to such technologies as biofuels, hydrogen and nuclear. But we can make the move slowly and painlessly if only they'll let us.

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  1. 5 comments: Responses to “ So How Much Oil is Really Out There? Yes, we can drill ourselves out of it. ”

  2. By D. Pitney on June 16, 2008 at 7:49 AM

    Paul I am so glad you have put down the Kool-Aid and finished your homework. The “Greedy Oil Companies” may even have enough surpluses to sell to China and India perhaps lowering the trade deficit as well. The industry as a whole will also provide many people with high wages. All this will of course lead to additional tax revenues thus lowering the tax burden on the rest of us. We can also stop turning corn into ethanol and once again use the corn for much needed food. The math is so simple! With one bold move we fix a stalling economy by lowering fuel costs, lowering deficits, lowering food costs and of course lowering taxes. Why the “brilliant” politicians are so swayed by the fringe-tree hugging-environmentalist wackos is beyond excuse. We the upcoming elections we need to put in office officials who will push forward and agenda of domestic oil. God Bless Logic and God Bless America.

  3. By Jeremy Sarber on June 16, 2008 at 3:16 PM

    When I read the numbers like you've presented, a part of me gets excited because it provides some hope for America (and my wallet). Another part of me just gets sick to my stomach. Because while the option we should take is clear, I'm still paying $4 a gallon.

  4. By Paul Zannucci on June 16, 2008 at 9:03 PM

    It's pretty sad to think what is out there and we're not allowed to get.

  5. By Ryan on July 12, 2008 at 12:06 PM

    "Sure. We need to gradually move to such technologies as biofuels, hydrogen and nuclear. But we can make the move slowly and painlessly if only they'll let us."

    How much more slowly do you want to move? Do you like living in the early 1900's still?

    GM already developed amazing electric cars (EV1) but they destoryed them shortly after their creation due to pressures from oil companies (don't try to tell me that the GM excuse that they cost to much to produce is valid either, every new technology is expensive in the beginning until you impliment the infracstructure to mass produce them, electric cars would have been no different). Oil companies are stalling the real progress being made in alternative power sources and you are just to misinformed to acknowledge this. Have you ever looked at the progress being made outside your country by other countries that refuse to bend over for big oil?

    Look at how Europe has successfully started a transition to cleaner sources of energy. I dont seem them living in the dark 24/7 and riding bicycles everywhere because of it. They actually enjoy a higher standard of living then you do, weird huh? This shows that humans have the ability and skills to find REAL solutions to our energy problems and in America these solutions are being twarted and bought out by big oil to ensure you continue to buy their outdated and technologically stagnate product.

  6. By jim on September 2, 2008 at 4:27 PM

    Hi, thanks for those numbers. It's good to finally see someone talking about exactly how much oil there is in the ANWR and offshore right here in the US.

    But I think that the oil shale may not be as much of a solution as it seems. Oil shale sucks in terms of energy efficiency, and is expensive to extract. Here's an article about it, if you're interested: